Using IBC Totes as Thermal Heat Storage

I recently wondered about how to store heat, yes, heat. Granted, typical wall insulation is fairly good at slowing down the transfer of heat (usually from your home to the outside air) but I wanted something more “passively active” if that makes any sense. Apparently, it’s a well-known concpet among interested folks that you can store heat gain in water with the express purpose of allowing that retained heat to be released when the surrounding air is colder than the water in the tank. This idea is often utilized in greenhouses to help regulate temperature when the air temperature drops drastically at night. As I had no clue how to do this, I did some research.

Though I have no plans to try it–in large part because it would be really weird to put a huge IBC tote or two in the basement and I would probably end up divorced–I wondered how effective one or two of the 275 gallon IBC totes would be at regulating the temperature of our basement. Of course, I actually have to BUY a tote to even attempt it! Anyway, I’m not about to do the math either but let’s say the basement is roughly 700 square feet or so of living space. A typical IBC tote is about a four foot cube and would fit quite nice in the middle of the basement, if you ask me.

Now, a large part of how this would work is because of relative temperatures, that is, how cold is the outside-the-house air, how warm is the basement air, how warm can the tote water get when being actively heated (by a fireplace, for example), how fast does heat transfer from the house to the outside air, and probably a few other factors I didn’t even consider. The point is that there are a whole bunch of factors at work and if I had paid more attention in Engineering school I could probably do the math but, these days, that sounds like entirely too much effort and planning. 😉

Is Water The Best Storage Medium?

The first thing I had wondered about was whether water is the best medium to use, maybe rocks or bricks would be better? Turns out water is the best option for DIY home use. Someone else posed a similar question here and following are a few excerpts of answers:

“…If you look up the “specific heat” value for those materials (a quick Internet search will find it), you will see that water has a remarkably high specific heat, much higher than nearly anything. This means it can store more heat for a given volume and would be your best choice. Another factor to consider is that convection currents in water allow heat to move around more quickly than in a solid, which is another vote for water…”

“…To compare rock and water for heat storage, you need to know the heat capacity and the density of the two materials. Comparing water to stone, it takes a little over 4kJ of energy to raise 1kg of water by 1deg C. In contrast, granite takes a little less than 1 kJ to raise 1 kg by 1 deg c. Granite is about 3 times more dense than water, so for a given volume, it still stores less than 75% of the energy of water…”

“…But there is something else to consider…. gravel weighs more than the same volume of water. A container when filled with gravel will weigh about 2.5 times more than if the same container were filled with water. So when a container that holds 1 kg of water were allowed to cool 1°C, it will release about 4000 Joules of heat (as explained above). But if you fill the same container with gravel it will weigh about 2.5 kg, so it will store (800J/kg x 2.5kg =) 2000 Joules of heat energy. This is still only about half the heat energy that the same volume of water will store…”

And if you want more numbers to verify that water is the best medium for most of us, here’s the specific heat capacity of water (and other substances) as well as the specific heat capacity of common building materials. So, the short answer is it’s water or bust for me!

How to Heat the Water?

Originally, my thought was to just set the totes in the middle of the basement and let the heat from the fireplace radiate into the water and gradually heat it that way. Apparently, there are products designed to accept passive heat, but not from the fireplace… from sunlight, such as these Sun-Lite Thermal Storage Tubes:

The problem is that they need access to sunlight to make them useful so that constraint makes their placement a concern (that is, south-facing windows only). But, seeing as though most homes are more window glass than not, you could probably make it work if you really wanted to.

Is There a Better Way?

I wanted a more active solution and happened upon two sites that explained the concept of using solar gain for heat, including to heat water. As it turns out, I would have been better off using 10 or more 55-gallon drums as heat collectors rather than one or two large IBC totes. This article on Multi Tank Heat Storage provides quite a bit of information regarding what I wanted to do and even considers how to use the system for hot, pressurized water too. It’s a long read so plan ahead.

I also found this article on DIY Solar Heat Storage Systems t0 be an interesting read. While less about thermal heat storage (the end of the article does discuss it some) there are some interesting ideas on building design and even utilizing an attached greenhouse for passive heat.

Sadly, this wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Then I remembered this video by Engineer775:

Yeah, that’s more like it! Granted, the purpose was to make hot water for bathing and the like, but why not utilize the idea for heating water that can be used as a thermal heat storage? I’d bet that over the course of the day you could get the temperature of the water inside a typical IBC tote quite hot with constant heating from a fireplace, but I’m really just speculating here.

