Friday, September 12, 2008

Rain Barrels

I've been thinking a lot about rain catchment systems lately. I know you're probably thinking, why in the world would you need to catch rain when you live in the rainy PNW? Well my friends let me give you my top three reasons:

1. For one, we get dinged by the water company for all the water that goes down our drain pipes and into the sewer. In our case the people who lived here before us actually had pipes installed to catch the down spout water and direct it INTO the sewer system. They were crazy. (But that's another story). So we have horrendously high water bills in the winter when we're not using a lot of water. If you use a rain barrel you get credits and it lowers your bill... (I'm not sure exactly how it works but something to that effect - believe me when I get my barrel(s) I'll find out).

2. It actually does stop raining for about two and half months out of the year. Which means that yes, we have horrendously high water bills in the summer too when we are using a lot of water! Wouldn't it be nice to actually take some of that late spring rain and put it to good use? I think so.

3. Rain water is generally very clean oxygenated water that is quite good for plants. When used from a barrel the temperature is more ambient to the air temp and won't shock the plants like faucet water can. (I know our tap water is *cold*) I'd like to, especially for a kitchen garden, use water that's a little warmer and cleaner then what comes out of the tap.

Now comes the question of which one to get? What's practical for us? There are of course many options.

1. Craig's List has food grade opaque* 50 gallon plastic drums that you have to convert into rain barrels yourself. The price is sure right though at $25 a pop. Of course you then still need to buy or get a hold of a spigot, plumbers tape, calking, a drill and bit, various hoses, etc. So the price goes up from there.

2. Plastic barrels. There are many, many different kinds of these. Engage in some Google Fu and you can take your pick of the litter. Prices range usually from $75 - $700 depending on storage capacity, multiple barrels, diversion kits, installation, shipping, etc.

3. Wood barrels. Again, many different kinds, many different prices.

If I had an old farm house I would getting a much different barrel then the one I'm considering. But since the house I live in isn't too rural or "farmy" I'd like something that doesn't scream "old oak barrel". I'm quite fond of this one; it's simple and doesn't look like a rain barrel! Plus it will fit in the front of the house in a narrow space I have reserved for it. I may consider getting a different one for the back yard that holds more water but isn't as aesthetically pleasing. More on that later.
65 Gallon Urn

Since we also get a lot of rain I actually have to worry about serious overflow issues. I can't have the barrel filling up and out and washing away - everything! It wouldn't take long either. We average 42.7 inches (1080 mm) per year. If you have 1000 square feet of roof at 1" of rain = 625 gallons of water. Theoretically if I had enough barrels I could store 26,687.5 gallons a year!!! So one paltry 65 gallon barrel isn't going to cut it. Which means that I would also need this cool little doo-hicky.
Garden Watersaver Downspout attachment

What it does is basically lets your barrel fill all the way up and then redirects the water back down the downspout automatically. Since I can't stand there and watch my rain barrel levels 24/7 this is awfully convenient. It also means I don't have to worry about an overflow valve on the barrel itself. Which are convenient if you have a place for it to drain off to but in our case, being in a fairly urban environment, we don't really have a lot of options for runoff. It can go down the drain or I could build a drain field but I have neither the time, energy or space for one currently.

A really great option for the back yard, especially once I have the raised beds in, would be this guy:
The Garden Drip Irrigation System
I'm sad - it seems the whole page was taken down for the kit that you could make, so no more link. It was a rain barrel turned on it's side and elevated nearly five feet off the ground in order to create enough pressure to force the water out of a soaker hose. It was pretty cool. I'm sorry it's gone. (and damn me for hotlinking it to begin with! I should've nicked the picture and hosted it myself - ah, lesson learned)

"The drum is mounted on a 54 inch high stand which gives the height needed to produce the 2 psi required to operate the drip irrigation kit when attached. If you use all the material in the kit it will water a 100 sq. ft. garden (ten - 10 foot rows or five - 20 foot rows)." I'm still not sure about the aesthetics of this - or the size! - but I like its functionality. I think I need to look at where the downspout is and take some measurements. It maybe too large to fit into that space up against the house with where our windows are placed, etc. If it is I would most likely get the same barrel as I use in the front.

All told I'd eventually like to get three barrels. That would cover the front of the house, the back of the house and I'd be able to catch 1/2 the water off the garage roof (which is still nearly 300 sq ft) and would water the plants on the other side of the back yard. While I won't be getting these all right away (even though I'd like to!) I hope to be getting at least one soon. I'll be sure to post back on performance, ease of instillation and how much I like it!

*Best to not get the translucent barrels as it allows for fungal growth in the standing water.

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