Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RainBarrels Part5: Pros and Cons

taking the advantage or taking a risk?

After taking in all this information the real questions are: Why should you have a rain barrel? What benefits do rain barrels offer? What are some of the issue you may face?

Pros for Rain Barrels:
  1. Better for your plants. Rainwater is naturally softened water, free of chlorine, fluoride, lime, calcium and other chemicals. While your cities water might add these items to make the water safer to drink, these chemicals are not great for your plants.
  2. Saves you money. Currently (2011) it would save you about $0.02 per gallon. It is estimated that  average 40% of the house hold water is for lawn and garden. While you may only paid $500 a year, than 40% would be $200 a year.
  3. Better for times of drought. Wisconsin doesn't usually have drought water restrictions. I would say that having rain barrels would in a small way relieve the water needs of your water treatment. If you have water restrictions, then this might be your only option. 
  4. Better for your house.  28,400 gallons each year might explain why my sump pump is always running. By storing rain water and properly diverting excess water away from your house, you help preserve your foundation and reduce the load on your sump pump. For myself, this resolved issues of my basement having wet spots.
  5. Bragging rights for water conservation. While I am not currently a major fan of the 'Green Movement', there is something to be said by leading by example. That and bragging how you are saving around $200.
  6. Helps water treatment. While there is an argument to be made that rain barrels help Wisconsin reduce the amount to rain water that goes into our sewer system. I encourage you to read this PDF (Rain Barrels - CSO). Page 393, "The study showed that an extensive rain barrel program would not have an impact on CSOs (combined sewer overflow)..." 

Cons for Rain Barrels:
  1. More work than city water. It may not be a lot more work, but there is some work. Depending what you get and how much you pay, you may have to build your own water barrel. If your area snows or gets colder then 32F , you will need to empty and move your barrel every winter. You will need to clean the filter and at the end of a season clean the barrels.
  2. Cost. Time is money. If you buy pre-made 50 gallon rain barrel might be about $200. The 145 gallon i built was about $100. Still more expensive than a $20 garden connected to your cities water.
  3. Rain Barrel issues. You might have issues with diverting excess water, mosquitoes, or where to place your rain barrels.
  4. Not a replacement for city water. I highly recommend you do not drink water that is from your rain barrels. I have heard of people using filtering systems ensure the water is safe to drink, but do your own research.

In Summary
If you are into gardening, I highly recommend you use some type rain capturing system. There are too many benefits and too little excuses not to do it. Giving your plants a better water source, saving your some money, and making the earth a little better.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

RainBarrels Part4: Storage

Saving for a rainy day...

You will need to store all that water somewhere. Before you pick a container, you should be aware some of the common problems rain water containers. Don't be afraid, just be informed about the choices you make on water storage.

Storage Issues
Filtering your gutters is a great start to keeping your containers clean but you will need to clean some dirt out of your containers once a year. A container with remove lid will make clean easier. My 55 gallon containers have the standard two holes (4 inch) at the top and I have no problem cleaning them.

Another issue is mosquitoes. Some rain barrels use an 'open system' that have an open hole on the top of the rain container (with a screen to filter out the leaves and gutter items), but the mosquitoes still get in.  Mosquitoes like to breed in large amounts of water, so in the 'open system' design you basically have a big mosquitoes maker. You could keep them under control using chemicals or vegetable oil or even gold fish. Close systems however filters keep the mosquitoes out, but may be more difficult to clean.

An overflow outlet is crucial to a rain barrel system. Once your rain collectors are full, the overflow outlet allows excess water to leave the rain barrel system. Hopeful you have planned away for the overflow outlet to allow the water to move far enough away from the house. In my first design, I forgot to include a overflow for my 'Trash Can' rain barrel. After a heavy rain, the trashcan lid had popped off and the excess water pooled around my house. My sump pump was running three times as much that day.

If you live in a colder climate (like me) you will want to consider how cope with freezing water during the colder months. Remember water expands when it freezes and that is bad for your water containers. You could build a heating system to fight mother nature. My solution is to remove the rain contains during the cold months. You probably won't be growing much when it get that cold. Remember to reconnect the original down spouts to get the water away from the house.

What containers do you want to use? There are some great choices at your local home improvement stores, but they cost about $200 for a 50 gallon unit. 55 gallon food drums seems to another popular choice, but require some modification to allow water intake and overflow. Most are blue and don't really look pretty. Trashcans that are made from food safe plastics are a good choice. I have even seen 250 containers, but they would be hard to move around when they need to be stored for winter. Your choice should best fit the space you have chosen for the rain barrel. Whatever you use, make sure they are clean and were only used to contain food safe products (do not use containers that held chemicals).

Remember safety first. 55 gallons of water weights about 458 lbs. You will want to make sure your heavy water container is not at risk of tipping over or falling on someone.

Keeping Mosquitoes out of your Rain Barrels:

gardening tips and ideas

Food Safe Plastics:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

RainBarrels Part3: Filtering

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout...

Before you start planning how to store your 28 thousand gallons of water, remember it is not just water going through your downspout. Leaves, acorns, seeds, twigs, and other debris that makes it on to your roof and soon into your gutter. You could just let them collect in the bottom of your rain barrels, but these items will likely clog overflow outlet or water spigot. 

