The FIRE Barn

Barn on FIRE

Meneer (Mr.) from the blog of www.meneerenmevrouw.com dropped me an email this weekend. He had read our 5-year plan and commented on the fun fact that he and the Mrs. had been considering some of the same ideas. What ideas you might ask: buying an detached house with a large plot of land (i.e. usually an old farm) to grow your own produce while perhaps also doing some (Air)B&B on the side for some extra income. This got me thinking, what about a FIRE barn? A what?

The FIRE Barn

The FIRE Barn
Source: http://huispromotie.nl/een-boerderij-verkopen/

The FIRE Barn

We have obviously been looking at old barns already and have found a couple that might even be interesting too. However, most are a bit too expensive for us right now, especially when you consider the costs for renovations and preparations for the vegetable yard/permaculture setup. We could sell some of the Real Estate, but would rather not due to the nice cash-flow it is currently generating. However, there is another option, what about doing it with likeminded people from the FIRE community? Yes, a FIRE Barn 😉

The Idea

The idea is really simple actually, you share financial and human resources to purchase, renovate and setup a barn and associated yard/garden. You share the joys and work to assure you get the maximum yield on your time, efforts and money. You can obviously also implement a system where you become completely self-sustainable (i.e. no utility connections) too. Think septic systems, solar power, geothermal heating system, heat exchangers, etc.

Subject to the amount of people that are joining in, and the size/space of the property, you have various options (here are just a few):

  • Small FIRE barn: two or three families/couples. Each a section of the house or barn. Communal yard with shared efforts to maintain.
  • Large FIRE barn: 3-5 families/couples. Still each with their own private areas. Communal yard with shared efforts, with perhaps some private sections.
  • Extra large farm house/barn/barn extension: up to 10 families. Likely private quarters but communal kitchen(s) and/or living areas. This really starts to look like communal living.

In all scenarios you share the expenses of the farmhouse/barn equally among the parties (i.e. taxes, maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc.). Guess you can setup a system where you “buy” or “sell” your share of the expense depending on the amount of work you do around the place. Subject to yard size/regulators, you might have the option to create camp sites/chalets/converted barn for some (Air)B&B income to limit overal expenses.

Lot’s of option here to benefit from each others knowledge, skill sets and the property.

Bed and Breakfast?

I hate and love B&B’s. On the one side they are a good way of creating some extra income, but on the other side they are far from passive income generators. You really have to work hard at keeping the place clean, booked and running. Also, social contacts are very important for most humans (including me), and having a B&B definitely provides that interface. I’ve actually done this for 3 weeks in the USA as a favor in exchange for free accommodation and meals. It was great fun, but I’m not sure how long it would have been an interesting activity.

Guess part-time B&B-ing is not a bad idea. Just run the B&B for the summer months and close it down for the winter ones (so you yourself can travel to warmer places). That being said, I have to admit that an farm/barn is a great place for a B&B. You usually have a lot of space and it’s not that difficult to make some guest spaces available for additional income. You also tend to get the easier going/older people at these types of locations who like nature, limiting the amount of work (read: cleaning, maintenance).

The jury is not out on this one…. albeit it is a good opportunity to cover some of the farmhouse/barn expenses for sure.

Permaculture

What is permaculture, why do we (think we) like it and why is it perfect for farmhouse/barn living? Permaculture, by wiki’s definition, is ” a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems”. Huh, what? It is pretty much optimizing the natural world as much as possible and efficiently using all the resources it provides.

The Fire Barn - Permaculture

The Fire Barn – Permaculture
Source: https://permacultureprinciples.com/

Why is the interesting? The primary reason most people like this is because it actually is the most sustainable way to live (ethical living). But for me as a lazy person (and an engineer) it is also nature engineering to the highest degree. If you setup your permaculture garden well (and this does take time), you can have a 4 hour work week with a massive amount of garden produce (and potentially much more). It would almost be passive income, and we like that!

If you do it right, It might even make you self sustainable from a food perspective and provide additional savings in energy usage. Now that is cool. Why is a barn such a good place, usually it comes with a large plot of land. Albeit you don’t need much, a larger plot does give you more options and a bigger harvest/larger variety in resources. It also does require more time and efforts to implement, obviously.

This post is way too short to list the amazing things one can do with permaculture. Can highly recommend reading up on it, if you can deal with the high hippy content.

Travel

Many people in the FIRE community would like to travel, perhaps even long-term when FI. In a FIRE barn setup this should be very much possible. Because you already would have a relatively low cost of living with a FIRE barn setup, leaving for the longer term is not a big problem. More so, you have the option to (Air)B&B out your livingspace and have your farm friends help out with the management. The extra income would likely cover your expense requirements, leaving you with no or very little fixed costs at home while you travel. This would obviously only work if you have a good system in place and mutual understandings of how life on the farm/barn is managed. Lot of opportunities here!

