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Convert a Used Grain Bin to a New House

4/13/2009 1:29:00 PM

Tags: house, recycled metal

Anywhere farmers are growing corn, soybeans or wheat, you’re likely to see empty, used steel grain bins. Those grain bins are durable, and steel is recyclable when the building has served its purpose. Why not convert a used grain bin or two into a usable building — maybe even a house or getaway? Check out the photos below of nifty grain bin conversions.

You can probably pick up a small used bin for a few hundred dollars (or even free). Used bins are frequently available on craigslist or ebay. You could also put an ad in a local newspaper or on your local farm co-op bulletin board. There are companies that can move the bins to new sites — ask around at farm stores to find them.

Prices of new steel grain bins depend on the diameter, height and region of the country, but costs start at about $7,000 for an 18-foot-diameter bin, not including the cement foundation slab or assembly.

Basic carpentry and mechanical skills are required to convert a grain bin to another use. The number of doors and windows will be limited, as too many can weaken the structure. So plan ahead and check with an engineer if you have any doubts.

Readers, we’d like to see more reports and photos of grain bins that have been converted for other uses. Send them to us at Letters@MotherEarthNews.com.

grain bin storage shed
   PHOTO BY MARK CLIPSHAM
   Mark Clipsham of Architecture By Synthesis in Ames, Iowa, converted this bin
   into ground-level storage space with a playhouse above, using mostly salvaged
   and recycled materials. It was a test project. 

New steel bins create low-maintenance structures, such as this office and apartment on a farm in western Kansas. If the steel is recycled metal, it’s even more eco-friendly. Owners Louise and Vance Ehmke say, “Our grain-bin office/scalehouse/residence is just cool. It turned out far better than our expectations. Everybody who comes here (including the governor) says it is one of the neatest things they have ever seen. The structure itself is clearly unique, but the rustic, high-tech interior takes it off the charts!”

grain bin scale house
   PHOTO COURTESY VANCE EHMKE
grain bin scale house 2
   PHOTO COURTESY VANCE EHMKE
 grain bin interior 
    PHOTO COURTESY VANCE EHMKE
grain bin stairs
    PHOTO COURTESY VANCE EHMKE

Dancing Rabbit Grain Bin Apartments

The grain bin below contains two one-room apartments. It’s insulated with straw bales on the inside and has been in use since 2003.

Brian Liloia, one of the residents, says, “Living in a grain bin is a pretty novel experience, and a novel residence, too. For the most part, it works pretty well, but careful consideration is needed around designing windows and doors. Overall, it's great living in a round structure, and telling people you live in a grain bin makes for some great reactions.”

straw insulated grain bin
    PHOTO COURTESY DANCING RABBIT ECOVILLAGE

The entire grain bin doesn’t need to be used, of course. The little earthbag building shown below, by Kenton Knowles of Global Homes Design, utilizes a grain-bin roof that fits perfectly onto the round structure.

grain bin roof
   PHOTO COURTESY KENTON KNOWLES/GLOBAL HOMES DESIGN

More Ideas for Using Grain Bins

There’s a small village of grain bins in Montana. Inhabitable grain bins have their advantages tells of how grain bins were used to create a tearoom, workshop and church.

The two-bedroom, two-bathroom matching grain-bin houses described in What To Do With an Old Grain Bin? are more noticeable with red roofs and trim.

The grain bin featured in The Classic Box, Well Rounded was combined with a shed to create a charming weekend home.

Have you used a grain bin to create a unique home or building? Tell us about it in the comments section below.



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Post a comment below.

 

scott long
2/8/2013 2:52:35 AM
Does anybody know of one or more in the upstate of SC. Thanks. bluethunder1962@yahoo.com

Patricia Kingsley
12/30/2012 7:06:23 PM
I'm looking for a 35-40 ft grain silo roof to use on a strawbale, post-and-beam octogon hogan in New Mexico....Anyone used one similarly as a metal roof for water catchment, and can I avoid building roof trusses with this approach? For insulation, you could also try the new spray-on water-based, clear acrylic material, called "nansulate." Got a best-builder award in 2008, and they've got lots of products and info for spraying on wood, stone or metal....See nansulate.com Thanks so much! Eiline

Karen Abate
7/16/2012 5:11:25 PM
they make it sound easy

AbeKatie Carlsruh
7/10/2012 2:26:50 AM
We have a grain bin up for sale in Utah. Here's the link: http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=218&ad=21033017&cat=98

