Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rain Barrels

Living in Goochland County, VA it seems that rain barrels are as common as spiders.  They are sold on Craigslist, shown at the farmers market in the summer, and even sold at Whole Foods in Richmond.  It seems that the most popular style is the one made from old 55-gallon plastic barrels that were originally used to import olives.  For the record, I can't stand the smell of olives ever since I went through an olive market in Morocco many years ago on a warm summer day and smelled all the varieties of olives and saw all the flies hanging around that open market!  But that is another story.

Being the type of person that is always looking for a project, because my list isn't long enough already, I figured I could build my own and save a few dollars.  I was able to find a guy on Craigslist selling the plastic barrels.  Then I went to Home Depot and asked my friendly neighborhood plumbing specialist what I needed.  Everyone online had talked about 3/4" spigots, but he recommended a 1/2" spigot.  (I later compared the two and the throat opening on both are the same size, and the 1/2" is a couple dollars cheaper.)  After thanking him for his advice, I took the parts home and built my first rain barrels and installed them at my home.

Empty barrels, ready to be filled at the next rain.

It seemed to work so easily that I made another set for the other side of the house.  The real goal with these was to use them to water my new fruit trees that we planted last fall.  We don't have a water spigot from the house on that side, so figured this would make it easier.

Full barrels ready for use on my fruit trees.
I used a simple flexible gutter connector and cut a section of the gutter out so that when the barrels are full, I can redirect the rain down the gutter and away from the house.  I put a simple gutter connector into the top of the rain barrels and put a screen over it so that the rain barrel doesn't become a mosquito breeding ground.

It doesn't take much rain to fill both barrels.  With the connector hose at the top, a nice average rainfall overnight will fill both barrels.

My oldest son is taking a class in middle school called "Make it My Business" as one of his electives.  He questioned if we could sell these rain barrels on Craigslist.  I thought, why not give it a try.  There may be some people out there that aren't so handy and would rather buy them.  So I threw up a quick ad and within a few hours, had our first call!  She wanted two!  She ended up only buying one, but I thought, this is easy.  The next day I got a call from a guy that wanted three.  I told him he could stop by the next evening after work and pick them up.  I went and drained my two full barrels onto my fruit trees, which didn't need it since it had just rained, and got them ready to go.  The next day came and went and he didn't show.  I had his number on my cell so I called him back and he rethought about it and decided to go a "different direction".  Easy come, easy go.  Now I have three extra rain barrels sitting on my driveway, waiting for a buyer.  I think once I sell these, I'll get out of the rain barrel business and stick with my day job.

This whole rain barrel situation got me thinking.  Do they really make sense for me?  When I lived in Phoenix it would have been great but it only rains about 4" a year there, and it usually comes in the span of a month or two.  I had to constantly water my lawn to keep it alive and it always greened up better when we got the ocassional rain water rather than "chemically treated" city water.

If you are on city water here in Richmond, they would be a good thing because I think there are more nutrients in rain water than the "nutrient depleted but safe for us" city water and it would be free water.  It also rains enough to keep the barrels full on a regular basis.  But where I live, I have a well.  So am I gaining anything by having rain barrels?  Is it better to catch the rain water right away and use it, or let it soak through the earth and filter itself naturally before going back into the ground where I will pump it up as well water for my house?  Why not just pump it up and put it on my trees and plants?  Am I doing this just because it seems to be the "right thing to do" for the environment?  Or did I just need an easy project for the weekend because I didn't want to do any of the tough jobs on my list?

Let me know what you think about rain barrels.  Do they make sense for you?

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