Monday, August 18, 2008

More Backyard Tech - Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are about as low tech as you can get, but they're a very effective and time proven way to conserve water and save money.

I'd been thinking about getting a rain barrel ever since I saw a rebate program on my local DPW website. With all the rain we've been having here in the Northeast lately, I thought it was finally time to stop thinking about it and start capturing some of that free water.

I decided on a flat backed, faux wood grain, 50 gallon barrel from Clean Air Gardening. I got one barrel to start with, just to get my feet wet, so to speak. The plan was to test drive the first one before I got any more. I wanted to know if they were useful, how long it took to fill one, and I also wanted to use it as a template to see where else I could fit them. There are a number of sizes and types, even small ones that double as planters, so I wanted to be sure of what I needed before I bought multiples of any one size or type.

Once it arrived, setup was a piece of cake. First I wrapped the threads on the spigot with Teflon tape before I screwed it in place. I recommend screwing it in partially before you tape it, to get a feel for it, and to make sure the hole is threaded correctly. Mine started to go in crooked, and when I backed it out I saw a chunk of plastic in the threads. Once I picked it out, it went in straight and true. Next I snapped the bug screen in place, and that was it, done.

I took some quick measurements and then built up the area where I would be placing it with patio block. You want the barrel to be high enough so that you have clearance to use the spigot, and also to improve the water flow, but not so high that it looks ridiculous, or is a tipping danger. Once I was happy with the placement, I started work on the downspout. Remember, you’ll need to put your downspout back together after you put the rain barrel away for the winter, so don’t hack up your existing stuff, start fresh.

I removed my downspout all the way up to the elbow at the top where it comes into contact with the house, and stored it away for safe keeping. Then I replaced it with a 1 foot straight piece, a direction changing elbow, and then a flexible elbow, so I could shape it right down into the barrel opening.

There are diverters available that redirect the water back down the existing spout when the barrel is full, and they're a great solution in most cases, but my problem is that I live in a low lying area and I've always had issues with my downspouts dumping water too close to my foundation and aggravating the situation, so I decided to rely on the overflow valve at the top instead.

Once I was happy with the feed, I covered the concave top of the barrel with polished river stones that I had leftover from another project. You can find them in 5lb bags at most garden centers. I also added a short 3 foot hose to the spigot to make it easier to fill watering cans.

That’s it, I was ready to start collecting water, and boy did I…

We got about 2 inches of rain that first night, and it was still drizzling a little in the morning when I went out to check on it. At first I thought something had gone wrong with my plumbing, and then I realized that the barrel was full and water was spurting out of the overflow valve at the top.

50 + gallons of water in 1 night! Wowzers!

So, it seems like I have an endless supply of water now, and the backyard is much drier. How cool is that?

You won’t get a lot of pressure when you hook a hose up to it, but it’s great for filling watering cans or just letting the hose run without a nozzle next to ornamental trees and shrubs. You can also hook a soaker hose to it and lay it out in your garden. Plus, now you have an easy way to run excessive rain water far far away from your house. Just hook up a hose to the spigot and run it out into the yard. Bonus.

If you have the space, and the need for more water, you can daisy chain barrels together using the overflow valves. That would be the only criticism I have of the barrel I got, the overflow valve hole isn’t threaded for a hose, where some of the other models have this feature. I traded off the threading for looks and the space saving flat back as the barrel is in a high traffic area.

Clean Air Gardening had the best prices, hands down, and the barrel arrived when promised and in good shape. Check them out; they have quite a selection, plus lots of cool stuff like high quality reel mowers and compost barrels.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Regarding diverters--a good diverter is actually the best solution you can get: when the barrel is full, it puts water back into the downspout and it goes away from the house, and it's automatic, so it will work whether or not you check the forecast, or even if you're not home. The diverter is the "brain" of the system. A rain barrel without a diverter ain't nothing' but a jug.

Full disclosure: I work for a non-profit that promotes rainwater harvesting. Check out our diverters at