Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of structures does Geobarns build?

We create artistic, custom built modified post-and-beam carriage houses, farmhouses, artisan stores, woodworking shops, art studios, wineries, wedding venues, and sometimes, even a good horse barn. You name it, we can build it.

What is the modified post-and-beam Geobarns system?

A Geobarn is an integrated wood structural system, from floors to walls to roof. Our buildings are “post-and-beam,” meaning that they typically don’t require bearing walls and can enclose big, clear spaces with almost total flexibility.  It’s a “hybrid” in the sense that our structural members are composed of smaller timbers than a typical post-and-beam, with posts and girders constructed for maximum efficiency and a consistent beauty.  We also frame our buildings diagonally, at a 45 degree angle, which locks in the post-and-beam frame, making it extremely strong for its weight. Over thirty years, we’ve continually refined this system as an alternative to both conventional stick-built and timber-frame methods.

Here’s an in-depth look at why we build with Diagonal Framing

What is the difference between traditional timber frame buildings and a Geobarn?

There are several traditions of timber framing, from all around the world, but they all use massive timbers to frame “bays” supported at points along their corners, rather than traditional stick-built bearing walls. Our system does the same thing spatially – creating big, airy spaces with lots of light framed by big wood posts and girders – but our “timbers” are built up out of clever, efficient arrangements of more common, more sustainable framing lumber.  Our wood is very high quality, bearing little relation to the stud-lumber you can buy at a home store. We do not use old-growth timber. Our lumber sources are certified for sustainable forestry practices.  While we use a lot of innovative techniques, we don’t practice the ancient art of carved joinery in our structures, so they are generally less expensive than a conventional timber frame.  They also can span wider space with a comparable mass of wood. Our commercial buildings routinely span 36 feet or more using these methods.

How long has Geobarns been around?

The unique Geobarns architectural engineering approach was created in 1991 by Geobarns founder George Abetti, who started building barns part-time and experimenting with innovative framing methods to solve problems on each job. In 2003, Geobarns became a full-fledged, full-time design-build custom construction services firm, and the company grew quickly from small outbuildings to large event barns, commercial buildings and fine homes.

Where have you built Geobarn modified post-and-beam buildings?

Our structures have been built in approximately twenty US states and two provinces in Canada. Geobarns is also pursuing several projects and partnerships in Europe. We have a continuous presence in all of New England, most of the mid-Atlantic centered on our second HQ in Virginia, and multiple projects under our belt in Texas and California.  Often a call to a new location results in interested neighbors, which explains a flurry of Geobarns in spots far from home, like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

What are the separate services Geobarn offers?

Geobarns has substantial expertise in site planning, and we all but insist on helping our clients site their structures and infrastructure.  We also help our clients with challenging permitting and approvals, as members of our team are experienced with zoning and architectural review in some of the country’s most restrictive jurisdictions. We also have extensive experience building in conservation communities, where special attention must be paid to site planning and utilities to protect the native environment.

What percentage of buildings is residential vs commercial?

In an average year, Geobarns typically creates custom modified post-and-beam buildings with about a third residential, a third commercial, and the remaining third a variety of outbuildings, carriage houses, workshops and studios, agricultural barns and garage-apartments.

What does it mean that Geobarns is a design-build firm?

We design every building we build, ALWAYS in partnership with our clients, and sometimes in coordination with outside architects or engineers. With the Geobarn system, lots of details and options are known up front, and we can move very quickly to the key decisions that need to be made.  When construction begins, there is no possibility of finger-pointing, because Geobarns did the design with you.  By starting with the design phase, we can coordinate much more closely with your needs than a traditional bid contractor, where the arms-length relationship can sometimes create conflicts.  The design-build arrangement puts Geobarns and you on the same team, with the shared goal of a great project at a fair price.

If you have ideas, or even a design, we want to see them and talk in depth with you about them, but in most cases we’re not going to just bid and build it. We need to be involved in planning and design, to get the most out of us. Our buildings are efficient to build and deliver a lot of quality and space, because every aspect of the process is tuned to work with the WAY we build.

What is the benefit of working with a design-build firm like Geobarns?

There are certainly benefits to speed, coordination with permits, and follow-on work during occupancy.  There is also much more flexibility for changes, without continual renegotiation over “change orders.”  We find the main advantage is the continuous feedback on design choices and cost.  We routinely “rescue” projects that come to us with a lovely, thoughtful design that bid at twice the owners’ budget.  This CANNOT happen in our process.  We are constantly checking our decisions against cost (which we know because we’re the designers as well as the builders), and we maintain the flexibility to make reasonable adjustments underway with minimal fuss.

What are some of the qualities of a Geobarns modified post-and-beam building?

The framing — the rhythm of the structure — is integral to the spatial experience.  Our buildings usually make the most of this with tall, open spaces and light from cupolas above.  A Geobarn is all the things people love about timber buildings: that airy quality anchored by obvious structural solidity.  Because the aesthetic is about the SPACE, the materials can often be humble, though high quality, and simply detailed. Simple variations in finishes, in reflectivity, can make a rustic palette very sophisticated when it’s bathed in light.  We build churches this way too, and it’s not far off to say our homes are kind of church-like inside.

