Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rain Barrels

I've written on here many times about the water crisis we are currently in. Donna and I have always been very conservative about using all of our natural resources. We recycle most of what we use in our house, for example. Now, to help with the water crisis, we've begun adding rain barrels to our home.

The Concho Valley Master Gardeners offered a rain barrel class this past Saturday. Donna and I attended. The registration fee also included a rain barrel, which we "made" during the class.

After a brief introduction, we selected our barrels and began the process of making them ready to collect rain water. Below are the finished products:

Our rain barrels are located at the back of our house.
Each barrel is 55 gallons. A half-inch rain falling on a 400 square foot patch of roof will typically fill a 55 gallon barrel in about 30 minutes. Such water can then be used to water plants as needed. Since it is rain water, it is actually healthier for plants for it does not contain any chemicals. It is important to use food grade barrels which might have formerly contained items such as tomato paste or cooking oil.

After obtaining such a barrel, it is necessary to prepare it for collecting water. Begin by cutting a hole in the top where the water will enter the barrel. We placed flower pots in these holes to guide the water into the barrel, and we placed a filter, held in place by small stones, in the bottom of the pot to prevent mosquitoes and other insects from entering the barrel.

Top of rain barrel. Note flower pot directly under downspout. A filter lies at the bottom of the pot, held in place by small rocks. Pipe on left is overflow.

Next, cut a 2 inch hole on the side of the barrel near the top. This will serve as the overflow pipe. Once the barrel is full, water will flow out this pipe. You can also daisy chain barrels together. To do so, simply use plastic pipe to connect 2 or more barrels. Then, as one fills up, water will begin flowing into the next barrel. You can connect as many as is practical for your rainfall.

Near the bottom of the barrel, drill a small hole to accept a water spigot. This is how you will retrieve your water. You can then simply connect a hose to the spigot and water items as you normally would. I mounted our barrels on cinder blocks to get a bit more height so that there would be more pressure when watering.

Spigot at bottom of the barrel. Note that I turned it sideways to make it easier to attach a hose.
I dug out the ground beneath 2 downspouts and then placed 5 cinder blocks under each downspout. I filled the cinder blocks with dirt to stabilize them, then placed a 2 foot by 2 foot square of sturdy plywood on top of the cinder blocks. This gives each barrel a solid perch, and also raises them a bit to increase water pressure (more gravity force).

I don't expect 2 rain barrels to make much of an impact on the environment, but it does give me a certain peace of mind. I can now water my plants without feeling guilty, especially with strict water restrictions in place as we have in San Angelo. And I do intend to add more rain barrels. You can often find such barrels for sell for about $15, so that is not much of an investment in cost. Of course, it does take time to outfit the barrels and then locate them in your yard. When we built our house, I asked that the downspouts be put in sections so that I could later remove the bottom sections and place rain barrels beneath them, and this has reduced my work load greatly. All I have to do is remove the lower portion and I'm ready to go; no cutting or anything else is needed.

The rain barrels above are not pretty, but I have these in my back yard behind a privacy fence. We do have some spouts in front. For these, I will purchase barrels that blend into the environment better or that are more attractive, such as the one below.

I've also seen rain barrels that look like large rocks and other items that really blend in.

We have a total of 8 downspouts on our house. 2 of those are connected to short gutter runs (3 or so feet), so they will not capture much rain water. The other 6 downspouts, though, should capture a good amount of water. By using those downspouts and daisy-chaining rain barrels, a great deal of water can be collected.

For those interested in rain water collection, the Internet has tons of information. Rain collection devices vary in size, with some being quite large. I've always been interested in this concept, for as a child, my grandmother's house had a cistern next to the house that collected water during rains. It's an old practice that is coming back. To me, it's just a very practical and conservative way to live. As our resources become scare, we have to look at smarter ways to live, and we need to eliminate waste.

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