The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.


multiple water tanks

Anna noticed these used tanks for sale in a neighbor's yard last week and asked me to investigate.

They all seemed to be in good shape. I worked out what I think was a pretty good deal with the guy to buy all 7 for 25 dollars each. As a bonus he delivered them at no extra charge. An extra bonus was meeting yet another nice neighbor in the community.

I'm sure there'll be more than one permaculture experiment we can think of to make use of these intermediate bulk container tanks.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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These IBC's are also commonly used for transporting chemicals. You might want to check that they are really clean before using them for water!

On the container on the left picture you can see a blank spot on the metal plate where a dangerous goods label (a square standing on one of its tips) used to be...

Generally it is not a good idea to buy these secondhand with the labels removed, unless the seller can confirm that they are clean (depending on what was in it, rinsing it out with water isn't necessarily enough to clean them).

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Aug 21 16:36:31 2011

Good point about the shape of the sign.

The guy we bought them from got them from someone else in a trade. He washed them out with detergent and water and they smell and look clean, but we don't plan on using them for drinking water.

Comment by mark Sun Aug 21 16:58:15 2011
Thanks for pointing that out, Roland! When I did my quick research on the type of tank, I ran across a lot of people talking about them being used to contain food products, and I guess made an assumption that that's all they were used for. I'll spend some time poring over them and see if I can figure out what had been in them (and whether they all have the chemical caution symbol.)
Comment by anna Sun Aug 21 18:38:29 2011

Lots of people are starting to use them for aquaponics systems, both as the fish tank and as the grow beds (cut in half horizontally). Very useful things!

Some great info on that here:

They're not all that great for clean water storage, since they're translucent. The light will allow algae etc to grow in the water. It doesn't sound like you'll use them for drinking water anyway.

I'm interested to see what projects you come up with!

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Sun Aug 21 19:25:29 2011
I have five of these IBC containers. Four of them came from a cookie factory that had a food grade syrup. They were $50 each as I got them through a middle man. We also have a fifth one that we picked up from a construction site. It had a wax based concrete sealer that has been very difficult to clean. It does not powerwash out. I'm not sure what to do with the last one.
Comment by Mikey Sklar Sun Aug 21 19:52:56 2011

Darren --- I had actually read that the tanks don't do that well when exposed to sunlight for a long time, so I was thinking of maybe making some sort of quick and dirty roof over them wherever we install them. Or perhaps it would be enough to spraypaint them black? Both of those things should probably help with algae buildup. Very interesting to see so many people putting them to use!

Mikey --- I really appreciate that firsthand information! Sounds like if the contents of ours weren't toxic (big if), we might have gotten a good deal.

Comment by anna Mon Aug 22 08:30:15 2011
I know a commercial organic gardener who uses these tanks in series to store water from her well to gravity feed drip irrigation in the fields. She's been doing this for several years and the tanks are holding up well.
Comment by Errol Mon Aug 22 08:53:34 2011

@mikey: wax can be removed by a non-polar solvent like e.g. gasoline. Unfortunately a lot of those are quite toxic. Less toxic alternatives are citrus oil or limonene or maybe vinager.

@anna: the ultraviolet light in the sunlight will break down the tanks' plastic (usually polyethylene, IIRC) over time. Covering them or painting them will reduce that significantly.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Aug 22 13:26:11 2011

We got some of these last year..the ones we got came in 2 pieces..the plastic and the metal outside part..we use them for storing firewood..stack the plastic container on top and the metal shell under it..3 filled containers = 1 cord of wood. they were free so the price was good!

I would like to use them to store water but they had been used for paint or something else that was not really compatable with gardening...

Comment by eagergridlessbeaver Mon Aug 22 14:50:34 2011

Daddy --- They do seem perfect for drip irrigation setups like that. Good thing to hear the tanks have at least some longevity sitting out in the sun.

Roland --- Mark's going to post about this soon (maybe tomorrow?) but I did a bit of sleuthing and found out that the tanks had been used to hold "Super 100 NE", which is a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and glycol ethers. Neither one sounds terribly toxic, but I thought you might know more about it than I do. The tanks have been washed out well --- do you think they'd be safe for collecting rainwater to irrigate plants with? Washing dishes with? Bathing with? None of the above?

Eagergridlessbeaver --- I appreciated the content but not the quantity of the comment. I assume some technical glitch made you post 11 times? (I've deleted all of the other copies.)

I love the idea of storing firewood in the metal cages! Depending on what we decide to do with them, the tanks may or may not need the cages around them, so we might be able to put both to use separately.

Comment by anna Mon Aug 22 16:10:13 2011

You can find an MSDS here. Its hazardous ingredients are indeed isopropyl alcohol and a glycol ether.

Isopropyl alcohol is relatively harmless. It is often used as a replacement for ethanol as a cleaner since it is believed to be less toxic than ethanol. It does have a characteristic smell.

According to the MSDS, the glycol ether in question (from the CAS number) is 2-butoxyethanol which is irritating but doesn't seem very toxic. It is also used in common cleaning products and has a distinctive smell.

Both of these dissolve well in water, so rinsing the tanks thoroughly (until the distincive smells are gone) should render them safe even for drinking water, I think.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Aug 22 18:24:33 2011
I read that first fact sheet, but I just wasn't sure enough of the ingredients to figure out if the tanks would be safe. I thought you might have first hand experience about the two chemicals, and I'm glad you do! I'm thrilled that we can rinse until all smell is gone and then use the tanks for anything!!!
Comment by anna Mon Aug 22 19:03:25 2011
I'm coming in late on this thread -- the organic farm I was interning at used these but I heard from another farmer at a workshop that, as you said, they deteriorate in the sun over time. The farmer said reflective tarps are an easy way to cover them but what he was doing for irrigation was using a swimming pool, hooked up to a pump indoors, and then hooked to a hose system, which pulled water from the pull on an on-demand basis. We used a four tank system for irrigation and the pressure was enough for drip tape but not for soaker hoses. So, the pressure isn't great and they don't last forever but the price is certainly right, and 1000L of rainwater can go a long way...
Comment by J Sun Jul 8 18:09:35 2012

J --- As I read your comment, it occurs to me that maybe we should store the tanks inside the barn. We'd planned to put them outside when we hook up the guttering, but they'd probably last a lot longer if we put them inside, and might not take up too much space if we stacked them.

So, was their four tank system vertically stacked or just four tanks hooked up together on the ground? My understanding is that pressure is purely the result of elevation of the top of the water, so four tanks on the ground would equal the pressure of one tank on the ground (but more capacity, of course.)

Comment by anna Sun Jul 8 18:34:54 2012

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