Where I get 275-Gallon Water Tanks for Cheap!


Water storage at your cabin site can be a big concern.  Especially if you’re in an off-grid situation and don’t have a well.

That’s why we like to store large amounts of water in these 275 gallon water tanks.  But right now buying a brand new 275 gallon IBC caged tote like the one in the picture above costs about $200 before shipping.  And to buy it on Amazon costs $280 plus $85 shipping.  That’s why I like to buy these used.  The best place I’ve found to buy these is through local classified sites like Craigslist or even the local classifieds.  

Who sells large water tanks on Craigslist?

As always, be careful with Craigslist.  If you’re buying from an individual, it’s best to meet at a safe place like a public parking for these types of transactions.  But what you’ll find if you search for “275 gallon water tank” on Craigslist, is the these are usually being sold by companies, which makes buying them rather safe.

See, here’s how it usually works.  Companies buy large quantities of liquid materials from their suppliers.  Their suppliers ship their materials in these caged totes.  When the company gets their tote filled with material, they drain the material and now have a used tote.  In a lot of cases, it’s not feasible to ship the tote back for reuse, so they just sell them locally.  We’ve found companies selling these totes after they were used to ship things like wood glue or syrup.

Just make sure that if you want to store drinking water in one of these tanks, that it contained only food grade products before purchasing it.  You may be a little more for food-grade, but you won’t want anything else if you’re going to drink water from one of these tanks.  In general, these types of totes are built to food-grade specifications.  But a tote would no longer be considered food-grade if it contained anything that doesn’t meet food-grade requirements.  So when you buy a water tank, make sure the company selling it to you specifies that it is indeed food-grade.  In fact, you should ask what it was used to transport just to be safe.

How much do these used water tanks cost?

I’ve spent some time searching Craigslist in various cities.  In each case I was able to find at least one company selling 275 gallon water totes.  But the prices varied a bit.  Here in Idaho, I can find these for around $50.  Maybe $75 if I want a tote that has only contained food-grade materials.  However, as I’ve looked I’ve seen these for up to $135 in some locations.  I don’t think the cost in many locations would get much above that since full price is $200 plus shipping.  People usually want a pretty substantial discount from “new” when they buy used stuff, and water totes are no exception to this rule.

If you don’t see any right now at a reasonable price, just keep checking back.  Availability of these types of things on Craigslist can vary pretty widely depending on where you live.  If you live somewhere without much industry, you may need to look a few towns over.  At some point, the cost and hassle becomes such that you may as well look for companies selling these brand new for around that $200 mark.

How can I get great water pressure coming out of one of these tanks?

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when my water comes out at a slow trickle.  Especially when taking a shower or trying to fill a bucket.  But how can you get good water pressure without a big pump and a pressure tank?  It’s actually quite simple, especially if you’re in the mountains.  Just keep a water tank uphill from where you want to use it.

A good rule of thumb is that 100 ft of elevation change will give you water pressure similar to what you are used to in the city.  In fact, a 100-ft drop for water equals 43.3 psi at the outlet.  But once you cancel out the friction in the host or pipe you’ll use you’ll end up with 30-35 psi.  That’ll give you pretty great water flow.  The formula for height to water pressure is also linear which means that 50-ft will give you about half that pressure (about 20 psi).

Just remember that if you’re using water tanks to store water, the water is limited.  The more you use the more you need to bring in.  And the higher the water pressure, the more water you’ll use, even for small things like washing your hands.  So don’t go overboard on your water pressure.  We store our main tank about 30 feet above camp right now and it provides good flow for things like dishwashing and even filling the concrete mixer.  That said, it’s a bit slow for a good shower, so consider the tradeoffs.

What do I need to know if I want to store drinking or potable water?

First of all, if you want to store drinking water make sure that the tank you buy has only contained food-grade contents.  You should make sure the the company you buy it from can say, with certainty, that it didn’t contain anything that does not meet food-grade specifications.  It’s probably a good idea to ask what it was used to transport.

Another thing you need to consider is the hose you use to pump water to the tank, as well as the hose you use to pull water from the tank.  You shouldn’t use a regular garden hose for drinking water.  Water running through garden hoses have been found to contain lead above the levels that have been established as safe for drinking.  Go with a hose that’s designed for drinking water.  This is a great one available on Amazon that’s 50 feet long.  Depending on how far uphill you want to store your water tank, you may need 2 or 3 of these.

Another option would be to run PVC or Pex tubing under ground from your water storage container down to a hose spout that you place where you want to use the water.  This would take a lot of work digging a trench below the frost line depth and running your PVC or Pex from your water tank down to the hose bib, but it would be a more permanent water storage solution.  If you want to do something like this, make sure you know the frost depth where your cabin is.  Our cabin has a 3 foot frost depth, which means that in the winter, the ground freezes to a depth of up to 3 feet.  So for running water lines under ground, we would need to dig a trench at least 3 feet deep.  We just don’t store water outdoors at the cabin in the winter and use a hose…

If you’re going to be storing water in a tank for drinking, there are a few things to keep in mind to keep the water safe to drink and free of algae.  If the water you put in the tank is clean and safe to drink, then you shouldn’t need to treat it if you’re going to use it fairly quickly.  But if you’re storing it for a while here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Keep the container out of the sun and away from heat sources.  Sunlight and heat will deteriorate the plastic leading to leaks, and sunlight will aid in the growth of algae in the water.
  • Keep the container sealed shut.  If the top and bottom openings are closed, the water should stay good for long periods of time.  Even years.
  • Keep the container away from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides, and other similar chemicals.  The plastic can actually absorb the vapors from these chemicals and taint your water.
  • If the water starts to get an odd flavor and you want to treat it, you can actually chemically treat your water in a very safe manner to kill any bacteria and make your water safe to drink.

