FAQ about Barn Rehabilitation

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Frequently Asked Questions

What work should be done first? 

Almost always, the work that is needed for you barn can be phased. All the work does not need to be done at the same time. Identify what is the most urgent problem and do that first.

Develop a timeline and a plan that addresses all your needs and then prioritize and schedule them. This work can include stabilization, repair, maintenance and cosmetics.

How can I evaluate a quote I have been provided?

Gain as much objective knowledge about your barn as you can. Study and understand the barn’s structure and condition.

Talk to several contractors and ask questions. You are likely to get varied answers to the same question. There are several ‘right’ ways to repair and to correct barn problems.

Remember that a quote or bid is only an estimate until it becomes a signed contract.

What do you want in relationship to the repairs you are seeking? There are many perspectives for you to consider as you plan what to do:

-Do you want historical accuracy?

-Are you in for longevity?

-Is stabilization the most immediate issue?

-What are your financial limitations?

-What are the aesthetic goals?

What is the powder that I keep finding on the floor of my barn?

The most common insect damage we see in barns is from Powder Post Beetles. These beetles bore small holes (smaller than a pencil lead) in barn posts and beams. As they bore, a fine, light tan to reddish brown powder is ejected and builds up in piles beneath the holes. The holes and powder are evidence of a Powder Post Beetle infestation. Infestations have to be active for a long time and extensive before any significant structural impact results.

Extermination by professional exterminators can be done, usually with a guarantee or follow-up treatments. Owners can also treat for powder post beetles with a solution of borax and water using a garden sprayer. Several commercial products are available and can also be applied with a garden sprayer.  One is “Bora-Care” available from www.nisuscorp.com

What is the most important thing I can do for my barn?

Uncontrolled moisture and water is the most destructive element to the continued stability of your barn. Keep the roof in good condition to insure water does not get inside and rot essential, structural parts.

Keep the foundation clear and stable by having effective grading that directs water run-off away from the wooden sills and foundation of the building. Remove vegetation growing close to the barn. Remove trees and shrubs to keep roots from undermining and damaging the foundation.

What will it cost to fix my barn?

What does it cost to fix a house? or a car?  The only way to get an accurate idea is to contact the people who can do the work. Ask several to provide estimates on the same work. The resulting estimates may very greatly but you will have established a range of what your repairs will cost.

Nearly all barn deterioration is due to deferred maintenance. The cost of repairs may equal about the same cost as accumulated, regular maintenance. Buildings need regular and effective maintenance in order to continue to be productive for your needs.

Why don’t contractors call me back?

Most contractors are conscientious and skilled crafts-persons who are proud of their knowledge and skills. They really like to please clients and do a good job. There is an increasing demand for this type of work from a very small workforce. They may just be over extended considering their time and travel constraints. It is however common courtesy for contractors to respond to customer inquiries.

Where do I find someone to work on my barn?

There are a variety of approaches to repair and rehabilitation of barns. First, learn as much about your barn and its conditions as possible so that you can seek the right contractor from a base of personal knowledge. Talk to several contractors. Get to know them and their approaches. Ask them all to respond to a specific list of repairs. Ask questions!

Depending upon your needs, you may want to include an architect or engineer in your fact-finding. Contractors are the individuals who will do the physical work on your barn. Consultants are people who can help you design, research and plan your barn project. Good business procedures are a must between both contractor and client. Be sure to check references and qualifications.

A list of contractors is one of the databases in the Resources section of this website. Please note, however, that the MBPN does not endorse service providers. We urge barn owners to do their own due diligence before hiring a contractor.

What should I know about insuring a barn?

Insurance for historic and traditional barns can be a problem. It is extremely expensive to replace a barn as it was built. Materials of the quality used in historic barns generally do not exist anymore. Fewer contractors understand timber frame construction and even less choose to work in this area.

For insurance providers, it is hard to estimate replacement and/or repair cost on traditional barns. Insurance is based upon accurate estimates of the cost of the structural materials and repair or replacement labor. Barns can be an attractive target for arson. Simple neglect and deferred maintenance also contribute to the vulnerability of a barn. Looks are important to insurance people. If it appears to be in bad condition it is considered to be a bad risk.

MBPN explored basic questions about how barns are insured with five insurance industry experts. This 2014 article by MBPN board member Julie Avery summarizes the information they provided.

Where can I find replacement windows & hardware for my barn?


You can probably use the hardware and windows that you believe may be beyond repair! Windows can appear to be in terrible condition but can be repaired at a cost equal to or likely below the cost of new windows that may be of lesser quality. Historic windows are designed so that they can be taken apart easily, repaired, reglazed, and painted for re-use.

New barn windows that are available may be of poor quality in materials and design and they may be visually inappropriate to your older barn.


Most 19th century barn hardware, unless missing completely or with broken parts, respond well to cleaning, repair, and maintenance.

Also, old hardware does exist. Many contractors save these pieces for reuse. Old and rehabbed hardware can be found for similar cost to new (usually of inferior quality) hardware.

A basic tenant of preservation is to always repair or replace with like-kind

I have a barn that needs to be torn down.

Our first priority is to find a way that you can keep and use your barn if it can be repaired. Once an objective decision is made that your barn must be removed, we will need some basic information in order to help:



Timber or Plank Framed

Roof covering material(s).

Foundation material

What is your timeframe for removal?

We can list your barn as available in the MBPN newsletter or website to attempt to find an interested party.

Who can put a new roof on my barn?

