2500 gallon tank is in, just need rain…

Although my small blue tanks were a great start to my “rainwater harvesting career,” its just like anything else: you always want more. tank poseI introduce my brand new 2500 gallon rainwater harvesting tank. I’m not going to try to get into how I put this whole operation together (mostly because I’m not sure I have done it perfect yet).

The main motivation behind finally spending the money on a significantly sized rainwater harvesting tank was mostly due to the amount of rebates that New Braunfels Utility (NBU) is/was offering. They normally offer $.50 per gallon up to 500 gallons in rebates for rainwater harvesting. BUT, between mid May and mid June 2012, they offered an astounding $1.00 per gallon up to 500 gallons. I figured, “hey, that’s free money, time to pull the trigger on the beast tank.” With the project all said and done, I would say that the $500.00 rebate I received covered just over 1/3 of the entire project expense.

Now I really have to give a shout out to the place where I bought the tank. Tanks for Less is an outfit based in Austin, Texas who recently opened a store in New Braunfels. From my research, they are super competitive on their pricing and really seem to have a great deal of information available for us rainwater harvesting hippies. David runs the New Braunfels store and has been extremely helpful in every aspect of this build. David is always available for questions and really knows what the hell he is talking about. Long story short; if you’re thinking about building a rainwater harvesting system, call David at Tanks for Less

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The recipe for water and what to serve it with

Ok, so maybe it’s not really “making” water per se, but it’s a similar process I suppose. I guarantee that you are probably producing it right now at home without even realizing. This immaculate, mystical water creation i’m suggesting is the water that is accumulated from the condensation in your HVAC unit.

Regardless of your living situation, apartment or home, there is water that is accumulating and evaporating or running off somewhere due to the comfortable 72˚ your place is now. Now I’m not claiming that there is precious drinkable water running off into a sewer line, but there IS water that is excellent for your plants (specifically the ones not producing something edible, though I’m not convinced that it would be completely bad for those either).

At my house in South Texas, the HVAC unit produces almost 5 gallons of water from condensation in the summer months. That is a substantial amount of water. Because my condensation drain pipe comes out close to the foundation of my house, my wife and I began propping a 5-gallon Lowe’s bucket under it to collect the condensate. With that water, we could water most all of our patio plants as frequently as we chose. When our plants didn’t need the water, we poured the bucket on grass that needed it, or used it to refill our rainwater barrels during the god-awful drought that we have been experiencing.

Lugging a 5-gallon bucket filled to the brim with water everyday is a bit of a pain in the a$$, so we decided that we had to come up with a new plan for effectively using this free “made” water. This plan came together quickly and CHEAPLY when my wife decided that she wanted to add some plants to the once barren flower bed we had on the backside of the house.

Its simple really, why don’t we just have that A/C condensation just run off on to the new plants so we don’t have to remember to water them.

Water: The recipe

1. Appropriate length of 1/2″ pvc pipe (no need for schedule 40. Just the cheap stuff.)
2. Various 1/2″ PVC connectors: Couplers, elbows, end caps, hose fitting
3. Shut-off valve (optional)
4. Rubber o-rings or sealant
5. PVC cement
6. Plastic drain pan/tub
7. Shim material (wood or other)
8. Drill and bits for drilling holes in the PVC and in the drain tub

IMPORTANT FIRST WORD: Mock this rig up with your PVC pipes and fitting before using ANY cement. As I have learned the hard way too many times, once the PVC cement sets, there is no more adjusting, just frustrating cutting. Build it like Lego with no cement first. Trust me…

Though you can use a simple plastic drain pan/tub like you would have beneath your hot water heater, I chose to reuse the afore mentioned 5-gallon Lowes bucket (Since we are trying to be all conservation-y). I cut it off about 5″-6″ from the bottom to serve as my drain pan. After leveling the ground below it, I stacked a few bricks to set the pan on. This height is important because it provides the gravity necessary to push the water through the PVC drip pipe.

My drain tub has 2 main holes drilled into it (the above picture shows 3 but thats because I screwed up the placement of my run-off opening the first time). One hole is in the center of tub. this is the opening that will feed the water to the PVC. I drilled the whole large enough to screw in the threaded elbow (below).

