How to Find Used Grain Bins
4 Things You Should Know Before Shopping for Used Grain Bins
I get many questions over e-mail about where and how to find used grain bins. There seem to be two main reasons for acquiring used grain bins:
- Some folks, primarily farmers, wish to have them to store grain.
- Others, such as contractors or individuals, wish to convert them into housing.
But first, a word about the bins themselves.
1. Not All Grain Bins Are Created Equal
Bins are made by many different companies and thereby vary considerably in quality and workmanship. The price of a new bin does not necessarily reflect its quality. We can divide grain bins into three categories for easy assessment:
These are typically made with light-grade metal and tend to bend and crumple easily. Many bins have a tag on the inside of each sheet stating the gauge, or the thickness of the sheet. Lightweight bins are unsuitable for areas prone to high winds. The hardware that comes with such bins tends to be of lesser quality as well; bolts are frequently carelessly threaded, assembly slots or holes and their matching bolts often misalign, and the roof sheets lap poorly. Sometimes, the important hardware is missing altogether, even on new bins straight from the factory.
Low-quality bins typically have a cheap—if initially shiny—galvanized finish and many design problems. The shinier the finish is, the thinner it is and the faster it will wear away, losing its protective capabilities. Lower-quality bins don't promise any monetary savings in the long-run, as they frequently need more time to erect than a higher-quality bin and often require extra measures to make them weather-tight (blown-in expanding foam insulation, extra sealing tape, etc).
Medium-quality grain bins are easier to work with, as the sheets tend to fit more accurately, and the hardware is usually alright. We have had some problems with some of them "belly wrinkling" (buckling slightly in the middles) when loaded quite full with grain. For this reason, we recommend stiffeners (vertical metal bars) be installed on the insides at intervals.
It is possible to sustain wind damage to a high-quality grain bin, but it usually takes tornado-force winds. It is possible to hurt high-quality grain bins in other ways as well, but it's typically through abuse or poor maintenance, such as allowing sheets to rust out. Sometimes, the hardware on a high-quality grain bin varies from bolt to bolt (that is, two bolts from the same package may be made from completely different grades of metal), but these bins are constructed in such a way that a few poor-grade bolts won't hurt the bin.
A high-quality bin has a sturdy finish to the sheets, which will retard rusting and other deterioration. It comes with primarily good hardware, the assembly holes will line up, and the bin will be carefully engineered and designed.
2. Moving Them Can Be Challenging
Moving a grain bin can be a fairly straight-forward, but it's not a necessarily easy process. It may require some specialized equipment, much caution, and some common sense.
3. Just Because It's Used, Doesn't Mean It's Cheap
Used grain bins are not necessarily cheap. A bin in good shape with a rust-free bottom ring might go for 20-25 cents a bushel (as of 2010). Bin prices are usually calculated by the bushel.
- This means that a bin that holds 12,000 bushels of grain (such as the one shown in the picture in this article) might be worth $2,400 or more.
- A new 6-ring, 18' diameter, 5,000 bushel, medium quality bin might go for $1.25 a bushel, without shipping charges.
- At the current scrap metal price (subject to change at any time), the bin in this article would be worth $250, but most farmers won't let even a trashed bin go for that unless it's so trashed you won't be able to use it. It could be one that's been knocked off the cement pad and torn to shreds by a tornado.
- The price may also be determined by the quality of the bin.
Simply stated, a used bin may not be your best bet. Count the cost carefully before you buy. Getting a used bin for $.20 a bushel will barely allow you to buy new hardware (a must), erect the bin, and do it right while leaving a bit extra over a new bin. This does not include the cost of a cement pad, but it does include the potential cost for you to hire a contractor to erect the bin for you.
Whether you go with a new bin or try to scrounge for something used depends on what you need and whether you have the expertise to fix bent sheets and such.
4. They Run Hot or Cold
Grain bins, whether used or new, tend to be either very cold or very hot inside, depending on the weather. The summer temperature where I live usually fluctuates between 90°F and 115°F with low humidity (13% is the average). In temperatures like these, the air inside a grain bin can easily be 120°F or more. In some cases, it gets hot enough to cook a fair-sized beef roast hung from a string—my husband's done it!
My husband and I try to avoid building grain bins anytime past May because of the heat. We've done them in July, but it's torture. So, you should also count the cost of insulating the structure.
Note: Please do not ask our advice on turning a grain bin into an office or home, as we have never done so.
Examples of Grain Bin Housing Requests
Request Example 1
I'm looking for a couple of used bin to make into cottages. Do you know any good places to look for used bins?
Request Example 2
I am a builder/farmer interested in building round houses using grain bin roofs. If you have any ideas or suggestions as to where I could come across a 30' -50' diameter roof that is in usable condition, I would greatly appreciate it. I live in Southeastern Ohio, and the hills here make it difficult to grow grain. There are only a few farmers who store enough to actually have a large bin like the one I am looking for. Thank you for your help!
Where to Look for Grain Bins
As far as I am aware, no official old grain bin rest homes exist. There is no centralized grain bin distribution center nor a union or similar organization designed to connect grain bin contractors and sellers.
Here are the options:
- Check out local farms. The best places to look for used grain bins are old farmsteads, whether they're occupied or abandoned. Just be sure you get the owner's permission before setting foot on the property, even if it looks like nobody would mind. However, many of the unused bins you're likely to find in such places have major structural issues. There are often reasons why they're empty and not in use. Sometimes, they simply are not needed, whether there is a lifestyle or economic factor. Ask around for leads to discover likely properties, drive around and take notes of what you think you see, or visit and call the landowners.
- Advertise your need in local and regional papers and magazines, especially those aimed at farmers and ranchers. Be specific as to what you want, as "grain bin" means different things to different people.
- Check farm auctions and sales. Make friends with the auctioneer(s), and they may lead you right to what you want.
- Ask local contractors for leads, whether or not they are in the grain-bin moving business. If they don't have good advice for you, they may know someone who does.
- Advertise your need by word of mouth to local farmers, ranchers, and hired hands. Eventually, if a used grain bin which suits your needs is available, it will turn up.
If you cannot find a used grain bin locally, I recommend you buy a new grain bin rather than try to move a used one across a long distance.
Also, Sukup brand apparently began selling new bins for housing and other alternate uses (this information came to me in May 2019).
A Typical Site for Vintage Bins
Grain Bin Suppliers
Below are several grain bin manufacturers, listed in descending order of quality. I've compiled this list according to my husband's and my experiences over the last 20 years working with and building grain bins. Just like other companies, grain bin manufacturers don't stay around forever, and some popular ones of years ago are no longer in business. For instance, we see a lot of Butler grain bins on old homesteads, and have moved a few, but cannot recommend Butler as a company, because they combined with Brock. If a company you know about isn't on this list, we either cannot recommend it, or we haven't worked with it enough to have an opinion.
- Behlen Building Systems
- GSI Grain Systems
- York (not to be confused with other Grand Island, NE manufacturers)
- Pembina Co-op Grain Bins
- GMLS Industries, Inc. (Golden Grain grain bins)
- Brock Systems
Good grain bin hunting!
Don't Ask Us to Move Bins, Please!
June 2019--My husband and I no longer move or tear down grain bins. We have scaled back on this kind of work. So please do not ask us to help you with your grain bin project. Unfortunately, reputable grain bin contractors who will travel seem hard to find. If I find any reliable sites for trade in this kind of thing, I'll try to include it in this article.
Houses Built From Grain Bins
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2011 Joilene Rasmussen