Local Water: Rain Barrels

One of the many blessing of living in the Great Lakes state is that water is never in short supply.  Nevertheless, I can’t resist a small step away from the grid.  My rain barrel is a point of peak interest among visitors to our home, so, despite not falling quite under the declared purpose of this weblog, I’m going for it. 

My first rain barrel, behind the house

My first rain barrel, behind the house

 I picked up this barrel, formerly used to store pickles, from a farm I drive past on the way to a friend’s house.  I don’t know why, but there are quite a few small farms that sideline in used barrel sales.  This one cost me $6, but this particular source has since raised their price to $8 for the 55-gallon model.  It’s tucked up against the back of my house, set on a few cement blocks to raise it off the ground.  Even without rain gutters, this year’s early-summer storms have filled the barrel to capacity.

To convert the $6 pickle barrel into a rain collector, I made two changes.  First, I removed the lid and covered the top with window screening, as shown below.

Screen-topped rain barrel

Screen-topped rain barrel

This particular model of barrel was especially suited to this modification, as it had a two-part lid.  Like an old-fashioned canning jar, the “lid” portion is separate from the rim.  To cover the top with screen, I removed the rim, pulled of the lid, and laid a screen over the top of the barrel.  I then screwed the rim back on, over the screen, and trimmed the excess screen.  I found someone throwing out an old screen door on my local freecycle group page, which, despite some damage, has enough good screening on it to cover several barrels.  The purpose of the screen is to keep the 50 gallons of standing water from becoming a mosquito bathhouse/nursery.  Some more enterprising rain collectors have kept fish in their barrels to eat the mosquito larvae, but I’m content with the screen.
The second modification needed was a matter of convenience, more than necessity.  I attached a spigot near the bottom of the barrel to provide ready access to the water.
Laundry faucet on a rain barrel

Laundry faucet on a rain barrel

This spigot came from my laundry sink.  When subjected to municipal water pressure, it would leak, but it seems to be holding up in this application.  I used a paddle drill bit the size of the spigot’s input pipe, screwed it in (usinga wrench for the last few turns), and was finished with it.  I read recommendations to caulk around the base of the spigot, but it hasn’t leaked on my yet.  The angle of the spigot makes it difficult to access, especially with the end of a hose, so I’ll eventually replace the spigot, but it is serving well for the time being.
Uses for Rain Water
I’m not brave enough to drink this stuff, but I have done a load of laundry in it.  I had to attach a hose to the spigot, run the hose through my dryer vent, into the basement, up to the washer, and stand by while the washer filled.  It worked, but wasn’t practical.  Should we ever upgrade to a more water-efficient front-loading washer, I imagine it would be impossible.  In the meantime, I’m comfortable knowing I can face an infrastructure collapse in clean briefs.
Aside from this experiment, I’ve used the water I collect for plants.  I occasionally run the sprinkler with city water (gravity doesn’t provide enough pressure to spin the sprinkler), but I’m moving away from this as I amass a collection of soaker hoses.  I have a slope from the house down to the main vegetable garden, so I can hook a hose up to the barrel and let it run out into the garden.  The soaker hose is perforated with tiny holes, and distributes the water along its length. 
More often than this, though, I’ll just fill a watering can from the spigot and hand-water my thirstiest plants.  By the time the hottest, dryest days arrive, I’ve got everything heavily mulched, so heavy watering is rarely needed.  When the melons are fruiting,  the lettuce is wilting, or seedlings are sprouting, rain water is applied by hand.  Houseplants and container plantings also get water from the rain barrel.  The water is ideal for plants, since it is at ambient temperature and free from chlorine, flouride, and anything else that is added to tap water. 
Future Plans
When we finally install rain gutters (there always seems to be a more important home improvement to make), I’ll need to be able to deal with a lot more rain water.  I’m not certain how I’ll collect the water from the front of the house–I’m trying to split the difference between serving the environment and pleasing my neighbors–but I have room for several more barrels behind the house.  Although they are not particularly sleek, the stout black barrels are attractive, at least as a conversation starter.  They will provide an excellent dark backdrop for some white flowers, so I may be able to line up three or four barrels before my wife starts complaining.  I’ll connect them in series to my current barrel, which will receive water directly from the downspout.  I’ll install an overflow hose from this primary barrel to the second barrel, which will overflow into the third, and so on.  The final barrel will overflow into the yard, well away from the house’s foundation. 

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2 Responses to “Local Water: Rain Barrels”

  1. Sue Says:

    you will find a neat kit for open top barrels to convert it to a rain barrel here; http://www.aquabarrel.com/product_rain_barrel_parts_kit_opentop.php

  2. Robinson Says:

    Maybe you could plant something pretty to camouflage the barrels for your neighbors. You could add some tall, native grasses that would conceal in the summer and then stash the barrels during the winter.

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