Rain Barrels: They've has been on my to-do list for about two years now. Realizing that I'm more of a list-writer than a do-er when it comes to manual projects, I enlisted the help of a friend, Maurice to help me check this project off my list.
I started some online research about the basics to creating a rain barrel verses buying a pre-made rain barrel. Even with paying for labor, I figured I could save about $50 by DIY. Every dollar counts right now, aye?
Thanks to the popularity of water conservation and craigslist.org, finding rain barrels around here is pretty easy. A lot of places sell plastic grain containers for about $5 to $20. These are popular for rain barrel conversion, but I was willing to spend a bit more for some wine barrels. We are fortunate enough to have enough wineries in the area to find these for sale locally. Once I started searching for the wine barrels, I realized that I would have to pay quite a bit more for the esthetics of a nice old wine barrel verses a grain container... about $130 more.... But with a few more days of searching on craigslist, a winery that was going out of business was willing to sell them for $50. That would do. My friend went and picked them up. It wasn't until he toted them to our house that I realized how big a 60 gallon wine barrel could be. They barely fit in the back of his stripped out van. He also picked up (or found laying around) the following: a stopper for the bunghole (yes, it is called a bunghole), a spigot, some mesh (replacement window screen), flexible metal and bendable plastic downspout house. I found it a bit of an eye-opener that he could find all this material in our garage with exception to the spigots (... although later I did find one old spigot in there that would have worked).
Maurice built a rain barrel stand out of recycled wood that he had laying around for the back yard rain barrel (gravity is key for getting the water out). This stand has to support about 400 lbs of barrel and water... the sturdy beast he built will certainly suffice. The front yard rain barrel will sit on our concrete porch and so there is no need for a stand there.
We did a water test and found that the barrels had dried out enough that they would leak a bit until the moister allowed the wood to expand. This is good to know and we'll be watching the barrels over the first couple of rains so that we can divert water away from the house properly.
Maurice then cut a hole for the spigot and the top for the downspout, sealed the bunghole. He lined the top hole with the window screen mesh to keep the bugs out and secured the mesh with the flexible metal (he mentioned that an embroidery ring would have done the job as well... sadly I did not have one).
He hoisted the barrels into place (yes, by himself... this I do not recommend) and cut into the existing downspouts. The plastic flex downspout was routed to the top of the wine barrel.
Now we wait for the rain. We will have to ‘waste' at least the first fill of rainwater to ensure that the wine residue does not harm the plants or turn them pink. We may find it necessary to add an overflow hose in the future, too.
Well, that's it... our first attempts at a rain barrel. I'll update notes with trials and errors if any should occur. Now for installing a clothes line.
I meant to post this note our first day of rain. The overflow valves should be installed immediately. The first night of mild rain overflowed both 60 lb barrels! We do plan on adding the overflows soon, but for now, we've been releasing the water as necessary.
I just responded to a private email to someone inquiring about the rain barrel supplies that are needed. I thought I would paste the information here as well:
A platform of some sort (if you're planning on gravity flow… you can also buy a pump, but they're spendy and not as energy efficient as gravity). Remember this has to hold a barrel and 60 gallons of water, so it's got to be sturdy.
Articulated downspout - Between cut off portion of downspout and your rain barrel (there is a possibility that you can position your rain barrel directly below the downspout so this part is not necessary)
Plumbing drain cap and caulk for wine barrel's bunghole
Mesh - When you cut a hole in the top of the barrel to receive water from the downspout, you want as little debris as possible to enter the rain barrel. Our friend also found an embroidery ring that fit snuggly into the top hole (which he had to cut) where the mesh is placed
Threaded spicket and caulk to release water
Overflow pipe and caulk to divert excess water from the barrel in heavier rains - This is very important as we found out. The barrel will fill in 1/2 a nights rain… and that's from just half of a modestly sized roof. An old piece of galvanized pipe connected to the top of the barrel and draining away from any structures. One of our rain barrels has piping plus some plastic tubing connected to it which can be moved around like a second hose.
If you choose a wine barrel, will see some minor leaking coming from the barrel at first. No worries, the wood will expand again. If the water is in the wine barrel too long (especially in warm weather) your water will smell like fermented wine and fruit flies will gather. It's best to empty it in a timely fashion at first. Also, the first barrel or two might have a hint of pink to the water from the left over wine.