Most common Myth of Barn Conversions: Part 2

“My Barn has been standing for 100 years it should be good to go!”

Most common Myth of Barn Conversions: Part 2 of 2

By Krista Hulshof

continued from Part 1 published on August 15th

Timber frame model for design and conversion

Some of the most common structural upgrades we end up making are roof reinforcement, foundation repairs, and floor strengthening for those wild dance parties!  Some barns need all and some need less. A review of the barn should not only include the condition of the frame but what it needs for reinforcement to convert it to a use other than agriculture. The structural loading for a wedding is different than for hay storage (I know it sounds like hay and many people would be the same, but in the building code it is not!).

The second review should be building code compliance, mostly relating to fire safety.  The safety requirements for a house or store, or event venue are very different that a barn.  You cannot skimp on the safety requirements in the litigating world we live in.  An experienced consultant will have a few tricks up their sleeve to save you money and get you “out of” certain requirements like sprinklers or fire ratings. But there are some things that are unavoidable.  You can expect to encounter floor fire ratings and additional exit doors!  And no, your sliding barn door does not meet code for an exit as you cannot guarantee that the door will be open in an event, and we all know how heavy they can be to open!  You typically need 2 exits and you have to watch that when the sliding door is open OR closed the exit door is available in case of fire.

Barn conversion to winery, VELD architect inc.

Washrooms is another big issue with barn conversions for your agritourism operation. They are required along with a septic system.  This can be very costly, $20,000-$100,000 depending on the use and number of people in the barn and on your property.  Some municipalities permit temporary washrooms, but not often, so count on the probable installation of washrooms and a septic system unless you have written permission from the building department for an alternative.

Barrier-free or wheelchair use is another important item.  There are no longer exemptions in the code to avoid making building wheelchair accessible.  And there are very strict and clear guidelines on how to achieve these. The barn ramp on your current building is unfortunately likely not accessible as it probably doesn’t meet the slope requirements.  An accessible ramp has a 1:12 slope (for every 1 foot in height change you need 12’ in length) and often 80+feet long! Your barn ramp is more like 1:4.

One of the last biggest challenges with a barn conversion is insulating. The light streaming through the cracks in the wood is beautiful, and great for natural ventilation systems, but not very energy efficient. And the code does require energy efficiency for certain types of buildings. Generally, a minimum of R24 for most buildings. Depending on if you are dismantling and rebuilding or renovating in place (yes these are both good options depending on the results of the structural report), there are different options for insulating; outside the frame, inside the timber frame and pros and cons to each of those.

Barn conversion process – VELD architect inc.

Many clients admire their old barns and wonder “how can I use this barn again?”  because they love them and truly do want to save them.  We hope that we haven’t discouraged you too much – there are solutions and priceless benefits to doing a barn conversion (we should write an article on this too!).   Its all about getting the right team and doing the research that a barn conversion is right for you AND your barn! We tell our clients a barn conversion is “a labour of love” and they will love their conversion when it is finished!

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