Cheating the system with DIY rain barrels


I started my sustainability path about a year after graduating from high school. After recycling for a couple years, I started venturing into other eco-friendly/sustainable endeavors. Only about a year ago did I kick it into overdrive when a friend introduced me to the zero waste movement. I found the movement fascinating, and quickly became mildly addicted to intrigued by everyone’s zero waste practices on Instagram. It was great inspiration to practice the same habits. This past summer, I starting growing my first garden and found other Instagrammers who were using a rain barrel for watering their garden. What’s more zero waste than a DIY rain barrel?

After looking at countless photos on Instagram of DIY rain barrels, I got the gist of how to build one single barrel to catch rain. But when I saw an image with three barrels connecting, I knew that would be three times the fun. I discussed the possibility with my husband and we decided one barrel wouldn’t be catching enough – not that we knew exactly what we were doing. There were no instructions I could find for the vision we had. After we decided to build three barrels, we kept an eye out for barrels that were relatively cheap. A Craigslist search turned up food grade and non-food grade barrel listings, so we snatched up the food grade ones just to be safe.

After purchasing the barrels, we stopped by Lowe’s Home Improvement and completely winged it, basically mimicking the three barrel picture. We bought several 2x4x8 pieces of lumber and measured and cut to the best of our knowledge to build the tower the barrels sat on, figuring it out as we went. Next, we screwed brass elbows into the lid and connected plastic hosing to each socket on each barrel. On the bottom barrel, we installed a spout. Finally, we placed the tower in the backyard by the gutter and installed a funnel to place under the gutter.  The whole project cost around $100.

I think it turned out great, especially considering we were free-handing the whole project. We did have to adjust some of the spouts and sockets because of leaking. After a rainy weekend, they were completely filled and water was spilling over the funnel. You forget how heavy water is until it’s in three barrels and leaning to one side. To make a quick fix, we strapped it to the fence. Not appealing to the eye, but it worked! Plus, it was in the backyard so no one would see it anyway. Using free water is an amazing feeling, like you’re cheating the system.

We built our rain barrel tower in April 2017, so in four months we have discovered some issues. For example, there’s no water pressure, which means the water trickles out very slowly. It’s not a big problem, but when you have a big garden and are being bit by mosquitoes every 6.8 seconds, it gets old fast. I definitely recommend investing in a water pump; it cuts your watering time in half. Also, algae has built up in the plastic tubing, and we haven’t quite found a solution for it yet. I still use the water and the garden has been doing well, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The plan is to empty the barrels out when winter comes so the barrels won’t freeze, so we will probably try cleaning the tubes then. Perhaps every year will require a thorough barrel and tube cleaning as well as weatherizing. The last downside to using rain barrels: you become very spoiled about using free water and think these barrels are never going to empty. Thinking you have an endless supply of water could mean you forget to use this precious resource sparingly. Well… at the moment the barrels are empty and I’m sad. What’s worse is waiting for rain that isn’t in the forecast for weeks, which is terrible news when you have a very thirsty garden on your hands. Once you have used free water for an extended period of time, you don’t want to use faucet water because you like the feeling of cheating the system. I would definitely recommend building at least one rain barrel – or however many your heart desires.

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Candice Wendlegast lives Louisville, Kentucky with her high school sweetheart of 10 years and her dog Lexi. She has been working in healthcare since she was 18, earning her CPhT in 2012. In her free time, she enjoys cooking from scratch, hairstyling/braiding and thrifting dates with her husband. She also loves interacting under the pseudonym Candice Bee Green with fellow zero waste enthusiasts on Instagram.


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