Connecting a rain barrel to a downspout is a very simple and efficient way to conserve water for gardening and watering, especially in drought conditions. Unless you've decided to turn to xeriscaping, collecting rainwater seems like a no-brainer. It helps reduce your garden’s reliance on the municipal water supply, reduce the runoff entering the storm drains, and provides water free from the chemicals often found in tap water. Because we’re DIYer’s, we know the importance of planning, so before installing one of these fundamental assets to your garden, take a few things into consideration:
Location-Place it close to where you’ll be using it. The low-pressure delivery means it will be slow to drain once the water level gets closer to the bottom, making it harder to irrigate the garden. Elevating the entire set up will help increase the water pressure.
Amount-How much will you be able to catch in your rain barrel? And what will you do with the overflow? You can link barrels to capture more water, but if not, you’ll need to divert the water away from the foundation so it doesn’t collect near your home, causing severe damage.
Edible or Ornamental-Roofs treated with chemicals to remove algae should not be used to water edible plants. Neither should the runoff from a copper roof or gutter.
Choosing and Placing Your Rain Barrel
You can always buy a rain barrel already pre-cut and ready to go, or you can get a food-quality barrel and make the adjustments yourself. If you are using a food barrel, be sure to clean it thoroughly to remove any leftover food or juices.
Whichever one you choose, you’ll want a few features on your rain barrel to make life (and water collection) easier, such as:
A debris screen which not only keeps leaves out, but helps keep mosquitoes from breeding in the water. A flat back allows it to snuggle up close to the house, keeping it out of the way. A lid that opens allows you to fill a watering can quickly, while a closed top or latching lid will keep kids and animals from inadvertently finding their way inside. The water outlet can be either a spigot or hose connection. There may be a low one for the hose, and a higher one to fill a watering can.
Once you’ve decided on the barrel, ensure the gutters and downspouts are cleared and working prior to set up. Prepare the area where the barrel will sit if it won’t be on a concrete patio or deck by digging out the area about one to two inches deep. Fill with gravel, sand, or pavers to create a level surface with adequate support. If you plan to elevate the rain barrel, the platform or stand must be sturdy enough to hold a full barrel which could be in excess of 300 pounds. (One gallon of water = 8.3 lbs.)
You may need to trim the downspout with a hacksaw to the height of the barrel, and add an elbow section to direct the downspout above the screened entrance. Be safe and wear gloves and eye protection when working with cutting tools and metal.
Getting Your Rain Barrel Ready to Use
Place the rain barrel under the downspout, checking that it is level.
If your barrel isn’t already equipped with a spigot, attach one by drilling a 15/16 inch hole about two inches from the bottom of the barrel where you can install a ¾ inch hose spigot. Using a clear silicone sealant or Teflon tape on the spigot threads will help make a seal to prevent leaking. Do not install your spigot less than two inches from the bottom so debris can settle to the bottom and help eliminate blockages to the water flow.
Drill another hole about four inches from the top and attach a hose adapter for your overflow hose. Be sure the hose is long enough to reach another area several feet away or to another barrel for overflow to prevent erosion at the base of your rain barrel. If you have a compost pile nearby, this would be a good location to direct your overflow hose to keep compost damp in hot summer months.
Using the water promptly, preferably before the next rain, helps keep down odors from stagnant water, and prevent mosquitoes from developing from eggs that may have washed into the barrel from the gutters.
Regular maintenance will keep your water collection system healthy and happy. Inspect it regularly for leaks, and clear out debris collected on the screen, and any sediment that may have accumulated at the bottom. And drain, clean, and disconnect before freezing weather hits, diverting runoff to an area away from the house.
Save money and utilize nature’s resources to keep your garden productive and beautiful.