The first project I completed specifically to help the environment was a set of three rain barrels for around the house. After moving into our house, most of the landscaping needed replacing because it fell into one of two categories overgrown, or invasive (i.e. buckthorn). Due to the amount of planting that was required I purchased small plants, often at the end of the year when they were on sale or clearance. Insuring their survival required watering that often aligned with dry spells in late July – September. Rain barrels were the best solution.
The barrels were affordable and easy to construct, completed in an afternoon. I found the food grade barrels on craigslist. The rest of the plumbing supplies came from the hardware store. Sorry, but as this was before this website came about I did not take any pictures of the construction process.
For the spigot at the bottom I used a half inch valve that was threaded on the end inserted into the barrel, and on the output end to connect to a hose. To help secure it I placed a large washer outside. After tightening it down I sealed it with silicone caulk.
The overflow is 1 1/2 inch pvc. I debated two inch, but had some scrap of the smaller size on hand that I could use. So far it has been large enough to keep up with the heaviest downpours. The top is a short piece of pvc joined by a 90 degree elbow at the top and a small coupling piece on the inside. Again, I sealed this with silicone caulk. The bottom joint is a 45 degree elbow (the curve of the barrel allows it to work this way). It then extends further from the house than the original gutters did.
The tops of the barrels are two pieces – a lid secured by a ring, much like a mason jar. For the summer I secure a piece of screen under the ring to keep out any leaves or large debris. Then, for the winter, the solid rim returns to keep water from filling the bottom, freezing, and cracking the spigot.
When I installed the barrels I cut the gutter short and installed the elbow so that the water from the downspout would flow in through the screen. For the winter I constructed an bypass (using the portions of gutter I cut off and new elbows and another section) that follows the path of the overflow. There are diverters for this, but so far this system has not been problematic.
All three barrels sit on gravel and concrete block to provide a stable base.
When it came to watering the new plants I emptied the barrels by either running a hose directly to the plants or using soaker hoses under mulch. Usually I aimed to do this three days after it rained, or tried to split the difference between rains. However, this didn’t always happen, and I haven’t tracked how much water I have saved through these. But three 55 gallon barrels emptied over ten times a summer has added up over the last four years. At this point I have probably crossed the breakeven point for the roughly $60 the project cost. More than that the plants took root and are thriving, and were watered partially for free with water that didn’t tax the sanitation system.