By Ben Stallings |

version español

A few years ago I published a design for what I called Simpler Ultimate Rain Barrels. I hadn't tested the design except as a small scale model. So this year, with an eye toward eventually building the greenhouse design I proposed in Rethinking Greenhouses, I installed a row of eight barrels along the wall of our garage and plumbed them as proposed in the article.

Here is a short video where I demonstrate the system. The audio is terrible, but if you turn on captions you can read along. I learned a number of valuable lessons from the process:

  • A vertical trap that simply overflows into the barrels, as shown in both this design and the original Ultimate Rain Barrel System, does not do a good job of keeping dirty water out of the barrels. The trap should be physically isolated, for example with a float valve, to keep the clean water from getting contaminated with the dirty water as it passes by.
  • If you use a mesh screen to keep floating debris from the barrels, as I describe in the video, it will quickly get clogged. If your overflow is on the downstream end of the pipe, as shown in the design, the water will not reach it because of the clogged screen. I solved this by putting an overflow on the upstream side with a larger mesh that's easily reachable for cleaning. But that means the water overflows in an inconvenient place. I should re-hang my gutter to drain the other direction.
  • The foundations under the barrels are likely to settle, especially if water leaks from anywhere, which it will! This means that pipe connections to the barrels will get disconnected. The easy solution here is to use 1" OD (outer diameter) rubber hose in place of the length of 3/4" ID (inner diameter) PVC pipe shown in the video. The pipe's outer diameter is close enough to 1" that the hose fits tightly in the connectors on both ends and allows for some movement.
  • Only having holes in the tops of the barrels becomes inconvenient when the barrels are partly frozen: there's a big plug of ice between you and the water! So maybe there is a good reason to put a tap in the bottom.

All in all, I'm regretting using the word "ultimate" to describe a system that has a lot of room for improvement. Once I've worked the other kinks out, I'll share another video!