Negatives

Ok, perhaps you now think I have gone completely mad (you’d be right). You might think I want to start a sect (close) or have become a hippy (heck, even I don’t know in what “box” I fit anymore)? Not to fret, it’s not that bad (yet).

The FIRE Barn - Crowded

The FIRE Barn – Crowded
Source: https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/140033869636673393/

Perhaps I might change my mind, but I don’t see this happening anytime soon, for one main reason: privacy. I like my “me” time, which is already hard to get these days with the little one. But in this case it is also the fact that you can’t really get away from your fellow farm friends. Despite the fact that you would have your own space, and you are free to go as you please, you would still have quite a few people around all the time.

Considering all the benefits this setup might provide, it might still be a good idea. I would just have to find a way to get my privacy/peace-and-quite time. Not impossible at all, but I need to really want it (i.e. being self sustainable with added benefits) before I would put the (mental) effort into it.

There is a second component that is critical and that is that all members are on the same page with their thinking/attitude. This might be the most difficult part as every human is unique and has different options and ideas during different stages of life. While you might get along now, you might not in the future. This could cause issues and strife, which always ends up costing money one way or the other. Personally, I like to do my own thing and also make decisions on my own (read: making compromises with Mrs CF only). But then again, this is also a risk that you can manage!

 

So dear readers, what do you think? Would this be something you would even consider? Or are you to attached to your privacy like me? What other pros and cons do you see?

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39 comments

  1. What about just tearing down the barn and putting up a small apartment building? New, selfsustaining, with communal spaces and a huge garden/outside area! A big communal living room and smaller ones in the apartments, all according to your own design! So many possibilities! Not to mention the great slides from the upper floors to get down 😛

    I would definitely be in for something like that, or in any case fantasizing about it.. 😀

    1. You cultural brute, how can you suggest tearing down a pretty old farm building for a modern monstrosity 😉
      But perhaps not a bad idea thou….

  2. As amber tree has mentioned, there are some co-habitation projects in Belgium. Some of them old farms who get subdivided in multi-family units with community gardens and such. They often end up expensive as renovating old farms is a costly enterprise. Everything on those old farms is custom work. A small, passive NEW build house is the most practical way to go.
    Quite a few projects leaning towards the hippie side of the spectrum. Personally I am too big of a male, chauvinistic, capitalistic pig to fit into something like that. Hell, the reason I bought a 2700 square meter plot of land is to be able to get away from other people!
    Also, food is not the biggest cost for most people. Housing and transportation are. If you like gardening you can always do it as a hobby. But as a cost saving thing? I did a rough calculation a few years ago and I if I remember correctly the hourly wage you would be making by growing your own vegetables and stuff was around a euro or two. Not counting the tools you need to buy or the amortization cost of the land. Hell, even professional farmers hardly make a living at present!
    But if you want a first-hand experience: I have got a 100 meter hedge that urgently needs trimming and around 30 fruit trees that could benefit from some pruning as well. It’s all fun and games the first years but around year 5 the novelty has worn off and around year 7 your thinking about replacing the hedge with a wall …
    I do not want to sound to harsh but i think you have a bit of an idyllic view on this …

    1. Dude, you seriously need to start looking into permaculture with such a large property! You have to work with nature on this one and engineer it well, it will save you so much work in the long term, you would not believe. Hedges trimming and fruit tree pruning are such an inefficient way of using nature, it’s painful.
      Somehow I’m not surprised you would not fit well into communal living 😉
      P.s. if you can do much of your own reno’s, but you it’s still cheaper to get an old farm compared to build new. But granted, the cost difference would be small.

  3. Pretty interesting. Crossed my mind a couple of times last two years or so. My significant other is also keen on these sort of idea’s. I currently live in a sort of “commune” where we maintain 11 (private!) appartments in one block. We share a garden and some other spaces but we all have our own place with kitchen, bathroom and toilet so pretty private and meeting up is optional. The legal construction behind this is doable (hey, i’m living in it!) yet fairly complicated to start up (this one was set up around 2000, i’m living there just since the beginning of last year).

    The big issue with these kind of arrangements is property rights and paperwork. You either need to bring in a fair amount of your own money or set up some sort of association or foundation to manage property rights. The thing is, when you start these kind of constructions, everyone is very happy and enthausiastic. But you need to be aware of the fact that things might change. What if someone wants to leave, and the other ones don’t have the money to stay at the property (because the party leaving wants their fair share back), or other discussions arise. That’s when you’re all getting in real trouble.

