One of the things that I look forward to most about the start of spring is that it means we will embark on a new project to improve our yard. In the past we have built a key hole garden, a pollinator garden for monarch butterflies, and a memorial to honor our ancestors. We have always talked about our desire to install a rain barrel. They can save water, reduce storm water pollution, and of course save you a bit of money on water costs. According to one article that cites the Environmental Protection Agency and a study that took place in Washington, D.C. , in the summer a rain barrel can conserve 1,300 gallons of water and lower water bills by an average of $35 a month. While those are estimates that might not be applicable everywhere, they clearly show the potential benefits of rain barrels.
So here’s our good news. In October last year, we were thrilled to win a beautifully painted rain barrel at EcoAction Arlington’s EcoExtravaganza event (Thank you!) Since then, the rain barrel has patiently waited in our shed for its time to shine (and collect water).
Tips and Lessons Learned about Rain Barrel Installation
In so many home improvement projects, you often learn through both the research you do in advance and then the the challenges that arise when you embark upon the project. That’s also true for rain barrel installation. I was surprised to discover that there was not a great comprehensive source for how to install a rain barrel. I found some decent videos on YouTube like this one, but still was left with a few questions. I then faced a few challenges that I imagine were not entirely unique to our situation.
Construction Materials for Rain Barrels Are Not Very Complicated
So if you are starting with the rain barrel itself ready like we are, then the rest is theoretically pretty simple as far as construction materials for a basic setup. You need to build a structure to let the rain barrel sit on, as it will weigh around 400 – 600 pounds with water once filled, depending on the size of your barrel. The height of your platform also influences the amount of water pressure upon releasing the water, which I will talk about more again in a moment. For ours, we followed the common advice I found online. We bought six inexpensive concrete cinder blocks, and put them on top of two flat pave stones we had on hand. You will need to level the ground before doing this task so that the rain barrel won’t tip over. We then mulched the areas around the platform to help absorb water and decrease erosion.
Next, the hardest work for us was to cut the rain downspout so that we could redirect the rainwater from our roof to the rain barrel. This seems simple enough and you can see how to do it in YouTube videos, but the hacksaw we had on hand was rather weak. Eventually I found that using some metal garden clippers provided an easier way for me to pry the metal of the downspout off. We already had a flexible downspout extension that we could use to redirect the water at an angle into the rain barrel.
The mosquito netting that came with rain barrel was easy to put on. A couple of large circular rubber pieces came with our barrel and made it easy to secure. My understanding from what I read online is that this is a pretty standard part that comes with most rain barrels you can purchase online, but I would definitely check on this since it would otherwise create a big problem.
So here’s where I’m still a bit confused: hoses. In addition to the typical spigot with an on / off valve, most rain barrels come with an overflow drain near the top for when the rain barrel is already filled. On our barrel this opening is 1 and 1/4 inches in diameter. I am still searching online for a hose that will fit that part of the barrel effectively. I’ve found a few that might work, but they seem to be for pools or recreational vehicles rather than the garden. The other consideration you will need to make is in regard to the hose you will choose for the spigot. I did some research and eventually bought the Water Right Professional Coil Garden Hose based on the recommendation of this article. I have never been so excited to try out a hose, but I will admit that I think I misfired on this purchase.
When we did our test fill of the rain barrel to about the mid-way full point, it was nearly impossible to get water to come out of the hose. It made me think I had purchased the wrong hose, had not elevated our barrel sufficiently, or that I simply had bought a hose one that was too long. I decided to wait until the first rain happened to act further. Here’s what happened next.
The First Rain Storm Was Exciting!
It’s probably rare for people to want to run outside when it rains, but that’s just what I did when it rained the first time after installing our rain barrel. I felt briefly like a stormchaser and went outside prepared with a rain coat. I had read that sometimes only a quarter of an inch was necessary to fill a rain barrel, and this was a decent rainstorm in terms of the strength of the rainfall as it came down.
What I first noticed was that the rain barrel was filling fine, but that there was a small leak in the flexible tube. It seemed like a minor issue that could be fixed later.
Next, I looked inside the barrel. So far, so good. Except I realized that the water level was getting close to the overflow valve. The water would drain right next to the foundation of our house until I got a hose.
In a move that I thought was brilliant, I stuck the current hose we bought for the spigot into the 1.25 inch slot. It seemed to fit pretty well! I next needed to wrap around the other end of the hose to the short concrete rainfall ramp that was previously in place to direct water into the yard from the downspout. I bent over and put it in the proper place. I then stood up and BOOOSH!! Water smacked me on the back and I was shocked! Had the rain barrel fallen on top of me? After the initial shock I realized that when I stood up I knocked off the flexible downspout. The water from the roof started landing on top of me, and for a few seconds it looked bleak. I managed to shove the flexible downspout back into place and redirect it again to the rain barrel.
The good news is that it seemed to be enough for the moment. No real harm except to my ego and now wet clothing. Good thing I put on that rain coat! I took a few videos of the barrel filling, and also could see that the hose was only going to be a temporary solution until I found one that is the right size.
After the rain, we tested our garden hose again with the spigot to see if the additional water pressure with the filled barrel would make a difference. Here’s what the resulting flow is like:
So the hose I bought is not useless in our situation, but it does require a lot of patience. It’s still going to take me some work to figure out what the right length hose will be for the rain barrel and if there is any kind of nozzle or attachment we can get that will help to distribute the water in a more satisfactory way. My hunch is that we just need a much shorter hose, which will limit the hose’s utility, but increase the water flow. I’ve heard from some people that there are pumps you can get, but that does not really sound appealing to me in this circumstance. All of these things considered, so far I have found it pleasurable to fill up our pitcher and use it to walk around the yard and water our garden and plants. I think this will only last so long though before my patience wears thin.
I’m looking forward to continuing to learn how to best use our rain barrel, and determine if we might eventually use the overflow to build some kind of a basic irrigation system for a garden bed. The rain barrel has definitely been a great addition to our yard, and I really enjoy looking at the beautiful artwork.