I then drilled a small hole into a threaded PVC end cap. The small hole is important because it limits the amount of water that can seep into the pipe so that there is a slow trickle. With an o-ring or some sealant to prevent leaking where the elbow is threaded through the bottom of the tub, screw the end cap onto the elbow. Additionally, if you want a hole for run-off in the event that you need to divert the collected water away from the plants, drill another hole in the sidewall of the tub that is ABOVE the top of the water inlet that you just created (pictured below on the right side). On mine, I added a threaded PVC collar with a hose fitting so that I could divert the run-off away from my foundation. If pushing the excess away from something isn’t critical, then just leave a hole in the side of the tub and the water will simply run out the side of the tub on to the ground. The thing you should consider in allowing the excess to drain out to the ground is that at some point, it will begin to erode the soil and cause your stand/bricks to shift, making your drain tub unleveled.

Another reason for the run-off hole is due to my addition of a shut-off valve in my PVC feed pipes (below). My plants don’t need 5 gallons everyday. With the run-off hole and attached garden hose, I can close the valve and run the water off to different parts of the yard.

Finally, the actual plant watering….

Once you’ve measured the length of the flower bed (or whatever you want want to water), trim or add to your 1/2″ PVC accordingly. Using a maximum of a 1/4″ drill bit, drill a line of holes in your PVC pipe(s) to allow the water to drain out of. IMPORTANT: Drill the minimum amount of holes required to effectively water what is needed. Especially in long spans, the water won’t run all the way to your furthest outlets if you have too many holes (unless your drain tub is much higher than mine, in which case you’ve got better gravity action). You want your length of drip pipe to have smooth, slow grade down hill to the end. It is a good idea to use some wood blocks, bricks, or whatever you can find to use as shims to help you accomplish your pipes grade down. The shims are pretty important since the 1/2″ PVC is very flimsy. If the pipe sags in spots, it will inhibit the water from traveling all the way to the end of the drip pipe(s).

With the holes you just drilled facing the ground, glue your pipe to the elbow beneath your drain tub (or to the valve if you added one). Add additional drip pipe with couplers as needed and cement an end cap to the farthest end of your PVC drip pipe and presto change-0, you have a cheap, low maintenance way to water your plants.

The materials used for this project cost under $20. You can get everything you need for it at Home Depot or Lowes.

Rainwater harvesting: How I roll (for now)

I mentioned in my previous post, Water: My new obsession, I have a new found fascination with rainwater harvesting. After my fiance bought our first rainwater barrel and I saw how quickly it filled up, it became my goal in life to create MORE (and cheaper) rainwater storage. Enter my father.

As I got older and realized I didn’t actually know everything, I began to realize how much some of my dad’s habits actually made a lot of sense. For example, we took a road trip to Ohio when I was about 12 and my dad packed a tool box in the car. That’s not so odd, because after all, you never know when you might need some tools on an 1100 mile road trip. What was strange to me was that in that toolbox, he put a single piece of like 4 gauge wire. When I asked him what that piece of wire was for he said, “you never know when your gonna need a good piece of wire.” At age 12, needing a good piece of wire just in case made no sense. At 32 years old, it makes perfect sense.

So what does a good piece of wire have to do with rainwater harvesting? Well, my dad has always been a collector of things that you didn’t know you needed until you didn’t have it. I’m not saying he belongs on an episode of Hoarders, but he has a keen eye for useful stuff (some, including my mother may call it junk). He is the source for my blue barrels below, not to mention part of my inspiration for this project. Ill discuss that in a different post though.

I based my system off this guys

Its a simple rig really. Three plastic 55 gallon barrels next to each other catching rainwater from the gutter with some pvc pipe linking them all together so that they all fill equally. In case your dad doesn’t happen to have some barrels laying around to use, check your local hardware store or look for a soda/beer distributor. Either usually has them. The question is then, how much are you willing to spend? Ive seen them as low as $25 in some places. The other crucial thing to remember in acquiring barrels for rainwater storage is, what was in the barrels originally? Generally speaking, if it was some sort of food (pickles, jalapenos, etc.) they will be fine for storing and using the water on plants, edible and otherwise. Although you may get some spicy tomatoes if your watering from a barrel formerly home to say, jalapenos.

Ill walk you my process:

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