Thursday, June 19, 2008

buckets of rain

A rain barrel has been high on my list of garden wants for quite some time, so when I found out my local library was offering a class, I was psyched. The class was taught by Taryn Murray who works for the WV DEP and she not only taught us how to build and install a rain barrel, but also a bit about the problems with storm runoff and the benefits of a rain garden.

I must confess, after seeing how cheap and easy the barrels are to make (I made mine for about $20), I'm a little ashamed that I've spent my summers dragging a 100ft hose up the hill and around the house (swearing and smashing plants as I go) almost every day. Even more shameful is the extra money forked over to the water company every summer just to water my plants when I could have been watering for free.

There are all kinds of ways to make rain barrels and you can see different ways by doing a search for DIY rain barrel. This is the way I made mine. I used the basic instructions that were given in class, but came up with my own parts, using what I had lying around the house and what was available at my local hardware store.

Rain Barrel Tutorial

You'll need a large (55 gallons is perfect) food grade barrel with a lid (keeps the skeeters out).

If the lid comes off, great, 'cause it will make it easier to empty and clean the barrel for winter storage (and if you are a bit OCD, it makes it much easier to check the water level 10 times a day). If your lid is connected, don't sweat it, you can still use your barrel.

After calling every recycling center and business that I could think of with no luck, I finally broke down and bought a 40 gallon barrel at my local feed store. Of course as soon as I got the barrel home, someone called and said they had a barrel for me.

You can paint the barrel to match your house, blend in with the bushes, or if you are feeling creative you can paint your own masterpiece.

Just don't waste your time and money on this fancy schmancy plastic paint. It promised great results without sanding or priming but didn't deliver. It scratched like crazy as I was putting my barrel together. If I had it to do over, I would have lightly sanded the barrel, put a coat of primer on and then a coat or two of flat spray paint.

You don't have to paint your barrel, but if it is transparent I would recommend painting it to keep algae growth minimal.

Next you'll need a 3/4 inch bushing, a spigot to fit the bushing, some teflon tape and some silicone sealant.

Using a 1 inch hole bit,

drill a hole near the bottom of the barrel

Twist the bushing into the hole, creating threads in the plastic. Back the bushing back out.

Wrap a layer of teflon tape around the bushing.

Twist it into the barrel again leaving enough sticking out to attach your spigot.

Attach the spigot to bushing. If you have a spigot with a bib around it, you can apply a bit of sealant to the bib before twisting it on. Sorry, my pictures for this step were blurry. Anyway, once the spigot is attached, squirt some sealant all around the edge where the spigot meets the barrel. You can do this on the inside around the bushing if you have a barrel with a removable lid.

Next you'll need an overflow outlet. I used an old washing machine hose. Drill a hole close to the top of the barrel to fit your hose (you want it to be tight) twist it in and clamp it.

I stuck the other end into the pipe that my downspout drains into. If this isn't an option for you, just make your overflow hose long enough to run it away from the foundation of your house.

Almost done.

Once you figure where you are going to place the barrel, you need to cut a hole in the lid that will fit your downspout.

You'll want your barrel to sit up at least a foot or two so you'll get some water pressure. I used bricks, but you can use cinder blocks or landscaping blocks. If you want to attach a garden hose to your spigot, I would recommend putting it up even higher. Once you figure out how high your barrel will sit, cut your downspout.

A few words about cutting your downspout:

The sound of a hacksaw scraping across aluminum will wake the dead, so be prepared.
If you like any of your neighbors you might want to do this part while they are at work on vacation. If you don't like them, do it around the time they all go to bed. Save the piece you cut off because this winter when you empty and store your barrel, you'll need to reattach it.

Another helpful tip and one I learned from experience: if you store any of your tools inside the barrel while you work, remember to take them out before you set you barrel up and it begins to fill with water. :)

Okay, depending on your downspout placement, you may or may not need a downspout extension.

Whether you are using an extension or just using your downspout, attach some screening to the end to keep debris out of your barrel.

That should do it. Set your barrel up, put the lid on, and stick your downspout into the hole in the lid.

Wait for the rain.

If you are interested in making your own barrel and would like a list of supplies needed, or if my tute is too whack for you, go here. Or check your local Dept. of Environmental Protection for workshops in your area. As a matter of fact, if you live in my area, there's a workshop coming up in Teays Valley next month. You can call the city of Hurricane for details. The cost is $25 and you get the barrel, the parts kit, and some hands on help. That, my friends is a sweet deal.

And if you're interested in learning more about or constructing a rain garden, the designer and architect of the ReStore's rain garden's is speaking at the Capitol Market in Charleston on July 26 at 10am.


William Wallace said...

Well, I don't think you can actually make a rain barrel so cheap, and they certainly don't make economic sense, as I document at my blog. See Rain barrels: are they worth it?

