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:

Step 1: Putting the barrels in place
There are two VERY important things that need to be done for you to not only capture the water, but to actually be able to use it. Assuming that you want to create something like my setup, your barrel(s) have to be level. The leveling will be crucial for the rest of the functions of the storage barrels. The second important need in this setup is height. Height = Gravity. To be quite honest, I don’t have the height where I want it yet but its a start. Height is important because in order to actually use that stored water you have to either have somewhere below the barrels to pour the water into a bucket or you have to have enough gravity to run the water down a hose.

I leveled the ground and used cinder blocks with 2×6 lumber to create a base. Its not attractive but since its on the backside of my house, I am satisfied with function over form at this point.

Step 2: Connecting the barrels
The best part of using the type of barrels I did is the fact that they already have two holes in the top side. Those holes should have threaded nylon caps in them. If they don’t already have the caps, they should be pretty easy to find. One of the two caps should have a threaded recess which in my case is 3/4″. After drilling a whole in the center of the recessed cap, I was able to thread a standard copper faucet into it. See below.

Each barrel has a copper faucet screwed into the threaded nylon cap. The barrels are then placed faucet side down on your level surface. Then the three are connected by 3/4″ pvc. I measured the distance between each new faucet and cut/connected pvc accordingly. There are all sorts of different fittings and connections for pvc pipe. I literally sat on the floor at Home Depot patching all my pieces together to make sure I got all the right fittings.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Have a sketch of your plan with good measurements before you go to get all your parts. Its a nightmare trying to figure it out on the fly. People look at you like an autistic child playing with pipe on the floor of the store if you don’t have an idea of what you need. Trust me!

From any point in your pvc rig, remember to create a spout with a valve so that you can actually get the water out of the barrels. All in all, I spent about $22 on pvc parts.

Step 3: Getting water in
This is the easy part. Find a small plastic flower pot and drill a half-dozen or so holes in the bottom of it. The flower pot is your strainer. The strainer is important because it keeps leaves and all the other crap from your gutters out of your water storage.

Choose a logical spot close to your gutter on one of your barrels to put a hole that is slightly larger than the base of the flower pot strainer you just made. The easiest way to make the hole for the strainer is with a drill and a hole saw.

Once you’ve got your hole made, pop your strainer in it to make sure it fits.

Step 4: From the gutter to the barrel
At this point, your almost ready to start doing your part for mother earth by conserving water. Attach an appropriately sized flexible gutter tube to the existing down spout in the gutter. Put the open end into your flower pot, and then EUREKA, your ready to save the earth…

Your going to find as you build this setup and get your first rain that things will need tweaking; sealing leaks from your gutter, uneven barrels, etc. My method is by no means scientific and I am constantly trying to improve it, but the important thing is that it works. Once you have that water stored, USE IT!