Two design options to keep that beautiful rainwater from running off your property: Quick-n’-Rustic or the more common plastic drum design. More on a 700+ gallon system at a later post!
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Note: this post assumes you already have working gutters and downspouts; if not, we have a quick ‘n dirty version for chicken coops, sheds, and the like…
I should also note that as rain-barrels were some of the first things we installed here I am showing some of the final products and textual steps to get there but not demonstrating step-by-step pictures of the process. We will update as soon as we get another opportunity as well as provide juicy tips for some awesome add-ons in later posts!
- Quick and Rustic $50-120, 1 hour
Get in, get out, and look good doing it
- Drumming for Rain $60-150, 2-4 hours
You need this and it needs to work right, regardless of looks
I. Quick and Rustic
If you want plug-and-play install with rustic appeal, you can get there by spending a little bit. Pioneers didn’t always have access to wells or rivers, so they needed to carry it on their journeys whenever possible without the utility of a hose or spigot that may get damaged in the move. They’d pool rain water down a surface, into a barrel, and scoop out water as needed.
The execution on this design is simple- instead of letting your rainwater shoot through your downspout and onto the ground, you shorten the downspout and place a nice rustic container underneath that you can dip a chic watering can into later.
Tools you’ll likely need:
- Screwdriver or Nutdriver to disconnect your downspout from the downspout bands holding it in place and the gutter drop outlet up on top
- Drill and Drill Bit to control where your overflow will run when the rains are more than your container and hold
- Metal Hacksaw or Wood Saw to cut your downspout to size (hacksaw for metal spouts and wood saw for plastic)
- Leather Gloves for the safety conscious if you’re working with metal downspouts
- Marker for marking your marks
- Paver(s) ($2-10) to keep you container off the ground; stools or tables that can withstand the outdoor elements might be better options if the user can’t bend down as much
- Rustic Container ($20-100) to store your water- The big box stores seem to carry a couple of rustic looking options in the $20-40 range, but a nice used half-wine-barrels will probably set you back $100. Just be sure it matches what you need and that your watering can/bucket can scrape water near the bottom. For example someone with a small herb box might get away with a 5 gallon wooden planter and small decor bucket as a scoop, but a 100 squarefoot garden plot will probably need that 35-gallon bucket and 1-gallon watering can. Unfortunately a 1-gallon watering can probably can’t reach the bottom half of a 5 gallon container.
- Place paver(s) and container down right next to the downspout we’ll be modifying to see where we will be making the cut, and then mark exactly where the top lip of the container meets the downspout
- Detach the downspout and its elbow, then cut about 2 inches above your mark (ie to give a little bit of space for the elbow to be reinstalled)
- Attach the elbow to downspout and dry-fit the the connected pieces to make sure there is enough room for the container to fit underneath- attach if it looks good
- Place the paver(s) and container underneath the downspout
- Drill an overflow hole in the desired direction you want any extra water to flow (typically away from the house); the size of drill bit depends on what kind of rain event you experience- Floridians in our area have huge downpours and should probably use a 3/4-inch bit whereas those with mostly trickling rainfalls can get away with a 3/8-inch bit easily. If the hole is too small, your extra water will just flow out from the lowest point on the lip of your container and it probably won’t be where you were hoping it would.
II. Drummin’ for Rain
This is the type that most people think of but don’t always believe they have the time or skill for. These can probably be whipped up in an afternoon and improved upon as needed. If you’ve safely used a jigsaw before and know how to properly operate a water bottle you probably have enough skill to get the job done.