To treat your water, just add basic household bleach (5.25% to 8% sodium hypochlorite) that is unscented and doesn’t have any other soaps, cleaners, or color-safe products.  Just the raw, basic, household bleach.  Use 1 tsp for every gallon of water in the tank.  A full 275 gallon tank will take about 5 3/4 cups (sources: University of Florida and EPA.gov).  Mix it into the tank the best you can and then let it stand for 30 minutes before drinking.  This will disinfect the water and help clean the tank and hose.  I would suggest doing this one every 2 or 3 fill-ups of the tank, unless you let the water sit for several months at a time.  In that case I would probably chlorinate it every time I fill the tank.

If your bleach is not 5.25% sodium hypochlorite, I suggest you go to the EPA website link above to see a table indicating the right amount of bleach to use based on the concentration of your bleach.

How do I fill my water tank?

If you’re storing your tank up the hill from camp, you may be wondering how you’re supposed to get water to it.  If the road in to camp or to your cabin comes downhill from above, maybe it’s not a problem.  Just bring in a full tank and siphon the water from the full tank down to the storage tank.  But what if your road comes into camp from below?  How do you get your water uphill?

If you’re thinking about moving a full water tank, think again.  275 gallons of water weighs about 2,200 lbs (1000 kg).  Unless you have a forklift, you’re not moving that water tank anywhere.  So what do you do?

Here’s how we handle it.  We’ve bought several water tanks now.  One sits toward the bottom of the property not too far from a stream.  The next sits  about 100 ft away up the hill a little ways, and so on.  For non-potable water that we use for basic cleaning and mixing concrete, we just pump water from the stream.  We use a little 1/2 hp submersible sump pump which we drop in the stream and connect to a hose to pump water up to the lowest water tank.  Once it’s full, we can drop the pump into there to fill the next tank and so on.  It takes a while to get the top tank filled, but we just fill up all the tanks along the way every so often that we don’t ever have to fill them all at once anymore.

There are a lot of options when it comes to these pumps.  Everything from very inexpensive plastic pumps to heavy cast-iron.  Some 1/2 hp pumps can pump water a total height of 40 feet while others can only pump about 20 feet up.  That’s not 20 feet horizontally.  I’m talking about a 20 foot rise in elevation.  Some pumps will move 30 gallons per minute of water max while others will do 65.  So these are the trade-offs, along with price, that you’ll need to consider when buying a pump.  Here’s one that I like that you can get on Amazon.  You can see current pricing there.

One more thing to think about is if you want to use a submersible pump like this, and if you’re going to pump from tank to tank like we do, then it needs to be small enough to fit through the top hole in your water tanks.  These totes in particular have a 6 inch diameter hole in the top.  For our pump, it’s not quite big enough to fit the pump in, so we had to cut a notch on one side of the hole to get the pump in.  We can still thread the cover on that hole, but the tank that we did that too doesn’t totally seal now.  So submersible pumps like this work great for pumping from a stream.  But not as well when pumping from one tank to another.

One way around that would be to use a non-submersible pump.  For tank to tank transfer, I’m going to switch to is this pump, available on Amazon. You just need a short hose running from the outlet of a water tank to the pump, and then another host to run from this tank to your next tank uphill.  This would also be great to pump from the water tank you used to bring clean water to your cabin to the water storage tank at the cabin.  You do have to put a little water in the pump before starting it to prime it though.  It won’t just suck the water from the tank to the pump further uphill.  But, it should work great if you have the pump around ground level and you’re connecting from the outlet port on the water tank you’re pumping from.  The pump should just be below the water level inside the tank, especially for getting started.

If you want to store drinking water that you’re hauling in from home, you can take the same approach.  Use one water tank to actually bring the water in on a trailer or pickup.  Get it as close as you can to the water tank where you want to actually store your drinking water and use a clean sump pump and drinking water hose to pump the water up to your water storage tank.

Using elevation as your source for water pressure does add some inconvenience and complexity.  You have to pump your water up to it.  But it’s the best way to get pressurized water with very little cost.  The alternative is to use a large pump and a pressure tank, which is what most people use in conjunction with a well.  It takes quite a pump and tank to get good water pressure, and that just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re hauling in water.

If you think about it, it’s actually a great way to maintain consistent pressure, even at times when usage is high.  In fact, it’s such a good way to maintain water pressure that cities have been sing this method for years.  This is exactly how water towers work.  Water is pumped almost constantly up into water towers so that even when water usage is high, or even when power is temporarily lost and the pumps can’t run, consistent water pressure is still available.

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