    A normal mortgage is no option here, banks aren’t happy to finance these ideas for the same reason mentioned above: if one of the participants exits the game, it might be the others can’t afford the mortgage anymore.

    Options here are setting up a foundation or something likewise or finding out whether the property is splittable into several individual properties so each piece could be bought by one of the people participating. Normal mortgage should be possible then. Trouble their is that no one gets any influence in any of the future participants since each piece of the property is privatly owned.

    Other troubles might be not being able to build more residential areas, trouble with environmental code (highly doubtable, definitely in low-density population areas) or permit issues.

    I think that, with the current upcoming of tiny houses, tiny house communities and the change where people want to live a free life and not be bound by financial chains anymore, things will be changing. I would love to be a part of these changes, but it’s pretty uncultivated land to explore!

    1. Cool insights from someone who has actually experienced some from of communal or joint living. Thank you.
      Guess it is easier to have one (financially strong) party purchase the property and have the other ones “rent” sections. This way the financing should be easier and expenses can be shared via a VvE (“condo board”) type setup. Just some ideas.

  4. No thanks – not for me! But I could see it working for the right person. I’m an introvert, and I need my “alone time” to recharge and just chill out. Being surrounded by people all the time would drive me crazy.

    1. Despite being an extrovert, I can relate to the “me alone time” all too well! Guess the idea is also to split the barn into one, two or three units. Each with their own bathroom and kitchen, this way you have a private retreat. But the outdoor work will have to be a shared effort obviously. It’s fun to brainstorm about this though!

  5. This week I closed the door of my B&B. This week i am having a week off. The garden the boat the books. With th b&b I am always working.

    I love the business guests during the winter. The make there own breakfast. Come in in Monday and leave on Friday or Thursday or stay months. It is so easy. In the somet guests want to have breakfast at nine. And I have to wait Waiting cleaning washing email telephone always.

    For me it is simple. I work for my extra’s. that is it.
    Some people are fun other ain’t fun.

  6. Sounds like a nice idea, but it would be nice if you could make seperate spaces in which every family has their privacy.

    I think that being on the same page is indeed critical for it to work 🙂

  7. Very neat idea, but I think it would be pretty hard to implement successfully for a long period of time.

    Human energy has limits, and being part farmer, part blogger, and part B&B host would be extremely tiring. I think you’d be exhausted frankly. On top of that no ‘me’ time would also add to the stress after awhile.

    I think there’s a reason why we humans specialize. The practice and efficiency required to do things well takes a lot of time and effort.

    For example — most ‘part-time’ gardeners don’t really end up saving themselves much money. They usually spend more than they save by buying stuff for that garden. There’s also economies of scale to consider too.

    1. Agree, it would be too much for one person. That is why a combo with others might just make this happen without being too tired. But judging by the comments, most people really like their privacy.
      Another point why this could be considered is the high prices of land and houses in this country. it’s a challenge to pay for this (even a small farm) on your own without a massive mortgage.

  8. I have been contemplating this as well. To buy an old farm with lots of land with 3 or 4 families to keep it affordable. There are very nice properties around the 600 – 700k pricemark available that would qualify. I would also be willing to put in the manual labour that is necessary.. I do, however, value my independancy and privacy very much and therefore I do not see a way to realise this.

    1. Guess the best option would be a large plot of land with 3-4 houses in each “corner”, still the benefits of combined labour, efforts and finances, but still privacy. Now we just need to find a municipality that will buy in on this……right.

    1. Cool link, very interesting developments. Hope they make this happen, but there seems to be sufficient interest.
      The sustainability/permaculture is a nice added feature, but I was really going for low cost of living and shared expenses and incomes from say produce of B&B with this FIRE barn idea. Slightly more focused on the finances, supplemented with doing something good for the environment and yourself too.
      So you guys don’t want to be our neighbors…..darn

    2. Hmm…Maybe a lot of people are headed this way because of entertainment like the Walking Dead?

      Thank for leading me here through the Rockstar forums, Divnomics!

    3. Funny, Have not seen the walking dead, so can’t comment really 🙂

      On behalf of Divnomics (who are fantastic folks in real life and online) you are welcome!

  9. I’d rather do it the other way around. Your own farm outside the city, and a shared apartment in the city for work purposes, together with 1 other couple. Each get 2 nights per week for in-the-city work and living, and an alternating Thursday night every other week. Then rent it out Friday/Saturday nights for the AirBnB crowd, and get it cleaned on Sunday. And Repeat. Depends on your ability to work from home though, but prices drop significantly for properties 3 or 4 hours outside of Sydney… Probably the same for anything of similar distance east of Amsterdam (maybe even living in Germany or Belgium…). Still a dream for now though…

    1. Nice idea too actually (for pre FIRE), has got to be financially viable, but I can see that work with a good AirB&B!
      But you are right, if we would look at Germany, there are some very affordable properties around (done that actually already, and were amazed at the prices).

