How an old grain silo became one man's dream getaway in northern N.B.

Steven Lord repurposed an old grain silo into a one-of-a-kind cabin in the forests of Saint-Basile in northern New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
Steven Lord repurposed an old grain silo into a one-of-a-kind cabin in the forests of Saint-Basile in northern New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)

The cost of a new home or cottage got you down? Maybe consider building one out of an old grain silo.

That's what one northern New Brunswick man did. And he loves it.

"This was my dream, and I went for it," said Steven Lord, who converted an old silo into a two-storey cottage.

It has a kitchen, living room, bedroom loft and bathroom, and is fully equipped with running water and electricity.

Lord's dream started out with a desire to do something — anything — with a plot of land along the Green River in Saint-Basile, about a 20-minute drive northeast of Edmundston.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

The land had been in Lord's family for generations, and 80 years ago, was the site of his great-grandfather's cabin.

Lord has only ever seen that cabin in photographs. It was torn down before he was even born, due to decay.

"But my dad used to come [there] a lot when he was younger," said Lord, adding that his father had always planned to build another cabin in it's place, but never managed to find the time to build one.

Then the pandemic hit.

Lord said COVID-19 really put things into perspective for him, and he decided to finally rebuild the family's cabin. But he wanted it to stand out.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

After scouring social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration he settled on repurposing an old grain silo and turning it into an ideal getaway.

One problem.

"My wife was born on a farm and for her a silo was a grain silo," said Lord. "She couldn't imagine having to stay in one or sleep in one, so she told me 'You'll never get me to sleep in a silo.'"

Challenge accepted.

'A promise I had to keep'

Lord started searching the area for an abandoned silo on nearby farms. He found one 30 kilometres away in the community of Saint-Leonard. But it wasn't for sale.

He told the farmer about his plans for the abandoned structure and eventually the farmer got back to him — with a proposition.

"'If you promise me you build something to live in, I'll give it to you,'" said Lord, about the farmer's one condition.

"So that's a promise I had to keep."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

In the summer of 2020 Lord took the silo apart and transported it to the exact site of his great grandfather's cabin in Saint-Basile.

He poured a 32-by-20 foot concrete slab on the footprint of the old cabin and rebuilt his newly-acquired grain silo.

But in a world where most buildings are cubes Lord had to adapt to working inside a cylinder.

That meant windows and doors that would normally be installed on a flat surface had to be built on a curve. And it meant custom-building shelves and countertops.

When you're laying in bed you can see the stars. — Steven Lord

Lord also constructed a screened-in porch leading into the silo to enjoy the outdoors bug-free.

You might wonder how warm it could be inside a galvanized steel drum in the middle of February in northern New Brunswick.

But one step inside and a blast of heat hits you in the face from the combined forces of a wood stove and heat pump.

"You have to open windows and doors," said Lord. "It gets really warm."

A thermostat on the wall says it's 0 C outside and 27.5 C inside.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

The interior of the silo is deceptive. Portions of galvanized steel are exposed on the inside wall giving the illusion that the building isn't insulated.

It's almost like we're on vacation, every weekend. — Steven Lord

But in fact, Lord installed 4.5 inches of urethane insulation on the walls and six inches in the ceiling. He then covered it all up by installing the walls of a second silo inside the first one.

And the port where grain was piped in from top of the silo? That's now a round skylight.

"When you're laying in bed you can see the stars," said Lord.

A second-hand sanctuary

Like the silo itself, most of the materials Lord used to build the interior were second-hand.

The iron spiral staircase leading to the loft cost just a few hundred dollars because a friend he knew had it kicking around his backyard.

The footrests on his table are made from old industrial chains, and his kitchen lights hang on pullies that were a gift.

In total Lord estimates he spent around $60,000 converting the silo into his getaway.

Lord said he saved a lot of money on labour costs, but he's not a carpenter. He works as a reliability engineer for J.D. Irving Limited, focusing mostly on industrial maintenance.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

He credits his 84-year-old father for the carpentry advice, and his best friend and neighbour who works with sheet metal for much-needed help with the steel.

After two years, Lord said he finally installed the last board on New Year's Eve.

Now that it's finished, he says he has no desire to ever rent out his getaway — it's just for himself, his family, friends, and most importantly, his wife.

"My wife now comes, even though she said she never sleep in the silo, but she's here every weekend," said Lord.  "It's almost like we're on vacation, every weekend."

Lord's one final touch is a nod to the past.

A small pail of grain sits next to the door — a tribute to the history of the walls that encircle him.