Tools you’ll likely need:
- Jigsaw to cut a hole that your bulkhead will be inserted into and allow your garden hose to be attached
- Screwdriver or nutdriver to detach and reattach downspout
- Channel locking pliers to attach your bulkhead
- Drill and drill bit to make an overflow hole as well as starter hole for your cutting out your bulkhead hole
- Metal hacksaw to cut your downspout to size (a metal hacksaw blade will eventually cut plastic but you may want a hacksaw blade meant for plastic if you plan to cut more plastic down the line)
- Shovel or trowel to layout rocks that will stabilize the soil underneath your ran barrel base
- Leather gloves for working with metal downspouts as well as moving rocks around
- Marker or pencil for marking (or penciling) your marks
- Large Plastic Drum ($20-70)– these are way more affordable on Craigslist and most definitely a key component to this design
*IMPORTANT NOTE: please make sure it is either brand new or, if used, only contained benign liquids like food-grade liquids or something that evaporates cleanly after rinsing like chlorine; plastic tends to soak in any nasty stuff it may come in contact with
- 3/4″ Male NPT to GH Spigot ($5-10)– i.e. Male National-Pipe-Thread to Garden-Hose spigot to control the flow of rainwater into your garden hose
- 3/4″ Bulkhead Union ($10) to connect your spigot to your drum without leaking a drop
- Thread tape (~$2.50) to leak proof your work
- Window Screen ($7-10) to prevent critters or large debris from getting in
- Twine ($4-8) to cinch up your filter screen, we usually repurpose hay bale twine
- Concrete Blocks ( $2.50/pair) to raise up your rain barrel and give you a little more go in your flow, 1 pair/level and I recommend a minimum of 1 level raising
*PHYSICS NOTE- you should stack your blocks higher than the highest thing you need watered, be it a watering can or a raised garden bed-
- Bag of Cheap Gravel or Pebble Stones ($4) to stabilize the foundation for your barrel
Staging the area
- Take off your downspout by disconnecting it from the gutter and any downspout straps holding the downspout to the adjacent wall
- Also, go ahead and disconnect the elbow from the bottom of the downspout and keep it all in a safe place
- Clear and level the space under your downspout by removing any debris and taking out the first few inches of grass in an area ~4 inches larger than the base of your rain-barrel
- Compact the dirt by stepping the the cleared area, filling it with rocks/pebbles, and then stomping on it a bit
- Place your concrete blocks directly below the gutter drop outlet but far enough from the wall so that when you put your barrel up later the blocks will be centered instead of being pushed too far back or forward.
- Level the first layer of blocks (usually paired up for most barrel designs) and then stack to desired height being aware that people or animals may bump into them. Unless the area is already laid out in a solid concrete foundation I wouldn’t go higher than 1.5ft or about 3 blocks high.
- With so many drum designs out there, there is no one design fits all applications so the first step is to plan your approach:
- First line up your intake with where your downspout will be
- Then mark a dot where you’d like the spigot to be placed- typically 1-2 inches from the bottom so it doesn’t clog up with any unfiltered debris
- Then mark a spot for your overflow drain towards the top (about 1-2 inches from the top) in a direction that will minimally effect the foundation under your barrel
- Place your bulkhead at the spot where your spigot will go, trace around it and cut the area out by drilling a pilot hole with your drill in the center and then finishing with your jigsaw
*note: you can always make a hole bigger but once you make it too big you can’t really make it smaller- I recommend cutting the inside of the trace and then rasping out the hole with a rough file until the bulkhead fits snugly.
- Install your bulkhead union so that the gaskets are being squished against the barrel and no water leaks later- Use your channel-lock pliers to get just a tiny bit of extra snuggy-ness (too much might break the component)
- Once your bulkhead is snug you can install your spigot with thread tape until its snug too
- Drill a 3/4 in. drain hole where your overflow will go
- Throw up a window screen filter, loop a piece of synthetic twine around it, shove a stick between it and the barrel and twist until the filter is securely locked in place
- Cut any excess screen away leaving about 1 inch of extra from where the twine has been cinched
- Setup your barrel over the concrete blocks with the spigot facing where you want
- Hold up your downspout so that the top is up against the bottom of the gutter drop outlet (as if you’re going to reinstall it) and the middle is touching the barrel
- Mark a spot 2 inches above where the top of the barrel touches the downspout and cut the downspout evenly across the opening
- Go ahead and reattach the top of your downspout to your gutter drop outlet so that it hangs freely
- Take your pliers and pinch in the bottom of the downspout so that the elbow can be reinstalled easily
- Then reattach the elbow so that it is snug and won’t fall off
- Reattach any gutter straps to keep the downspout from flailing about madly
Don’t forget that you can test your final product for leaks by dumping a bucket of water or running a garden hose into your gutter!