This article is about converting a century old timber-frame hay barn into a warm and inviting home for my family to live in and friends to visit. This project had limitations tested the limits of our endurance and ingenuity. Several custom tools and processes had to be designed from the materials available to us on our very limited budget and experience. I hope you enjoy reading about our little adventure and what it took to get it as far as we have.
The Dream:
I think I have always loved old timber frame barns. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York and my favorite thing to do was play in the hay and swing from the rope tied to one of the beams. My cousins and I would spend countless hours running through the huge old barns and all their rooms having all sorts of great adventures. So I guess you could say I was brought up in a barn. Although I doubt I ever imagined actually living in one.
The June 1993 issue of Architectural Digest had a piece about a beautiful barn to house conversion. I loved the idea of living in such an expansive and beautiful space. The beauty of the exposed timbers, hand hewn from the ancient old growth forests really appealed to me. I liked the quality and the solid "feel" of the timbers; it brought back those memories of my grandfather’s farm and his huge old barn.
I had started reading and doing as much research on timber-framing and new timber-frame construction. I started looking at lots with old barns on them to see if I could find a salvageable frame to rebuild on a lot close to where I wanted to live. I would have to do most of the work myself. I couldn’t afford to hire a contractor to do it. I had 3 small children and was not making a lot of money at the time.
As luck would have it, there was a group of barns available, the elderly lady wanted to get rid of them before the town made her tear them down. So for $5000 I was able to buy the barns you see above and the one-acre lot they were located on. Everyone thought I was nuts, they drove by and said “they don’t need work, they need a match”. I saw something different; two of the four barns had solid structures. Most of the ugly was cosmetic. Some rather minor structural repairs and we would have a solid, intact timber-frame with which to start with.

Step 1: Jacking the building

On to the Plan
The lead photo shows what the barns looked like the day before my family and friends started cleaning up the place. It had been used for junk storage for a trailer park for years along with a local farmer storing bailed hay(which would cause problems later). Four 40-yard dumpsters later, we had the place pretty well cleaned out. One benefit was a two-story pile of old hay the kids had a great time jumping in.
After repairing the minor structural issues I needed to jack the building up to replace the crumbling stone foundation. Which comes to the first custom tool used to jack up the structure. I had several criteria, it had to be as stable as if the building were sitting on the ground, it had to allow for very small adjustments, it had to allow clear access to allow for forming in the new foundation and it had to be inexpensive.
The previous owners had been kind enough to leave several solid railroad ties behind. I found that if I used a lot of short lengths of chain and some blocking and brackets I could meet those requirements. As the picture shows the railroad tie is securely chained to the post, the form is in place and ready for rebar and concrete to be pumped in. The cinder block is in there as a safety measure until the concrete was poured.
Stunning. And quite impressive!
<p>Amazing, Incredible, beautiful!!!</p>
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This is a great testament to what can be done with a little ingenuity and a lot of back-breaking work.
Kudos on having the guts to undertake such a massive undertaking.<br> <br> My dream is to use several shipping containers as the outside walls of a structure and cover them under one massive roof. Similar to this <a href="http://designcrave.com/2009-06-22/10-brilliant-boxy-and-sustainable-shipping-container-homes/" rel="nofollow">http://designcrave.com/2009-06-22/10-brilliant-boxy-and-sustainable-shipping-container-homes/</a>, but maybe not as massive.
Those are so cool. I didn't know people were doing that with containers.
Amazing doesn't begin to describe. I am curious though, can a re-design like this be cost effective compared to building new from scratch?
Hello and thank you. To answer your question I would say, it depends. If you build a new timber-frame, it can be extraordinaryly expensive. Taking down an existing barn and reassembling it, again very labor intensive and expensive. Doing a conversion in place can be the most cost effective, if you can purchase it at the right price. Also, converting at the original site helps preserve the original flavor of the area. So many of the old barns in our area are going quickly, preserving part of our agricultural heritage is a nice bonus to doing this. I will add more to this when I get a chance, including covering the environmental and sustainable benefits. <br>Again, thank you.
Amazing project! Nice work!!

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Bio: I am a mobile application developer that loves to tinker with Arduino and Raspberry Pi projects.
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