We’ll call this one a “learning experience.” (I generally hate those, by the way) If you’re wondering how to sell the wood from an old barn, if your old barn wood is worth any money, and how to handle the process… I hope you can learn from our experience.
That is to say, selling our old 1800s barn turned out to be a pretty terrible experience. Everything worked out in the end, but the good news for you? We learned a LOT. And if you don’t have an old barn but want to hear a story about the ridiculousness of some people, then please, enjoy!
We didn’t want to get rid of our beautiful old barn. In fact, it was an incredibly hard decision that we went back and forth on for a long time. And on the day that it finally came tumbling to the ground in a pile of beautiful old barn wood, it felt like my soul was crushed right along with it.
It was so run down and unsafe that we didn’t even really use it ourselves, but that barn had so much character and so much presence on our homestead; it was the centerpiece, and it belonged here. No doubt that it was once the bustling heart of this homestead for many others- and you could feel it. The hand-hewn beams, the perfectly weathered siding… it had stood there since the property was first inhabited. I loved admiring it.
Towards the end of summer the back side of it caved in during a storm and we knew we had to make a decision: either let mother nature take it down slowly and painfully over the coming years, or try to salvage what we could and give new life to the beautiful old barn wood instead of watching it rot in a heap.
We knew we couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t take it apart ourselves, so we started looking for companies who take down barns and salvage old wood.
How to Find a Company to Take Down an Old Barn
If you’re not taking down the barn yourself, this is the first hurdle: finding the right people for the job. If you are taking down the barn yourself, then good luck, it won’t be easy. Let me clarify- demolishing it with heavy equipment is fairly quick and easy, salvaging the material is an entirely different story.
I found the most useful information by googling: “reclaimed barn wood Wisconsin.” If you are within an hour’s drive of any other states, make sure and search the same terms for those states as well. Many companies that salvage old barn wood were willing to travel up to an hour (and sometimes a lot more) for the right barn wood.
Once we had a list of companies that were within reasonable distance from us, we started calling them. It turns out that getting people to answer their phone or call you back was a real problem. We’ve found this to be the case with construction-type companies and contractors in our area in general. We called a bunch of barn wood reclamation companies multiple times and got nowhere fast.
We talked to one company (well, pretty much just a guy) that would come and remove what he could easily take, and would pay us for it. But he didn’t have equipment or the ability to actually “take down” a barn. This wasn’t what we were looking for.
As luck would have it, the following week we were attending our local beekeeping club summer picnic, and when we arrived we noticed that the hosts of the party had a barn that was half torn down. We asked them about it and they gave us the name of the company who was taking down the barn. A recommendation and a phone number: yes!!
We called the company, and a few days later the owner was here assessing our barn.
We had no idea what to expect- would they make us an offer? Would they be charging us for their service? Undoubtedly it was going to be a lot of work. We knew that the beautiful 100+ year old barn wood was worth money, so we were hoping to get something for it. We wouldn’t have had someone take it down if it was going to cost us money… but since we didn’t know what to expect, we had to start somewhere.
The Offer: Is My Old Barn Wood Worth Money?
We wanted four things:
1. for the barn to be safely collapsed by someone who knew what they were doing
2. for the rubble to be left in such a way that with no equipment we could get rid of it over time
3. for the beautiful wood to be given new life and not just sit there and rot
4. for it to not cost us money to do this demolition
The owner of the barn reclamation company, who I will here on out refer to as “The Barn Guy” (which is a generous title, as I am resisting the urge to call him something less favorable) ultimately made us an offer on our barn. Yes, this story does get interesting.
The Barn Guy looked all around the barn, inside and out. He was friendly and talked about his love of turning old barn wood into beautiful furniture and structural accents- awesome!
After he saw what he needed to, we chatted for a while and he made us an offer right there on the spot. He offered us $1000 cash plus a custom built furniture piece- he suggested a dining table, from our barn wood. I liked the sound of that! I hadn’t really considered having a piece of furniture made from it. I mean, we already have shelves and little things we’ve made from some of the wood… but to have a beautiful, professionally made table in the center of our home that would serve as a reminder of our gorgeous barn that was once the centerpiece of our homestead sounded perfect.
The prospect of having a table made from the barn wood was a huge comfort.
We made a trip to The Barn Guy’s store, where we learned that his barn wood tables sell for between $1000-$1500. So the total value of his offer was around $2500. Going in, we really had no idea what to expect or how much a barn was worth- so I hope this is helpful to you. And after seeing the amount of work it took to get the wood out of there, this did seem like a reasonable offer when all was said and done.
