The Energy-Efficient Silo Home

Cheaper than a conventional house and beautifully unique, an old silo can be an excellent choice for an energy-efficient home.

| January/February 1982

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    This silo was converted into a cozy home for only $6,500 and a winter of work.
    PHOTO: GLENN WORTHINGTON
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    Cheaper than a conventional house and beautifully unique, an old silo can be an excellent choice for a home.
    GLENN WORTHINGTON

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  • 073-162-01-im1

One October evening in 1978, my brother and I — inspired by the bright chill that had already begun to flavor the air — were discussing the fact that a one-level house often loses much of its heat through the roof. It would surely, we thought, be more energy-efficient and economical to warm an abode in which the rooms were stacked on top of one another, letting the heat work its way up through the living space.

As the night wore on, my sibling told me that he’d once considered building just such a house — and doing so in an abandoned silo — because, with the basic structure already in place, the cost of remodeling would be far less than would building from the ground up (and up and up)! Later, I shared his idea with Helen, my wife. As I’d hoped, she became so excited about the concept that we were soon setting off in search of an unused fodder-holder.

We made a full sweep of the country roads around our home in Pittsburg, Kan., but most of the silos we saw were made of ugly gray concrete block wrapped with metal bands. Persistence paid off, though: We finally found the perfect structure, built of glazed and glistening red-clay tile, perched on the crest of a hill like a lookout. There was a grain-chute opening on its south side, which, we felt sure, could be adapted to accommodate a few sun-catching windows. Full of enthusiasm, we went to explore the inside of the 14-foot-diameter cylinder, and looked up to see blue sky. Obviously, one of our first jobs would be to put on a roof.

Within two weeks we’d located the silo's owner, and — because he wasn’t using that land and we’d be putting our own money into the renovation — he offered us a free, and renewable, five-year lease. By that time, it was already early November and winter was all too close.



Converting a Silo Into a Home

I began work by making an excavation to house a septic tank and drainage lines. While I was at it, I also dug a ditch from the silo to a nearby wind pump and well and put in a waterline. Then, because we wanted easy access to our future home, we chose a spot on the silo’s west side and cut out a front door opening using a saw specifically made for concrete.

Our next project, the roof, was a real challenge. In order to assure safe working conditions, I first built a platform that sat on top of the structure. It took me an hour of scooting around the rim — 40 feet up in sleet — to mark the edges so that my big scaffold wouldn’t overlap the points where the rafters would later sit. Then, one by one, Helen tied the planks to a rope and I hauled them up.

Lynzi
8/26/2008 1:21:36 PM

My husband and I are also converting a silo into a house. I've taken pictures throughout the construction. I've posted them on www.greentv.com. You can look under photos or members. I would love to hear more input on the silo you all have built and some of the more difficult challenges. Our silo is 76 foot tall and 24 foot in diameter (very large). The silo itself is made from 6 inch thick concrete and rebar buried inside the concrete. Anymore information would be great. And your work on your silo is very much appreciated (gives us hope!). Thanks!


paul stander_2
7/20/2008 8:50:40 AM

what material did you use to hold up the first, second ect floors. Did you strengthen the foundations with additional concrete? What material did you use as floor on the first floor? Could you send me a photo of the staircase? was it on the inside of the silo or did you ever concider bulding the staircase outside and cover the staircase against the elements. what made you offer space on the inside for the staircase? did your silo have a front and back door?


Don_28
1/19/2008 12:25:02 PM

We are buying a farm with a silo that I was thinking of converting to living space as well. Do you have any pictures of the construction in process or the finished product that you can e-mail? I have often wondered if this was possible. Thanks, Don







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