And just to show this concept isn’t new, here’s an article from 1978 Mother Earth News titled Make Your Fireplace Work For You that’s more along the lines of what I was thinking about.

Is Water the ONLY Thermal Mass to Rely On?

The short answer is that to be most effective your entire home should utilize the thermal mass concept (in the form of other substances like concrete, brick, tile, earth, etc) to store, release, and regulate temperature changes not only at night but throughout the day. In fact, large thermal masses can be quite effective at helping to cool the surrounding area by allowing heat transfer from the air to the thermal mass (and thus cool) as well as for heat, which is what I wanted in the first place.

What Did I Learn?

I learned that I could do what I wanted–to use IBC totes to store heat–but there are far more efficient options such as using many smaller barrels (e.g., 55 gallon drums) instead and that I can either passively heat the water using sunlight if necessary as well as to actively heat the water using a heat source such as a fireplace with a little creativity mixed in.

What do you think? Useful, plausible, cost-effective? Am I missing something completely and, more importantly, has anyone tried it? I would love to hear about success stores.

FYI – Patriot Dawn Novel by Max Velocity Available (with discount code)

For those who are Max Velocity fans–I reviewed a book of his titled Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival that I generally enjoyed–he now has a novel out titled Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises. I haven’t read the book but if you’re interested he’s offering a 15% off dicsount code: N9AXEJJQ (taken directly from his website) for a limited time–not sure how long–on Amazon purchases.

So I’ve Been Saving My Disposable Razors Lately…

razorLike the title says, I’ve been saving my disposable razors lately; I’m up to about a dozen now. Why? Because it dawned on me a month or two ago that a luxury such as the ability to shave could become an expensive one in tough times.

Granted, there are far more important worries such as food and water but I figured saving my razor heads was something ultra easy to accomplish and didn’t take up much space. The problem with this paticular act of saving razor heads is that the entire reason why I throw them away in the first place is because they get dull and don’t do a good job of shaving any longer… I wonder if I’ll even use them?

Maybe it’s simply a better idea to purchase a straight razor and whatever I need to keep it sharp? That’s been a tried-and-true method for hundreds of years.

Anyway, I’ve also noticed that I have a harder time throwing out otherwise useless things like soda cans, shreds from my paper shredder, and even cardboard because I know that I can utilize these things for various solar projects just for fun or if I needed them. Eventually, my organized self takes over and to the curb they go.

This does beg the question…

While I don’t feel like I’m in danger of becoming either a hoarder or extreme cheapskate [both are links to articles I’ve written about them], I am beginning to wonder… “Is this the moment where it all starts?” After all, these people had to start somewhere too!

I’ve got to believe that I’m organized enough to never let that happen, but who knows what the future holds. Will I kick myself 5 or 10 years down the road because I DIDN’T save this stuff? I would assume that I could take a stroll to many suburban homes or, heaven forbid, the local dump and procure truckload after truckload of otherwise “useless” stuff if I really needed to.

Suffice it to say that I think it’s less about saving these things and more about the know-how. In this way I can look at nearly any object and turn it into something useful; sadly, this isn’t my strong suit… but I’m trying. So, what normally throw away items have you been hanging on to or outright stockpiling?

Review of Gerber Gator Machete Jr

I figured this review would be a nice way to bring in the new year… with something big and sharp! 😉 Although, I do not own this particular machete, I did enjoy this review from StealthSurvival. And considering the price is under $20 all day long, you can’t go wrong.

You might also enjoy this video review (by a different person) as well:

15 Items You Can Never Have Enough…

It’s time for a “You Can Never Have Enough of…” list. These posts are always fun to contemplate! Here’s my top 15 (in no particular order):