It’s worth noting that different types of barns are likely to get different prices in different parts of the country. I know he also took into account how much of the wood was salvageable- there was quite a bit, more than half, that was too far gone and rotten to use. This barn was approximately 30X60 feet.
We weren’t really sure if that was a fair offer or not. But it was all we had, and his unique offer of the custom table sealed the deal.
The Barn Wood and Barn Demolition Negotiation
The Barn Guy talked about the process of tearing down the barn and even showed us a video of a different barn his crew tore down recently. He explained that they would remove the siding first and then carefully cut relief notches in the upright timbers so that the barn would tip how they wanted it, and then they would bring in a big truck to pull the skeleton down. And once it was down they would remove timbers and roof boards.
He asked how flexible we were on the timeline from start to finish, and that if we absolutely needed them to, he could have it torn down in about two weeks time. Of course we were reasonable people who were somewhat flexible.
Karl and I thanked him for his offer and told him that we would talk about it and get back to him by the end of the week.
Okay, let’s do it! We decided to go with The Barn Guy for a couple reasons:
He came with a positive referral from a fellow bee club member.
He was the only on that called us back.
He offered us a custom barn wood table.
This was his actual business, not just some guy on craigslist that did this on the side for fun.
He obviously had actually done this before many times (evidence on his business Facebook page).
He would leave the rubble in a such a way that we could deal with it without any heavy equipment.
He was insured.
We called The Barn Guy and let him know that it was a go. He said that he would email us the contract, and that him and his crew would be able to start in about two weeks.
The Barn Wood and Barn Demolition Contract
You may know this about us, or you may not…. but Karl and I both pay strong attention to detail. We also watch Judge Judy every night with dinner. So, you know, we’re pretty much legal experts.
Long story short, The Barn Guy does NOT pay strong attention to detail, so we basically had to re-write the contract he sent us to include all the details of the project. He obviously doesn’t watch Judge Judy either, as she taught us that once you have a written contract ALL the details need to be in writing. Nothing verbal holds up once there is a written contract, so we wanted to make sure the contract was very thorough.
Things we thought important to make sure were included in the contract were:
A project end date, including when our table would be delivered.
The monetary compensation we would receive, and that it was to be paid upfront.
That we would receive a table, built to our specifications from the wood taken from our barn.
Which materials they would be taking, we specified: siding, roof boards, and timbers from its frame.
That the material left behind would be left in small, manageable piles.
The Barn Guy all but rolled his eyes at us, I could tell. But that didn’t stop us from making him sign a contract outlining all the details. He was supposed to bring this new contract with him on the first day he arrived to work, but surprise! He had printer problems and didn’t have it. Yeah… right. No worries, we had a printer! We printed it out and he and Karl both signed it.
This probably should have been a red flag for us. We figured that his job was to destroy, and if it were the other way around and he were building a barn or something, we would have been much more discerning.
We also made sure to get proof of his insurance and not just take his word for it. You should know what type of insurance they have- liability in case they drop a board on your garage? What happens if a worker is badly injured? Will your homeowners insurance be on the hook if something happens?
Old Barn Tear Down
The Barn Guy showed up by himself for that first week and started by removing a couple big boxelder trees that were in the way. Then he worked with ladders and a small scaffold to carefully start prying off the siding boards. We removed a few pieces ourselves for a project when we first moved to the homestead, so we know the amount of finesse and care it takes to get the stuff off in one piece without cracking it.
A few days in, he knocks on the door to ask about electricity, “The barn isn’t connected to electricity, is it?” “Well I sure hope not!” I replied with sarcastic disbelief. We were told by the owners when we bought the place that the electricity had been disconnected, but if I was the one up on a metal ladder with metal tools ripping down boards, I sure as heck wouldn’t take anyone’s word for it. That seems like a question you ask before you start, and not something you rely on someone’s word of mouth verification for.
After a few days, The Barn Guy brought another worker with him. They finished removing the siding and loaded it all up on his trailer. They exclaimed to us more than once that they actually couldn’t believe the barn was still standing on it’s own, based on the way the structure underneath looked.
The next step would be tipping the barn skeleton over.
A few days later the crew showed up- this was The Barn Guy, his dad, and one other worker. They came with a semi truck and a skid steer. When we first talked to The Barn Guy he described cutting “relief notches” in the frame in order to make the barn fall how he wanted. We kept a pretty close eye on him and never saw him do that- but hey, he’s the expert, not us. They hooked a big cable to the center post of the barn, hooked the other end to the semi, and drove the semi away to rip the post out and collapse the barn frame.
