by Chuck H
Water has always been an afterthought for me and my prepping. It’s so easy for me to take it for granted when all I need to do is turn a faucet handle and fresh, clean water is made available. But what if the power goes down for a significant amount of time and eventually the water stations with it?
So I finally decided to store some water for just such an occasion. The most efficient way I could find to do this was by rain collection in rain barrels. I tell the neighbors it’s for watering the garden and yes we use it for that as well. But if the SHTF I have 220 gallons of water available for my family to use.
That’s right, four 55-gallon, food-grade barrels collect rainwater. This was quite a process. I Googled it, YouTubed it, and overall did a lot of research. I combined what I thought to be the best way to do it for what I had available. The first step was to acquire the 55-gallon plastic barrels which I got from a local, large-scale food distributor.
You’d also be surprised who has these with just a simple Facebook request. You would also be wise beyond your years to purchase a bung wrench to unscrew the caps on these bad boys. It just makes life a lot easier.
Anyhow, the barrels contained salted vodka (not any good…I tried). So I definitely needed to clean them out. It was a matter of putting some hot water and soap in them and screwing the cap back on. Then just have the kids roll it around the backyard a bunch of times, rinse, and repeat as necessary.
Once cleaned I chose to spray paint them a color similar to the siding on my house in the hopes it would blend in a little better than the bright blue plastic it was made of. After they were cleaned and painted I moved on to the deck I would build for the barrels.
I read in my research that the higher up the barrels the greater the flow of water due to an amazing scientific discovery called…gravity. So my deck would end up being high enough off the ground for me to fit a watering can or 5-gallon bucket under the spigot (about 4′ off the ground). Using treated lumber I ended up with six 4×4 posts as the legs.
They were cut to the appropriate height. Next, I used treated 2x4s and framed out the legs as you see in the pictures.
I basically framed a wall around the legs like you might frame a wall in your house (header, footer, studs, etc.). Once the frame was fixed to the legs I put the deck on which consisted of a treated piece of plywood cut to the dimensions of the frame. This is what my barrels would sit on. Since my plumbing would be under the deck I also cut a hole for each barrel to be plumbed underneath.
My deck was basically complete for now, so I turned my attention to the plumbing. Now I either got extremely lucky with these four barrels or all barrels are like this, but you’ll notice that one of the bungs is threaded in the middle. A threaded PVC adapter will fit this perfectly.
I planned to store rain in my barrels upside down. Since the hole would be at the bottom of the barrel I was all but assured every last drop of water from the barrels. Water will naturally self-level itself so by plumbing all of the barrels underneath the water would enter the first barrel (from the downspout) go to the bottom of the barrel and into the PVC pipes and then rise up into the other barrels.
That is how I planned to fill all of the barrels without extra holes in the top, just let water and gravity do the work for you. It is VERY important that you dry fit all pipes before permanently affixing them to the barrel and each other. So I set my barrels upside down on the deck and began measuring and cutting the PVC pipes.
I planned for a shutoff valve at each barrel and another at the spigot (5 total) in case anything needed replacing or isolation it would be easier to shut off the water from that barrel. Once everything was dry-fitted I used some clear, silicone caulking and applied it liberally to the two bungs in the bottom of the barrel.
This is where the bung wrench comes in handy to tighten the bungs completely. Next, I applied the same caulking to the PVC adapter that conveniently threaded inside the one bung. I tightened it all the way thus making a leak-proof seal on all my barrels. I waited to permanently affix the plumbing until everything was in place. So now I had to prepare my yard for the deck and barrels.
With the help of my wonderful wife, we dug up the sod in the backyard closest to the downspout we wanted to use. We dug a 32” x 115” section of the sod out, about 4” deep, and filled it with crushed rock. Here is where the hardest part of the project comes in.
Using an 8” x 8” tamper I tamped down all of the crushed rock making it about the density of cured concrete. Next, I placed six concrete piers on the crushed rock and, with the help of a friend, set the deck in the piers.
