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 Container House — 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.
The Japanese, except for those living on one far northern island, have always — to my knowledge — lived in unheated houses. To do this, they've developed many beautiful techniques for keeping warm techniques which make a Japanese home quite different from what most Americans might imagine.
Japanese houses, it is said, are designed to be comfortable in hot weather while Western homes are constructed for comfort during cold weather. This may be true, but the average temperatures in Japan cover roughly the same range as those of the United States. Match degree against degree, for example, and you'll find living in Tokyo very similar — temperature-wise — to residing in Washington, D.C.
The traditional Nipponese home and its inhabitants, in other words, have happily survived many centuries in a climate not very different from our own. And that house and the people who live in it have done so without central heat.
How can this be? Can unheated houses really be comfortable?
Yes they can. I grew up in Japan and was fortunate enough to always live in traditional homes. I love them dearly, in fact, and much prefer them to the centrally heated "ovens" so typical of our culture. Perhaps, if I describe a typical winter's day as we lived it in our Japanese house, you'll understand my feelings.
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.
New steel Modular Home 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!”