Peter Ferland
10/30/2011 8:31:39 AM
I am looking to buy two grain bins can any one help. My number is 321-362-8800

Leanne Coyne
8/1/2011 9:46:58 AM
We are looking for a used grain silo that we can convert into a residence. Michael Noak, if you still have your silo available we would like to hear from you. If anyone knows of a used grain silo we could purchase, please send an email to lmcoyne61@hotmail.com with silo in the subject line. Thank You.

kevin kirk
3/18/2011 12:10:07 PM
PLEASE take note that the wind can collapse an empty bin very easily. You wouldnt think so but it happens. I have seen it happen a lot in Kansas and would guess it would be more prevalent the larger you get. The interior walls should support the second floor and not rely on the grain bin to do so. It is structurally sound but not designed for the added loads. i think its a good idea, but any alterations like doors and windows can compromise the integrity of the design.

bobbi chavez
1/18/2011 11:06:23 PM
we have just recently moved into a silo home its awesome will be posting pics soon

Jeff Waite
12/6/2010 7:42:55 PM
Curious about something....Could you potentially BURY one of these in the ground to the roofline and have it be strong enough to hold up against the pressure of the dirt? I would think so theoretically, but that's just conjecture. Given it's designed to hold IN large amounts of heavy material and that's in extension, it should be able to be just as strong holding OUT dirt in compression. Thinking of using it as either an earth bermed home or a root cellar depending on the size I can get my hands on.

Michael Noak
11/8/2010 10:54:09 AM
I have a used grain bin for sale. 34 ft. diameter, 20 ft. tall to base of cone. To be moved. Enid, OK. Pics available. $4K obo.

Shelby
10/12/2010 2:03:59 PM
I am looking for a used Grain bin. I would like a pretty big one that is affordable and won't cost the heck outta me

Kristine Flach
6/12/2010 10:51:56 PM
My husband and I have 6 very large gain silos on our hay farm operation-we would like to sell them in order to make or buy a large hay barn-we have thought about turning them into hay storage, but are worried about putting large barn doors on them, and compromsing the stuctural soundnesss-any comments?

GaTa
2/24/2010 5:50:02 PM
I own a closed grain facility w/100' tall metal bins 90'dia. Looking for interested parties to help in transforming these into a single 'invite only' music hall. In the 'Heart of America' ..Kansas City, Mo. Also to transform the balance of the 5million bushel facility into a 'UTILITY' ..Wind turbines, solar panels, construction and demolition wood waste conversion to pellet fuels. Overall a greenhouse to commercially raise organic foods ..a 'community service in lieu of house arrest' hands on apprenticeship training for renewable energies ..home and training for the homeless to empower them to personal and thus the world to greater 'green' adaptation. Any thoughts? Thx.

Michelle W_1
10/29/2009 1:35:07 PM
My husband and I are building our home in a grain silo. It is 30 feet wide x 35 feet tall. It has been empty for at least 10 years and is on a concrete pad. It is bolted down to the concrete. We won't use the concrete pad for the floor, we are building a sub-floor about 24" off the concrete floor. The sub-floor is made of metal square tubing and angle iron with 2 layers of 3/4" plywood on top. You can see pictures at http://shelly1957.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=5002365 The living room, kitchen, laundry and a bathroom will be on the first floor and bedroom and office and 1/2 bath on the second floor. We will be installing R13 insulation for the walls and R19 under the floor and in the ceiling.

Steve Kopesky
8/28/2009 10:57:26 AM
Just something I built a number of years ago near Ellsworth WI. http://picasaweb.google.com/kopesky/Pictures#5343809297239743602 Steve

Steve Kopesky
8/28/2009 10:57:01 AM
Just something I built a number of years ago near Ellsworth WI. http://picasaweb.google.com/kopesky/Pictures#5343809297239743602 Steve

David Butler
8/17/2009 6:59:57 PM
We can't wait to get this project done...see all about it at www.northdakotahuntinglodge.com

dustin_3
8/11/2009 1:27:01 PM
I had a thought that i would like some opinions on. I have 2 old 24' tall grain bins and i was thinking of ways to make a storage shed with them. What if i unbolted the sections and basically cut the bin in half and set it on its side. I was thinking that i could build a short wall (foundation) and set the hoop on top of it so the roof was high enough. (basically a hoop building) Would i need inner support in the form of a brace? Would the steel hold up? Any other thoughts?