It was time to put the plumbing together permanently. I sanded the rough edges off the cut ends of the PVC pipe and applied the purple primer to the end of the pipe and inside the pipe, I would attach to.
I went a little farther up the pipe with the primer than what I would need so it would be a complete seal. After applying the primer I put PVC cement on the purple primer. Then you push the pipe in the adapter and twist a quarter turn. Hold this in place for 30 seconds and then test your work.
This “twist and hold” method is really important because you’ll notice the pipe wanting to push out of the adapter if not held in place. When done correctly it will be pretty solid. Once I plumbed everything together I used metal, nail-on straps to hold them in place (especially at the spigot). I also angled the spigot down a bit to make sure water wouldn’t sit in one place forever.
Now that the barrels were in place and the plumbing secured I built a small fence around the barrels. If you haven’t noticed by now I did a lot of overkill. The decking, the crushed rock, the concrete piers, etc. I wanted to make sure this much weight would hold (220 gallons of water weighs almost a ton!). So the fence keeps the barrels from blowing off the deck when empty.
At this point, I’m almost finished with the project. I used flexible downspout extenders to route the water from the downspout to the top of the far right barrel. Then another flexible downspout was used as an overflow.
I put them in place and traced around the end where it met the barrel on one end and the downspout from the house on the other end. I cut the barrel and downspout and installed the flexible downspout to the top of the barrel and the downspout from the house.
Since mosquitos love standing water I placed a cut section of window screen around the opening in the barrel (sealed around the edges with the leak-proof caulking mentioned earlier) and around the end of the flexible downspout (attached with an adjustable ring used for dryer vents) to catch particles that washed off the roof. Now water will enter my barrels!
As I mentioned I did a lot of research before attempting this project. Part of that research mentioned drilling a small hole in the top of the barrels because of pressure that may build up in them would reduce the flow of water. I was skeptical about this but it didn’t hurt to drill a small hole in each and place more window screen over them. I sealed these with the same caulking.
The overflow spout is a necessary part of the project. If the barrels continued to fill past capacity then the plumbing could be damaged and that would be a nightmare. So at the very top of the same barrel the water entered, I measured and cut a hole to install another flexible downspout that would return to the original downspout from the house and flow away from the house.
This part was tricky because I wanted a watertight fit and not to have water spilling out of the hole down the barrel and all over the deck/ground. So I got a large diameter PVC adapter and put it in the hole I had cut. I made it watertight using a metal flange and some all-purpose bondo to seal it to the barrel.
Now the flexible downspout fits perfectly around the PVC adapter and overflows to the original downspout on the house and away from the house.
I failed to mention that I also have a small retention basin in my backyard. I drain the barrels before winter so they won’t turn into huge ice chunks. The plan is to use water from the retention basin during the winter if needed. While doing my research I read that rainwater off a roof is not potable.
So if the need arises we will be filtering and boiling any water used from the barrels (and retention basin for that matter). Also during the winter, I take the piece of the downspout from the house that I removed and put a couple adapters on each end, remove the flexible downspouts from the barrels, and place the original downspout back in place. This allows melting snow to flow through the downspout like it’s supposed to.
When spring rolls around I just switch back to my flexible downspouts and I’m refilling the barrels with May showers. It took about 2-3 days to finish the project, a little bit of sweat, and a lot of cuss words, but it was finished. What I like most about the rain barrels is the capability to have 220 gallons of water available to me at almost any time.
A body can survive longer without food than without water so knowing we have this stored away gives me peace of mind. In the meantime, my garden loves the water and occasionally my lawn does too. It’s tucked away behind my house and not many people know it’s there.
You could add some lattice fence-work around the deck frame to hide it even more if privacy is a concern for you.
Hopefully, you’ve learned a little bit about how to make a rain barrel system and its benefits. And that’s really what this blog is all about… learning new things to help us stay prepared.