Rain barrels!April 17, 2009
We finally have some! Or rather, we have three wine barrels sitting in the garage waiting to be made into rain barrels. This is a project I’ve been procrastinating on for a while, mostly because I couldn’t find any rain barrels I liked and D. wanted to try making them ourselves from recycled wine barrels. Took a while to find the right barrels at the right price, but suddenly, up popped a great deal on Craigslist—a guy from the North Bay who was selling wine barrels for $40 a pop and would deliver them to Oakland for free. (Yes, technically you can get them for free from the vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, but it’s a pain to try to find and then move them, and well worth the $40 to not have to rent a truck….plus, everyone else selling them nearby wanted more like $75 or $100 each. The guy we bought ours from was terrific, though, so if you’re in the market for them, let me know and I can send along his contact info.)
So anyway. Rain barrels. We already had some ideas on how to do the conversion, and as an added bonus, the guy we bought them from sent along some instructions and recommendations after I mentioned that we planned to use them for that. Here’s what we plan to do—I’m posting this beforehand partly to see if anyone has any good suggestions on things to change in our plan. Once we actually do it, I’ll follow up with pictures (and, I imagine, lots of lessons learned….)
You can either make a rain barrel a closed system (just the barrel and the gutter) or an open system (with an overflow tube that allows water to flow off). We’re mixing and matching a bit. The barrels connected directly to the gutters will be closed systems with special gutter attachments that automatically redirect the overflow back into the gutter. This is mostly because our drainage system is underground and paved over, so it’s non-trivial to direct an overflow tube into the drain. (D. thinks we could just let it flow down the garden path, but that doesn’t seem wise when there’s an easy solution.) I also want one rain barrel over near the veggie bed, though, so it won’t be connected to a gutter—instead, it will just be a plain old rain-from-the-sky collection device, and it will need an overflow tube. (There’s not really room for it against the house where the gutter comes down, sadly, though I might try to find a skinny one someday to squish in there.) I haven’t decided whether to put one in the front yard yet; the gutter there also comes down in an awkward spot, so I’ll see how the system in back goes first.
Oh, and also unique about the backyard barrels: we will have two barrels connected to one another with a hose in order to allow water to flow between the two, and will eventually be connecting the second barrel to the drain from the washing machine, which is on the other side of the garage wall. Right now I think the wisest way to do this is to connect the barrels at the bottom and set them on a slight grade so that water flows down into the second barrel by default, but I may change my mind about that as the project progresses. There’s still some finagling to do with this (namely, removing the shingles and drilling through the garage wall, which is a little scary!) but eventually, we will have a wannabe-graywater system set up. We will also be switching to Oasis laundry detergent so that we can use the water on the plants without worry (not that our current Trader Joe’s natural detergent is all that brutal, but still playing it safe!) I’ll probably still stick to using this water for non-edibles for now, though.
Tentative list of tools and supplies:
- Concrete blocks for barrels to sit on
- 3/4″ hose bib brass spigot (or another spigot of your choosing) that will clear the width of the barrel
- 3/4″ overflow valve with appropriate ends to connect to a hose or other outward-bound device [this may need to be bigger if it’s your primary overflow device and you have a large roof surface!]
- Rubber washers and locknuts if you plan to connect the spigot and valve from the inside
- 15/16″ spade drill bit (or appropriate size for the spigot you plan to use)
- Mesh to cover openings
- Silicone caulking
- Needle nose pliers
- Use the drill bit to drill a hole near the base of each barrel, and attach a spigot. The tentative plan is to screw this in with caulking to avoid having to take the top off the barrel; the backup (and more likely!) plan is to take the top off, place a rubber washer on the back, and screw a locknut on from the other side to hold the spigot.
- Caulk the spigot (and in this case, also the corks in the side holes that attached to the wine paraphernalia).
- For barrels with overflow hoses or attachments, drill a hole near the top of the barrel’s side and attach an overflow hose, directing it into a drainage system or rain garden. Repeat steps above to attach the overflow valve.
- Attach the gutter system, either by drilling a hole into the top of the barrel and inserting a diverter hose from the gutter, or by drilling a large hole and setting a gutter extension on top of it. In either case, the hole needs to be screened to prevent gunk from flowing into the barrel.
Does this sound like it will work? Is hoping that I won’t have to take the top of the barrel off just a pipe dream? We’ll see….I’ll post some photos as we move forward with this project, as well as some tried-and-true instructions if (when!) the project succeeds.
More Rain Barrel Links
Not the DIY type? TerraCycle sells converted oak barrels that are apparently made in Stockton (or so says the Chron)
Step-by-Step: Converting Wine Barrels to Rain Barrels (Life is Good in Penticton)
Harvesting the Water with Rain Barrels (This Old House)
Rain Barrel Capacity and Design (James City County, VA)