The latest and greatest innovation in rural America is the aptly named barndominium, a combination barn and living area in one building. In addition to interest from farmers and ranchers, barndominiums are catching the fancy of city dwellers looking for a weekend getaway property or a second home.

So what's the fuss all about?

Versatility. The large open portion of the structure offers a variety of uses ranging from a barn for animals to a place for storing recreational equipment and most anything else you can imagine. It can be set up as a workshop or a garage, or a warehouse and office for an at-home business. Likewise, the living section offers unlimited design options since the exoskeleton of the structure does not depend upon load-bearing walls.

The Cost. The steel construction of a barndominium is more economical than a conventional stick-built home. According to author and homebuilder Carl Heldmann, the cost to build a house ranges from $80 to $120 per square foot and up, depending on the design and materials. Pricing for a barndominium starts as low as $35 per square foot for a shell you can finish yourself, or as low as $65 per square foot for a move-in-ready design.

Construction Time. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average time to build a stick-built house is six months. The actual construction of a steel barndominium, on the other hand, can be finished by a crew in as little as one week, with construction beginning three weeks after the concrete slab is poured.

Additional Benefits: Barndominiums come in a wide range of sizes and colors, with floor plans to meet every need. They require little maintenance, and are both fire and pest resistant.

While drawbacks of barndominiums are few, they do exist.

  • The commercial-looking external appearance of the structure may be a turnoff to some, but the appearance can be mitigated with landscaping or other design features such as brick or stone facing.
  • Options are limited for financing. Since barndominiums have only become popular in the last ten years or so, there is not a long-established track record of resales for them. Therefore banks have few comparable sales to draw from in deciding whether or not to fund the construction.
  • Zoning laws in some areas may preclude living in a barndominium, so be sure to check with your county's zoning department to ensure the structure is viable.

Whether you're in the market for a new home in the rural south with its heat and tornadoes, or the rural north with its freezing temperatures and copious amounts of snow, a barndominium might fit the bill.