Tote-ally Versatile IBC Totes

Bulk up your property’s water storage, create shelter for animals, and try your hand at aquaponics with these projects for reusing IBC totes.

Photo by Getty Images/Philip Openshaw

You might not know what they’re called, but you’ve probably seen them being used in myriad ways around farms: Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) are shipping containers used primarily to transport hazardous materials. They’ve found a second life as a versatile container in rural America. Several types of IBCs exist, but the most commonly used is a composite tote (also called a “caged tote”). This consists of a plastic receptacle made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) enclosed by a galvanized steel cage. Composite totes are usually equipped with a valve at the bottom of the receptacle and a fill port at the top. The most common composite IBC totes have a capacity of either 275 or 330 gallons. Since IBC totes are used on farms in many ways, there’s usually an abundance of them for sale. Keep an eye out for totes sitting unused on a neighboring property, or search online. You should be able to find a used tote in good condition for around $50, or, if you’re diligent, free of charge.

The primary concern with reusing IBC totes on a farm is ensuring the container is sterile. To decide whether a used container is safe to reuse, learn as much as you can about its initial use before buying it. Use food-grade totes for all projects where the container will be used for water, feed, or animals, and make sure the plastic is undamaged and the valve and port are functional. Totes can be cleaned with a pressure washer or by hand with dish soap. Any tote that’s not food-grade was used to transport chemicals. Use only the cage from these totes.

Growing up, my family had an IBC tote we used for transporting water. When the creek was low in our pasture, we’d put the tote on the back of the four-wheeler, fill it with water from a hose, and ride out to the catch pen to fill a water tank for the cows. We were able to fill the tank from outside the fence by attaching a pipe to the valve that was long enough to rest on the panels and drain into the tank with only a few wasted drops.

Photo by Hank Will

Quick and Cozy Animal Shelter

  • Tools and Materials
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Rivet gun and rivets
  • Polyvinyl door
  • Air vent
  • PVC double elbow fitting

Providing shelter for outdoor pets can be tedious and expensive. With a 275-gallon IBC tote and a few tools, Roger Gutschmidt and his son, John, provided their cats with a comfortable refuge from the elements. They used a reciprocating saw to cut a 12-by-12-inch hole in the side of the container, near the bottom. (You can adjust the size of this opening so your animals can easily enter and exit the shelter.) To reduce the amount of air coming in, the Gutschmidts installed a self-sealing polyvinyl door to cover the opening. They attached the top of this door to the plastic container with pop rivets. Next, they installed an air vent in the container’s lid to prevent moisture buildup from the animals’ breath and body heat. They also added a double elbow fitting to this setup to allow air to flow out freely, while preventing moisture from entering the shelter. A cozy blanket and bowls for food and water served as finishing touches. Learn more about this project by visiting Repurposed Materials Inc, and clicking on “Cat & Dog Shelter” at the bottom of the page.

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