Also, one of my recent commenters says you need to worry about what happens when the barrel fills up....his basement was flooded.

Serena said...

Lovely tutorial for a rain tank (that's what we call them here in Australia) because we're in drought, most houses here have rain tanks.

Scarlet Tanager said...

Hi Mr. Wallace,

While I appreciate you stopping by to doubt me and to direct traffic to your own blog, you sir, are barking up the wrong tree.

Your post and my post have nothing in common. I have shown how to create a cheap, convenient and highly-functional rain water catch system that will reduce not only my water bill but my sewer bill as well.

The only thing you have shown is that a $150 rain barrel has a very slow ROI (and that you're a sucker, because you're thinking of buying one). Make one instead.

My barrel is indeed food grade. I know exactly where it came from and what was in it. It set me back $13, plus the $4 and some odd cents that I paid for the spigot.

Rather than wasting your time searching for the most expensive rain barrels, call your local recycling center, soda bottling company, or pickle company. Maybe you can save a barrel headed for the landfill. If not, try your local municipality or DEP, many cities accross the country are sponsering rain barrel workshops.

As far as your commenter who flooded his basement...he should have seen that as a wakeup call to get some common sense. No doubt after shelling out his $150 he neglected to read the part of the instructions that says to direct the overflow hose (and I have yet to see a rain barrel without an overflow feature) away from the foundation.

Have a nice day!

William Wallace said...

Hey, if you want to only present a rose colored picture, and don't want your readers to see how to crunch the numbers (to show that even with only $20 invested, it will still take about 90 times to pay for itself. You *might* be able to do it in less than two years, which in my view means that you're at about the threshold.

While your barrel is food grade, I believe the food grade comes from a coating....and this coating, and the barrel might not be UV tolerant.

Recycled wood barrels are expensive, as you can see

Meanwhile, your overflow outlet is far too small, unless your barrel is connected to a shed, as you will learn when it is needed. Compare area of the incoming pipe to the outgoing pipe to see why.

Another problem with using rummage barrels is your neighbors. Not everybody likes to live in a neighborhood with what looks like recycled toxic waste barrels.

In any event, sorry, I didn't know you wanted only to sing to the choir. Keep drinking the environmental kool-aid.

William Wallace said...

Also, if you're paying sewer fees on water you use on your yard your city has problems. Many municipalities have winter/summer differentials, or separately meter outdoor water. But even without these, the cost of water is about $6/1000 gallons in my area, which includes sewer.

Scarlet Tanager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scarlet Tanager said...

You are a persistant devil, aren't you?

You are right about the sewer thing. My water co. is closed today because it's WV Day (woo hoo!) so I called the nice folks that installed my gutters and they said that the pipe runs into a french drain. Score one for you, Mr. Wallace. But that's all you get.

Now, maybe I need to read my post again, but I don't recall claiming that myself nor my readers would save huge amounts of money this summer by installing a barrel. You are the only one interested in number crunching. I'm only interested in showing people how to make their own barrel.

The barrel needs to be food grade for a couple of reasons. One, and the most obvious is so you are not putting something toxic into your garden, second it will insure that the plastic is thick enough to make threads when you twist the bushing into it.

As far as a UV coating, I'm not sure about that one. My barrel is coated on the outside with two layers of dark spray paint and it does not set in direct sunlight. If it would make you feel better, I can slap a coat of sunscreen on it.

Now here's a coincidence theory for ya, Wallace. While you were on here wasting your time pimping the barrel depot, I was out yard-saling and came home with a nice wooden barrel for $12. I swear, you should post about that.

As far as my outlet being too small, the barrel has been through several heavy rains and there hasn't been a problem yet. I'll certainly let you and the rest of my readers know if there are any problems down the road.

My neighbors are my friends, they've always been supportive of my gardening endeavors. I'm in the process of helping one put together her own barrel and the rest think mine is just peachy.

Mr. Wallace, I think you have mistaken me for some environmentalist-come-lately. I am a hillbilly, through and through. I come from a long line of creative do-it-yourselfers who come up with solutions to get what we want without shelling out big bucks. We fix things when they are broken and if they can't be fixed, we take them apart and keep the parts for future projects. We recycle as a way of life, not because it's trendy.

I'm not sure what your afraid of, Mr. Wallace. You can make your own rain barrel, I have faith in you. If you need a drill, you can borrow mine. Hell, I might even teach you how to use it if you ask nicely.

telfair said...

Thanks so much for the tutorial! I am extremely pleased to see it and am glad that there are people in the world who realize that taking simple steps to preserve and utilize the resources that we have, rather than letting them go to waste, is a good choice. It doesn't always have to be just about saving money. (Although I think in the long run this is a good investment!) Kudos to you. I'm sure we will be putting one up this summer.

Julie_c said...

Wow - I'm impressed! What a great idea.

Heather said...

I am seriously impressed!!!!