  10. Haha great post! Like the psycho!

    The privacy thing is indeed important. We thought about buying a plot with a house together with my parents and splitting it up, buy decided not to do it (now). Maybe later!

    Permaculture is a big win, there’s a nice movie on youtube from a guy in NZ who changed his tie for a permaculture farm.

    Do you have a worm farm already? We have! 😉

    1. No worm farm yet, but we have half a forest in the yard. Perhaps after living here for over a year I have to trim some green stuff back….

  11. Did I say I like your “psycho” posts ? We are considering building two small self sustaining houses with a befriended (is this English?) couple also aiming for FIRE.

    1. Haha, I know, original the post started with the words: psycho post. But it got removed during editing 😉
      Good luck to you, it certainly is possible to work together during FIRE and develop a partnership to help each other out. You just got to be really good friends.

  12. Haven’t thought of it yet, but I can already see that it would require a lot of paperwork.I’m considering more a small homestead on some land, enough to keep me sustained.

    1. Good point, there will be some extra paperwork involved too. Unless you have one owner and the other “rent” and pay “VvE” expenses to that one party. There are ways to limit the paperwork.
      That being said, the major benefit of having more parties involved is that it becomes more affordable to purchase and maintain the property/properties. Best of luck to you!

  13. Hmmm, maybe in another setting. Sharing a barn or building is not our style. The privacy argument is key here. A domain/ranch/country seat will be more our style. Multiply small houses (tiny is too small) on a shared property with agriculture, permaculture etcetera. The only big issue will be: finding an affordable property in the Netherlands with the permit to build multiply small houses and enough economic activities in the area to find a decent job and not only depend on B&B and or digital nomad jobs. OK, we can wait until we are FIRE, but then you get an elderly community 🙂

    1. Agree with you that municipal rules are not helping here. It might be very difficult to establish something like this and it will likely take years to get there.
      Still nice idea to brainstorm about!

  14. Wat leuk om te lezen. Het lijkt een beetje op onze plannen: 2600m2 grond; daar zetten we een klein huisje en een grote schuur op voor onszelf en dan houden we nog iets van 160m2 bouwrecht over voor de toekomst. Afgelopen weekend hebben we gefantaseerd over de mogelijkheid om er twee huisjes bij te zetten voor de verhuur. Fase 1 (grond, ons huisje, schuur en tuin) hopen we volledig van eigen geld te kunnen betalen. Daarna zien we wel weer. Leuk om over te fantaseren en wij zijn dus niet de enige die zo denken.

    Ons huisje wordt overigens niet helemaal zelfvoorzienend, maar we zijn een goed eind op weg: helofytenfilter voor waterzuivering, zonnepanelen, zonneboiler, pelletketel (eventueel in de toekomst te vervangen door warmtepomp). En voor als de salderingsregeling ophoudt denken we aan een tweedehands kleine elektrische auto als alternatieve accu.

    We moeten toch eens naar zo’n FIRE-meeting komen. Leuk om van gedachten te wisselen. We zijn ook bezig met een site, maar die is nog niet klaar. Ik meld me wel als we online gaan.

    1. hey Merel,
      Zou zeker eens naar een FIRE meetup komen, heel erg gezellig en ook dit soort onderwerpen komen aan bod!
      Benieuwd naar je site, success in ieder geval. Je hebt in ieder geval wel mooie plannen 🙂

    2. Mag je meerdere bouwvlakken bebouwen dan? Vaak is er sprake van 1 bouwvlak en dan zit je dus toch aan een 2 onder 1 kap vast als je al 2 huizen zou mogen bouwen..

  15. Not impossible… We looked at houses for sale in a similar concept:each as a house with just enough space (minimal kitchen, living room…) and the extra space is given by the common big central house with big living room, kitchen, co working space and guest rooms, not for renting g for friends. I actually met a person that is making the move.

    For us, I guess we are not ready yet. The houses big enough for us were already gone. And I also question the co living with 35 decision makers.

    Maybe it can work when it starts out of a group of people that already know eachother one way or the other…

    In Belgium, there are organisations supporting these initiatives with legal and operations. Another great reason to move to Belgium?

    1. I’m not worried at all about potential properties and associated challenges. But the multitude of decision makers, that is also what I’m primarily concerned about (besides the privacy concerns).
      We already have too many reasons to move to Belgium, but I’m liking the denial stage 😉

  16. Actually, Girlfriend and me were having a similar discussion last weekend. With the same privacy concerns… The discussion by itself is already big fun. And it must be the time of the year, if so many like-minded people are talking about it.

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