There are some creative ways to filter these items out. I find that the Spring's blossoms and Autumn's leaves are main seasons I see items in my filter that need to be cleaned out. I am going to assume you are not going to cut down and remove all the trees that are 500 ft near your house. However every year when i am racking leaves, I consider it...

You could install gutter guards (I like specs of Master Shield ). They are meant to keep debris out of your gutters (and thus your downspouts), but they cost over $4K (last time I got an estimate in 2010). Your local home improvement stores have  DIY options, but I don't recommend them. These DIY options to seem not to work when you look at real world tests (see this website). Most DIY product show that your gutters need to be lowered to get a better 'debris wash away' angle. Also the stems of leaves, pin needles, small twigs, and helicopter seeds still get stuck in the filtering mesh. See the resource section at the bottom to links that explain this better.

Some filters are nothing more then putting a mesh screen on top of the rain barrel and redirecting the downspout to this mesh. I personally don't like them because they allow mosquitoes to get into the rain barrel and breed. These seem to be the most popular options for DIY rain barrels.

An other option are filters that attach to the downspouts called 'rain barrel diverters' or 'downspout filters'. There are many different types. I have 4 trees that loom over my roof, so lots of items make it into my gutter. Most of these downspout filters options look as if they would clog easily. However I like the idea of how  Rain Reserve operate. They cost about $100 (but I'm really tempted to buy one).

I because of the amount of debris that gets into my gutter, I chose to make one of my barrels into a filter. It is a basically a trashcan with a screen mesh between the lid and the barrel. This allows high amount of debris to be filtered out of the water before I need to remove the lid and scoop it out (which is great for your compost). I find that the Spring's blossoms and Autumn's leaves are main items in my filter that need to be cleaned out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rain Barrels Part 2: Amount

Water, water, everywhere...

You will be surprised how much a half of an inch of rain on your roof equals in gallons. Your house square footage is a good rough estimate for you roof area. If you have a 2,000-square-foot house (and thus the same roof area) a 1/2 inch of rain will yield 620 gallons of water. In Wisconsin we get about 23 inches of rain (35in if you include snow) meaning about 28,400 gallons each year. Good news is that this over 7 months. Remember that most houses have 4 downspouts so 1/2 inch of rain = 155 gallons of water per downspout.

The website is a great way to start estimating how much water your roof gets. They use the  metric system on that site, but you can always use to convert it to English Units.

You might also take a look at the to know what your monthly weather is like. Remember if you you get snow where you live, your you probably won't be using your rain barrels. Frozen water expands and water that freezes in your rain barrels is not good.

What are you going to do with all that water? I'll leave the details of that answer to you. Don't get too over whelmed with this large amount of water. Remember most occurrences of rain are 1/2in - 4in at a time. After it rains then there are little periods of drought (good time to use that captured water).

I mainly use it to water plants. Last year had about 100 sq ft of garden space and about 180 of rain barrel storage. That is 1.8 gallons of rain storage per square foot of garden space. I didn't use any city water and I was over watering my plants. I think 1.5gal/sq would better estimate of your garden water needs (assuming you live in USDA Zone 5a area). This could even be reduced, if garden water retention techniques were used.

Remember that normally, with out any rain barrels, the water is sent to into the yard. I think the 28,400 gallons each year explains why my sump pump is always running... When I made my first rain barrel, I forgot to add an overflow hose to let extra water out of my rain barrel. After a 2 inch rain storm ( 420gal of water per downspout) filled a 35 gallon trash can rain barrel and I found the lid to my rain barrel had popped off. I would recommend that there is always a for excess water to move out of the rain barrels and away from the house.

Roof Rain Water Calculator:

Collection Area (sq. ft) x Rainfall (in/yr.) / 12 (in/ft) X 7.43 (Gallons/Cubic Foot) = Gallons/Year

Weather Data:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rain Barrels Part 1: Overview

Rain rain go away, come again another day...

Whether you want to collect rain water for your lawn/garden, decided to go green by reducing the strain on your city's storm drains, or just looking for another project; rain barrels might be the right option for you. Searching the web for different rain barrel systems, I found nothing that fit my situation. There are some basics to consider before you build your rain barrels: Amount of water, Filtering, Storage, and Usage. In future posts I will add more information on the topic and explain why I chose this design shown bellow.

If you are interested an instruction guide, please leave a comment or contact me. Please remember the importance of using food safe and clean items for your rain barrels. And that you should not drink this water. It you live somewhere the weather gets cold enough to freeze water, remember that water expands when it freezes. So empty and store your rain your rain barrels during the winter.

Version 1
This was my first attempt a rain barrel system was something low cost, easy to build, east to clean, upgradeable. It allowed me to  real world test. See how much water I gather and how I would use this water throughout the year. The design allowed me to see and clean leaves/debris as they were caught in a screen mesh (held in place between the lid and trashcan). I quick realized the need for more water capacity and better water pressure.

Diagram of Rain Barrel v1
Rain Barrel v1 in action

Version 2
Time to upgrade.145gals of water was just the right amount of water for myself. This rain barrel design is similar to version 1, but the overflow in this design helps fill the two 55gal barrels. This is expandable, but more expensive and is more work to build. The trashcan is elevated so the overflow point is above the barrels. The pvc pipes and connects are not glued together (just tap them together with a hammer), no leaks to far. I like this design because it can easily be expanded to my needs. Even elevating the trashcan on cinder blocks the water pressure still bothers me.

Rain Barrel v2 working great
Diagram of Rain Barrel v2