1. Gauze pads (of all shapes and sizes) – Any serious skin wound is going to need more than just bandages and must be changed often. You’re going to want both sterile (for direct skin contact) and non-sterile gauze. Sure, you can improvise but when it comes to someone’s health, buy the gear that’s meant for the job.
2. Fasteners – Assorted sundries such as nails, screws, nuts and bolts, washers, etc. Get a few boxes of quality exterior nails and screws for unexpected repairs or perhaps a necessary project, such as a solar oven or solar heater.
3. Duct tape – I need to get this one out of the way early! If it’s all that MacGyver needed, I’m sure I can make use of a few rolls myself. Use it for minor repairs to making a duct tape cannon (as seen on Mythbusters) and even for putting up plastic sheeting for chemical/biological events.
4. Ammunition (and weapons?) – Do I really need to elaborate? For self-defense, hunting, barter, etc.
5. Cordage (in assorted sizes and lengths) – most of the time I rarely use the cordage I have but it’s one of those items that when you need it, you NEED it. Visit your local hardware store for ideas but paracord, twine and some thick twisted-nylon rope would be a good start.
6. Firewood – Assuming firewood is your main heating and cooking fuel, it’s hard to have too much. At least have the ability to procure and harvest it, including chainsaw, axe, maul, and everything used to keep aforementioned equipment functioning.
7. Lubrication – It’s about stocking lubricants for squeaky door hinges and stuck bolts to preserving metal tools and firearms. Buy WD-40 (or something similar), 3-in-1 lubricating oil, and your favorite firearm lube.
8. Water Treatment (many options to choose from) – It will be a sad day if/when the faucet stops working permanently. 🙁 As such, every drop of water procured (well, usually) should be considered suspect and MUST be treated before consumed. The last thing you want is to die of dehydration from some diarrheal disease because you consumed bad water.
9. Bar soap (really any soap is useful, including hand sanitizers) – Although it is possible to make your own soap, who wants to fool with lye or even go through the effort? Bar soap will last a long time if kept from drying out so just store it like you would your food preps. A few dozen bars will go a long way.
10. Fuel (gasoline, diesel, propane) – You will eventually run out no matter how much you store or how well you ration it. That said, it will be an sad day if/when the last drop of petroleum flows. And be sure to stock the oil and other fluids that keep your equipment running (e.g., 2-cycle engine oil).
11. Bic lighters – The ability to create fire is huge and the ubiquitous bic lighters are the easiest, most reliable way to do just that. Granted, matches are useful too but think about how many fires could be lit with 50 bic lighters? And they can be stored in bug out bags, vehicle kits, or a jacket pocket without thought.
12. Antibiotics – So many diseases, so few antibiotics! Whether you agree with storing fish antibiotics or not, I prefer to have the option rather than not. I guess I could throw in any ingested medication here as well, including Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and plenty more.
13. Buckets – So many uses, especially the 5-gallon homer buckets. Used for storing food and gear, transporting water, gardening, etc. Be sure to include the lids (should have a rubber gasket too) and funnels would be very helpful here too.
14. Books and Reference Files – One person (or a group of people) can only know so much. Considering the wealth of knowledge that civilizations have created, it’s only prudent to have some of it on-hand in multiple forms (electronic and hard-copy). I wrote about resiliency in your survival library here.
15. Multi-Use Substances – I’m thinking of stuff like baking soda, distilled white vinegar, and apple cider vinegar, in particular. These can be used for making everything from household cleaners to toothpaste. Search the “How To” Knowledge base for more info on how to use these products.

What about you? What would you have added that I did not?

Subscriber Content Consolidated

FYI, for registered users: all subscriber content (ebooks, preparedness tools, design kit files, etc) has been consolidated into a single page. You shouldn’t really notice anything except that all pages previously listed as child pages under the main subscriber page have been removed. Don’t fret, all of their content has been added to the main Subscriber page. This change has been made as part of an effort to make the blog a big less overwhelming and in order to pave the way for the eventual roll-out of my 12 module Pathway 2 Preparedness course.

I’ve also removed the “Submit a Question” page (I believe I mentioned this in the past) as most people just choose to use my contact page instead… I’d prefer that anyway.

Last, I’ve also decided that I WILL use this subscriber content to promote Facebook Likes and e-mail subscriptions in the near future. Again, for those that have already registered this information will continue to be freely available to you so no need to worry there. At some point in the near future I will disable the free subscriber access but probably only when I roll-out my 12 module course, we’ll see.

In essence, the changes I intend to make shouldn’t affect current readers or subscribers. I know I said I wouldn’t make drastic changes in January and, in my eyes, this isn’t really a drastic change… more like a re-organization. 😉 That said, if you see it otherwise then I apologize in advance. Please bear with me as I try to improve reThinkSurvival and gain readership. Most importantly, thank you for your understanding and support!

