Overview of IBC Totes for Home Use and What They Are Used For
IBC totes are commonly used by DIY individuals, hobbyists, and outdoor enthusiasts. In this IBC Tanks post, we will cover some of the most frequently asked questions on what IBCs can be used for, where they can be placed, what structures to install them on whenever using IBC totes for home use, and more.
Just so we know we’re on the same topic, an IBC tote refers to an Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC). An IBC is a mid-sized container used commercially to transport many different types of materials, liquids, powders, etc., with water being the most common, and is often used in farming, construction, road work, and manufacturing. For personal use, meaning residential use at home, IBC totes are frequently used in rainwater harvesting to collect rain, to store reserve water for emergencies, in hydroponics, and in aquaponics where an IBC tote can be used as a growth bed, a biofilter, a clarifier tank, a fish fry stock tank, or a sump.
There are also many other IBC tote DIY projects the container can be used for. Some example DIY uses for an IBC tote include a holder for firewood, compost bin, animal shelters, hunting blinds, kid pool, hot tub, biogas tank, and more.
There are many different types of intermediate bulk containers. The 275 gallon and 330 gallon caged IBC tote are the types most used by homeowners. The caged IBC tote is also known as a composite IBC and is the most well-known IBC with a large plastic container kept in place by a steel cage-like frame. These IBC types are often chosen by homeowners and DIYers as they are low in cost, easy to move around, good for many uses, and can be modified or customized to an application.
Problem Between Sunlight and IBC Totes | Fixes and Suggestions
Before we consider installing an IBC and best placement, we need to evaluate the problem between sunlight and an IBC tote that will be used for water and kept outside.
The commonly used caged IBC tote is a translucent container and is most often used to hold water. While this is great for seeing fluid levels within the tank, the translucency is not ideal for stopping the growth of algae. IBC totes allow a significant amount of light through their sidewalls, and where there is sunlight and sitting water, there tends to be algae. When choosing a site and installing an IBC tote for use at home, totes are recommended to be placed out of direct sunlight or modified to create a light proof container.
There are three ways to block sunlight and make a light proof IBC container. These options include:
1. Wrap the IBC in plastic sheeting. Black 6 mil thick plastic sheeting is recommended and can often be bought in large rolls from home improvement stores, hardware stores, or online.
2. Paint the IBC using an elastomeric paint or exterior rated, latex based house paint. There are some spray paint products suitable for IBC totes also. These paints can often be found at home improvement stores or paint supply stores.
3. Build a structure made from wood or metal that either fully encloses the IBC tote or provides a fair amount of shade and protection from sunlight.
Best Placement for IBC Totes
When considering the best placement and foundation for an IBC tote, the volume capacity of the IBC becomes important. This is due to the weight of the tote when in use, meaning how heavy the IBC will be when load bearing with water. Totes will be fairly heavy when full and should only be placed on structures or foundations that can support the weight.
The 275 gallon IBC and 330 gallon IBC are the most frequently used. As the 330 gallon holds more water, it will therefore weigh more when full. When considering their size measurements, both IBC totes have the same width and length and only differ in how tall by 7 inches.
- A 275 gallon IBC typically measures 40” wide x 48” long x 46” tall and can weigh over 2200 lbs when full.
- A 330 gallon IBC typically measures 40” wide x 48” long x 53” tall and can weigh over 2700 lbs when full.
IBC totes can be kept away from direct sunlight by placing them under a manmade shelter, within a structure, or by setting totes on the northside of structures. Examples of manmade shelters include under decks, porches, pavilions, and extended roof overhangs. Examples of structures include within sheds, garages, and barns. Setting totes on the northside of structures can keep an IBC in the shade for most of the day long.
As mentioned before, if the tote is not personally modified in some way to be lightproof, the best placement for an outdoor water tote will be somewhere away from direct sunlight.
Foundation Options for IBC Totes
IBC tote owners can place their containers in many different locations. The point then becomes important to highlight that an IBC should never be placed somewhere you have a belief or fear may not support the IBC when it is full. Examples of this include on top of decks, porches, or other wooden structures that are elevated above the ground, that may be old, and/or that may not be built or engineered to withstand the large weight load of an IBC or multiple IBCs.
For foundations and installation, IBC totes can simply be placed on the ground. The rectangular design and pallet-style base of an IBC helps to support these containers and distribute their weight, making them safe to place directly on the earth.
If an IBC tote will be in location long term, the soil can experience erosion over time that can cause a tote to shift and become unbalanced, which can affect the integrity and functionality of any plumbing connections. Concerns for erosion and IBC tote placement only exist if the IBC will be in a location exposed to rain and weather. If a tote is protected from weather, such as beneath a shelter, within a greenhouse, etc., then erosion concerns can become next to negligible.
Long Term IBC Tote Placement
For IBC containers that will be installed, used and exposed to weather for long term, a suitable foundation is recommended. Foundation options for IBC totes include:
- On the Ground: Ideal for weather-protected locations to prevent erosion. When installing IBCs on the ground, it is recommended to dig up, compact, and level an area the size of the IBC tote plus 2 to 4 inches.
