Monday, February 01, 2010

Rain Barrels

Last weekend I finished installing my rain water catchment system. The system will function as an emergency backup water source. My house runs on well water that is powered electrically. If the power goes out, I have no water. If I owned the house I would install a backup system, but as a renter it doesn't make a lot of sense. Also, I learned that if a dog should happen to rip the faucet off the outdoor spigot, I have no water pressure which makes it hard to get water. So having 220 gallons of water stored is a little insurance against water system failure.

Although it will function as a back up water reserve for household use, it will be the primary water source for my garden. This is why I located it on the uphill side of the house. With the future garden being downhill of the rain barrels, I should have enough water pressure to water the garden. The catchment system is also situated near my chicken coop and will serve as the water source for my chickens as well.

To begin I obtained four 55 gallon plastic barrels from a friend. I researched quite a bit on the internet to figure out the best way to set them up. The following links are where I got most of my ideas. The first link especially contains the technical details I needed. If you look at it, you'll see from the pictures that most of my system uses ideas found within.

water conservation pdf pdf

August Home Publishing pdf

A Spouse's Guide to Building the Perfect Rain Barrel System

Each rain barrel has two bung holes on top.

The bung holes are perfect for this project because the have a built-in threading. I simply drilled out a hole in the center.

Here you can see the PVC piece threads into the bung cap perfectly. This made the project so easy because I didn't have to drill out my own holes and worry about making a water-tight seal. All it took was a little teflon tape wrapped around the threading of the PVC piece. Not using a permanent sealant also allows me to reconfigure or move the system with ease.

As you'll see in the pictures at the end of the post, the rain barrels are actually set up upside down. Therefore, I had to make an opening on the bottom of the barrel to collect water.

I added a screen over the intake to filter out debris and to keep mosquitoes out. My entomologist father warned me more than once to do this.

Below you can see the barrels set up in series. It took considerable time to get the cinder blocks level. They aren't the prettiest things to look at, but they are a cheap and effective solution. Elevating the barrels is necessary to have a place for the pipes to go, but the added benefit is that they are elevated above the garden as well.

After installing the outlet piping on barrel 1, I set up a piece of twine as a guide for installing the pipes for the other three.

The following pictures show the completed system. Rerouting the downspout was easy. I bought the elbow piece under the gutter and the plastic piece that wraps the corner and one piece to secure it to the wall. The other parts are from the original downspout.

Behind barrel 1 you'll notice a hose. I took advantage of the second bung hole on the barrel and added a pipe that terminates in a hose fitting. This hose will eventually lead to the chicken coop. I have a water dish that hooks into a hose that fills automatically using a valve triggered by the weight of the water in the dish.

There are a few special features to mention. First, in the picture below you'll notice a pipe at top between barrel 1 and barrel 2. Along with a valve under barrel 1 I can prioritize its filling. I simply shut the valve. As water fills barrel 1, it spills through the pipe into barrel 2. From there the water goes down into the pipes and fills barrels 2, 3 and 4 equally from below.

If I open the valve then all 4 barrels are filled equally. The purpose of this is to make sure the chickens always have water (which comes from barrel 1). At the end of the pipe under barrel 4 there is a faucet where I will connect a hose for watering the garden. With the valve shut, no water from barrel 1 will be used.

Barrel 4 has an overflow pipe at top with a hose fitting. I don't have a hose for this yet. I will most likely send this water to the front yard for use in the garden somehow.

One of the nicest things about this system is that I can easily add new barrels. None of the pipes are permanently in place. It rained Monday and last I checked barrel 1 was full and the others had 4-5 inches. For fun I opened the valve and watched the water level in barrel 1 go down and in the others rise. No leaks to report. It's working great!

Update 03/10/2010: After sometime I noticed that the water level in barrel 3 was not equal to barrels 2 and 4. I figured out that barrel 3 had no way to vent air. My solution was to drill a very small hole near the top to let the air out. There was so much are built up that it blew out air for a good 20 minutes straight. The barrels are all level now.


Bleach said...

I am impressed Mike. Looks cool. Could you boil the water and drink it? I guess you could. What other ways could you make it drinkable in an emergency?

Sassmouth said...

Thanks. The barrels are now full. It didn't take long. I could definitely boil and drink it. I could also filter it or add iodine or some other chemical to make it safe.

Devon said...

Just wanted to let you know I really appreciate your blog :) I am always excited when I see a new entry, and I know it can take a lot of work to make a post. You have been somewhat of an inspiration to me, making me feel less crazy for making bows and figuring out how to make old trip snares.

Thank you


fooiemcgoo said...


i liked this blog.

thanks for the detail.

i still don't understand why you want to prioritize filling. is it so one barrel has enough pressure to overcome the pressure of the garden hose?

you forgot to mention cost.

Sassmouth said...

Devon, thanks for you kind words. I hope you'll bare with me as I'm working on a lot of homestead projects as of late. I hope to have more primitive skill posts in the future. And you're not crazy. :)

Sassmouth said...

fooie, I don't want to drain barrel 1 when i water my garden because then my chickens will go thirsty. The chicken waterer is hooked up to barrel 1 only.

I didn't keep track of the cost too well. I think the barrels were ~$100, the concrete blocks were $20 and the rest was maybe $30. I could have gotten barrels cheaper probably but it would've been a hassle. I didn't like paying for the blocks but it was the easiest solution.

Sharon Strock said...

A rain barrel can help collect water for emergency purposes and for other simple water-related chores like watering the plants. For me, I use my rain barrel for multiple things: (1) I use it as an alternate water source and (2) I water my potted plants using droplet feeding. I heard watering your plants that way is better so your plants will always have something to eat (sugars from photosynthesis).