- What is a Burn Barrel?
- Types of Burn Barrels
- How Burn Barrels Are Made
- Burn Barrel Safety
What is a Burn Barrel? #
A burn barrel is a metal drum that has been transformed and modified to dispose of combustible trash, waste, and other materials by incineration. Carefully constructed and manufactured, burn barrels are a safe and convenient method for disposing of combustible materials and avoid placing them in a landfill.
The normal use for burn barrels is found in remote and unpopulated areas far from residential or commercial locations where there isn’t regular trash pickup. In recent years, as regulations are being changed, burn barrels have been found in more populated areas that have established strict standards for their use.
There are several ways people in isolated areas have used to dispose of waste and trash. It had been common to bury trash or dispose of it by open burning for many years. However, as civilization has grown and expanded, such methods are no longer acceptable or ecologically safe. Burn barrels provide a safe and effective alternative to the traditional methods of disposing of trash and are more eco-friendly.
The typical burn barrel is made from a worn out 55 gallon drum that has appropriately been reconfigured and prepared to contain waste materials for burning. Although smaller sized drums can be used for that purpose, they require constant supervision and need to be emptied frequently. Additionally, smaller drums pose a significant danger and a risk of hot debris escaping outside the containment area.
Burn barrels are an excellent tool that can safely and efficiently be used to dispose of unwanted combustible materials. The overriding rule regarding their use is following procedures that ensure the safety of users and the surrounding area.
For many years, open burning of waste was the only way to be rid of materials that were combustible. As the years have passed and laws have been enacted regarding air pollution, contaminants, and air quality, open burning has been restricted and placed under close scrutiny. Every state and county in the United States has a set of procedures that need to be followed to obtain permission to burn waste materials. In most cases, the process is very easy and requires contacting a local official to receive permission.
Types of Burn Barrels #
Though a burn barrel may seem a simple tool for burning unwanted trash and waste, which must be disposed of correctly for safety and proper use, cramming a burn barrel with trash and setting it on fire can be tempting. But can also lead to significant problems. Therefore, to ensure proper use of a burn barrel for combustion, specific steps are necessary for the user’s safety.
The old burn barrel, sitting in the yard, has been transformed into different configurations and shapes. The traditional 55-gallon drum has been replaced with various styles and types that have expanded the use of burn barrels.
Yard Waste #
A yard waste burn barrel is an excellent alternative for burning tree trimmings, grass, and wood. The piling of yard waste and burning it in the open tends to be frowned on by governmental agencies and neighbors. A yard waste burn barrel controls the burning process and contains any fragments that could cause problems away from the burning area.
There are factors that need to be considered when making the decision to burn yard waste in a burn barrel. The first and most important consideration is knowing the materials that will be burned and avoid burning plants that may be toxic or poisonous. Since not everybody is a horticulturalist and has knowledge of plants, when incinerating yard waste, it is best to err on the side of safety if you don’t know what a plant is. Yard waste that is placed in a burn barrel should be completely dry since wet or moist yard waste will cause excessive smoke.
All yard waste should be broken into portions that fit easily and smoothly into the burn barrel. This will mean cutting branches, limps, and clippings into portions that are smaller than the diameter of the burn barrel. The immediate area around the burn barrel should be soaked with a hose prior to lighting the yard waste in the burn barrel.
The burning of yard waste should consist of only yard waste and not be mixed with junk mail, household waste, cartons, or paper products. Once it is clear that all of the yard waste has been burned, the materials in the barrel should be soaked and checked for any remaining embers.
Galvanized Garden Incinerator #
This type of burn barrel, made from trash cans, is available at home improvement stores and hardware stores. Unlike the traditional configuration of burn barrels made of 55-gallon drums, galvanized garden incinerators are another method for disposing of yard waste. This type of burn barrel can be used to collect and burn yard materials and paper products. The design of galvanized garden incinerators makes it possible to use them in populated areas.