What’s the weirdest thing you ever built?

We’ve built a garage-laboratory for engineers attempting to break a land speed record. That was really interesting. We’ve built very similar structures for professional recording studios and art studio-galleries. The same structural system, enlarged, can be home to goats or to a team of renowned craft distillers with a million-BTU pot still. The magic comes from our clients, whose passion makes each Geobarn unique in its own way. We stay in touch with many of our clients for years, and we delight in the creative endeavors they undertake in their Geobarns.

Will Geobarns also build custom furniture and fixtures?

We often design and build custom shelving, vanities and sometimes kitchens where casework is required. Our Shenandoah Modern Farmhouse project is a good example. While it’s not what we typically do, we have been known to produce individual furniture pieces to complement the artistic, modified post-and-beam structures we build. As an example, we built a wedding barn in Stowe, Vermont, and our clients couldn’t find banquet tables that met their standards for design and finish. So our crew built 32 of them, farm-table style, and even engineered them for easy moving and storage. We’ve been blessed with really highly-skilled crews who like to… well… show off a bit, when it’s needed.

What’s the smallest job Geobarns has ever done? The largest?

We built cozy youth cabins at a YMCA camp, and some of our art studios were pretty small, since that’s what the artists needed. On the larger side, we’re working on a five-story, 20,000-square-foot building in downtown Napa, California, and we completed a massive wedding campus near Houston in 2020. We are equally proud of an off-grid cabin and a large winery.

Are Geobarn buildings good for earthquake zones?

We’ve built several Geobarns in Northern California, where seismic engineering standards are very strict. Working with local timber engineers, we discovered that the extremely rigid frame we designed for durability and economy is well-suited to the requirements of seismic zones. And we’ve been put to to the test. Shortly after construction of our first California Geobarn near Napa, a sizeable quake struck, which damaged many structures in the area. The quake was violent enough to throw our client from his bed (he was very fortunately unhurt). Heading out to check his new Geobarn the next morning, he discovered the building unharmed, except a for couple hairline cracks in his drywall. That’s it.

Geobarns has built other projects in California, and even in Italy, where communities need seismic-resistant buildings that are cost-effective as well as safely engineered. In California, one of the most seismically active regions in the United States, our buildings showcase the earthquake resilience built into the Geobarn frame. Typical stick construction must be reinforced by plywood “shear panels” or steel fittings, while the Geobarn frame resolves torsion and shear forces within the diagonally framed wall. A few simple and inexpensive upgrades of our framing connectors make our buildings a durable (and compliant) option in areas with earthquake risk.

How are the Geobarns’ custom modified post-and-beam buildings “environmentally friendly?”

Geobarns was founded on Yankee ingenuity and Vermont conservation. The Geobarns framing system is not only strong and versatile, it also produces very little waste. Most of our buildings have a waste coefficient of just 0.05%, which is staggeringly low. We work with our suppliers to source materials that meet sustainable forestry practices. We minimize or eliminate, wherever possible, materials that damage the environment to produce. Wherever pressure-treated lumber must be used to protect against decomposition and pests, we use non-toxic Envirosafe products. We pay special attention to avoiding materials that emit organic volatiles, especially for sealing and insulation. Our buildings are engineered and carefully sealed to minimize air and thermal transfers, which translates to lower energy costs and consumption. Most of our clients are deeply concerned about the impact of human activity on our planet, and this is something we discuss in detail in the design and planning stages to make sure their Geobarns meet – or exceed – the best practices for sustainable lifestyles. 

If I choose Geobarns to build my home, studio, or workshop, how long will it take before you can start the project?

It usually takes about a year, although it depends on the process for building approvals on your site, and on the complexity of the design. Simpler outbuildings and small homes can be built much faster, but we also commonly talk with potential clients for many years before they’re ready (financially, legally, spiritually) to build. That’s fine… we’d rather be in the loop as early as possible, because we can offer advice and tips to help get ready for that dream Geobarn. Typically, though, the initial design and pricing processes are very quick, because we work within a system of known materials, costs and engineering criteria.

How long does it take to build a residential home with Geobarns?

Geobarns’ unique architectural engineering system enables our team to build on a faster than usual schedule — about one week per 500 square feet or 30 days on average. This speed advantage primarily impacts the time to “weathertight shell.” A client’s particular needs and design choices become the primary driver of schedule after the roof, windows and siding are complete. And this phase — finishing touches — is an area where our design team really helps our clients sort through the myriad choices to get the finished style they want.

You only do custom homes? Isn’t that far more expensive?

All of our residential projects are custom-designed for each client, but the Geobarn system offers many efficiencies, and our experience will guide clients to make beautiful and cost-effective choices. Also, in reality, we’ve done enough homes now that very often we are able to start with a proven, efficient structure and conceptual floor plan that we’ve built before, and customize it to a clients needs and to the site. Each client gets the benefit of what we’ve learned in previous projects. We collaborate closely with our homebuilding clients, and many become lifelong friends.

What is the average price of a Geobarns’ custom modified post-and-beam home?

