It is not uncommon for old heritage barns – built and crafted by early settlers – to meet their demise, fall or be deliberately demolished. It’s less common for someone to build a barn today using the designs of yesteryear – but not without precedent. Meet Justin Keiffer.
Keiffer, an engineer, hobby farmer, husband and father, has a fascination with old barns and farming that was smeared as a child on his grandparents’ 80-acre farm in Carson City, Michigan.
In 2011, Keiffer, along with his wife, Stephanie, purchased their home in Nashville, Michigan, which was essentially new because it had been used as a vacation home by the previous owners. With it came just over 8 acres.
“We started gardening and doing outdoor activities with the children. But my vision for this place included a barn,” says Keiffer, noting that he grew up spending a lot of time in his parents’ 36-by-72-foot hipped-roof barn, across from his century-old farmhouse. Grand parents.
He was about to price a pole barn when he got a lead on a timber frame, hipped roof barn ready for demolition.
“I had salvaged the material and was going to rebuild it, but my dad, being a licensed carpenter, didn’t like the idea of using old oak wood,” Keiffer says. “He put me in touch with an Amish gentleman who produces lumber, and after some calculation I thought I could do the whole barn – with me doing the work – for about the same price as a regular post 30 by 40 ft. – Menards barn kit.
Keiffer did all the design work himself, using Google searches, old wood frame books, and USDA plans published in the 1940s for the rafters. Some of them were on paper, while also using computer-aided design software.
The concrete for the white pine barn was poured in the fall of 2019. “It is built on a concrete slab. However, all the columns are bolted in concrete,” Keiffer explains. “Beneath each column is a concrete pillar 4 feet deep and 12 inches in diameter that was poured with the ground. So there is a pillar that is frost free to simulate an older barn built on rocks and mortar. This barn is a bit of a hybrid.
Pricing the barn, Arlin Ramer, the Amish lumber supplier, quoted 55 cents per board foot depending on the volume needed. With about 13,000 board feet for the whole barn, that works out to about $7,500.
The steel roof was estimated at around $3,500 and with around $1,000 in fasteners. Materials cost between $11,000 and $12,000 for the entire barn.
“At the time, a kit at Menards was about $11,000,” Keiffer says. “Instead, with my labor and the help of family and friends, we built this 30ft by 48ft barn with the whole thing upstairs.”
With the added cost of $2,500 in concrete, renting heavy equipment, buying tools and setting up pasture, fencing and utilities, Keiffer says it was about $22,000 at the total for the entire farm and barn installation.
Function and pleasure
A 10-by-14-foot shed at the rear of the building is used to store grain and allow entry of livestock. Young animals are housed there until they are old enough to go out to pasture. Keiffer raises a few steers for frozen beef, bees, and takes care of about 130 maple syrup taps, while his wife manages the ducks.
“With two floors, this barn gives me more space for the same price and looks – I love the look and what it offers,” he says, reminiscing about childhood memories of animal chores and playing in the hay clippings of her parents’ barn. “I wanted to give this opportunity to my children,” he says.
On rainy or cold days, or just to get out of the house, the Keiffers’ four children, a boy and three girls aged 8 to 13, take advantage of the mowing, which includes gym and tumbling equipment, musical instruments, games, two skylights and Suite. “They have a slackline up there and all kinds of random projects and stuff — it’s a mess, but in a good way,” Keiffer says.
Although the kids love their new playground, Keiffer says it was important to keep the barn functional. “Older barns have 8 foot ceilings at best. Mine have 11-foot ceilings,” he says. “It gives me the space I need to pull equipment, install an elevator, or just have more shelf space.”
The partially heated and insulated barn was completed in April 2020 and sits 27 feet from the top. About 12 feet of stairs take you to the second level. There is approximately a 100 square foot space cut out on the second level around the stairs. “It was designed to be able to get things up and down easily, and maybe one day use an elevator to put in straw or hay,” Keiffer says.
Although Keiffer did not use salvaged wood for his barn, he did use some of the salvaged barn wood for the interior walls of the insulated section.
Overall, Keiffer is very satisfied and says it was also good therapy for him as he was fired shortly after the project started. “It really allowed me to work on the barn,” he says. “I received my resume, and exactly two months to the day, I was back at work with the barn almost complete.”
Now that the barn is complete, Keiffer says it was a wise investment. “But my wife is a little surprised at the time I spend here on projects,” he says with a smirk.