Tips on buying and converting a barn

Converting a barn is a common property dream but there are many pitfalls to be aware of. Picture: James Hardsity
Converting a barn is a common property dream but there are many pitfalls to be aware of. Picture: James Hardsity
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Converting a barn is a dream for many. Here are some tips on how to find, finance and construct one. Sharon Dale reports.

Old stone barns with planning permission for conversion into a home are much sought after thanks to their rustic character and rural locations. Add to that a rise in the number of people who would love to self-build and you have a supply and demand problem.

If a barn conversion is your dream home then it pays to have a strategy as those in the best positions are usually snapped up within days of coming to market.

Estate agent Tim Gower of Robin Jessop’s Leyburn office says: “Barns to convert are a rare commodity these days. There is a shortage of supply so they sell very quickly, especially if they have great views.”

“Barns that have already been converted are also sought after and tend to sell well.”

If you know the area you want to live in then register with local estate agents as a potential buyer and tell them what you are looking for. They should contact you immediately when they get a barn on their books, which means you could beat the rush when it features on property portals. Plotfinder.net also has barns for sale and don’t forget to check out property auctions.

Before you start barn hunting, bear in mind that these agricultural buildings can be very difficult and expensive to convert.

Most have no foundations and the structure is often deemed unsafe so remedial works are almost always needed. That’s why it is best to find a builder who has plenty of experience in converting barns..

Some come with permitted development rights but you will be restricted when it comes to making external changes and may need full planning permission for alterations to make it viable, such as creating windows.

Another issue is finance. Mainstream mortgage lenders are not keen on self-build projects so you will need a specialist lender. Yorkshire-based Ecology Building Society has a good track record of supporting self-builders.

This week’s Yorkshire Post magazine “Real Home” story features a farmhouse with barn conversions. Architect Neil Cooke designed the latest phase of that project. Here he gives us his top five tips for barn conversions:

*Planning permission. The National Planning Policy Framework is set up to protect the countryside from new development by limiting the construction of new homes in or on the edge of the countryside but also by governing the scale of extensions to existing structures. The use of countryside buildings is also carefully controlled to maintain commercial, agricultural or retail uses which generate places of work and economic vitality in rural areas.

It is therefore important to check if conversion to full residential use is acceptable to the local authority.

*Structural stability. It is important to remember that agricultural buildings, such as barns or stores, were not designed with human habitation in mind. Converting agricultural buildings to residential use can impose additional loads to structures which have already been weakened through use and weather. Often, barns will need underpinning, strengthening, tying or rebuilding in places to ensure the structures are competent for their prolonged use and conversion. It is imperative to get a structural engineer to check the building and to design interventions supported by the necessary calculations before any works commence.

*Off-grid technology. The appeal of being remote and surrounded by open countryside sounds idyllic to many but can present challenges to those looking to make a home in this context.

There will likely be no main sewerage connection and so foul waste will have to be dealt with by chemical treatment tanks. The lack of utilities, such as gas connections, will turn attention to the growing number of renewable off-grid options, such as ground or air source heat pumps as methods of heating the home. The initial capital cost might be more than conventional systems but there are tariffs and paybacks available through government-backed schemes.

*Levels. Agricultural buildings are usually constructed with a very specific task in mind and this is rarely comfortable or aesthetically pleasing for human occupancy. It is common to find that the walls, floors, roofs and almost every element of old barns are not built squarely, do not run level or do not finish flush with the surfaces that they meet. This can be overcome by modern construction methods such as self leveling screeds, dry lining wall systems with adjustable fixing rails, and flooring systems which can be adapted to compensate for deviations in level.

*Insulation and damp. Most brick and stone barn structures were not built to resist the damp or cold. Walls are often solid masonry construction and this can act as a cold bridge allowing cold to pass through, similarly giving rise to water ingress. Injection damp proof courses, waterproof membranes, rigid insulation that is resistant to water and damp is often needed.

Neil Cooke Architects, www.n-c-a.co.uk