Thursday, May 08, 2008

60 Gallons of Rain Collection for Under $40

I thought some folks might be interested our rain barrel project, so even though I didn't take pictures while I was making it, here's a description of what we did so that you can make your own.

First the basics on the design that I went with:

* Two 32 gallon trash cans, so roughly 60 gallons total capacity.
* Top-opening model, rather than lower spout
* Extremely easy to make without any special tools (I used a Swiss Army knife)
* Easy to expand as needed
* Total project costs about $40. Further expansion costs $15 per additional 30 gallons.

The trash cans were two
32 gallon Rubbermaid Roughnecks from Home Depot ($13.98 each):

The pros about these trash cans are that they are dirt cheap and the color scheme is actually pretty nice for a trash can. I should note though, that these are not food grade containers. There is the possibility that plastics and other substances from the containers could leach into and contaminate the stored water. If this is a concern for you, obviously you don't want to use the Roughnecks. Another option is to use certain kinds of Rubbermaid Brutes, which are apparently safe for food contact, although they are much more expensive and not as nice looking. Or you could just buy a rain barrel and/or find someone who has food-grade barrels. Since we live in New Jersey just south of the Northeast industrial corridor, I figure these containers aren't giving my plants much worse than what they are faced with already.

As I discussed in a previous post, I liked the intake method used on the HGTV rain barrel. We have large sycamore, oak, and black walnut trees around our house, so we have all kinds of debris falling into our gutters. The HGTV intake allows all the debris to spill off the sides while the water flows down into the barrel. It doesn't hold debris in a trap that you have to clean out.

I used a black 4 Inch Corrugated Polyethylene Adapter Hub for sewers and drain pipes:

Note that the HGTV folks used a much sturdier adapter of thick white PVC. I was going to use that as well, until I saw the black one which was quite a bit cheaper and did the trick very nicely. Plus, the small part of the black adapter is tapered and ribbed, which has some definite advantages we'll get into in a second.


The first thing you want to do is figure out where you want to put the intake hole. It probably doesn't matter much...I chose the indented section of the lid just because it looked nice.

Place the adapter hub at an appropriate spot on the lid, and then trace around it with a marker. Then take a sharp knife and cut out the hole.

The adapter hub now gets pushed into the hole. The hole is somewhat bigger than the end of the adapter, but since the adapter is tapered, pressing it farther in will give you a nice tight seal. Also, the ribbing will lock it in place and prevent it from working back out again.

Now cut out a piece of screening material (the kind used for screen doors and windows--I didn't buy this because I had plenty lying around) a few inches larger than the top hole of the adapter. Lay it on top, then secure it in place with a round screw-type clamp.

That's it! The first "intake" rain barrel is done.

The next step is to join the intake barrel to an auxiliary barrel which will start to fill when the first one overflows.

First, decide where the connectors will go. Remember to take into account the handles of the trash can--I put my connectors slightly offset because I didn't want the handles of the trash cans to come between the two barrels. Also, make sure that the hole for the intake barrel is slightly higher than, or at the same level of, that of the auxiliary barrel. The reason for this is that gravity will be helping draw water from the intake to the auxiliary barrel. To be honest, I think it would work even if you made it run slightly "uphill", given the amount of water that's going to be pouring from the intake barrel, but why make it do that if it doesn't have to?

Once you've picked your spots, take the connector and trace around the intake barrel with a marker. Now do the same for the auxiliary barrel. Cut out the holes with a knife as before and put in your connectors. One the connectors are in, take a small piece of PVC and cut it to size to bridge the gap. I wouldn't even bother with PVC cement for this. The pipe should fit snugly enough to hold without any cement, and we really don't need a waterproof joint here anyway. There will only be water in the pipe when the rain is falling. Plus, if you don't cement the joint, then you can disconnect the barrels on the fly whenever you need to.

The rain barrels are now ready to be installed.

To do that, I had to make a slight modification on my downspouts. I removed the elbow joint, cut the downspouts to a point above the barrel, and then replaced the elbow joint so that it would empty onto the rain barrel intake rather than the ground.

And that was it. To test it out I sprayed the hose up onto the roof and sure enough, the water flowed into the gutters, down the spout, and right into the rain barrel. Worked like a charm. I then partially filled the barrels with the hose just to wash them out of any residual junk that they still had on them from the factory....and while I did that, I checked to see how the connector between the barrels would work. Also worked.

So the only thing left to do was to wait for the rain.

Next post: our first storm with the rain barrel, and how this all worked.


M. Alexander said...

The other health concern I thought of- if the water is running down the roof and through downspouts and into your rain barrel, isn't the roof made of asbestos? It would be interesting to have your water in your rain barrel tested to see exactly what is in there.

rain barrels said...

It depends- I don't think houses constructed after 1980 contain any asbestos...