Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Build A Rain Water Collection System (aka Rain Barrel)*

* It is advisable to have your own home with gutters on the roofing system if you want to build a rain barrel or rainwater collection system. It simplifies this project to something that can be completed in less than an hour.  If you rent a house, please get permission from the property owner before modifying anything and if you're in an apartment, you'll need a different system.

I am an avid gardener, not only for ecological reasons, but because I am frugal. Tomatoes at $4.99/lb are anathema to me. In leaner times, when the weather isn't great, I will purchase a half share of produce locally from HomeGrown Organics. Their produce is fantastic, and recently they had a Groupon available for more than half off a half share. $25 worth for $12! I bought one, and received one as a gift.  We love Groupon! What a great gift! We really enjoyed the produce..and the price break! I will still use HomeGrown Organics in future, when either I am in need or the weather is not good for growing my own.

But now that the weather is great for gardening again and I have no excuse for laziness, I have started my container garden with eggplant, peppers (hot and green), squash (zucchini and yellow), tomatoes (including heirloom), onions, strawberries, figs, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, Swiss chard, kale, green, wax and pinto beans, amaranth, quinoa and various medicinal and culinary herbs. Sounds like a lot, right? Well it is. It requires a lot of TLC, but most especially WATER! Kilogallons of water, to be exact. I was a little behind the eight ball this year with a late frost, so for a month I was stuck watering my plants the expensive way - with a garden hose! Yikes. I spent a ridiculous amount of money to water my plants when I could have been collecting free water. 
Yep, free. It rolls right off the roof and onto the ground...unless you get smart and collect it. When I went online to price out rain barrels my first thought was, "Are you people on crack?" Those websites wanted upwards of $200 for a fancypants rain barrel that looked cute. No thanks. Function over form is all right in this case.  I figured, I'm smart, and all right with tools and projects, so I should build my own. So, onto Google and YouTube to see other peoples' homemade rain collection projects, and then design my own. (I am no stranger to home projects, I have built compost bins, a solar oven and soon I will be building a cold frame for my winter garden when I get my hands on some recycled windows!)

You'll need the following for this rain collection project:

1. Large trash can (preferrably 32 gallons). I found one of decent quality at Lowe's for $13.98. I saw cheaper ones at WalMart for $9.98, but I wasn't sure about the quality and I am not a huge WalMart person. I would rather use a mom-and-pop shop or get one second hand, but if price and availability were a factor, that might be your option. The garbage can needs to be durable and thick enough to hold water, not just rubbish. You don't want it to fold, or buckle, because, well, that would defeat the purpose.

2. Insect netting. I bought this at Lowe's for about $5-6 dollars. I didn't use the whole roll. I will have some left over for window screening projects (and we have some screens that need it, so I justified the purchase that way). If you can, share a roll with someone else to cut your costs, or see if you can pick up some inexpensive screens that are no longer in use on windows.

3. Dryer vent kit. I prefer the aluminum, rust- and fire-resistant one that comes with two clamps. Mine retailed at Lowe's for $5.97. Your price may vary depending on how far from the gutter you will need to extend the dryer vent kit. My distance was only 24 inches because of where I rested the can and where my gutter was located.

4. Tin snips or very sharp scissors. (I paid $3 for my snips at a yard sale. Those tin snips are a fantastic tool, well worth the initial investment!)

5. A hacksaw. (Borrow one, if you don’t have one.)

6. A staple gun with staples. (Ditto.)

7. Pliers, or hammer. (Ditto, ditto.)

8. Screwdriver. (Ditto, ditto, ditto.)

7. A sharpie marker. (About a buck.)

8. A hose. (Hopefully if you garden, you've got one of these~!)

9. Some bleach, a goldfish or vegetable oil for pest control. (More on that later). It might be overkill, but mosquitoes are a pain in the butt and you don't want larvae in your rain collection system. Not in Florida, you don't.

10. Clean gutters. If yours are full of junk, that will get filtered into your lid, but eventually it will clog up your rainwater collection system, so clean 'em all ready!

OPTIONAL: An old hose with the ends cut off, some duct tape and a pedestal or flat stone to raise/lower your can as necessary to connect it to your gutter system.

First, I measured the distance from where I intended to cut the gutter to the top of the garbage can where I am going to connect it to the lid. That lets me know what size dryer vent kit to purchase. My distance was about 24 inches with the can resting on the garden stone I intended to use for a level surface.

Okay, so now if you've got your supplies and tools handy, here's what to do: Rinse out your garbage can with a hose to start clean. Put your garbage can near your gutter, where you'd like it to rest. I have a garden path stone under my can to prop it up about 1-1/2” and provide a level surface, but it is not required. Open the dryer vent kit (most are usually 4” in diameter and can surround a traditional home gutter) and with your sharpie marker, trace the outline of it on the lid of the garbage can where you’d like to cut your hole. I put my hole in the center, but it is okay to think outside the box if your resources are limited. Put it as close to the gutter system as you need. Then, with your tin snips, cut the circle out of the lid. Put the lid on the work surface or grass you are using and unroll some of the insect netting. Use the lid to trace a circle of insect netting that will fit just inside. Use either tin snips or sharp scissors to cut the insect netting out. With the staple gun, staple the insect netting to the inside of the garbage can lid, along the inside rim. When you’re done, flip over the lid and use your pliers or hammers to bang down the staples so the sharp ends are folded over. (If you don’t do this, your rain barrel can cut you unintentionally). Once the lid is done, you can move on to the can itself.

