In the spring of 2010, asked my friend, Bob, who does handyman work, to help build some rain barrels. I had actually acquired two food grade 55 gallon drums from the meat shop just a couple miles down the road shortly after we moved here, but they had been living in my greenhouse waiting patiently for installation. Make sure you use FOOD GRADE BARRELS, not barrels that may have contained toxic substances.
We decided to locate the rain barrels under the stairs so they would be out of the way, but still close to the greenhouse and garden.
The downspout was rerouted down the stairs to the barrels. To allow room for a bucket to be placed under the rain barrel faucets, six concrete footings were under a small reinforced wood deck. You could also potentially use concrete blocks. Remember, once a 55 gallon drum is full of water it will weigh over 450 pounds, so whatever surface you have should be sturdy and level. To have additional capacity, we linked two drums together.
To keep debris and bugs out of the tank, we cut out the center of a a two part lid and inserted mesh window screen into the opening.
PVC pipe connected the two tanks, and an overflow pipe was fitted to the second barrel, along with drain pipe. *Note – we found out after use that the overflow really should have been on the side of the second barrel, opposite the inlet. This way was easier to rig up, but didn’t work very well.
Because we have high winds out here, we also added strapping to hold the barrels down when they’re not filled. For winter, we drained the barrels and brought them into the greenhouse.
This spring, before putting them back into action, I gave the barrels a good cleaning. You really want to scrub them out at the beginning of the season to make sure you’re not starting off with contaminated water. Chunks and scum will clog up your faucets, and make your water foul.
You may need a long handled scrub brush, or have to crawl in to your barrel. I improvised by duct taping a piece of firewood to a brush with a shorter handle.
If you’ve got open water, mosquito dunks may be helpful, but a screen works just as well if not better. The active ingredient in mosquito dunks is “Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis” (Bt), which attacks the larval stage of mosquitoes. This is a naturally occurring soil bacteria. There are concerns that Bt will be loosing its effectiveness due to it being genetically engineered into corn.
Rain barrels are a great way to control run off and conserve water. It lacks chlorine and fluoride that is found in many municipal water supplies. Natural rain water is softer and easier on your garden plants. My grandmother always washed her hair every Saturday night with water from her rain barrel. If you happen to have a good water filter such as a Berkey, you can use rain barrel water for drinking water in case of emergencies.
If you want to learn more about how to design your system, plans for roof washing systems (to divert the first flow away from your storage to clean your roof before filling your storage), and just about any other questions you may have on rainwater collection, I recommend the book “Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged“.
Note: Rainwater collection is prohibited in some areas and encouraged in others. Please check this list of State Rainwater Harvesting and Graywater Laws and Programs to find out if it is allowed in your area.
Do you have rain barrels? Please share links to your rain barrel photos and stories.
Originally published in 2011, updated 2016.