Making a Barn, a HomeBy Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer Published: April 13th, 2010
Editor’s Note: Looking for a new home with limited funds can be a major challenge. But while skimming the pages of Oklahoma Living recently, I came across an article about Shelley Hillsberry-Berry, who built her first home when she was 25 years old, single and on a tight budget. Ten years ago, when she was editor of, she wrote about the special pole barn house she built. With help from family and friends, Berry customized a metal pole barn into a comfortable, energy-efficient home. She liked her house so much that when she later moved to Hanna, Okla., with her husband and children, she built and now lives in another one—this one, a larger eggshell white with hunter green trim pole barn replica of the first one. What follows are excerpts from Berry’s article, which the publication billed recently, as its “single most requested article in the last 10 years.”
Affordable housing has long been a concern in rural Oklahoma. The joy of living in a small town is sometimes dampened by the lack of housing. Many options exist for people looking for a place to live, but it can be out of reach for single people or a young family.
I am speaking from experience. Upon graduation from college, I set out to find an affordable, comfortable place to live in rural Oklahoma. I was tired of apartment life and wanted a home. But the results were discouraging. Buying a mobile home or building a house was definitely out of my price range. Even with a gift of land from my parents, double-wide homes could cost as much as $75,000.
Building a house was even more expensive. At the time, the cost per-square-foot to build was $67. A 1,500 square foot house would cost over $100,000.
I knew there had to be an alternative.
My father and I came up with a unique solution: a metal pole barn converted to a home on the inside. We hired a three-person crew to build the 1,500-square-foot barn.
We designed the floor plan, so I was able to have the rooms just the way I wanted. A large front and back porch give the barn a home look and feel. We maximized space by eliminating hallways and arranging rooms to share plumbing and electrical supplies. The bathrooms back up to each other and the laundry room and kitchen are along one wall. We also paid attention to energy efficiency. Windows on the north and south sides of the house help with cooling and heating costs. Insulation in the attic and outside walls has also kept those costs down. With an R factor of 38 in the attic and eight inches of insulation on the outside walls, my all-electric house has never had a bill over $60, even during the hot summer months. The insulation also answers the most common question I am asked: “Can you hear it when it rains?” No.