Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 19/365 - My Water Barrel Obsession, Part 1

Those of you who know me offline know that I have been obsessed with designing and building our rain water collection system this spring.

This morning I picked up our little small town paper and we are officially in Stage 2 of our Drought. The local water department is predicting mandatory conservation next week (Stage 3) including no car washing, no filling swimming pools, no watering gardens and no lawn watering. Stage 4 will include cutting off water to the houses that use excessive amounts, fining people who use too much, a Water Abuse Hotline, and overtime for local police to ticket those who insist on using water for any of the banned activities.

(Yes, I am feeling a little smug at the moment, and yes, I am whispering "I told you so" under my breath. Okay, maybe sometimes not so whispering, and not so under my breath.)

One of the suggested things the Water Dept offered up was using a rain barrel water collection system. HAH. I assumed they would have further suggestions, including a resource to buy the barrels from, so I asked when I went to drop the water bill off this morning. The lady looked very confused, and asked didn't I have water at my house? And added that maybe I could set a tin tub out in the yard to collect the rain. She was very nice, and very clueless.

I came home and called Lowe's - no rain barrels. Called our local hardware (who historically have everything, much like an old timey Amish hardware store type of place) - no rain barrels.

Called the Virginia State Extension Service (a block away from us) - no rain barrels, because people here "don't go in for that kindof thing". Apparently rain barrels are some sort of communism. I gave the guy a heads up that the local paper was calling for folks to use rain barrels, so he might be getting more phone calls.

On the off chance that someone else needs to know how to build a low-cost rain barrel system-here's what we did, and how, and we made the mistakes to save you money. For those of you that have heard all this before, you can clickout now, skip part 2, and wait till tomorrow for my next post.

These are the first 2 barrels of what is currently 8 barrel system, overall capable of collecting
and holding just under 500 gallons of water. After a 30 minute soft rain, they will be full and overflowing. These two sit on either side of our garage, with direct flexible drains leading into them (one end is connected to the gutter, and the other simply inserted in a cut hole in the lid.)

Ours are black, so they match the rest of the house/garage trim.

Below is the back end of the garage, with another tank on each corner (also connected to the gutters) and two extra storage tanks in the middle, conencted with faucets and hoses. This fall,

these tanks will be connected to underground PVC piping, with a small subpump in one tank. The pump will turn on when the water level is full, and pump the water out to a small 3000 gallon pond we're planning on digging.

The small pond (this will be approx 10 in diameter,and 4 feet deep) will sit on higher ground than my gardens, so that I can run drip irrigation out of it, and turn it on as needed. The pond will also be set up as a wetlands, with waterplants that will filter the water and remove any "acid rain" residue before it hits the plants. The depth means we can add goldfish to it to eat mosquitoe larvae, versus using a tiny bit of oil like we do for the plastic tanks. Global warming being what it is these days, I fully expect to be able to winter over the goldfish in a 4' depth.

Below are the workhorse tanks (there's another 55 gallon on the other side of the fence in back of this one -it's connected with hose, so that both fill during a rain, but I only have to draw out of one -when the level in the first one gets to a certain point, the second tank flows into it). These two tanks collect water off the carport roof, and take care of all the plants in the Swing Garden, plus two fountains, plus the hollyhocks/forsythia beds by the house, plus fresh rainwater for the pups when they're outside. These completely fill and overflow within 10 minutes in a light rainfall, collecting from just one 16' gutter length that pulls from a one-car wide carport roof.

This is the expensive way to make a system: go online and order a rain barrel from any one of a dozen companies. It will cost you upwards of $99 to $250 for a 55 gallon barrel, plus shipping (as of 8-08, shipping is usually in the ball park of $55.00 for each barrel).

****UPDATE: I've just found an online company out of Indiana with excellent prices on recycled food grade 50 gallon barrels - total cost for 1 barrel was $89.95 - price includes snaptop lid with mesh filter, brass spigot, and 3 overflow male connections in top to connect to other barrels, bottom drain plug AND FREE SHIPPING. (Other companies with same price barrels are charging $9.95 for each spigot and connection, many barrels are closed head (meaning you can't get into them to put in spigots yourself), no drain plug, and $55-95.00 for shipping. You can order online, or call them toll free at: 1-877-888-5609. On the net at:

(That was a lot like a commercial, but I'm having to replace our full-sun tank, it just can't handle this Virginia heat, so I have actually purchased one - i should arrive in 5-7 days)

Or you can do this (our entire system is built the following way, with no problems except as regards to the heat mentioned above for one tank):

If all you need is one barrel, maybe to water a small number of plants, or soap off your car on the weekends, buy one Rubbermaid barrel as explained below ($33.00), and a length of flexible guttering at Lowe's ($8), then set your barrel under your downspout. Disconnect the downspout, and connect your flexible guttering. Cut a hole (same size as end of flexible guttering) in the lid and insert the flexible gutting. Voila! You have a basic rain barrel. Once it fills (only takes minutes), remember to occasionally add a teaspoon of cooking oil to the surface to prevent mosquitos.

If you need a larger system, you're going to want to link several barrels together:

Go to Walmart and buy two or more 55 gallon Rubbermaid black square trashcans (the kind with wheels) with lids. Stop at your local hardware store and buy plastic faucets. Note the diameter of the faucet they come in different sizes- 3/4", 1/2". etc -tell the guy you want the size to fit the average garden hose -usually 1/2"), and buy PVC plastic bolts that screw on to the straight connection end of the faucet. Buy a tube of waterproof silicone sealant, and either a sheet of plexiglass, or rubber gaskets that fit your faucet diameter. You'll need a power drill, and a hole cutting drill bit, again, the bit should be the diameter of your faucet.

The idea is to have a barrel that has one faucet connection for a hose to run in, and if you think you will ever want a third barrel, another faucet connection for a hose to the third barrel. If you have multiple barrels, each barrel will have a minimum of two faucets inserted. Think: one hose in, one hose out.

We found it was also convenient to add access faucets, just higher than bucket height, eliminating the need to scoop water out from the top. I've also connected short lengths of hose, and can run that hose down to the fountains to let it slow fill while I do other things.

This is a completed faucet. You can see the silicone under the plexiglass collar - this stabilizes the faucet. There is another collar on the inside, as well as the PVC nut, and all of this holds the faucet steady. We found Lowe's only had brass faucets -DON'T get those - much more expensive, and too heavy for the plastic can.

The first barrel you put together will go slowly. Once you get the hang of it, it takes about 5 minutes to do one.

If you're still with me in my obsession, go to part 2.


  1. You know what Carole? You might have just solved my water leaking issues with this idea. I don't need to collect rain water, but I need to stop the overflowing of it in two areas, and I never thought about using something like this for the water to "fall in" rather than fall into the ground - and then leak into my basement. If I can collect it in cans like this, then after the rain stops get it out of the can somehow...somewhere else...perhaps that will help! You know what I need? One of those sump pumps (sp?) I had for my old swimming would pump water off the cover of the pool...I could put that in the barrels after they fill up with a hose pointed where I want the water to go. Hmmmm...the ideas are flowing (no pun intended :))!

  2. I'm printing this out for my son to read. I have long thought that if I could channel the water off my roof when it rains - into my now dry pond, it might not be so dry.

  3. You are very smart, Carole! Maybe you should give the people at the water department some pointers!

    We didn't mow grass while we were's so pretty and green and not very tall. Our neighbors who mowed religiously have brown, dry, crinkly grass...and no roots to help hold the soil in. BOZOS!!!

  4. It would take a decade of rain to fill those tanks here in the desert!