Check the listing of contractors on our website and find individuals who do this type of work. You will need to determine what type of roof you want on the barn (shingles or steel). Be sure to check references and previous work done by the contractor you are interested in. Get several bids from contractors to inform your final decision.

We recommend having an assessment of your barn done to determine if other work needs to take place prior to putting on a new roof. The structure needs to be straight and stable to protect the investment in the roof.

Is there money to save my barn?

Currently there are no governmental grants in Michigan to help private owners of barns with restoration or repair of their personal property.

There are federal tax credits available if you qualify. Please take a look at the article on “Barns and Historic Preservation Tax Incentives.” The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) can provide advice and an application. Visit: https://www.miplace.org/historic-preservation/.

Barns in Public Ownership:  Work on barns which are owned by municipalities, nonprofit organizations or other public entities may be eligible for consideration for grants and awards through governmental and foundation programs. Grant awards for “bricks and mortar” (i.e. construction, moving and adaptation) are hard to find, however. While there are numerous examples of projects that have attracted governmental and foundation support for the development of barn facilities, funding has been more prevalent for public programming which could include adaptive and structural work necessary to make the structure appropriate for the activities.

See update on Barn Preservation Funding Sources for information on tax credits, grants and low-interest loans.

What value is there in rehabilitating my barn?

If you are currently using your barn, you will save money on property taxes over the years by rehabilitating the barn as opposed to tearing it down and building a new structure. Check with your local tax assessor on this issue before starting any work.

We encourage you to think about the future value of your barn. As traditional structures, barns are becoming rare; they could increase the sale value of your property. We are in a time when people are starting to look for property with old barns for new and nontraditional farming and retail businesses.

We also encourage you to join MBPN to support our efforts at saving barns.

How are barns taxed?

Existing barns are already taxed as real estate at a certain level, and many have been depreciated to a very low value. General maintenance and repair (including painting) to existing barns should not increase your taxes. Building a new building will result in higher taxes imposed at a rate equal to the cost of the new building.

See also “Property Taxes and Restored Barns,” an essay by Gary Howell for more information.

How much money can I get for the wood in my barn?

The wood on your barn is worth much more intact, as a barn, than its monetary value as separate parts and pieces. While it is a positive thing to salvage and reuse good materials from a building, it is not a good practice to destroy an intact building for its parts. It is a policy of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network to condone salvage and sale of barn wood ONLY if the barn cannot be saved as a barn. It is acceptable to dismantle a traditional barn for parts ONLY if it is a structure that cannot be repaired or saved.

The value of salvaged barn wood is usually a direct result of the labor it takes to remove it, load it, haul it, and then clean and prepare it into useable condition. Reclaiming barn wood is a labor intensive effort. The wood by itself typically does not hold value because so much work has to be done to reclaim it.

There are a growing number of individuals who are interested in having a traditional barn. In the last few years more and more contractors have gained experience with moving barns. These days, it is common to see examples of traditional barns, not wanted by their current owners, being adopted by a new owner who then contracts to have them dismantled, moved and reassembled in a new location and put to a new use. In certain circumstances it can be economical to have house movers move a barn in one piece.

Wouldn’t a new pole building be more useable?

Bottom line: it depends on the proposed use. If you already have an existing barn and are asking about replacing it with a pole building the answer is: probably not. With the same footprint, square foot area traditional barns may provide 2 – 3 times the potential storage volume. Traditional barns typically have 2 storage levels or loft space, while the typical pole building has only one.

With some vision and proper engineering, traditional barns are extremely adaptable and can be modified to meet almost any use. We believe that in many cases traditional barns can be adapted to new uses with less investment than building new structures.

Is my property worth more without the barn?

No, we believe that a traditional barn is a valuable part of your property!  Your traditional barn was most likely built with high quality materials and workmanship and can only be duplicated today at considerable expense.

Because barns are an ultimate example of buildings that can be adapted, you can never know how a future owner could make use of a barn on your property. Modifications and adaptations can result in a substantial structure and spaces for new uses going far beyond the original use as storage for crops and shelter for equipment and livestock.

It is likely that the removal and disposal of your barn will cost more than repairing. There are increasing regulations related to burning and disposal of certain materials such as painted wood and asphalt shingles.

With the growing attention to and importance of sustainability, your barn represents a huge amount of “embodied energy” that can be preserved and kept in continual use. Embodied energy is all of the energy that went into the construction and maintenance of your barn from the time it was built. The energy expended in cutting the trees, preparing the timbers, siding and shingles, hauling and placing the stone foundation, and all its upkeep and repairs are all in place and can still be used. To throw away all that embodied energy is a huge waste.

The existence of a traditional barn on your property identifies it as a part of an old farmstead. It is a storehouse of information about how agriculture has changed over time and about unique cultural and historical information about your community and its agricultural heritage.

Is my barn worth saving? . . . Can it be saved?

YES! YES! An old friend that had years of experience at rehabilitating old barns said “If it is not on the ground I can fix it.”

Generally speaking that’s true. If it’s still standing it can be saved. With the right amount of money almost anything can be saved. Whether it is worth saving, is up to you, the owner. The Michigan Barn Preservation Network is in the business of encouraging people to save and maintain their barns. We believe they are valuable and worthy of significant investment. We will do all we can to help you come to that same conclusion.

What about burning a barn?

In most locations in Michigan it is not an option. Many local fire departments have done this in the past as practice for the firefighters. Intentionally burning whole buildings, even by local fire departments, has become regulated by state agencies making barns much less attractive as practice.