3 Easy DIY Solar Cookers Infographic

I thought I would try my hand at making an infographic of my own and I figured why not start with solar cookers. Anyway, I would like to hear your feedback about it… is it helpful, interesting, too big, ugly, not enough info, just right, or what? If it’s interesting, please choose to pin it on Pinterest and Like on Facebook. Thanks!

NOTE: Links to these solar ovens and more can be found below this infographic.



Hungry Mouths Consume A LOT!

hungry-mouthsI was helping my mother-in-law the other day bring up some canned food from her food storage so she could make spaghetti for various friends that needed a bit of help. Cooking meals for other people is, in fact, something my in-laws do quite a bit in part because they enjoy doing so as well as being one of their ways of doing charitable work.

Anyway, by then time I was done I had brought up a dozen 28-ounce cans of spaghetti sauce. This was almost an entire row of cans from her Harvest food storage racks! And the sad part is that it was for a single meal. Granted, there were at least a handful of families that benefited but I couldn’t help but ponder “what if we had to feed these people three meals a day, every day?” Obviously, our food storage wouldn’t last long at all.

For those that have seen the recent Hobbit movie I found myself cringing when the Dwarves showed up to the Hobbit’s house unexpectedly and ate him out of house-and-home the whole time thinking “yup, that’s exactly what happens!”

While I’m not worried about feeding people I don’t even know, close family and friends would be people that are very likely to show up TEOTWAWKI+1 with their hands out and mouths open. And, while I’ve written about this topic in the past it’s always been from a standpoint of a moral obligation to do so, not purely from a logistical “can I do it?” standpoint.

You see, the “can I do it” standpoint has little to do with whether I should be helping people that otherwise could do so but choose not to; Rather, it’s simply asking whether I, according to my expectations of the disaster, can feed people who need help… in this case, most likely family and friends?

I would say that in all but the most devastating of scenarios I could do so. Should I? Well, I’ve often heard people comment on forums and other blogs that they would have no problem shutting the door on anyone that didn’t show up with a U-Haul of food and equipment. To me, that’s just not being either realistic or a good human being.

After all, I would think I would have a hard time willfully surviving if all of my family and friends had perished. Maybe a honest-to-goodness civilization-altering scenario would change my mind, I don’t know.

Back to the point of the post, I was shocked at how much food had disappeared from my mother-in-laws food storage for one simple meal. If this was food saved for just my family, for example, we could have had enough for several dinners (maybe a week’s worth) rather than just one meal. Multiply this scenario out over a few weeks and what you thought was enough to last your family for months was quickly depleted.

So, we’re back to square one: do I or don’t I share my preps? Honestly, I flip-flop almost every time I think about the topic. It’s a tough call either way. I truly hope you make the right one.

Reader Poll Request

I’ve just put up a reader poll and would appreciate a brief moment of your time to answer the questions posed. The poll is located in the left-hand sidebar below my sponsored ads and featured blogs list. I’m looking to make this blog more functional and useful for you and would like to know your opinion about many of the posts and pages that I either update daily or that require a lot of TLC on my part. Until you speak, I won’t do anything differently. Thank you!

Are Preppers Hoarders?

I’ve never considered myself a hoarder. In fact, I do my best to remove clutter and keep things organized, after all, I do have an interest in organizing too. But, before jumping to conclusions, it would be helpful to know the definition of a “hoarder” as per


hoarder1. a supply or accumulation that is hidden or carefully guarded for preservation, future use, etc.: a vast hoard of silver.

verb (used with object)

2. to accumulate for preservation, future use, etc., in a hidden or carefully guarded place: to hoard food during a shortage.

verb (used without object)

3. to accumulate money, food, or the like, in a hidden or carefully guarded place for preservation, future use, etc.

Well, when you put it like that… I’m definitely a hoarder!

The thing is that when I think of a hoarder I envision scenes like these (click images to enlarge):


That’s more like it. 😉

I would say pictures are worth a thousand words, so I’ll let them speak for me. I will say, however, that hoarding is only a problem when (1) your stuff dramatically affects your ability to live–especially with regards to health and safety concerns–and (2) when it takes you more than a minute to routinely find what you’re looking for, which is more likely a simple lack of organization rather than a hoarding problem.

Well, what do you think? Are (we) preppers hoarders or not? Does it even matter?