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How to know when to take my old barn down?July 7, 2023
Tags: barn conversion, convert, demolish, old barn, timber frame Categories: Barn Conversion
This is always a hard conversation with potential clients when they come to me with a barn. Should I take it down?
A typical engineer who you meet will be far less sentimental than I am, and he will be the first to say, “It’s cheaper to build new”. This is true, but I’ve realized it’s not such a simple question as if it is convertible or not. Here are some factors to consider…
Priceless – The barn is priceless in that you can’t buy that anymore. 60-foot (or greater) beams, 14×14 timbers of old-growth forest, hand-hewn and mortise and tenon joints, grey/aged barn boards, stone foundations, history, etc. If that look is what you are going for, you’ll pay far more to buy it new. You can rebuild a shed cheaper, but you can’t rebuild an old barn for cheaper.
Sentimental value – Many farmers are still alive or remember their dads building the barn. There is a lot of pride for the hard work that went into the barn and farming that’s worth saving and remembering.
Function – Just because it isn’t functional doesn’t mean it needs to be taken down. It is cheaper to build new, but that doesn’t equal take down the current barn. A functional shed can be built in another location on the farm and the old barn remains. Or many of these barns have been successfully made functional (not at a cheaper price but without a greater historical loss).
Use – It doesn’t have a purpose. It may not have a purpose right now, but it could in the future for future owners. Many of my clients are looking for and purchasing properties because of the barn. Your barn may not have a use for you, but your barn contributes to the local rural landscape and rural tourism economy. Can you imagine a rural Ontario drive without any old barns? I can’t.
Cost – Upkeep on an old barn is an extra cost that may not always be feasible. Small measures can be taken to keep it up, as written in this blog post, and make it last a little longer. And if the cash flow is available, you can take the bigger steps to restore if you so desire. Browse our blog for more about costs.
Safety – Obviously, if the barn poses a danger to itself, other buildings, or its contents, it should be taken down. Many barns are beyond fixing. But many are still holding their own!
Long-term Value – In 40 years, can you guess which shed is going to be worth more? The restored timber frame or the stud frame shed? My bet is on the timber frame barn! Both for its sturdiness and uniqueness. On rural properties, generally, the buildings are not worth as much as the land itself, but investing in an old barn is a sure way to guarantee value for resale and long-term.
So it’s not black and white. It’s a scale and balance of priorities.
For those barns that do need to come down for whatever reason, please consider the following other routes and actions
Adopt a barn – If your barn is not suitable for reuse, but you really want one, there are companies who have whole frames or even asking around the neighbourhood. You might find a perfect fit!
Reclaim – Find a reputable company to reclaim it. Either the frame as a whole for someone to adopt or reclaim lumber for someone to recycle and upcycle. The wood and some of the beams are impressive, and it would be a shame to just burn or bury them. The wood can find wonderful new homes (even as part of your new build.
Documentation – Ontario Barn Preservation has an amazing project to document all the barns in Ontario. It is an amazing way to preserve those barns that are no longer or need.
In the end, I am saying that if it isn’t broken, don’t demolish it. Once the barn is down, you can never get it back! So consider carefully what you want to do.