Long story short, the post came out but the barn didn’t fall. And then they repeated this with a different post, and a different post, and a different post. It looked like the top half of the barn was practically floating on air!
Old Barn Wood Material Reclamation
Once the barn was collapsed, they removed the layers of shingles to get at the roof boards underneath. The shingles largely disintegrated as they were scraping them off, but they did leave them in piles for us to dispose of. Asphalt shingle disposal probably varies in different areas- here you can’t burn them, bury them, or throw them in the regular garbage. But you can put them in special dumpsters or pay a fee to dispose of them by the bag or truck bed-full at our local dump.
Next they pulled out the timbers, and finally the floor joists.
They completed all of this with a skid steer and semi, which is also what they used to pull some of the huge beams out. I believe The Barn Guy had multiple other barn demos in various stages going on at the same time, so this was all completed over a couple months time. He would show up randomly, and the project was much longer and drawn out than he initially led us to believe.
The crew also spent many days taking hundreds of nails out of all the boards and flinging them around. Karl thinks the more appropriate and professional thing would have been to at least try to throw them in a bucket or something. We had to buy a magnetic nail picker upper to clean up the area after them. We even found a pile of nails under our boat sitting nearby.
The Barn Guy had set aside three beautiful lightening rods from the roof along with some big rusty cable that came down with the barn. When he left for the day we took them and put them away for safe keeping and to get them out of the way. The next day The Barn Guy asked us where they went… because he wanted to use them on his chicken coop.
This is why we explicitly outlined exactly which materials he would be taking in the contract: the hay fork hanging in the top of the barn, the lightenings rods, and any other treasures that basically weren’t wood = ours. This put him in a bit of a mood. Me too!
This is about the time I started to see that he wasn’t just some hardworking, blue-collar barn demolition specialist, but a sneaky snake.
Our goal from the beginning was to maintain a good working relationship with this guy. Karl and I are kind, reasonable people, and up until this point we had put up with a lot of crap from him very tactfully (helping himself to some other boards on our property near the old barn but not part of the barn, not showing up for weeks at a time, letting deadlines pass) … I’d almost say we were push-overs. We were in an odd and unfortunate situation in that we needed The Barn Guy not to hate us because he had to make us the barn wood table of my dreams!
On the last day of work they loaded up the final semi with all our beautiful wood and then they drove away with the heart of our property.
The Afterparty: Barn Demolition Clean Up
The Barn Guy actually took very little of the barn. He knocked it down so that we could reach it, and the things he and his crew had to move to get at the good stuff were in piles, but there was a LOT of barn leftover that they didn’t even touch, for us to deal with after he was done. We thought we’d get rid of it slowly over time, but I don’t think we knew exactly what we were in for. There was also a partial basement under the old barn so it ended up being a lot of rubble teetering over a very dangerous pit.
The takeaway here is to have an “after” plan, relatively speaking. I don’t know that you’d find a company to take the good wood and also get rid of the rest of your falling apart barn (without charging you a lot of money to do it). Is there a concrete or rock foundation- what will you do with that? A lot of broken glass? Do you have room for the rest of the barn to be buried? Are there silos in the way- how will you take those down?
The Rest of the Story: Our Barn Wood Table
Wondering how the story ends? Our table was supposed to be made and delivered by January 1st 2017. The Barn Guy needed more time, so we wrote another contract extending the table due date to March- a date that we let him pick (see, we’re kind, reasonable people). April, May, June, and July passed and we still didn’t have our table, and he stopped answering our phone calls and emails.
In August we started the ball rolling for taking legal action against him. My legal counsel (a friend who is a lawyer) advised us to start by sending him a letter using certified mail/return receipt, basically asking when he planned to fulfill his end of the contract in building us a table. This was enough to get his attention. I think he was hoping we’d just forget about it and go away.
When he finally answered our call after threatening him with small claims court, these are cliff notes of our exchange:
Us: Hi, when will you have our table finished?
The Barn Guy: Well, I didn’t have enough wood from your barn to build the table you wanted.
Us: We saw you leave with two semi trucks full of wood from our barn. We have pictures of it actually.
TBG: I don’t have any of your wood left, but I do have one table built that has some of your wood used for the legs.
Us: That looks like a lovely table, but it is not the style we discussed, nor is it the correct dimensions we gave you for our dining space, nor does it have our barn wood used for the top… which is the essence of the table.
TBG: I might have over-promised you in the beginning on what I could deliver.
Yes, he actually said that. He also became extremely unprofessional and accused us of many ridiculous things, and called us names, actual swear-word names!
