Build a Home on Your Farm, Part 2 - Types of Farm Homes
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
This is a 5-part series of articles that discuss building a house on your farm or homestead. We look at planning, budgeting, designing, building, and we share our lessons learned along the way. In Part 1 we explore why to consider building a home on your farm. In Part 2 we discuss different types of homes you may want to build. Part 3 goes into site planning and home design. We'll discuss the people you work with to help build your home in Part 4. And finally the step-by-step process is explained in Part 5.
In Part 1 we discussed why you may want to build a home on your farm, and reasons you may want to wait before committing to building. Now let's talk about the types of homes to consider constructing.
My wife and I both grew up in rural settings, but we lived in town for much of our adult life. The day we knew we were ready to get back out to the country was the day our HOA sent us a warning for... wait for it... doing yard work. That's right, we had a few yards of top soil delivered and dumped into our driveway. We spread it around weak spots in our yard to help build up the soil. The HOA police saw it, took photos (didn't talk to us by the way), and sent us a letter a few days later indicating we had broken design rules, didn't seek proper permission from the architectural committee, and would be fined unless we undid the project we were working on.
Holy smokes, y'all! It took heated phone calls with layers of HOA bureaucrats to convince them this was normal yard work that required no approval other than our own and to drop the threat of fines. We understand the intent of HOAs, but in our experience they are largely status-quo, by-the-book, rule following social clubs who spend more time harassing residents over nit-picky regulations (eg, your grass is 2 inches too tall - and no, we're not making that up) and less time working on actually defending and increasing the value of the neighborhoods they are supposed to represent. Deep breath. Sorry, but we have strong feelings about HOAs.
We knew how we are wired, and we wanted to ask no one for permission to paint our house a certain color or if we can plant a tree in our front yard. Couple that with the desire for space, nearness to nature, and the desire to produce food, and we're on a one-way trip to the farm. Maybe you have the same feelings, and isn't it great to know you can go somewhere where you build and manage your own home however you choose?
So what kind of home is right for you? If you haven't considered it, there are lots of options to choose from. Here's a list of options and some pros and cons for each.
We won't get into the types of designs - there are countless (ranch style, farm house, craftsman, etc). Suffice to say, you're able to pick whatever you want for your farm. If you're building a house, you want it to be what you want it to be, and that's what a custom home is. The advantages are obvious - you have the final say in the floor plan, layout, and materials used. The disadvantages are that this is the most expensive option (although it doesn't have to be), and it takes the longest to build. We debated between a custom home and manufactured home (below), and landed on custom once we understood the most efficient ways to build a house, and we'll go into that in more detail at a later time.
More commonly known as mobile homes, but let's be clear - today's versions aren't your granddaddy's mobile homes. We almost went with a manufactured home. We'll explain why we didn't in another post, but suffice to say we were surprisingly happy with the options they provided. Modern manufactured homes must adhere to building codes for permanent dwellings, and as a result you are seeing much better quality and more interesting floor plans than what was available in the 70s and 80s. By and large they are less expensive than equivalent sized custom homes and can be set up within weeks of purchasing one. While there are many creative floor plans available, the downside is you are largely limited in layout of your home. Likewise changing the exterior or roof material comes with additional expense, and you're mostly limited to a low pitched roof. Lending terms aren't the same as traditionally built stick homes with the interest rates being notably higher and limited to 20-25 year notes as opposed to traditional 30 year terms for stick homes.
In our shopping for manufactured homes we found that these were the most cost effective options in our area if you were planning on smaller square footage, like 1,400 square feet or less. As they increased in size and went up to the "double wide" options with floor plans that were better suited us, they approached the cost of having our builder construct a home of the same size. Still cheaper, but not by much for the floor plans we considered.