- On a Concrete Slab: The most supportive, secure foundation option for long term IBC tote use. A concrete slab for IBCs is recommended to be at least 2 inches thick and at least 2 to 4 inches larger in width and length of the IBC’s width and length. This option is also best when multiple IBCs will be used and/or when they will be stacked.
- On Gravel or Crushed Rock: A good choice for support, style, and low cost. A foundation of gravel or crushed rock provides adequate support, drainage, a designated area for the IBC(s), and can provide a nice visual design appeal to a setup. These foundations can be dug out and filled or formed above the ground surface. They are recommended to be at least 2 inches thick, at least 2 to 4 inches larger than tote width by length and installed with a wooden retaining wall to keep the rock in place. Tamp the rock to uniform compaction prior to setting and using an IBC.
- On a Wooden Platform: Low cost, easy build option. Recommended for ground level use. A wooden platform for an IBC should be built using weather-treated wood that is thick and strong enough to withstand an IBC’s weight. With enough materials and proper design build, can be used to create an elevated platform for the IBC tote.
- On Concrete Blocks: Low cost, easy build option. Concrete blocks can be placed on flat, level ground in a square or rectangular pattern to the size of an IBC’s base. They are suitable to bear the weight of an IBC tote when in use and can be used together with concrete slabs or pavers.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers for IBC Tote Use at Home
The following is a list of frequently asked questions on IBC totes, their uses, specifications, modifications and more.
Q: Are IBC totes stackable? Can they be stacked with water or other material in them?
A: Yes, IBC totes are stackable and have been engineered to be stacked during storage, transport, and use. They can be stacked when empty or when weighted with a material, such as water. When carrying a load, IBCs are generally not recommended for stacking more than 2 high, especially for personal use in residential settings. This is due to safety, and for the same reason, they are not recommended for stacking during transport if the totes are filled.
Q: Are IBC totes food grade? Are they BPA free?
A: Not all IBC totes are certified food grade containers. However, most IBC totes are made from FDA approved plastic that is ANSI, NSF 61 certified to hold potable drinking water. This includes both new IBCs and rebottled IBCs. Refurbished IBCs, also called reconditioned IBC totes, are not approved for drinking water use and should not be used for sensitive applications or systems where this level of cleanliness is important, such as in aquaponics, edible gardens, etc. Concerning BPA, yes, all IBCs are BPA free and to the best of our knowledge, have always been.
Q: Are IBC totes UV resistant?
A: Yes, the IBC tote container itself is UV resistant. What this means is an ultraviolet (UV) stabilizing compound, usually carbon black or titanium dioxide, is added to the plastic material when the container is being manufactured. The UV stabilizing compound helps to protect the tank plastic from damage that sunlight UV rays can cause to the container during long term outdoor use and sun exposure. Please note that this applies to the tote itself only. It does not protect any stored materials inside the tote from the effects of sunlight, such as water from algal growth.
Q: Can you bury an IBC tote?
A: Although it is generally not recommended due to the weight of the ground and soil on the IBC tote, it can be done and DIYers do bury their IBCs. It is not recommended to bury an IBC tote any deeper than the height of the tank itself at most. We cannot recommend this simply because IBC totes have not been designed for this use. Underground water tanks, known as cisterns, have been engineered and designed to be buried, making a cistern an ideal substitute for burying an IBC tote.
Q: Can you pressurize an IBC tote?
A: No, IBC totes are not designed to be pressurized. IBCs can be used with water pumps to move water in or out of the container or with a water pressure tank that has been connected to the overall system, but the IBC totes themselves are not made to function as a pressure vessel.
Q: How do I connect an IBC tote to a garden hose?
A: There are three ways an IBC tote can be connected to a garden hose.
- Purchase a “Garden Hose Adapter” from an online store that supplies accessories for IBC totes. The 2” NPT to Garden Hose Adapter is a common solution for most applications. The NPT side of the adapter needs to be the size of the outlet valve currently installed on your IBC tote. IBC tote outlet valves are commonly 2” NPT style valves.
- Purchase a 2” Camlock Coupler x 3/4″ Garden Hose Thread Adapter if the IBC tote is fitted with a 2” NPT ball valve.
- Completely replace current IBC valve with a garden hose size bulkhead for replacement with a traditional garden faucet style tap.
Q: How to clean an IBC tote?
A: IBC totes can be cleaned just like any plastic container. An IBC is simply a much larger plastic container. Use a soap and water solution to spray the tote interior. Use a soft bristle cleaning brush attached to a stick or pole, (something to allow reaching the corners and far parts of the tote), and scrub the inner tank walls. Do not use a hard bristle or metal bristle brush as this can etch the container. Using a pressure washer is a great option for making light work. After washing with soap and water, rinse 2 to 3 times with clean water to ensure all soap and filth has been removed.
