WHICH TO BUY?
Here’s what I’ve learned from some Web research and advice offered by local
gardeners on local Yahoo groups:
Some users say "The bigger the better" while others suggest
working backwards to determine how much excess water your garden could
actually use. Whatever size or combination you use, have an overflow
system because rain barrels can fill up in as few as 5 minutes.
Surprised? Well, a quarter-inch of rain falling on an average-size
house yields slightly over 200 gallons! If you’re really serious about rain harvesting and have a larger garden, 450-gallon barrels are available.
One DC resident wrote to say she first bought four 75-gallon barrels from Gardener’s
Supply, one for each corner downspout. After several years one of them
froze and cracked, after which she found even better barrels. "They’re
produced by the RiverSides
Program in Toronto, hold 132 gallons in the same footprint as the Gardeners
Supply 75-gallon, AND they’re designed to withstand freezing." She continues: "If anyone is interested in
purchasing one, please let me know. We purchased ours through a group buy and
saved a lot – $190 instead of $250 plus. We’d like to get another and and know
others who want one as well."
Someone else wrote to recommend the full-service company Aquabarrel and
their website looked so promising, I immediately asked for and got an
interview with owner Barry Chenkin. He told me they make their barrels
locally in Gaithersburg, MD using recycled materials and sell either
mail order or at two retail sites so far – Amicus Green in Kensington,
the Washington Cathedral, and soon, Gingko’s in DC. They sell kits,
parts, or full service including installation. Owner Barry Chenkin is
so excited about this stuff he calls himself a Master Rain Harvester,
and indeed he is, offering build-it-yourself workshops and/or
PowerPoints on the subject of rain barrels through the Anacostia
Watershed Society and Community Forklift. We’ll try to get the details
and help publicize the events. Here’s his video introduction.
More Sources and Prices
The University of Rhode Island
site offers this guidance about prices: "Ready-made rain barrels range
from $89 to $135 each depending on size, style and added features."
Well, that’s not much help, is it? Unfortunately, the largest size
refurbished barrel is 55 gallons; barrels from unrecycled materials are
available in larger sizes.
- Spruce Creek Rain Saver.com
(recommended on the site of Maryland’s Dept. of Natural Resources) sells a
54-gallon barrel for $155.
- Gardener’s Supply’s 75-gallon Deluxe
- RiverSides in Canada sells 132-gallon barrels for
$190 as a group or $250 individually.
- Another reader recommended the local source Arlington Echo, and here’s their order form.
[pdf] Barrels cost $50 each plus $14 for attachment "stuff," but the
order form doesn’t say how many gallons they hold, though 55 gallons
would be a good bet. They’re located in Millersville, MD, so it’s
possible to pick up the barrels yourself and save on the hefty shipping
charges (no matter where you buy them).
- AquaBarrel sells
refurbished 55-gallon barrels for $100 at retail outlets, which is
preferable because shipping even locally starts at about $55 for one
barrel. They’ll do the installation for you for a $45 preinstallation
inspection and $65/hour to install (a simple one-barrel system
typically takes 2 hours).
BUILDING YOUR OWN
- Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s instructions in pdf.
- Home and Garden Television’s website on
How to make your own.
Department of Natural Resources How to uild your own.
- Takoma Park gives workshops in building your own, which cost only $35 "and some DIY". I’ll try to find out more and include the details here.
OPERATING AND MAINTAINING ONE
at Aquabarrel explained to me that by virtue of their shape (something
technie about how freezing works), refurbished barrels must to be emptied for the winter. His system uses a diverter (photo) to restore the usual rain path down the downspout. His Owner’s Manual has more.
And from the University of Rhode Island comes this advice:
- Fine mesh screen should be used to cover any openings in the rain barrel to
prevent mosquitoes and to trap debris.
- Rain barrels can be installed upon blocks or wooden crate to provide height
for gravity flow purposes.
- Rain barrels should be drained and removed for the winter months to prevent
ice damage – the details about how to do that are here on this page.
Ah, this just in from the owner of rain barrels in my town of Takoma Park:
As to whether fine
mesh screen needs to be used, the Gardener’s Supply barrel has a "lid" that’s made of screening material
to keep out debris and bugs. The homemade one is closed except for the hole that
the downspout empties into. In order to keep debris out, we used a piece of
window screening over that hole. If your barrel is screened off like this, then
you shouldn’t need mosquito dunks because they shouldn’t be getting into the
As to installing them on blocks or wooden crate to provide height for
gravity flow purposes, I use my barrels to fill watering
cans so it’s not such an issue for me, but if you want to use it with a hose or
soaker hose, having it higher will create more "flow". Also, the spigot needs to
be really close to the bottom of the barrel so you can get all the water. Having
it up on something makes it easier to get to. Both of mine have hose sections
attached though for more manouverability.
This is all about how you have to
have a shorter downspout when the barrel is under it. So you cut off a section
in the appropriate height and then put it away to use again when the rain barrel
is gone for the winter. You’ll need some sort of a joining piece between the
section you cut off and the part still on the house though. For one I replaced
the entire section with those "flexible downspout extensions" they sell
everywhere. For the other I used a small flexible piece to reconnect the cut off
piece. Again, if you see it it makes perfect sense. Just hard to explain in
words. The last sentence refers to something you’d put on the end of the cut off
downspout to direct the water into the rain barrel. The hinged thing they refer
to is something you can get from catalogs. The S-shaped thing seems like too
much work. I used the small flexible piece (available at Home Depot) which I
also use to reconnect the downspout cutoff.
MORE INFORMATION AVAILABLE ON LINE
- Here’s a US government site about water
- Check out Aquabarrel’s "Learn More" and "FAQs" in the nav bar of their site.
AND IN PRINT
Storage by Ludwig
soon: the Rain Garden alternative. One reader wrote to tell me she
directed her downspouts to carry rainwater to her garden, which brings
us to rain garden techniques as another way to accomplish the same
ends. So that’ll be the next subject we tackle.
Top photo by
Goforgr33n. Lower photo courtesy of Aquabarrel.