The galvanized metal used to produce galvanized garden incinerators has been treated with zinc to protect the metal against rust and high temperatures. These characteristics enhance the strength of galvanized garden incinerators, which can be further improved by making them fire proof. The one difficulty with galvanized garden incinerators is the zinc coating that can release toxic fumes when heated too long at very high temperatures.
A functional burn barrel is a traditional form of burn barrel with a unique design:
- The igniting agent, such as a match, is inserted into a typical burn barrel.
- A lower portion of the barrel is cut away in an available burn barrel.
- Coals, wood, paper, and other burn materials are placed in the opening.
As the heat increases, the contents of the barrel are burned.
All other aspects of an available burn barrel are shaped like a traditional burn barrel, including the amount of heat to burn refuse.
20 Gallon Trash Can #
Another variation on burn barrels is 20-gallon trash cans that can be used in populated areas. They have the same shape as an ordinary 20 gallon galvanized trash can with certain added features to distinguish them from a regular trash can.
The size of a 20-gallon trash can burn barrel makes it easy to handle and position. What makes it unique are the legs attached to the bottom and multiple holes punched in the sides of the can. Unlike a typical burn barrel, 20-gallon trash can burn barrels have a solid lid that prevents burnt materials from rising out of the barrel. In addition, the multiple holes allow for ventilation and the escape of smoke.
Stainless Steel Hi Temp #
Traditionally, burn barrels are made from used or new 55 gallon drums. They can be fabricated in a backyard, barn, or warehouse following safety directions. About 20 years ago, a burn specialist company developed a portable stainless steel burn barrel that is easy to install and move and is designed to burn combustibles at exceptionally high temperatures.
The sides of a stainless steel burn barrel are made of vented stainless steel that is curved and welded into a barrel shape. The resilience of stainless steel makes it possible to reach temperatures of 1600o F. The vented lid is held in place by brackets that prevent it from being removed during burning.
Stainless steel burn barrels have multiple uses, from burning yard waste to burning household combustibles and serving as outdoor fireplaces.
Burn Cage #
The burn cage is in conjunction with the stainless steel burn barrel, similar to a stainless steel burn barrel but a rectangular shape. The sides of a burning cage are made of rectangular-shaped flat sheets of vented stainless steel. In the form of a flat square, the lid is punched with evenly spaced holes for ventilation and for preventing the escape of burned materials and ash.
The idea for the burn cage arose from the problems associated with the traditional burn barrels and some of the dangers they have caused when misused. In addition, the perforated stainless steel sides maximize airflow and ventilation, which allows the burn cage to burn hotter to dispose of burnt materials more thoroughly.
The traditional burn barrel is where burn barrel design began. The first use of burn barrels came from the need to burn waste material without having to bury it, leave it in the open, or burn it in the open. The shaping of a traditional burn barrel begins with a 55-gallon drum that has holes punched in its sides for ventilation. Next, it is set on a platform of cinder blocks, metal, or stones that are spaced to allow for airflow. Finally, the top of a traditional burn barrel comes in various shapes, from bent pieces of metal, wire mesh, and hole punched sheets of metal or some form of a cage.
Traditional burn barrels can be a DIY project or be purchased at a hardware or home improvement store. However, they are seldom moved when put in place and tend to get filled with ash to be disposed of after use.
How Burn Barrels Are Made #
Regardless of the many varieties of burn barrels, their construction follows a uniform pattern that meets the requirements of ventilation or airflow, containment of burnt materials, and safety. As can be assumed from its name, all burn barrels begin with some form of container. The most common is the traditional form, which includes a 55-gallon drum.
The 55-gallon drum type of burn barrel has been the standard for many years. However, innovative manufacturers have developed an assortment of burn barrels using materials capable of containing the effects of burning items.
Barrel Selection #
The typical and traditional burn barrel is made from a 55-gallon drum. Though this was the original and widely accepted type of burn barrel, modern burn barrels come in various sizes that range from 20 gallons to over 55 gallons.
There are a few methods for getting a 55-gallon barrel. The purchase of a used barrel tends to be the least expensive and can be acquired for free. The difficulty of low-priced used barrels is what they were used for before being disposed of since 55-gallon drums are used to ship toxic materials, fuel, solvents, chemicals, and other dangerous materials.