Even though we had a fairly certain case against him for a lot of different things, we REALLY didn’t want to sue him. We really, really didn’t want to go to court. We also didn’t know what value a judge would assign to the priceless nature of the wood he took that we can’t get back… could have been a lot, or not very much at all- a very subjective number. And even when we did win the case, we would then have to work to collect the money.
This had been stressing us out for a long time and we needed it to be over.
We saw that The Barn Guy had posted on his business Facebook page a couple of different tables he had made- one in particular that I really liked. The top was made from the threshing floor of a barn from a town near ours. It was exactly what I pictured a barn wood table should look like.
The cliff notes of our next exchange are as follows:
Us: We saw you posted a picture of a table that is more of the style we are looking for. We realize it is not from our wood, but is this one available to us?
The Barn Guy: This table is too expensive, much more than I had allotted for your custom table. I guess your precious barn wood isn’t actually that important to you then, is it?
Us: Well you said our wood is gone, what are we supposed to do? And we never talked about a price restriction or value of the table we were supposed to receive, only that it was to be built to our specifications and from our wood.
TBG: You can have this one, but you’ll have to pay the difference from what I allotted for your original table.
Us: No, the amount you allotted is a number you just made up, that we never discussed, and was never in our contract.
TBG: (Expletives. Name Calling. Unprofessionalism. Hangs Up.)
Okay, I guess we’re suing him.
He calls back 5 minutes later after realizing all the incriminating and inappropriate things he’d said. He even accused us of recording the conversation we just had. We didn’t deny it, and gosh we wish we would have recorded it! He expressed that he also wanted this all behind him, so he offered us the table we liked and inquired about…you know, the one that was too expensive, as an even trade to finally end our relationship. Really, he just realized that we weren’t backing down, and that he screwed up and was in some pretty deep poo now.
This! This is the reasoning for the thorough contract!
We went the next day to pick up our table, a little jumpy and scared for our lives- he’s a big guy who takes barns apart all day. But we lived to tell about it and there was no confrontation during the pick-up, thankfully.
We’re just so glad it’s over. And even though the table we got isn’t from our own barn wood, it’s beautiful, made with local wood that was once somebody else’s beloved barn, and I will love it for that.
And I can only hope that somewhere out there, someone else is loving our barn wood. I know they are.
The Rest of the Story: The Old Barn Rubble
It was a sunny day in April when the snow had mostly melted and Karl and I were just starting to sift through the leftover barn rubble and hauling the rotten wood to a burn pile, which was going to be a multi-year project. Our neighbor, who we’d only met once or twice before, saw us outside and stopped in to ask about clearing some brush on our shared property line, then casually mentioned that he has excavators and bull-dozers and takes down barns on the side.
Excuse me, what? He gave us a good, neighborly deal on the project and the next weekend he was at our homestead with his excavator! He might actually be an angel.
We hired a local Amish man and his son to take down our silos- which they did, on a well-below freezing winter day, with nothing but a sledge hammer and a smile.
We realize now that the leftover rubble plus the basement pit that was left was waaay too much for us to deal with on our own. It would have consumed us for years to do so. And it would have been ugly and dangerous for a long time before it was cleaned up. But before actually seeing it all it was hard to tell if we would need to hire help, or if we could do it ourselves.
If you weren’t going to try to salvage the barn wood, the process for tearing it down and getting rid of everything might look something like the following…
The steps in cleaning up and getting rid of the rest of the barn rubble:
Knocking down what was left of the old barn.
Knocking down the silos.
We paid to haul out 4 dump truck loads of concrete.
We donated the metal to our neighbor’s church’s scrap metal drive (and he donated his time to pick the metal out of the rubble). Less to bury = good.
We had him take out of bunch of brush and boxelder trees while he was here with his equipment.
He piled up all the old rotting wood and trees in the pit of where the barn was and we lit it up in the largest fire we’d ever seen.
He used his excavator to dig a massive hole in the hillside where the barn used to stand and put everything that wouldn’t burn in it, then buried it all.
He came in with a dozer, scraped all the top soil around the area into a pile, spread and smoothed the extra sand from the big hole over the area, and then redistributed the topsoil on top of that.
We planted grass and started a garden in our new ground.
He brought in a load of base coarse to fix our driveway, which got torn up from the heavy equipment in spring.
Thanks to our neighbor, the end result of this whole project turned out pretty great. We gained over an acre of space- now a beautiful gently rolling hill that we’ve already started turning into an orchard, a new garden, and bee forage. It’s been completely transformed into something we only dreamed about it.
I really couldn’t find much information on how to sell an old barn when we first started … so I hope I can help you avoid some of the mistakes we made, or help you better protect yourself while selling your old barn wood!
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