Q: How to sanitize or disinfect an IBC tote?
To sanitize or disinfect an IBC tote can refer to the tote itself or to the water stored within the tote. To sanitize the IBC tote itself, use a bleach and water mixture (follow the bleach directions for use in disinfection), spray the mixture throughout the tank interior, allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then perform 2 to 3 rinses with clean water. Another alternative is to fill the tote with water and create the disinfection mixture within the tote followed by a drain and rinse – however, this option wastes a lot of water.
To disinfect the water stored within the IBC, such as to make the water safe for drinking, first determine or approximate how much water is in the tote. Second, use common household bleach or purchase the chemical product sodium hypochlorite that is between 5% to 9% sodium hypochlorite. If household bleach is used, only use basic bleach that is free of dyes, fragrance, other cleaning agents, and not labeled as splash-less or safe for colors. To disinfect the stored water, add 0.5 mL of bleach for every 1 gallon of water. So, for a 275 gallon IBC tote with 250 gallons of stored water, add 125 mL of bleach (approx. 0.5 cups or 4.2 ounces). Wait at least 24 hours prior to consumption or use.
Q: What is a rebottled IBC tote?
A: A rebottled IBC tote is an IBC product that has had the previously used internal plastic container removed and replaced with a brand new one. The internal plastic container is sometimes referred to as a “bottle,” hence the term rebottled IBC tote. In rebottled IBC totes, the plastic container has never been used before, but the outer steel cage has. Only steel cages that meet inspection and safety standard requirements are chosen for use in rebottled IBCs. A rebottled IBC tote is approved for drinking water applications.
Q: How to insulate an IBC tote and keep it from freezing?
A: The best options to insulate or protect an IBC from freezing include: (1) install a tote heating system, (2) cover the tank with an insulating blanket, cover or material, (3) install a circulation pump in the tote to keep the water moving, and, lastly, (4) drain the water completely from every part / component in the system. However, note that none of the above options except the last one are a guarantee to provide freeze protection for an entire system such as in rainwater harvesting. For more information on how to protect a water tank from freezing, see this blog post here.
Q: Can an IBC tote be painted? If so, how?
A: Yes, IBC totes can be painted. However, it is not common for paint to last long term without peeling or cracking and needing reapplied. This is due to the way the plastic regularly expands and contracts from heating and cooling. The best paint types to use for painting an IBC tote include an elastomeric paint or a latex based exterior house paint. There are several types of spray paint options available suitable for painting IBC totes.
Q: Can an IBC tote be cut?
A: Yes, both the IBC tote plastic container and the steel cage that supports the container can be cut. There are many hand tools and power tool options suitable for use in cutting an IBC. This is often done to make personal modifications to the tote for an individual use case and match an application, such as in aquaponics. Examples of this include to add pipes, fittings, or valves for an overflow, vents, infills and/or multiple tote connections for subsequent totes.
Q: How do I wrap an IBC in plastic to protect the tote from sunlight?
A: To wrap an IBC tote in plastic, the best and most effective method is to remove the tote’s inner plastic container from the steel cage and wrap just the container in plastic. To do this, depending on the tote’s design, the container may need to be cut from a point of attachment to the metal at the top of the cage or the cage itself may need to be disassembled or cut in some manner to allow the inner container to be released.
After the container has been released, take a roll of 6 mil plastic and go around the container until all sides, top and bottom have been fully covered. More than one layer thick is ideal. After wrapping, barely open the lid and look inside the tote to see if any sunlight is passing through. If there is light in the container, add another layer of wrap and check again. Repeat until there is no light reaching the tank interior when peeking through the lid.
Q: Can I store Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a used IBC tote?
A: Storing diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) in a used (reconditioned) IBC tote is not recommended. Due to the strict purity requirements of DEF, a used reconditioned IBC is not recommended due to any potential contamination or chemical absorbed into the tote plastic that could be released out into the DEF solution over time, affecting its purity.
On the other hand, new and rebottled IBC totes are acceptable for DEF storage and applications, and frequently used, as the plastic liner of the IBC tote has not been used before.
Takeaway | IBC Totes for Home Use
The common caged IBC tote in 275 gallon and 330 gallon capacities are a frequent choice for use in residential rainwater harvesting, gardening, aquaponics and more. An IBC makes a great option as their low cost is a good way to get started in these applications. IBCs are also easy to move, easy to modify, easy to set in place and set up.
The engineering design and pallet-style platform base of IBCs makes them capable of being placed and installed almost anywhere that can support the load weight when full of material. An IBC can be placed and installed on solid earth, concrete, crushed rock, gravel, and wood platforms. If long-term setup is the goal, installing IBCs on a foundation of concrete or crushed rock is preferred to provide the best level of security and stability.
If searching for the 275 gallon IBC tote or 330 gallon IBC tote, we offer them in brand new, rebottled, and reconditioned totes. If you have further questions or need assistance, contact our professional support staff today.