Costs vary widely depending on size, geographic location, and most of all on the many choices we guide clients through. Geobarns can provide sample budgets for some of the homes featured on our website. We can also very quickly offer an accurate estimate for the “weathertight shell” of any project, so we don’t go too far into a project that is beyond your budget, then we can offer a range of costs that represent basic choices in kitchen, bath and finishes. We know that people shopping for a builder really want numbers in answer to this question, but we’ve found in the past that even ‘ball park’ figures can be way off until we know something about the scope and goals of the project. That’s why we encourage you to drop us a message on whatever you’re thinking about… with a few brief questions, we can provide the guidance you need.

What size homes do you build?

We commonly build homes between 1,200 and 4,000 sqft in the U.S., but we’ve also built tiny cabins and large live-work structures.  We don’t choose projects based on size, but we find that homes with a second floor get the most economic bang for the buck out of our innovative framing system. It is also economical, in many of our homes, to open sections up to multistory spaces that bring in light and create an airy, larger space.

I am starting a winery, wedding venue or other hospitality venture. Where do I start?

Geobarns loves to work with entrepreneurs in this exciting phase of establishing a new business. We have built several highly regarded wine, wedding, and event venues, and clients benefit from our experience working with top owner-developer-operators. We are glad to offer an initial consultation for your project, charging only for travel (if required) or drafting time. Here are some tips from our experience: 

  • First, get a builder involved early.  It is very easy to spend a lot of precious startup capital on a design that does not ‘pencil’ financially.
  • Second, don’t design a venue based on the extreme maximum occupancy you can imagine. This is a recipe for over-spending on what may be cavernous, uncomfortable spaces during the 80% of events that are half the size. Consider dividable spaces for multiple types of use.
  • Third, carefully consider any requirements you hear from event planners, decorators, or caterers. This extends to occupancy calculations, dining setups, and kitchen needs. Practical needs are important, but please make a special place, not another hotel ballroom.

Finally, for most of our clients, interior spaces are only one key component of their project. Just as important: the outdoor spaces you create with the placement of buildings on your site. Your clients’ most memorable moments, and the images they share, are often of porches, patios, lawns, and other gathering spaces that are defined by the building and landscape.  This is every bit as important as figuring out where the parking goes.

Here’s an in-depth article on how we worked with our clients to design and build The Barn at Smuggler’s Notch.

I am starting a distillery, cidery or other value-added-agricultural facility. Where do I start?

Entrepreneurs starting or expanding a brand face very difficult questions in building and budget. Get a builder involved early.  Heck, get us involved early. Startup capital is scarce, so your building needs to be design-efficient. This means your Geobarn often needs to be simultaneously a production space (durable, inexpensive) and a showpiece (close attention to finish and lighting). These decisions require quick feedback on cost, function and aesthetics, and this is an area where we shine. Some suggestions from our experience:

  • First, keep it flexible. Many of our clients change the allocation of production and retail spaces in the first year of operations, and many of them expand and contract these functions as the business changes.
  • Second, very few of our clients regret building a few extra square feet.  Production always gets more complex. Every distiller adds a cider, or aging, or event space. Raw shell space is cheaper now than in a later expansion.
  • Third, pay careful attention to health and safety codes for your industry. Food and beverage production is more regulated than either construction or general business operations. Production of distilled spirits, in particular, must be done right. Be sure you understand the infrastructure and code requirements on your site.

Finally, get a builder to evaluate some site options with you. Geobarns loves to do this, and we can often spot a problem (e.g. truck access, site infrastructure) before it becomes an oversight you regret.

I want to build a customized building for my cars. Can Geobarns build a commercial-grade shop?

Oh yes. Our founder is a serious car aficionado, and we’ve built many spectacular commercial and private garages for businesses and for collectors. We’re very familiar with requirements for lifts and other specialty equipment, and we originally invented our immensely strong floor system so that collectors with bank barns could park the objects of their obsession on multiple floors. Geobarns can show you examples to help you set goals for your garage or shop project.

I want to build a studio for my art or music. Can Geobarns build a studio to my requirements?

Absolutely yes. The Geobarns team includes lots of people with fine arts or craft backgrounds, and we have built many studio spaces for painters, sculptors, musicians, woodworkers, and textile artists. Studio building is something dear to our hearts, because creating spaces for artists to create beautiful things is a very fine thing for a builder to do. We believe a good studio nurtures the soul of the artist, in both design and function, and we’ve had a lot of practice getting this right. Our approach has a number of advantages for many artists: 

  • First, Geobarns are durable and strong. You can beat on them, splatter them, and hang things from the beams, like an industrial loft. You can also make them very fine, but be secure in the knowledge that your Geobarn is up to it if your art gets physical.
  • Second, our structures are very easy to build around a quality or direction of natural light.  The post-and-beam frame can open large sections to multi-story spaces for big windows and cupolas. We know… light is critical.
  • Third, the timber styling and natural woods of a Geobarn evoke an artisan heritage and connection to the land and nature. We think this is a good thing.

Finally, our buildings are spatially simple, flexible, and can be finished simply with durable natural materials to create a gallery or performance space that centers your work, not the technology of construction.

Here’s an in-depth article on our approach to building Studios and Workshops