12 minutes

Steps to Success: Barn Conversions

Have you ever thought about swapping the city life for a home in the country? 

Rest assured, you’re not alone! Year after year, real estate agents observe significant upticks in the number of prospective buyers eager to trade in the fast-paced urban life style for the tranquillity of rural havens. 

When thinking about an ideal property to live in in the countryside, it seems that many are drawn to the traditional barn with the vision to carry out a conversion to create a rustic-style family home. It’s hard not to see the appeal here; with their high ceilings, exposed beams and overall country-feel, transforming a barn sounds like the perfect project to take on.

In many ways, this classic conversion does live up to the fantasy but there are various intricacies that need to be kept in mind from planning legislation to the budget needed to make the scheme a success. 

In this article, we will delve into barn conversions sharing with you the planning legislation you will need to consider, the time and costs along with some top tips to ensure your project runs smoothly.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

What is a barn conversion?

A barn conversion is a popular type of scheme where an existing agricultural building that is disused is converted into either a home, an office, a holiday home or even a painting/studio space. This trend has actually been great for safeguarding numerous aging barns that might have otherwise faced demolition or left to fall into disarray.  

The conversion process usually involves significant alterations to the property’s interior and exterior facades. In some cases, designers opt to work with the existing elements of the barn by reusing its structure but adding a modern twist to create contemporary spaces that can be filled with natural light.

Modern amenities are added such as plumbing, heating and electricity to achieve the overall goal of creating a comfortable and functional living space that also preserves the original features and charm of the existing property. Barn conversions can really vary in size – depending on the size of the existing property and its surrounding space! This means the scope of work can be of a smaller-scale, where more modest family homes can be created right through to extensive and complex conversion that involve creating multiple buildings.

Why would I choose a barn conversion?

There are a host of reasons why someone might opt for a barn conversion. Let’s take a look:

  • Charm and character:

It goes without saying but there is something truly beautiful about the unique sense of character and charm that barn conversions can offer. This can’t really be replicated in most modern homes and is one of the most standout features of these types of schemes. Often, conversions projects choose to incorporate the original timber or brickwork found in the existing barn alongside other historic details which truly create an enchanting appeal in the property. 

  • Providing spacious living: 

Given the nature of a barn – they are usually big and open internally providing the perfect base to create a spacious home with open-plan layouts that lend themselves to modern family living. If you are dreaming of a home that has the capacity for larger living/dining/entertaining areas lending themselves to having guests over or accommodating large families, a barn conversion might be a great option for you. 

  • A sustainable choice

As we all know, we should all be doing our bit in our day-to-day lives to make more sustainable choices. Opting for a barn conversion could also be a great option if you are looking to be a little eco-friendlier as you are choosing to rework an existing structure rather than completely starting from scratch.  

  • Location, location, location

If you have ever dreamt of off-grid living or simply being somewhere a little bit tucked away, purchasing a barn property could be the right choice for you. Barns are found in rural and semi-rural locations across the country, offering you a more peaceful way of living if you are feeling fed-up with the city life.

  • The property value

While barn conversions are not necessarily a cheap option, they can be seen as a long-term investment. A well accomplished transformation of a barn can substantially enhance the value of the property therefore arguably making it a profitable asset.

What do I need to consider in terms of planning?

Some good news, changes in legislation over the past ten years have made the planning process when it comes to barn conversions slightly easier to navigate. There is a bit more freedom and less boxes that need to be ticked in comparison to the how it was in the past.

That said, of course there is legislation that needs to be considered when it comes to barn conversions and applications to be made. 

Most barn conversions fall under permitted development rights, which means you do not have to go down the traditional route of submitting a full-planning application (that can also be costly and lengthy!)

Class Q of the permitted development rights (agricultural buildings to dwellinghouses) seek to make the planning process when it comes to converting a barn building to a home simpler. However, not all is smooth-sailing as we will explain in the next section of this article.

There of course will be some paper work – you MUST submit a prior approval application which can be done by your designer or planning consultant. This needs to be carried out to ensure the conversion of your barn is legal and to engage with the Council to confirm they are 100% accepting of your proposed development. 


What are the benefits of choosing the permitted development route?

There are numerous advantages when it comes to permitted development and barn conversions to include:

  1. Savings of time and costs
  2. Reduced documentation when compared to a full planning application
  3. Exemption from local planning policies and design guidelines (less bureaucracy and hurdles!)


How does prior approval work when it comes to a barn conversion?

Submitting prior approval in essence allows the local council to deliberate your proposal and consider it in the context of its impact on contamination, transport, highways, any flood risks and suggest ways in which they think these risks could be avoided. The prior approval application also considers the materials you have chosen to convert your barn alongside the walls, windows and roof. 

It is very important to note, you must get a written agreement from the Council before carrying out any building works that would change the use of the barn to something else, even if the scheme falls under permitted development rights. 


What does a prior approval application under Class Q look like?

As mentioned, while you do not have to follow the traditional route of submitting full planning, submitting a prior approval application under Class Q can be quite tricky as there are quite a few requirements you need to meet to qualify for PD rights.

Again, we would recommend working with a professional that has experience in dealing with these kinds of applications.

In short, the legislation under Class Q specifies a set of conditions that MUST be met before any work on the conversion of the barn can be carried out.

Your application must show that you have satisfied all the conditions set out under the legislation to ensure your proposal is not rejected. 

