I live in a cow barn
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I live in a cow barnI live in a cow barn. The cows left long ago when the dairy operation seized and original owners sold the place.
By the time I came along the old barn, built in the 1800's, sat abandoned, home to a few birds and the occasional varmint who made a cozy den for sleeping through northern Michigan winters.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
At first glance
At first glance the adjoining little white milk house seemed a likely place to set up a cozy writing room, especially since it already had electric and water. With just a few renovations I'd have a small bathroom, sink, counter and space for desk, book shelves and file cabinet.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
Knee-deep in manure
Going from the milk house to the inside of the barn everything else was knee-deep in manure. Calf stalls, old gates, equipment and an ancient concrete mixer were strewn from one end to the other.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
Things to get excited over
It took a hired handyman several days to shovel down to ground zero whereupon I found a solid floor already in place. Power washing gave me even more things to get excited over.
Wooden ceiling support beams were felled trees, some still with bark. Rough cut ancient axe marks carved the ends. Though well over a hundred years old, the barn was remarkably solid, in relatively good shape.
My creative buttons were pushed, every one of them. I saw beyond what I had to what it could be and for the next several months my local Lowe's Home Improvement store got to know me on a first-name basis. I no longer saw the little milk house as an office alone but rather the bottom level of the three-story barn as living quarters.
Living in the barn gave me the option of renting the small farmhouse for additional income. It made me think outside the box with other possibilities farm families might consider during tough economic times.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
Everything might be renovated
Any storage building, garage, shed or animal housing might be renovated, making it into a college student rental, mother-in-law suite or office area.
The barn project opened a door of possibility thinking. I realized my small downtown business, struggling to stay afloat during America's recession, could jump back into a profit margin if moved into the two-car garage, thereby slashing downtown overhead expenditures.
Plans for bringing the business home to the farm took one afternoon at the kitchen table and a weekend of do-it-yourself construction. Adding insulation, drywall and a fresh coat of paint put me in business. I asked neighbors and the county permission to operate and got it.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
Renovating the barn, I first drew a floor plan with chalk on the concrete floor. Moving a chalk line seemed less expensive than changing a newly built wall should I change my mind. This way I could think through several options, checking to see what traffic pattern and furniture layout worked and which didn't.
I changed the closet twice, settling on a 24-foot long walk-through. After basic construction by my hired help, I did finishing touches myself. Lowe's carried an array of easy-to-install closet organizer options for $22 to $164. Cedar siding strips cost $22.48 per box. Catching both items on sale I saved even more and did the project in a day.
Thinking ahead that here's where I'd want to retire I planned everything handicap assessable with doorways a minimum of 36 inches wide, some 52.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
I made the bathroom a spacious 14'x16' with room for a handicap walk-in tub to be installed later if I choose.
"It only cost about $4,000 additional if a home is made handicap assessable during the construction phase," said Jake Schutter, Owner of Chosen Construction, Detroit, Michigan. "If renovations are done later, the cost can be four times that much, about $15,000 for a 1,200 to 1,600 square foot home."
"Homeowners can save substantial money by acting as their own contractor, pulling their own building permits and hiring trades people to do any work they can't do themselves, such as electrical wiring or plumbing."
City and county inspectors will give a list of requirements explaining in detail safety issues and regulations. I found most to be helpful and encouraging.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
With chalk marks in place, my writing room location changed to the back of the barn and the milk house became the kitchen. I took out the calf pen, hardware cabinet and bottle feeders. Sealing the concrete floor, my talented handyman helper installed a moisture barrier, sub-floor, then laid rough-cut oak purchased from Hickory & Oak Sawmill, Decatur, Michigan.
The friendly owner of H&O, Steve Van Osdol, also threw in slab wood, the bark from trees trimmed before the wood is sawed into planks. I used these trimming the picture windows in my writing room. Looking from my desk I now had a close-up and personal view of the horse box stalls and pasture beyond where my ponies grazed. At times they looked through my office window wondering when I might take a break and come outside with an apple treat.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
I made the most of energy efficiency by building walls to the ceiling beams only, leaving the space above of about eight to ten inches for free flow of air conditioning and heat from the kitchen wood stove throughout the living quarters.
I paid for all materials and labor with out-of-pocket cash, never financing any part of the endeavor. The helpful Lowe's clerks always alerted me to upcoming sales on appliances, fixtures, paint and wallpaper and I planned my purchases accordingly.
Always stopping first in the center aisle discount and discontinued section, I found $400 Pella double-paned energy efficient windows on sale for $150, made an offer of $100 cash for all, and loaded the farm truck.
Another visit netted a $475 bathroom counter and cabinet, discounted to $200 because the sink was broken. I purchased a new sink for $50, made an offer on the cabinet for $100 and walked away with both. The lesson taught me to always visit Lowe's with $100 cash in my pocket and be flexible with what project I planned to work on that week.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
Back to nature
I love my barn home with its woodsy back-to-nature feel. With a floor plan on one level, rooms flowing one into another, the entire suite is spacious yet retains the cozy warmth of intimate living.
The rental income from the farmhouse just about covers the mortgage and my business operating in the garage put me back in the running with a strong profit margin.
Had it not been for the tough economic times I might not have entertained the many options sitting right there in front of me, just waiting to be unleashed. It brought to mind Plato's words that necessity is the mother of invention. True, indeed.
I overheard someone remark recently, "America's in recession, but I’ve decided not to participate." I’ve decided not to either. I live in a cow barn -- and I’m loving it.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: May 1, 2012
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