Unusual abodes: The grain bin home

I'm a fan of unusual homes. From tiny homes to recycled homes, I'm fascinated by unconventional ways one can build houses that save on construction costs and future utility bills.

Our own house plans are for plastered walls with straw bale infill, and we're close to breaking ground. But when I picked up the latest issue of granola crunchy Mother Earth News, for a minute I considered scrapping our plans. To live in a grain bin.

You really have to click that last link and check out the photos to see how architects and builders are taking the big round structures pictured above and turning them into stunning homes. I had never heard of such a thing as a grain bin house, but I was intrigued.

Low Cost, Low Impact

You might be wondering, as any rational person would, what would possibly drive someone to turn a grain silo into a house. Turns out there are quite a few reasons grain bin inhabitants chose the structure. Consider the following features:

  1. Eco-friendly. Many builders buy used bins, and they can be recycled. Mother Earth News suggests finding used bins by placing an ad in farm magazines or on your local farm co-op bulletin board, through a local bin dealer or erector, or surprisingly, even on Craigslist and eBay.
  2. Low maintenance. Not fond of painting your house? That's no longer a task on the to-do list with a grain bin house. The shiny metal will dull to gray, but you'll never have to pick up a paintbrush.
  3. Cost effective. Bins cost $30 per square foot or less (not including slab or assembly costs). You can get smaller bins for an office or workshop for a few hundred dollars, or sometimes for free.
  4. Visual appeal. Mother Earth News interviewed Mark Clipsham, an architect from Iowa, who says, “…curved forms are used in either the most expensive and prestigious buildings or the most utilitarian and primitive ones. These forms have evolved out of use because of changes in available materials, labor costs and prevailing building methods. But why not use something utilitarian and affordable — a grain bin — to build what is otherwise in the realm of the expensive and exclusive?”

Bells and Whistles

Earl Stein's 1,800-square foot grain bin home in Woodland, Utah, uses high-tech systems and solar heat gain to use less energy. The house, called Monte-Silo, was designed by Gigaplex Architects out of two linked corrugated metal grain silos, arranged to enjoy a view of the Provo River. The home features the following:

  • Rubber-covered concrete floors heated by sunlight that pours through the windows
  • Radiant heat in the floors (Stein says even with the indulgence, his heating bills are far below the average for houses of the same size in Utah.)
  • Heat retained with computer-controlled drapes
  • Propane-burning stove
  • Metal grating and guard rail of the second level deck provide shade in the great room during the summer

Another beautiful example of a high-end grain silo home is M. J. Gladstone's 450-square-foot, octagonal living room and bedroom combo with and attached angular shed that holds the kitchen, dining area, home office, bathroom, and a closet. Both Gladstone's and Stein's homes cost about $200 per square foot.

A Simple, Owner-Built Home

On the other end of the spectrum is an owner-built grain bin home constructed with mostly locally sourced materials. A 3,000-bushel grain bin was converted into two one-room apartments with plenty of cost-saving features, such as the following:

  • Used grain bin with walls, a roof, and a concrete floor
  • Straw bale insulation
  • Double-paned glass windows and doors placed to maximize solar heat gain
  • Doors, windows, and straw bales purchased locally
  • Reclaimed wood from a nearby barn
  • 24-watt solar electric system

The owners chose a grain silo home because it could be inhabitable in about three months (before winter). In fact, the speed of assembly makes these structures ideal for emergency situations in areas hit by natural disaster. Final cost wasn't listed for this home, but it's fair to say it's at the low end of costs for a grain bin home.

Grain bins aren't just being converted into homes, either. People have made offices, workshops, playhouses, storage buildings, and guest apartments out of them. Considering expense, strength, and maintenance, they're an ideal building material. Unusual? Most definitely. But when you start to think outside the box, they make a lot of sense, too.

What do you think about unconventional homes like these? Would you ever live in one? What about building a workshop or office out of a grain bin?

More about...Home & Garden

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