As of recent, the following need to be submitted for a prior approval application under Class Q:

  1. A detailed set of proposed drawings: Floor Plans, Elevations, Sections
  2. A list of proposed uses for each room specified in the design
  3. A daylight assessment
  4. Dimensions of proposed doors, windows and walls 
  5. Compliance with minimum space standards for all habitable rooms.


What are the criteria my barn needs to fall under to qualify for permitted development rights?

  1. The barn must have been used for agricultural purposes on 20th March 2013 or within 10 years from when you have decided to carry out your conversion scheme
  2. The barn cannot be listed (if it is you will need to go down the traditional route with submitting a full application and listed building consent)
  3. The barn cannot be in a conservation area or AONB. If it is, it does not qualify for PD rights. 
  4. The building must be a conversion and not look anything like a new-build scheme – the application should demonstrate that it will be reusing/repurposing the existing barn
  5. The barn must reflect the original use ensuring that the overall character of the conversion distinctly echoes its prior function as an agricultural structure or barn. Windows and doors are permissible but they should only be incorporated where deemed necessary.


When would I need to submit a full planning application?

As mentioned above, there are a strict set of criteria your barn needs to fall under to qualify for PD rights. If it doesn’t satisfy all of these, it will need to be submitted for a full planning application.

A key example of when a full planning application needs to be submitted is if the barn is situated within a conservation area or AONB. 

When putting together a full planning application under these conditions (i.e if its in a conservation area) you will need a very strong justification as to why you think this proposal is justified on protected land. 

Your application should justify that the proposal is in keeping with its original context, that it maintains the character of the existing building and it shows respect of any protected wildlife and their habitats. 

While indeed it is not impossible to gain permission via the traditional route of submitting a planning application, the Council will have more of a say in the design and it can turn into a lengthy battle to gain a successful outcome.


What about building control?

You will need to apply for building control approval with your barn conversion. 

This will include preparing a technical set of drawings done by your professional to show compliance with building regulations, including plans and sections showing construction details. Structural calculations supplied by a Structural Engineer will also be required to gain consent. 

What kind of budget do I need to carry out a barn conversion?

This will depend on the type of scheme you are looking to carry out (size, level of finish etc) and its location.

Very generally speaking, a barn conversion ranges between £100,000- £500-000 as a ball park figure. (around £1700-2,500 per square metre or higher)

Please consult with your professional for a much more accurate figure.

Note, this cost does not cover planning fees, fees for your professional and contractors needed for the scheme etc.

When considering the cost, evidently the size of the barn conversion will play a big role along with the condition the existing building is in. If the structure is compromised or it requires any other significant upgrades, you will need to factor in extra in your budget.

The type of barn you are converting will also impact the cost. If it is constructed from stone it will be more expensive than if it is brick or wood. 

Where your project is situated is also a factor on the project cost as this will dictate the price of labour and materials.

What do I need to know before buying a barn to convert?

We could write a lot here about things you should consider but as we say with any scheme you that requires your time and money, make sure you do your research. 

One thing we have come across with barn conversions is special agreements between your land/barn and neighbouring properties. This could mean that neighbouring farms may have access to your land for let’s say agricultural vehicle purposes.

You will also definitely want to check if its listed, within an AONB or in a conservation area as this will greatly limit your choice of materials and style of property plus add in some sneaky costs that you may not have budgeted for in the beginning!

Also, you should consider how much time plays a factor in your decision making when it comes to barn conversions. While approximately we say around 1 year for the project to complete, if there are any issues on site including structural issues with the existing building this will need to be rectified. Or, if there any issues with the application process, this will also incur added time. 

Can you add an extension to a barn conversion?

Generally speaking, this could be contentious with the Local Authority as according to legislation, you should not be extending beyond the original footprint of the barn.

With that said, if the extension is of a smaller-scale, there may be some room for negotiation with planning officers. 

The point to stress here is that the addition would need to be sympathetic to the overall design and would link to original host building. A lean-to extension could be deemed acceptable if it demonstrates it will be used for something essential such as a utility or cloakroom or for services such as a boiler. 

Keep in mind, if you are looking to extend your barn conversion, this will need to be submitted as a full-planning application and will not fall under permitted development rights.


How can I ensure my barn will be well-insulated?

As older structures, barns are generally not well-insulated and this will need to be addressed early on to ensure a comfortable and cost-efficient home when it comes to keeping it warm.

One of our top tips to success is to get an energy assessment carried out by a professional from the outset to identify where insulation will need upgrading (i.e) in the walls, roof or doors/windows.

Upgrading the insulation of a barn is not as straight-forward as let’s say a standard home and you will need to consult a professional to ensure the insulation is installed correctly and will pass building control inspections. 

One of the best things you can do is ensure your windows and doors are upgraded to double-glazing. This will of course be an added cost to the project but will help you save money in the long run. This will also help to mitigate any noise.

You will also want to ensure your contractor seals any gaps or cracks in the walls, roof or floor that will stop air coming in and reducing how efficient your insulation is. 

You will also want to make sure that your floors are well insulated through insulation boards and underfloor heating. This will also help to create a cosier feeling space.

The roof will need to be upgraded with either spray foam insulation or rigid insulation boards. 

For the walls, you will need to make sure the build-ups are done correctly to ensure fitting insulation boards or batts and a good moisture barrier than will stop condensation.


We hope this has given you some insight into the process of converting a barn. This can be a really exciting and rewarding challenge to take on to ensure you create the home of your dreams. We would love to hear more about your barn conversion so please do drop us an email with any ideas you may have and we will gladly try to point you in the right direction!

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