Rain Barrels

Rain Barrels

Part of Ep. 1502 Healthy Weeds

Rainbarrels are a great way to conserve resources and water your plants.

Premiere date: Jun 06, 2007

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
I’m with Matt Krueger of Sustain Dane.  Sustain Dane is a non-profit organization in Dane County.  One of the things you folks do is install rain barrels. 

Matt:
We do.  The rain barrel program came out of another initiative that Sustain Dane has.  We work to promote sustainability education.  We’re based in Madison.  We work in Dane County.  We also have done work outside of Dane County.  And we promote sustainability education on a number of different levels.  The rain barrel program came from some volunteers who wanted to know what they could do locally to make a difference. 

Shelley:
Oh, neat, okay. 

Matt:
That’s basically where the program came from. 

Shelley:
In other words, a non-profit, involved in a lot of things good for the environment, good for Madison, Dane County. 

Matt:
That’s right. 

Shelley:
Why are rain barrels so important? 

Matt:
There are a couple big issues.  Given all the water resources around here lakes and streams, and everything that’s so valued one of the biggest issues is storm water runoff.  Basically as we grow, as our urban areas grow the rainwater falls and it doesn’t have anywhere to percolate into the ground. 

Shelley:
No porous surfaces. 

Matt:
Exactly.  So impervious surfaces like parking lots highways and rooftops, the rainwater runs right off it.  And in doing so, picks up pretty much everything in its path from fertilizers, pesticides. 

Shelley:
Oil from the car, everything goes downhill with the rain. 

Matt:
Exactly, it all goes downhill depositing into lakes and streams.  So there’s a lot of water quality issues with that.  Another thing is with aquifer draw down.  We get our fresh drinking water from an aquifer that’s below the ground.  And this is a valuable resource that we’re drawing from to use to water our garden. 

Shelley:
Why not use something free, that falls from the sky, called rain. 

Matt:
Absolutely, they’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  It’s nothing new and it makes sense.  There aren’t any chemicals added to rain. 

Shelley:
It’s probably a lot warmer than what comes out of my hose. 

Matt:
It’s warmer.  There’s no fluoride, no chlorine and the plants seem to really know the difference between tap water and rainwater. 

Shelley:
I don’t mind cutting down my water bill a little bit at all.  Let’s install one.  I assume the first thing we do is look at the site.  Why does this site work? 

Matt:
The site’s the most important part.  This site works because it’s accessible.  You’re going to be able to walk right out the door and get right to it.  You don’t have to go through the underbrush to get to it. 

Shelley:
The briars, yeah. 

Matt:
Another important piece of it is you’ve got a garden very nearby that you’re going to be using the water at. 

Shelley:
It’s kind of dumb to put the rain barrel on the other side of the house. 

Matt:
And it’s basically a gravity-fed system.  So if you can site your barrel at an equal elevation to the garden or even higher than that if you connected a hose to the spigot on the barrel you’re going to get good water pressure.  Not enough to run a sprinkler or anything, but you could connect a soaker hose or something like that and you’ll have sufficient pressure. 

Shelley:
Then let’s install it.  We’ve got the site.  The first thing we need to do is get that surface or the ground, ready. 

Matt:
Right, probably the most important piece is making sure the ground is level that you have a level base on which you’re going to set the barrel. 

Shelley:
You don’t want it tipping. 

Matt:
We’re going to clear a 2’ x 2’ square, approximately.  We recommend that you dig that out and add some gravel or some crushed rock.  Because the barrel is quite heavy and it’s going to settle.  That’s going to give it the best surface to settle.  Once we put the rock in we’re going to tap it down really good.  We’re going to place the cinder blocks.  It’s imperative that the cinder blocks are level.  Take repeated measurements, different angles.  We’re going to put down a base layer of cinder blocks then another layer on top of that.  Basically, what that’s doing is just elevating the barrel so we can get good water pressure. 

Shelley:
So the water drains down. 

Matt:
The next step is to put the barrel on top of the cinder blocks.  Just kind of eyeball where on the downspout the diverter is going to go.  We want it to be probably about a foot above the top of the barrel. 

Shelley:
Higher than the rain barrel. 

Matt:
Again, it’s a gravity flow.  We want to make sure it comes down into the barrel.  We’re going to make a cut in the downspout using a hacksaw.  Just make sure you support the downspout as you’re doing it.  Then, remove the amount of downspout that’s displaced by the diverter which in this case, is about 5-1/2 inches.  So, another cut with the hacksaw. 

Shelley:
Can people get diverters anywhere? 

Matt:
They’re available commercially or available retail on the Internet on a bunch of different gardening Web sites.  We are also selling diverters.  It’s actually a design that one of our volunteers came up with.  If people are interested in contacting us for diverters we can certainly get them. 

Shelley:
The diverter lets water run into the rain barrel.  But when the rain barrel is full then it diverts back down to the downspout. 

Matt:
Exactly, the overflow is built into the system.  There’s a couple other nice pieces about the diverter.  If you don’t have a site that’s immediately near the downspout and you want to go around a corner to hide it or put it out of view the hosing that we’re going to attach will allow you flexibility as to where you put it.  Another nice piece is there’s no open top to the barrel.  It’s a closed system. 

Shelley:
No mosquitoes. 

Matt:
Which is a pretty big concern around here. 

Shelley:
So, we’ve got the diverter on.  I assume the next thing to do is to attach that hose. 
Matt:
Right, we’re going to attach the hose and you have to take an approximate measurement about where the hose is going to enter the top of the barrel.  But basically, you can cut that with a hacksaw.  We’re going to reattach the bottom of the downspout as well.  So, essentially, the downspout, when all is said and done the downspout is intact completely with a little diverter sandwiched in the middle.  And the last couple things to check once the installation is complete is to make sure your spigot is closed so you actually do capture the rainwater.  And then we also recommend to people that they use a hose and actually fill up their barrel put a few inches of water in there to give it some weight. 

Shelley:
So it doesn’t blow away, until the next rain which hopefully will now be very quick. 

Matt:
Exactly. 

Shelley:
What about things like in the fall with fall clean up and winter care?  What do we do with it in the winter? 

Matt:
We have a diverter here.  And we can remove this hose.  This will be the hose that brings the water to the barrel and then simply put a cap on it.  That will cap the water in the diverter so it all goes down your downspout. 

Shelley:
So it’s not going to affect the barrel at all.  Do we just leave the barrel there filled with water? 

Matt:
We have you drain the barrel at the very least.  Then, if you have space in a garage or in a shed somewhere like that we recommend that you get it out of the elements to preserve the barrel as much as possible.  But the most important piece is to empty it. 

Shelley:
Don’t leave the water in there.  It’ll freeze and split the barrel as I know from previous experience.  Matt, thank you so much.  I can’t wait until the next rainfall. 

Matt:
It’s my pleasure. 

Shelley:
If you’d like more information on installing a rain barrel or on any of the topics we discussed today check out our Web site at: wpt.org/garden I’m Shelley Ryan.  Thanks for watching the “Wisconsin Gardener.” 

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