Water Harvesting with Rain Barrels
I finally sat down with my husband, Jeff, to get all the details on our rain barrel situation. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about rain barrels! One thing I wish I was still in the dark on is how much money has been spent on our five rain barrels and other materials....So, if you are wanting a large scale water harvesting system, be prepared to invest some dough.
Our rain harvesting system is my husband's passion, but our journey started when I purchased a 50 gallon rain barrel at a discount through our local state gardening extension program. I loved the idea of installing a rain chain that would drain into a rain barrel. The idea seemed beautiful and environmental at the same time. Once my husband saw how easy it was to add a rain barrel to our landscape he quickly added our second 50 gallon barrel. A couple years passed and soon my husband was dreaming of expanding our capacity and decreasing our reliance on city water. The rest was history...
Our Rain Barrels
We currently have five rain barrels: two 50 gallon, one 500 gallon and two 550 gallon for a total 1,700 gallon capacity. We live in a subdivision with an HOA, and we are able to keep them hidden behind either large plants or a shed. Jeff says that 50 gallons is really not much water when you are talking about using it to water a garden, or a yard. He decided very quickly after we acquired our first two 50 gallon rain barrels that he was ready to go bigger.
Jeff started researching commercial water barrels as a way to increase his water harvesting ability, and to really be able to water our yard appropriately. In talking with my husband I realized that his goal is not to save money, but rather he works towards more intangibles such as reducing the amount of water run off that goes into the sewers and trying to conserve potable water. Jeff likes that he is not reliant on chlorinated city water to irrigate our yard and garden.
Plastic commercial water tanks come in a ton of different volume sizes. When searching for a large rain barrel, your search terms may not include "rain barrel," and instead include "commercial, plastic, water tank." The thing to remember with commercial rain barrels is that they are big, which affects the shipping cost. They are also meant for commercial use so they arrive a bit scratched up and possibly with some water inside because they are stored outside. Don't expect them to be in pristine shape. When I say shipping is expensive, I'm talking in the $200-250 range.
While we are talking money, let's talk about how much a rain barrel will cost you. Obviously, the bigger the barrel is, the more expensive. A 50 gallon rain barrel can range from $75-$100. Many state Master Gardener Extensions offer rain barrels for sale throughout the year. If you are interested in starting small, it may be easiest to find a rain barrel locally so as to avoid shipping. Now as we move up in size we also move up in price. A 500 gallon commercial water tank starts around $375 and can go up to $1000. Many of the tank distributors list from which state the tank will be shipped, and that can help you identify a choice with the lowest shipping rate for your location.
Another option for a less expensive rain container is an IBC tote. You can order these online in 275 or 330 gallon sizes. They are much less expensive than a commercial water tank. You can even search Craigslist to see if there are any in your area for free or for sale that you could pick up which would save on shipping.
Our 500 gallon Norwesco Potable Water Tank allowed Jeff to expand his rain harvesting and to use a gravity feed to water our front yard which is sloped. Jeff drilled holes in an old hose, connects the hose to the tank and then moves the hose around the yard periodically to water the front yard. This only works if your yard is sloped, but you can easily add an electric pump to connect a sprinkler to water your yard.
Jeff's next step in expanding his rain harvesting system was to order two 550 gallon Norwesco water tanks.
Our front yard set up (tanks are hidden behind a holly tree at the front corner of our house) includes two 50 gallon barrels and one 500 gallon barrel. My husband cut our gutter downspout and added some pvc pipe so that it will feed into the 500 gallon barrel, and we cut a hole in another gutter and added a rain chain to drain into one of the 50 gallon barrels which then gravity feeds into the second 50 gallon barrel which sits a bit lower than the first.
In our backyard we have the two 550 gallon barrels behind my husband's shed. He installed a gutter along the back roof of his shed and then angled it so that the middle is lower than the two ends. This ensures that the water drains into the downspout which leads to the rain barrels.
Once the gutter and downspout were in place, my husband installed a leaf catcher and a series of pvc pipes and fittings to make sure the water would flow to both tanks. (See picture) He had to cut holes in the tops of his tanks which can be a bit unnerving considering how much they cost. He also used a rain vent collar to seal the hole where the PVC pipe enters the tank.
The final step was to fit the opening at the bottom of the tank with the correct male/female threaded pvc fittings to be able to attach a hose.
We ordered a three foot hose to run from the tank to the electric pump. Simply attach another hose of your desired length to the other end of the pump and you are in business to water your garden or attach a sprinkler and water your yard.
Hopefully our story inspires you to start your own rain harvesting system. Reach out with any questions you have as my husband LOVES to talk rain barrels.
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