Your Guide - Converting A Barn

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The opportunity to convert a barn is for many a dream renovation project, where you can turn an often empty and derelict barn and convert it into something special.

We see so many wonderful barn conversions; from contemporary designs to traditional homes, where the owners have done an amazing job converting the barn whilst retaining its original features.

Our guide answers all of your popular questions when converting a barn, as well as sharing some inspiring projects.

If you are thinking about converting a barn in the near future and need some help finding an architect or designer, we can match you with the most suitable ones for your project.

Find an architect or designer

Contemporary conversion of an old piggery by HYVE Architects in Aberdeenshire


Why convert a barn?

Converting a barn gives you the opportunity to create a special and unique home. 

You may want to take an already habitable barn conversion and modernise it with a renovation, or take the bold step of taking an old derelict barn and transforming it into a modern home.

As barns are located in the countryside, converting a barn gives you the opportunity for rural living, allowing for amazing scenery and a slower pace of life. 


Where do you find a barn to convert?

Estate agents in rural areas are often best placed to find a barn to convert. 

Local auction rooms can be a great place to find a unique property, particularly one that requires a substantial renovation.

You can also find properties to convert looking on niche websites such as barnsetc.

A traditional barn conversion with wonderful brick partitions to zone the large space. From Insta account @barn_number_six.


Do I need planning permission to convert a barn?

In some instances in England, you are able to convert a barn without the need for planning permission. 

For this to be the case, the property would need to fall into what is known as a 'Class Q' building, where you are converting an agricultural building into a dwelling and not extending beyond it's original footprint. 

For your project to fall into 'Class Q', the barn must satisfy criteria, including:

  • Has been used for agriculture on or before 20th March 2013
  • Must not be a listed building
  • Must not be located in Area of Natural Beauty, a National Park or a Conversion Area

Even if you are able to carry out a barn conversion within the 'Class Q' requirements, you will need to give the local authority prior notification of your plans. 

The local authority can still refuse your plans at this stage, so even if your project does fall into 'Class Q', it's not necessarily a straight forward conversion. Outside of England you will always need planning permission when converting a barn.

Many barn conversions will be listed buildings, which means that they will always require planning permission. You should allow plenty of time for the planning application process for a building of this nature. There could be a lot of back and forth with the council, so the planning application could take far more than the standard 13 weeks'.

As barn conversions are normally within rural areas, there is a likely chance that your barn could be located in an Area of Natural Beauty, a National Park or a Conversion Area. Again, in these circumstances you will always require planning approval ahead of your development.

Local authorities can remove permitted development rights in some areas, this can often be done in rural areas to avoid over development. 

Some local authorities may also want an agricultural building to be used for commercial purposes, rather than as a residential property. 

Always check with your local authority on the permitted development rights in your area.


We love the original beams and exposed brick wall in this wonderful barn conversion from Insta account @barn.renovation


What other permissions do I need to consider if I want to convert my barn?

If you are converting a barn that is listed, then you will require listed buildings approval which is outside of your planning application. Failure to comply with the listed building consent process is a criminal offence.

Due to the nature of a barn, it is most likely that you will require a bat survey. You will need an Ecologist to carry out the bat survey along with plans to mitigate any issues in order to obtain planning approval. You should factor in a bat survey early in your planning process, especially as they are normally carried out in the summer months.

You will need to apply for building control approval, even if you don't require planning permission. Building regulations ensure that the builders work meets a minimum standard, therefore are important for the safety of your building. Your architect will be able to guide you through the building control process and work with a structural engineer who can carry out the calculations. For more information on the process, read Your Guide - Building Regulations.

It's also recommended to have a survey before you buy the barn, this will show up the condition of the roof, foundations and loads bearing walls. Knowing how sound the structure is will impact what work you can do to the barn, as well as the potential cost. 


What do I need to consider in terms of supplies?

If your barn has only previously been used for agricultural purposes then it is unlikely that it will have any connection to supplies, including sewerage, water or electricity. This will obviously add to the cost of the barn conversion.

