Two weekends ago I went to a workshop hosted by a local organization to build a rain barrel for our house. In college I took a class on Watershed Sustainability Science and knew about the purpose and function of rain barrels, but I hadn’t seriously considered building one until I saw on Young House Love that they had attended a workshop to do just that. So I Googled rain barrel workshops in Northern Virginia and was pleasantly surprised to find Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment that host the workshops with partnerships from both Alexandria and Fairfax County. It was a great deal. For $52 all I had to do was show up and they provided me with the barrel, hardware, tools and instructions and in 90 minutes, I had my very own rain barrel to take home.
It really didn’t take all that long to put together either. The workshop consisted of a 45 minute presentation that reviewed what I had learned in my watershed class in college, tips for installing the rain barrels once you get them home and demonstrating what we would be doing.
The rain barrels are 50 to 60 gallon food-safe plastic barrels that were previously used to ship peppers, pickles and the like. In its previous life, our barrel was used for gherkins.
To start, we drilled a hole near the bottom of the barrel, for the hose bib, which we installed with a couple washers, a lock nut and caulk. Then a second hole was drilled near the top for an overflow hose. We then installed the hose connector again with washers, a lock nut and more caulk. The last step was to unscrew the lid on the barrel, and place a fine mesh netting across the top and screw the lid back on again. This prevents mosquitoes from getting in and turning your rain barrel into a breeding ground. It was really pretty simple, although I was not the biggest fan of crawling inside to install the hardware. When I got it home, this is what it looked like:
The thing sticking out on the right side is where the overflow hose connects. This barrel is a “righty” because I made it to drain out the right side when it is full. Apparently, just one rain event will usually fill the barrel to capacity if not beyond. This is because when it is installed, it gets all the overflow and runoff from your roof and doesn’t just sit and collect the inch of rain that falls directly above it.
We didn’t get the barrel installed until yesterday. We started work on Saturday so we could get the rain from upcoming storms, but ran into some trouble. The previous owners were really wacky with the backyard and we can’t figure out what they were really going for back there. On Saturday, we took a trip to Lowes to pick up a shovel that Shane needed, the 1 1/2 inch sump pump house for the overflow on the barrel and some cinder blocks to sit it on. (The higher above ground, the more water pressure you will get when you connect a hose to it). We got home anxious to begin work and Shane was simply going to level out the ground under our downspout in the backyard before we placed the cinder blocks. While Shane worked on that, I installed the overflow hose on the rain barrel. The hose came 24 feet long, which we could have trimmed down to about 10 feet, which is recommended. Once we had the barrel in place though, we realized the full 24 feet allowed us to direct where the water would flow and keep it away from our foundation, which was the problem we had with that downspout and the grade of the backyard in the first place. This is when I decided we should name the rain barrel Snuffleupagus. I feel like there’s a resemblance there.
The previous owners had a deck at some point and there are still wooden posts in the ground that supported the deck. One of these was in the way of where we wanted to place the rain barrel so Shane thought he would dig it out real quick. That wasn’t the case. We found all kinds of things in the dirt, including a cement drainage stone placed under the downspout and a good 4-6 inches of dirt. Shane managed to dig down 8-10 inches and the stupid post wouldn’t budge! We called it a night since the mosquitoes were feasting on us anyways.
After a trip to Home Depot on Sunday for a sledgehammer and bug spray, we were prepared to tackle the rain barrel installation again, but were defeated by sleepiness from a busy weekend. Shane was kind enough to finish the install on Monday afternoon while I was at work.
I guess the original curved white piece of gutter didn’t fit once the downspout was cut for the rain barrel, so Shane improvised for now with another piece of drainage hose we had. We’ll probably change it out to look a little nicer soon with the matching white gutter spout. As for the barrel, when we finally purchase paint to paint our front and back doors, I plan on painting it a solid color to match and maybe stenciling something garden-y like butterflies or flowers to make it look a little more attractive.
The real question…will it work?
The answer…YES! A huge thunderstorm came through just before we got home this afternoon, although you wouldn’t know it looking at the clear blue sky when we arrived. Not only was the rain barrel FULL, but the overflow hose had some serious work taking care of the overflow. Looks like a success! I guess we’ll have to wash the car to use up that water before the next storm!