The DIY Files: Site Prep for a Rain Barrel System

This feature highlights some of the details involved in prepping a site for a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™. BlueBarrel customers, Judy and Mike, have shared some photos of their site prep process!

How to Prep your Site for a Rain Barrel System

Site prep is quite simple, really, but there are some important details to understand before you dive in.

SIte your System

Mike chose this downspout to feed his system – in a nice, flat, shady spot near his garden beds. (Did you notice the barrels are painted? We’ll highlight barrel painting in our next blog post – stay tuned!!)

The first step is to identify the best spot for your rainwater system. You’re looking for a place that is near an existing downspout, near your garden (if using the water for irrigation), and ideally in the shade. See our siting guidelines for more detail.

Next, your site needs to be leveled if it isn’t already. If you are building a multi-barrel system like the BlueBarrel System, all barrels need to be at the same level. Some ask us whether they should install their barrels on a slight downslope to encourage the flow of water towards one end. The answer is NO! If barrels trend downward, the system won’t fill any higher than the top of the lowest barrel. Every barrel must be vented, so water will escape through the vents on the lower barrels before the higher barrels are able to fill.

Water is heavy, and a 55-gallon barrel will weigh nearly 500 pounds when full. For this reason, you want to install your system on a stable surface that the barrels won’t settle and go wonky. If you have concrete or asphalt in place already, you’re ready to go. But you don’t need to install more hardscape if it’s not there already!

This downspout will feed the BlueBarrel System. The downspout diverter inserts into the downspout and sends overflow down the normal course of the downspout after the barrels fill up.

This downspout will feed the BlueBarrel System. The downspout diverter inserts into the downspout and sends overflow down the normal course of the downspout after the barrels fill up.

The foundation pad is a simple frame filled with compact gravel - a solid surface for the cinder block footing and barrels.

The foundation pad is a simple frame filled with compact gravel – a solid surface for the cinder block footing and barrels.

If your site is bare soil, simply add a layer (about 3″ thick) of a base rock material and compact it until it is firm and level. Crushed base rock is ideal (a.k.a. base rock, road base, blue shale crush, or simply crush.) This material is inexpensive and will compact nicely. Any jagged-edged gravel will do (Judy and Mike used decomposed granite), but be sure to avoid round substrates like pea gravel or river rock. If you’re not sure, pick up a handful: if you can roll it around nicely in your palm, it won’t compact. Find something jagged!

You can frame your foundation pad like Judy and Mike did, but this is not necessary. A frame adds a nice visual touch, and can add a little elevation for gravity flow if you build it above grade and back-fill with gravel. If you are building a frame for a large (i.e. long) system, a cross-member helps so that your frame doesn’t bow out over time.

The last step for building your foundation is laying the cinder blocks. Cinder blocks are an important component of the BlueBarrel System design, creating a lane for the underplumbing that makes our system so unique. The spacing in the cinderblocks also allows for an isolation valve between every couple of barrels (another key to the BlueBarrel System design, included with our DIY RainKits), and add 8″ extra elevation for gravity flow.

Whether or not you are building a frame, you can find the dimensional details for a BlueBarrel System foundation here!

Well done, Judy and Mike, and thanks for sharing your photos with us!