Rainin' In My Barrel

A few weeks ago, Sweet Husband and I took a rain barrel making class.  Although we certainly could have figured out how to make a rain barrel ourselves, we took the class because it was actually cheaper. 

A standard, not-even-very-pretty rain barrel runs close to $100 at a local hardware store.  More attractive rain barrels are more like $200.  Our rain barrel, along with the instructions on assembly and all the questions we wanted to ask, was $45--a bargain by comparison!

Our class was sponsored by Bridging the Gap (BTG), a Kansas City area organization focused on environmental issues and sustainability.

First, I can't say enough about how cool our instructor was.  A self-professed "rain barrel geek", he completely put everyone at ease and was totally informative, without being preachy or dogmatic.

Second, hello easy!  The pre-cut parts included....

  • a food-grade plastic barrel (donated by Pepsi after they're done using them for soda syrup)
  • a length of hose and a bib to attach it
  • a spigot
  • a plastic flower pot (a.k.a. landscaping container)
  • a piece of window screen big enough to cover the top of the pot
  • an elastic bike tire tube

After being covered with the screening, which is tied down with the bike tire tube, the pot popped into a pre-cut hole on the top of the barrel.  This is to let water in and keep mosquitoes out.

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Then holes were drilled and the spigot and hose bib were added.  The hose bib (and the hose, which we attached later at home) are for when the barrel gets too full and needs some place to overflow.  By using the hose you can direct the water away from your foundation.
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Ta-da!  A rain barrel!  

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Our instructor informed up that for each 1 inch of rain that falls, we could expect .6 gallons of rainwater per square foot of our roof.  I haven't been up to measure our roof, but basically any decent rain shower should easily fill the barrel.  We haven't gotten it hooked up to our downspout yet, but even without the direct flow, our barrel was about 1/3 full from just being out in the rain this weekend.

While the water can't be used for drinking, it can be used to water the garden this summer.  Also, although our instructor warned us that animals probably shouldn't drink the water that comes from our roof (too many chemicals in roofing materials), we're thinking of setting up a smaller rain barrel off the chicken coop (which has a metal roof) to help keep them in liquids this summer too.

Just FYI, BTG offers all the rain barrel parts, as well as the barrels, as well as completed rain barrels--so it's really a good program if you're local.  (Food-grade barrels can be a little hard to track down on your own.)  Here's the run-down with prices:

  • Plain white barrels - $20 (limit five per month)
  • Rain parts kits (all additional pieces needed to assemble a rain barrel) - $30
  • Rain barrel workshop (includes price of rain barrel) - $45
  • Complete rain barrel - $65

If you're nervous about putting the barrel together yourself, or even if you just want to take advantage of the discount like we did, they seem to have a class about once a month.  Here's all the info if you're interested.

And if the aesthetics of the barrel bother you, there are lots of options for camouflage--you can wrap bamboo fencing around it or paint it or hide it in the shrubbery.  

I really want to go the paint route, but I can't decide what color.  Sunny yellow?  Green to match the house?  Sunflowers all over?  It'll end up being white all summer just because of my indecision, but at least my water bill will be cheap!