If you want to use a soaker hose with your can (I don’t, I just use my watering can at this point), you can figure out where you’d like to place it near the bottom of the can. (I intend to do this part when I find a used hose at a yard sale that I don’t mind poking some holes in…) I estimate about 4-6 inches from the bottom will be adequate water pressure to push it out of the hose when the barrel is half or mostly full. Measure the diameter of your hose and draw a circle (freehand is okay) that is slightly smaller than the diameter of your hose. (This is important!) Then, push or force your old hose into the hole. It must be a snug fit, on purpose. The rain collection system will leak valuable water otherwise. Then, using duct tape, secure it inside and out. If you don’t want to use your hose or want to dip a can when the barrel is full, you can hang a hook or hose rack of some kind above the top height of the rain barrel and place the hose on that. Some people use a plastic wine cork. When you pull it down, gravity does the work.

Place the completed lid on the completed can. Then, work on sawing your gutter. (Don’t forget to save the cut off piece, as it can be re-attached later if you no longer have need of a rain collection system. ) Measure the distance again from the lid to where you need to attach it to the gutter. This distance cannot be longer than your dryer vent kit! If your kit is 24” and you need 26”, you’re going to need a longer kit! Longer kits can be cut down with snips or scissors for a custom fit.

Using the sharpie marker, draw a line horizontally across the gutter where you need to cut, to spot it. Take your hacksaw and start sawing. Once you get to the gutter seam, you may need tin snips to help you out. Once the gutter is off, put it aside for storage or scrap. Put your can on its resting place. Undo one of the dryer kit clamps. Slide it over one end of the dryer vent kit. Slightly bend or buckle the gutter (it is aluminum, should require a gentle touch) until it fits into one side of the dryer vent kit and slide up the clamp, securing it with the screwdriver. It should be a snug fit that doesn’t easily come off the gutter. Extend the dryer vent kit until the other end can be pushed into the hole that you cut into the lid. Voila! Make sure the lid to the can is secure on the base and you’re ready to collect water!

Now, the insect netting should keep mosquitoes from putting larvae into your water, however, if your can is not secure at any point they could make it past the netting. For that reason, it is recommended that you either (a) employ a goldfish to eat larvae. They can live in the barrel indefinitely, (b) create an oil slick on the surface with food grade vegetable oil to make laying larvae impossible. This will not damage your garden, or (c) use a capful of bleach to give the water an undesirable PH so they don’t want to lay eggs in it. Pick one technique. DO NOT use combinations of these techniques or you will have unintended results.  Don’t mix oil and goldfish (you’ll suffocate the fish). Don’t mix bleach and goldfish (it will kill the fish). Don’t mix oil and bleach. Empty your rain barrel as often as you can. Do not use vinegar – the acidity will kill your plants.

This project is kid-friendly for children 10+ years with adult supervision.

15 comments:

xysea said...

PS It worked. I checked it today after an afternoon storm yesterday and there's water at the bottom of the barrel.

Also, there was some controversy about using it on food and herb plants, but there are plenty of people who say that's rubbish and use it with no ill effects.

Alyssa said...

This is very interesting. There are plenty of tip lists that say, "Collect Rainwater" But not a lot that actually take you through the process of doing it. Thanks!

xysea said...

Thanks, Alyssa. I am glad you found it interesting. I felt kind of the same way. There was a decent video on YouTube that I will try to find, if I can, that really inspired me and showed me how easy it could be...But, like you, I wanted step-by-step instructions out there so anyone with a modicum of project experience could tackle one on her own. I appreciate you coming by!

Patrick and Tiffany said...

Hi! I was just wondering if you had stumbled across any collection methods that don't utilize water from the home gutter system? My house is over 100 years old, and doesn't have/isn't equipped for the gutter system, but I would love to start collecting rain water. Thanks!
Tiffany

Richelle Loughney said...

It's such a simple project, but it has weight when it comes to conserving water. If you're willing to put in more work, you can probably use all that rainwater for a variety of uses around the house, after being cleaned. And who knows? A neighbor or two, in the offline or online neighborhood, might get interested in a system like this.

Tabatha Tidd said...

Yeah, you’re right Richelle. The process of making a rain water collection system is so simple and fast almost anyone with the right tools and materials can do it. I’ve found a lot of instructions around the internet, and I found all of them very useful. In fact, some even made the process much easier for me.

Surface Water Monitoring said...

Really interesting article. I have found this company that provide the type of equipment you are looking for.

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Anonymous said...

Where did you get your information? Which sites did you use?

Johney smith said...

There was a decent video on YouTube that I will try to find.
Roof Repair Towson MD

rain harvest said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. The method which you have applied. Thanks for sharing your experiences. rainwater harvesting system

rain harvest said...

Plenty of Informative Stuff for water harvesting

rooftop rainwater harvesting said...

Thanks for providing this information about the rain harvesting System. I definitely applied this technique in this rainy season.

water harvesting said...

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water harvesting system said...

People all over the world use different different techniques for saving or harvesting rain water and this article is very helpful for those who want to get more information about rainharvest