This can be a good opportunity to make the barn as eco friendly as possible. You could consider heating using solar thermal panels or hot water via ground source heat pumps. Adding natural materials to make the insulation as efficient as possible is a good option too. 

Light filled and airy barn conversion from Insta account @theoakstables


How can I make the layout work when converting a barn?

Open plan living areas are very popular, which help keep the feeling of space. Large vaulted ceilings retain the charm and character of the original barn and are a popular choice.

We see so many wonderful barn conversions where separate living zones are created with brick or wood partitions. By creating zones using partitions, the light is still able to pass through the barn, which helps keep your home feeling spacious.

Large double doors are another option, particularly if you want to close off rooms in the evening to make the barn feel cosier. 

Sectioning off the bedrooms and living spaces can be a challenge. Many barn conversions have a hallway with windows on one side, maximising the light and views, and the bedrooms and bathrooms on the right hand side.

For really large barns, you can fit a second floor in. In this case, you would normally keep the entrance hall double vaulted with the staircase leading to the bedrooms. 

The trend is moving away from creating a second floor unless you have the space, as it can compromise the feeling of the barn. Mezzanine levels are a great alternative and create a stunning architectural feature too.


What about bringing in natural light when converting a barn?

Making the most of the views is key, as you really want to embrace the rural location of the barn conversion. 

Windows can be a challenge with barn conversions as it's likely that they will have had small windows and openings, and planners don't like to add more than the original openings to retain the look of the original building. 

A popular choice for a contemporary look is to glaze the gables, which will allow light to flood in as well making the most of the views from the barn.

Conservation rooflights are a good option; light from above brings in 3 times as much light than a standard vertical, so can really let more light flood into the barn.

Glazed gables in this stunning renovation of a former chicken shed from the home of Insta account @the_chickenshed_conversion


What should I think of in terms of design features when converting a barn?

Much of this is dependent on the style of the barn that you have bought, as well as your own taste. Being true to the original barn and making the most of its features will work well from a design perspective and will also be looked on more favourably by the local authority. 

Many barns will have original beams and so these are normally restored, retaining the features.

If you like original features then internal exposed brick walls can look striking too and add so much character and show off the beauty of the barn.

With a modern steel framed barn, you are more open to adding a contemporary twist on the conversion with raw materials such as polished concrete and large expanses of glass.


What about the exterior when converting a barn?

This is very much dependent on the original structure of the barn, particularly as the planner will want to see you keeping the original look of the barn.

If you have a stone or brick barn, keeping the original stone look will create a beautiful traditional home. The stone will need to be restored which can be a costly additional charge.

You can also choose to go for a contemporary look, with steel or black wood cladding being really popular choices. This is popular if your barn originally was a steel framed or timber barn.

Contemporary steel framed barn conversion from Insta account @the_long_barn_norfolk


How much does it cost to convert a barn?

Barn conversions are likely to cost far more than a standard renovation, due to the amount of structural changes and stripping back required. You will also have more bespoke items such as windows and doors.

Due to the individual nature of each barn and what your plans are, you are best working directly with an architect to get an estimate of the cost.

As you are converting a non-residential dwelling into residential use, your project may fall into the category where you pay VAT on the build at the reduced rate of 5%, rather than the standard 20%. You must check the clause of the dwelling to ensure the reduced rate applies.


How do you best heat a barn conversion?

Underfloor heating is a popular choice when it comes to barn conversions as the heat is more evenly spread around the home. 

This also allows a more contemporary look, rather than radiators taking up space on the walls. Underfloor heating works well with a heat pump, which could be added as your heat source.

Conversion of a stone barn built in 1884 by Insta account @thebarnatmanorfarm


What else should I consider when converting a barn?

Converting a barn is not a straightforward project, so you should allow yourself plenty of time for the overall process.

Make sure you work with an architect who has experience converting a barn. They will be able to help on the design to retain the barn's charm as well as make the most out of the space and add a contemporary touch if required.

If you are thinking about converting a barn in the near future and need some help finding an architect or designer, we can match you with the most suitable ones for your project.

Find an architect or designer


Published: December 7, 2020


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