How to Build a Grain Bin House

These simple metal structures can be used as houses, backyard retreats, storage sheds and more!

| August/September 2010

  • grain bin house
    This energy-efficient grain bin house uses foam and fiberglass insulation, plus computer-assisted passive solar heating.
    PHOTO: DESIGNBUILDBLUFF
  • house interior
    The interior of this grain bin building includes some corrugated metal, but is primarily traditional.
    TANNER EHMKE
  • grain bin home
    In Kansas, the Ehmke family uses this bin as a residence, an office and a scale house (where grain trucks are weighed).
    TANNER EHMKE
  • energy-efficient home
    Two bins create this energy-efficient home in the Uinta Mountains of Utah.
    DESIGNBUILDBLUFF
  • rain screens
    “Rain screens” add visual interest over the windows. The joints do not need to be sealed.
    MARK CLIPSHAM
  • steel grain bin
    The size of this bin has been reduced without cutting the steel. It has been “squeezed.”
    MARK CLIPSHAM
  • grain bin window
    Sealing gaps and shedding water are important aspects of window and door installation.
    MARK CLIPSHAM
  • storage building
    Mark Clipsham remodeled this grain bin to be a playroom and storage space.
    MARK CLIPSHAM
  • grain bin door
    The custom-made door is carefully sealed against rain and snow, and it’s also protected by an awning.
    MARK CLIPSHAM

  • grain bin house
  • house interior
  • grain bin home
  • energy-efficient home
  • rain screens
  • steel grain bin
  • grain bin window
  • storage building
  • grain bin door

On thousands of farms across the continent, round metal grain bins (called “grain silos” in some regions) are standing empty or being torn down and sold for scrap because they’re no longer in use. Architects and builders have started to use these durable, inexpensive structures to construct grain bin homes, storage buildings, offices and barns. After the bin is in place, it requires virtually no maintenance.

There are all sorts of interesting ways to use individual bins or group them together to make an attractive, comfortable home. We encourage readers to explore unique uses for metal grain bins — especially used bins — and we talked with several people who live in these structures to learn more about why they like their grain bin houses.

Earl Stein, of Summit County, Utah, says, “My grain bin home, ‘Montesilo’ (inspired by Monticello), is designed to be energy efficient. After ‘talling’ (raising) the silos, we cut our way in and framed the interior with 2-by-6s on 1-foot centers. To insulate, we sprayed 2 inches of low- VOC foam against the metal and followed that with blown-in fiberglass insulation. Montesilo is easily one of the strongest and tightest buildings in the county.” (See photos in the Image Gallery above. — MOTHER) 

Stein’s structure utilizes passive solar heat that’s assisted with computer technology. The windows allow winter sun to warm the rubber-covered concrete floor. A computer controls draperies to retain the heat at night. For added comfort, Stein installed electric radiant heat in the floors. “Even when indulging myself with warm morning floors, my heating bills have been a fraction of what it would cost to heat an 1,800-squarefoot house in this harsh Utah environment at 7,100 feet,” he says. “Experimentally, when no extra heat is applied, the lowest recorded interior temperature was 62 degrees Fahrenheit in midwinter.”



Stein chose steel because it’s unique, eco-friendly and low maintenance. “My main motivation in building a house from a galvanized steel bin was that I never wanted to pick up a paintbrush again,” he says. “In 50 years, my shiny steel home will only mellow to a gray patina, but I won’t have to paint it.” After moving in, he realized there were also advantages to living in a round structure. “There’s a certain non-empirical value,” he says. “It does something to your head — it’s soothing and inspirational. We’ve had incredible brainstorming and musical jam sessions in the house.”

And building the house, even using new steel bins, turned out to be a good financial decision. “Even with all the custom work, Montesilo came in below $200 per square foot — well below average building costs for the area,” Stein says.

chimonger
9/18/2017 9:29:36 PM

LOVE seeing this being done more! About 10 years ago, I tried to get a grain bin, to do exactly this, and got lost trying to find anyone doing it. Grain bin dealers only know how to tell what's needed for foundations, if it's for grain bin, not house..grain weighs far more than house! Bottom line, we didn't get to build one of these...but have site in WA State, if we could find way to do it. I'm for over-engineering to get really sustainable and durable, but still...house foundations, not grain bin requirements! Financing...could try approaching it using terms that are already covered in the UBC [Universal Building Code; most of USA], such as "steel building". Works even better, if there are other "different" houses in area. Also, helps if you can include to permitting officials, that it uses sustainability, green-building elements...most areas have at least some perks for doing green-building/sustainable. High winds require more fasteners, especially for metal. Otherwise, metal generally lasts longer...and round buildings tolerate winds better, because round forces winds to go around the structure, instead of meeting flat walls. But more fasteners, more ribs, better tie-downs to foundation...all good.


chimonger
9/18/2017 9:28:38 PM

LOVE seeing this being done more! About 10 years ago, I tried to get a grain bin, to do exactly this, and got lost trying to find anyone doing it. Grain bin dealers only know how to tell what's needed for foundations, if it's for grain bin, not house..grain weighs far more than house! Bottom line, we didn't get to build one of these...but have site in WA State, if we could find way to do it. I'm for over-engineering to get really sustainable and durable, but still...house foundations, not grain bin requirements! Financing...could try approaching it using terms that are already covered in the UBC [Universal Building Code; most of USA], such as "steel building". Works even better, if there are other "different" houses in area. Also, helps if you can include to permitting officials, that it uses sustainability, green-building elements...most areas have at least some perks for doing green-building/sustainable. High winds require more fasteners, especially for metal. Otherwise, metal generally lasts longer...and round buildings tolerate winds better, because round forces winds to go around the structure, instead of meeting flat walls. But more fasteners, more ribs, better tie-downs to foundation...all good.


chimonger
9/18/2017 9:28:01 PM

LOVE seeing this being done more! About 10 years ago, I tried to get a grain bin, to do exactly this, and got lost trying to find anyone doing it. Grain bin dealers only know how to tell what's needed for foundations, if it's for grain bin, not house..grain weighs far more than house! Bottom line, we didn't get to build one of these...but have site in WA State, if we could find way to do it. I'm for over-engineering to get really sustainable and durable, but still...house foundations, not grain bin requirements! Financing...could try approaching it using terms that are already covered in the UBC [Universal Building Code; most of USA], such as "steel building". Works even better, if there are other "different" houses in area. Also, helps if you can include to permitting officials, that it uses sustainability, green-building elements...most areas have at least some perks for doing green-building/sustainable. High winds require more fasteners, especially for metal. Otherwise, metal generally lasts longer...and round buildings tolerate winds better, because round forces winds to go around the structure, instead of meeting flat walls. But more fasteners, more ribs, better tie-downs to foundation...all good.






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