10 Easy Steps to a Great Rain Barrel Set Up

Ok, I know it ain't pretty, but these big barrels contain over 200 gallons of water for my little 'maters, cucumbers, okras and herbs. Last year we installed a double barrel system below a gutter stream which captured both barrels brimming full in an hour of steady rain.  The spout was at the bottom of one barrel and I used it to water this and that.   We discovered that water went a lot further than we thought it would.  Those barrels of continuous rain water sparked this bigger idea in Hubs.  Thanks to Jay's willingness to hunt down the barrels and run the spiders and lizards from under our deck we now have a very sufficient amount of rain water for our little gardens.  I am so proud and thankful for Jay.  I definitely did not want to install a water system on my own.  I love Mother Earth, but her spiders really wig me out!   So, if you decide you want to capture rain water to use for your own garden spots you may can glean some good info from the way Jay did it.  I will put the basics of how Jay installed our barrels, but you will need to measure your own area to determine how many barrels you may need as well as how much PVC pipe, and the numbers of turns and connectors you may need for your piping. 
Step 1 is the hardest part:  Find your 50 gallon barrels/drums
Last year he found a food grade barrel locally on Craigs List.   This year when he needed a few more, my sweet father-in-law found three and drove them from Alabama to us here in Middle Tennessee. I can tell ya how to Craig's List, but I really can't tell you how to get your hands on good in-laws like mine!  I think you just get lucky.  If you can't find barrels for free or almost free, you can always pay full price online at places like Baytec or Uline. (definitely wouldn't be my first choice) 

When searching for barrels it's important to: 
  1. Make sure your barrel is "FOOD GRADE".  To know that it is, check the bottom of the barrel for a symbol that is the number 4 or 5 inside a triangle.  This is the idicator that your barrel will be safe to house water.  
  2. Make sure your barrel is dark in color.  We have two blue barrels and two black ones.  There are food grade barrels that are white.  You should pass on the white ones.  I have heard that the white ones allow light to penetrate and can mildew inside. Ew...

Step 2: Clean your barrels:
Our first barrel had some sort of cleaner in it. Clorox or something. I'm not sure.  But at any rate, wherever you get your barrels, it's important you thoroughly blast them clean so your blessed rain water doesn't become contaminated by the yuckies.  Our barrels that my father in law brought to us had had yummy caramel syrup in them, and smelled so lovely.  I wanted to lick them clean, but Jay wouldn't let me. ...dernit.

Step 3: Plan your water route & supplies list:
We have a centralized gutter that comes from the middle of our house, down through our deck planks,  all the way to the ground.  Bingo! There's our rain source!

So after determining our placement and beginning point, Jay drew a rough sketch of how he wanted his barrels to lay under our deck.  Sorry, he doesn't still have it, or I would have posted it here.  After drawing, he measured for the amount of PVC he would need to reach from the barrels to the spigot. He figured how many turns he would have so to know how many pipe elbows to buy and also how many connectors/adapters he would need for his pipe.

This is the view of our upper deck.  Our kitchen door leads outside to our upper deck that sits about 5 feet off the ground. Just beside the door is a gutter that runs from the roof to below the deck.  You can see how easy our decision for barrel placement was.

This is under the deck where Jay positioned our rain barrels. I have labeled the system components to make it easier to know what is what, but it truly is quite simple.

This is a closer shot of the final pipe that is attached to the actual spigot on the outside of the deck wall.

Remember, this is how our barrel system is set up, but you will need to determine your best location design and your supply list based on a few factors like:
  • Where is the highest rain volume flow from your roof? 
  • Where is a good hiding spot for your barrel(s)?  (If hiding them is important to you.) 
  • How close will your finished water spout be from what you will be watering?    
Which pump to use:                                                                                                                     
We wanted to get a pump that would sufficiently pump the rain water through my hose, but as with everything, cost is a factor that we always need to consider.  Jay shopped online as well as in stores to find the best pump he could find for the price and come up with this 198 GPH (gallons per hour), 115V,  "Sureflo" at about eighty bucks.   It was in our budget and seems to be working great, but honestly this is all we really know for now about the Sureflo pump.         

Step 4: Gather supplies:      
It's always easier to gather your supplies and tools before you begin the project.  For this project, Jay's supply list looked something like this: 
  • Barrels
  • Pump
  • a certain number of 2" PVC connectors/adapters 
  • a certain footage of 2" PVC pipe
  • a certain number of ½" PVC connectors/adapters 
  • a certain footage of ½" PVC pipe
  • spigot
  • 3 prong electrical plug
  • extension cord
  • gutter expander 
  • PVC primer and glue
  • jig saw  
  • drill & bit
  • screwdriver    
  • wire stripper tool       
Step 5: Install spigot:
Jay simply drilled a ½" hole for the ½" PVC pipe to go through our decking. The spigot was attached to the ½" pipe with the special primer and glue, and the spigot was screwed into the decking wall.  This is just what worked best for our set up under the deck. You will need to determine your spigot based on your location. 

Step 6: Install barrels and and pipe:                                                                                                            Using a jig saw, Jay cut a hole roughly the same size of the gutter  in the side of one barrel (which would become the top of the barrel once laying on it's side).  Then he laid the barrel on it's side and pushed the gutter into the barrel using the gutter expander he purchased. Notice, only one barrel receives the actual intake of water from the gutter. As the water fills the barrels it equalizes between all of the barrels if they are quite level.  Leveling is not an exact science, but I did notice Jay tried to keep his barrels as evenly leveled as possible.  After connecting the gutter to the first barrel he positioned the other three barrels where he wanted them to be. 
The barrels already have a threaded opening with a 2" cap that Jay discarded.  This is a convenient beginning point of the piping system on the barrels using 2" threaded PVC adapters for each barrel opening.  

Your piping configuration will determine how many elbows and connectors you will need. Jay's connects 4 barrels, then runs through the pump and out to the actual spigot, so several elbows were needed.  Yours may or may not need as many.  

See that purple stuff around the pipes where they are connected?  That is special primer and glue called Oatey Handy pack that's just for PVC.  Jay says it's important to get the right stuff, so here is a pic of it. There may be other brands of the same stuff, but this is what he used and it worked great.  

 Step 7: Install Pump:
The pump is really what makes this rain water system rock! 

 I was thinking that there must be some technical science behind exactly where you locate your pump in relation to the barrels in order for the the water flow to work as it should.  But nope, not so.   Jay's pump is centrally located based on the ½" PVC pipe running upward toward the spigot, but your pump may need something completely different.  Again, those are things you will consider when you sketch your plans on paper before the actual project build. 

Step 8: Wire the pump to a 3 prong plug suitable for outdoor electrical outlet:
I hope you know how to wire a three prong electrical plug. I sure don't, but Jay promises it is not hard at all.  There are YouTube's on the subject, so if you need help with this, search YouTube for it. Maybe Jay can get time to create that help there too soon. Once wired, plug the pump into an outdoor extension cord that leads to your electrical source. 

Step 9: Attach water hose. 
Do I really need to include instructions here? Didn't think so. Thanks. 

Step 10: Water your veggies with healthy rainwater:
 When I turn on the spigot on the outside of the deck wall the pump automatically engages to pump water from our rain barrels to my organic vegetable garden.  Every time I turn on my water hose I smile and thank God for a husband who is willing to do what he can to take steps toward self sustainability with me.  YAY!!!  

It really is THAT simple, so install your rain barrel system today and water your garden in a healthier and much more affordable fashion. Oh, and when you do, share notes and pictures of your rain barrel system!  We can't wait to see! 

Blessings Y'all!  
And remember, Flip more dirt! 

Pj + Jay


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