If a 55-gallon drum is purchased that has been used for some other purpose, it is very wise to clean it sufficiently to remove any possible dangerous materials. Several online sites explain the process. However, the best way to get this burn barrel is to purchase it from a company that cleans burn barrels for reuse. Their cleaning process goes through several stages that ensure the barrel is devoid of any dangerous substances.
If a burn barrel has some form of exterior coating or paint, depending on its type, it will most likely burn off during the first use of the burn barrel.
Removing the Top #
A 55-gallon drum can have a sealed top and bottom that has been welded to form a tight connection. Other 55 gallon drums have a removable lid sealed with a snap-on clamp. A welded-on cover has to be cut away with a torch, saw, or barrel opener tool that works like a giant can opener. Regardless of how the lid is removed, it should be kept on hand for possible further use.
Drilling Holes #
An essential part of the successful use of a burn barrel is airflow and ventilation, which feeds air to the combustible material. The manufacturers of quality 55-gallon drums require their products to be tightly sealed to avoid spillage, overflows, or loss of contents. This aspect of 55-gallon drums is helpful to the construction of a burn barrel but has to be adjusted by drilling holes throughout the cylindrical surface and bottom of the barrel.
Airflow holes should be large enough to allow continual air circulation but small enough to prevent ignited materials from escaping. Half-inch to three-quarter-inch holes are recommended. Holes should be evenly spaced along the bottom and sides of the burn barrel. The number of holes can vary from 10 to 20 up to 30 or more.
As with any metal, drilled holes in a burn barrel weakens the strength of the metal. If a burn barrel is used extensively and continuously, the structure of the barrel will weaken and cause the barrel to collapse. This aspect of a burn barrel’s use needs to be examined carefully to ensure its safe use. Burn barrels that are in constant use for eight to ten months need to be replaced or checked for structural strength.
The cover for a burn barrel is a critical piece since it keeps ignited pieces from floating away. There are many ways to make the cover, ranging from DIY processes to the purchase of screens. The most important factor regarding the choice of a cover is how securely the cover rests on the top of the barrel to let the smoke escape but keep large pieces of waste and debris from being released.
The lids for burn barrels are usually cut off the top of a tightly sealed drum and placed in recycling. It is highly unusual to purchase a burn barrel with an attached lid, which requires the purchase of a separate lid. Round lids that fit the form of a burn barrel are the best since they can be more secure and have a tighter fit. Other shapes can do the same job but it is important to choose a lid that will remain in place and not be dislodged by the force of the burning waste. As can be assumed, the selection of a lid is another preventive and safety measure that has to be carefully and thoughtfully considered.
In some states, a grid type burn barrel cover is required by law especially in areas where there is the potential of prairie, brush, and wildfires. States with burn barrel regulations regarding covers specify the size of the openings of the covering grill as well as its thickness. This aspect of the purchase of a burn barrel needs to be thoroughly investigated prior to making the choice of using a burn barrel and is normally available through county or state regulators.
The three examples below are some methods used to cover a burn barrel.
Burn Barrel Supports #
As with other factors related to burn barrels, several methods support a burn barrel. There is a basic rule that a burn barrel should be placed on level round such that it does not lean or angle. In many cases, burn barrel users will impact the ground where a burn barrel will be placed to remove any doubt that the supporting surface may be uneven.
The typical method used to rest a burn barrel is four cinder blocks tightly spaced around the bottom of the burn barrel but with sufficient space to allow for airflow. However, if a burn barrel is to be set flat on the ground, there are alternative methods to ensure sufficient airflow from the bottom.
Vented burn barrels can be set flat on the ground. They have square vents cut into the bottom edge of the evenly spaced cylinder. Holes are drilled in the sides to insert rods to support the burning waste matter.
Burn Barrel Safety #
As convenient, reliable, and productive as burn barrels are, it is important to remember that a burn barrel is a tool that has to be handled with the greatest of care. Several factors have to be considered when choosing to use a burn barrel.