Also called factory-built or prefab (prefabricated) homes, modular homes are often associated with manufactured mobile homes. While they are both built offsite and can be transported, the similarities mostly end there. Modular home manufacturers advertise that they can be constructed to custom orders. They are constructed quickly and can be erected in a fraction of the time a custom home can be. Problems are that while they can be made custom, doing so drives up the cost. Likewise, lending, at current time, is more difficult for modular homes than traditional built stick homes. And right or wrong, there's a perceived lack of quality in modular homes that could affect your ability to resell it later.
We looked at a couple of modular home options, and the costs of the prefab homes were no different than what we could achieve through our contractor to build pretty much the same house as a traditional built. If we wanted to upgrade appliances or building material, it became more expensive, so we abandoned modular homes as an option for us.
They're cute, aren't they? Shed manufacturers have figured this out and now offer all sorts of tiny home options, anything from a studio apartment arrangement to a 2-bedroom setup with a front porch. You can even buy tiny home kits online that you put together yourself. The advantages are that the expenses are relatively low (not as low as you might think, though), small real estate footprint, and quick setup. The disadvantage is largely lack of space, but you wouldn't be considering a tiny home unless you already knew that, right? You may also have to consider heating and cooling issues. A friend of ours has one as a cabin on his property that he rents out on AirBNB (check it out here), and he struggled initially to keep it cool in the summer. He sorted it out, but it did take investment in extra insulation and air conditioning units that he wasn't planning for when he bought the cabin.
While we weren't in the market for a tiny home, we were surprised by the expense of some of them. When we were looking at manufactured homes we asked the salesman about the tiny homes on the lot as we walked by one. We thought they'd be a lot cheaper, but turns out they're more expensive per square foot than a manufactured home. Kits and unfinished options are cheaper if you're willing to put in the work to finish them out yourself.
Or "barndos" for short. We're seeing this more and more in Texas. People are building steel barn structures with a living quarters inside. The living quarters are the home, and the rest is for tractors and storage and whatever else floats your boat... like maybe a boat. The advantage, as we understand it, is it's taxed like a barn and not a home. There are rules to this, so check with your local tax assessor to make sure you understand the tax implications. If you build this way, and it looks and acts like a barn, then you could save a lot of money. Problem we see is lots of people are building barndos that are just steel houses - they look like any other house on the street, just with metal sheeting as the exterior. They in turn are taxed like houses and contrary to popular myth, they cost every bit as much as a traditional house to build. If you go the barndo route, have a conversation with your insurer on how it would be covered. Some companies don't recognize them as houses, thus will not offer home insurance. Some expense can be saved if you have the exterior built and you finish the inside yourself.
Shipping Container Homes.
Shipping containers are abundant it would seem. And they've become popular because they offer a rugged frame for multiple uses to include barns, storage sheds, and homes. They come in 20 to 40 foot lengths, and with some sweat and know-how you can section them together to make larger structures. Check them out on Pinterest and you'll see all kinds of tricked-out shipping container houses. The upside is they're relatively inexpensive, and they offer a platform for you to do your own building work with little risk of the house falling in on you. The downside is they take a lot of work to get in order, and that may come with its own significant price tag.
Okay, going off grid isn't a type of home but a style of living that means to live more self-sufficiently with minimum or no use of public utilities. Off grid living can be applied to any of the home styles we discussed here. If your aim to live in such a self-sufficient manner, you should consider design requirements when selecting a type of home and its layout. For example, if you intend to use solar panels on your roof harness your own electricity, the type of roof and its orientation to the sun are important in order to reach that goal. Do your research on how to best utilize the style of your home in off grid, self sustaining ways.
Does your new property have an old home on it? If so, have you considered putting your efforts into fixing it up? That may not be practical in a lot of instances, but if there is a structure in place that could be fixed up, that should be an option to consider. One that could both save you a lot of money and be a rewarding endeavor.
Be open to each of these options when thinking about your future farm home. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and your decision depends on your goals and vision for your farm. In Part 3 we discuss details of preparing to build - the process and expenses to plan for.