Dave P
7/28/2009 9:13:04 PM
I made a two story workshop/storage unit from an old 14' bin. Works great. Doors and windows are easily made by adding a 2x6 edgewise at the edge of each vertical opening and then cutting out the openings. The horizontal framework needs to be curved of course but then conventional windows and doors can be added. Don't cut the door opening all the way to the floor, leave a 6" band at the bottom. To add a second floor inside a grain bin take the main chassis rails from an old mobile home and cut them to length, bending the last 6" to match the curvature of the walls and bolting them to the walls. These rails then allow you to add joists from the rails to the walls, then the floor can be covered with plywood. A curved stairway can be made by attaching each tread to the outside wall and then making a piece to support each tread on its inner end, connecting them all together. Have fun and don't kill yourself.

Mammi
6/11/2009 8:10:10 PM
The grain bin house os great. I saw one laying on it's side on the way home today. Great thought Thanks

Tom Lundvall
4/23/2009 7:07:03 PM
Thanks Dave for your insight. On our farm, we had an older bin which had a concrete floor poured into it after it was erected, and three standard bins which had a concrete pad laid first, and it was bolted to the concrete. I would feel much safer inside one which had the concrete poured inside. For insulation, I was thinking that the new liquid expanding polyurethane insulation that is sprayed on, and it expands to -10 times in thickness would work great on the inside walls.

Dave Sullivan
4/23/2009 4:43:20 PM
I forgot to mention the foundation. If you to place a grain bin on level compact gravel, you could then pour concrete on the inside. The walls themselves would create the round form. The corregation of the bin would anchor it to the slab and create a weatherproof seal around the bottom. Also, on the "bin within a bin", electrical work and plumbing would have to be done before the larger outside bin is placed. Scrap 2x4's could be attached to the outside of the inner bin to keep the void between the walls even. Don't cut yourself. -Dave in North Dakota

Dave Sullivan
4/23/2009 4:32:28 PM
I've been a grain bin construction worker and I've had the opportunity to work with many types of old and new bins. A few of us have brainstormed on various ways to reuse old grain bins. The first thing you need are some bins. A few bins of the same brand and diameter would be best. Otherwise, they won't have interchangable parts. It should be easy to find bins that have damaged roofs or some rust at the foundation. Farmers can't use these bins anymore without repairs. So a little bargaining could work. Here are a few ideas: -The bin within a bin. The trouble with most insulated bin ideas is that they require interior studding. However, if you were to put a bin down and then place a slightly larger bin over it, you would have a void. That void could be filled with insulating material. -Roofs are a great idea. Unfortunately, round buildings aren't the easiest to work with. However, if you were to take the cylinder of a bin and cut it in half top to bottom, you would then have two pieces of a nifty quonset roof. -A grain bin could make a good gazebo. Just reinforce it with what we call stiffeners(just vertical pieces of steel bolted at even spaces around the bin). Then cut out some arches. -The shed is always good. Unfortunately, the doors that come with the bin are fairly small. A frame would have to be built for a larger door. Putting square windows and doors on a round building is a challenge. Other things to consider: If you take apart the sheets you have to re-caulk before you bolt them back together. Once you take off the roof or other pieces, the bin can become dangerously flexible. It should be temporarily reinforced with crossing steel cables so that it will hold it's shape. You can create lift points on the bins by removing bolts and bolting on some chains. I hope this gives you some ideas. And don't get killed. Dave in North Dakota

BJ_1
4/22/2009 7:23:27 PM
Insulation, like in any house, will help regulate temperatures. Framing to hold the interior drywall and support the second floor will also provide interior reinforcement. Now I'm not a farmer, but I'd guess even as grain bins these must have some kind of foundation and I certainly wouldn't want to live on a dirt floor. It's all part of what you do to create a home of any kind.

P L
4/22/2009 2:25:02 AM
How do they keep it from being so hot inside? Metal round container... heat. I know from living in a mobile home. Not fun.

Tom Lundvall
4/20/2009 8:36:58 PM
Having grown up around grain bins all my life, I know that they can be susceptible to wind damage if they happen to be empty. Farmers will sometimes go to great lengths to always keep them at least partially full. The weight and the outward pressure of the grain protects the bin structure. How have these people addressed both the weak sidewalls and anchoring the bins to the ground to make it safe for habitation?

Tom Lundvall
4/20/2009 8:31:53 PM
Farm boy living in small town Iowa.







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