Though it may be tempting to place anything that can burn in a burn barrel, it is important to choose what materials can be disposed of in a burn barrel and what materials may need to be sent to a more appropriate and safer place. When deciding what to burn, the first consideration should be what type of smoke an item may produce and whether the smoke is toxic.
The most important part of setting up a burn barrel is choosing the correct location, a factor that can ensure a burn barrel’s successful use. A burn barrel must sit on level ground that is solid, firm, and impenetrable away from trees, buildings, vehicles, and any type of combustible materials. When the barrel is in use, waste for burning should be kept at a safe distance until it is ready to be processed.
Safety and protection of the surroundings are central keys in regard to using a burn barrel, which should be placed at least 30 feet away from any structures, materials, tools, or flammable materials. Though it should be positioned on a flat, firm surface, it is important to avoid locations that are unprotected from the effects of wind or overhangs. In addition, the site around the burn barrel should be free of combustible materials such as dried weeds, branches, or long grass. For the best results, the surrounding area should be impacted dirt without any form of vegetation.
A burn barrel should be halfway full, with the largest items placed at the bottom and smaller items added on top. It should never be loaded to the top or be filled since it can lead to debris from burning items released from the top of the barrel. Materials waiting to be burned should be placed 30 feet away from the burn barrel. The contents should be allowed to burn down before reloading.
If lighting the burn barrel with match, the match should be dropped on the small light materials on the top of the waste matter. Though this may take a few tries, placing a hand in the barrel. Long-stemmed lighters used for lighting barbecues are the best method since they are sufficiently long to be held in the barrel until the material lights.
If getting the burning process to start is difficult, adding some form of kindling may be necessary. Safety experts agree that adding an accelerant such as kerosene, gasoline, or lighter fluid is the least acceptable method for igniting a burn barrel and should be avoided.
An essential safety measure is to have some form of extinguisher available. In many cases, water hoses are kept nearby for protection. If a purchased fire extinguisher is used, it is vital to buy one rated for the type of material that will be burned.
Selection of Material #
Trash and waste must be separated and categorized according to their combustibility and possible hazards. Paint cans, cleaning containers, aerosol cans, and plastics should be taken to a county hazardous waste disposal location. Food scraps and leftovers can be placed in a compost pile, which could be another use for a 55-gallon drum. Trash that is acceptable to be burned can be collected in various ways depending on the availability of room and storage capacity.
State, County, and City regulations determine the use of a burn barrel and what materials can be burned. Rules and Regulations should be carefully checked before using a burn barrel. Though it varies from state to state and county to county, it may be necessary to get a permit.
An additional safety factor is in regard to the storage of a burn barrel. The mesh, screen, or lid that is placed on a burn barrel when in use should be removed and set aside. A solid sheet of metal should be placed on the top of the barrel to cover it when not in use. This will keep rain or snow out and prevent rust. With proper care, a burn barrel can endure five years of constant use.
Disposing of Burn Barrel Ashes #
There are various ways to dispose of the ashes in a burn barrel. For a burn barrel to work most effectively, removing ashes from under the barrel or in the bottom of the barrel after each use is essential. How burn barrel ashes are disposed of depends on the region where it is being used. For example, ashes can be placed in compost piles, used for plant bedding, or scattered as a layer on the ground. Most importantly, the ashes are cleaned from the burn barrel regularly.
- The old burn barrel sitting in the yard has been transformed into different configurations and shapes over the years. The traditional 55-gallon drum has been replaced with various styles and types that have expanded the use of burn barrels.
- Regardless of the many varieties of burn barrels, their construction follows a uniform pattern that meets the requirements of ventilation or airflow, containment of burnt materials, and safety.
- The typical and traditional burn barrel is made from a 55-gallon drum. Though this was the original and widely accepted type of burn barrel, modern burn barrels come in various sizes that range from 20 gallons to over 55 gallons.
- As convenient, reliable, and productive as burn barrels are, it is important to remember that a burn barrel is a tool that has to be handled with the greatest of care. Several factors have to be considered when choosing to use a burn barrel.