Water is a crazy thing. It’s simultaneously destructive, life-sustaining, and expensive. A week or so after moving into our new house, we were greeted by our friendly mail-lady who handed over to us a stack of grocery store flyers, junk mail from the previous tenants and a ginormous water bill. Like, $600 ginormous. The good news, however, was that the bill was only an estimate based off of the amount of floors, units, and prior tenants in our building – phew.

We immediately researched our options, wanting only to pay for the water that we actually use, and we signed up for the Chicago MeterSave program. In addition to saving money on our water bill (and even guaranteeing savings for seven years!), in Chicago, they’ll actually incentivize you to sign up by giving you a free rain barrel for participating. Score!

Along with the barrel itself (already drilled with spigots and bungs), the kit came with a short length of hose (that we didn’t end up using) and a flex-pipe to place at the end of our downspout for easy water direction.

While Kim tied up a few loose ends around our ghetto mansion, I ducked out to Home Depot and picked up a couple of retaining wall blocks to elevate the barrel off of the ground. We had to smash off the lip at the back of each block to get them to lay flat, but a few seconds with a claw hammer is all I needed.

The blocks were arranged into a circular pattern to support the barrel and lift it off of the ground for better water flow.

Upon digging around in a random mystery box in the garage, I found a short length of garden hose and this cool brass elbow fitting that help alleviate some pressure from the hose connections. This junction at the top of the barrel will act as an overflow valve, allowing excess water to be directed away from the foundation of the house, and eventually into a planter or flower bed.

In making some recent gutter repairs, I had intentionally re-routed a section of downspout toward the base of the back deck, knowing that the rain barrel would be arriving soon. My plan worked out, and the downspout was at a perfect length and height for the intake of the barrel. I attached the flexible extension with self-tapping sheet metal screws to give us a bit of adjustability in the flow.

While I was at it, I got ambitious and re-routed a second downspout into the barrel as well. This sucker will be full in no time! Here’s hoping that the garden hose will be enough to handle the overflow in a heavy downpour. (Update: We had a steady day of drizzle yesterday, and I’m happy to report that the barrel is completely full, and the hose did its job just fine! That didn’t take long.)

While I admit that this is not the most attractive project we’ve ever completed, it should be nice and functional when spring rolls around and we actually have some plants to water! We like things to look nice around here, but this is one of those occasions where function will (temporarily) beat form. (Although, the instructions did include a few tips on painting the big black blob in case we’d like to add a touch of color, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

As rain-barrel virgins, we’re open to some handy tips and tricks to keep this thing working. Anybody a seasoned rain-hoarder? Fill us in!

11 replies on “Make it Rain (Barrel)”

  1. That is awesome you got a rain barrel! I had one in Syracuse, where they also give them away to help with stormwater issues. We stacked more concrete blocks under it so we could easily fill our watering can. The awkward part was when we didn’t need water in the spring, the barrel was full, and of course in the drier months, when we needed it, it was often empty. You can set up a few rain barrels together to help with that.

    Also, I hate to say this after you have it all set up and filled! but you should unhook it for the winter. You don’t want water freezing and thawing in there.

    As for the look of it, we spray painted ours tan. Was easy and made it blend in more. Or you can get fancy :) I’ve seen all sorts of fun rain barrels.

    1. Annalena, since everything in our yard is still so ugly, our black rain barrel is fine for now, but we can’t wait to paint it! Also, thanks for the winter tip – we knew you guys would fill us in.

  2. Wait…was the bill for an estimated $600 a MONTH? Or a year? We pay about $25 a month for water on our 1600 sq ft place in San Francisco (granted, it’s just two adults and a dog/cat, but still! $600/mo would be a small army of people showering!).

  3. looks like you better get another tank !! that one filled w/ just a little rain? its a great idea :) love watching your progress!

  4. Unfortunately, rain barrels are for the most part,illegal in Colorado (I know, go figure!). The main issue however, is water rights. As a homeowner, you don’t have the right to use water run-off from your roof unless there is a well on your property. Being the state that championed xeriscaping, it is a paradox. There are other reasons as well but I have seen them around my neighborhood nonetheless. Thanks for posting the in’s and out’s of installation. Your post is inspiring me to give it a shot, in an inconspicuous location of course (wouldn’t want to run afoul of the water police) :)

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