Demystifying the Downspout Diverter: Rain diverters for barrels, tanks & cisterns

As a rainwater catchment company, we answer lots of questions about the rain diverter for barrels, tanks and cisterns. Just how do you get water from your roof downspout into a rainwater storage system, anyway?

The BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ provides a top-to-bottom (roof to barrel to garden, that is) solution for harvesting and storing rainwater, and then irrigating with it.

This article covers the standard downspout rain diverter (included with our DIY RainKits™ and sold separately for use with other kinds of rain barrels and tanks), demystifying how it works. We'll also cover some alternatives, for those who are thinking:

"What if the standard solution won't work for me?”

Gutter vs downspout
A quick breakdown:

On the average building, rainwater cascades down the roof and into gutters, which run horizontally to capture water from the roofline. Then, water courses through a number of downspouts, the vertical elements that carry stormwater to the ground.

Without rain barrels, this water usually makes its way into a storm drain, or is piped away from the building onto the landscape.

Rain barrels allow you to divert this water and store it as a free source of the highest quality irrigation water. This has environmental benefits both in terms of water conservation and stormwater mitigation.

BlueBarrel's Standard Downspout Rain Diverter

The BlueBarrel System™ uses a flexible-fit, rubberized downspout diverter. This nifty piece intercepts rainwater flowing through a downspout and redirects it into a linked system of barrels. Once the barrels reach full capacity, the diverter redirects excess flow down the existing downspout automatically.

When you customize your BlueBarrel System in our online store, you get to choose from three different diverter sizes for an easy-to-install and well-fitted downspout solution.

After 10+ years in business (and longer for R & D!), this is the downspout rain diverter we like best, especially for a multi-barrel system like the BlueBarrel System. Here’s why: 

It’s easy to install:

EarthMinded Flexi Fit Downspout Diverter for Rain BarrelsThe rubberized diverter head is flexible. It inserts into standard downspouts with a simple hole, and no need to cut your downspout. 

We carry versions fitted for standard 2" x 3” and 3" x 4” rectangular downspouts, and also for round downspouts between 3” and 4” in diameter. (Click here for details on how to measure your downspouts to select the right diverter size.) The rubber diverter head seals inside the downspout. Water collects in an interior reservoir and flows swiftly through the inlet hose, into your tank or barrel(s). 

It optimizes the inflow rate and handles overflow automatically:

“But what about that big hole in the middle?”

Ah, there’s another common question. The most brilliant thing about this diverter is that it optimizes inflow to fill rate, and handles system overflow automatically. Because of that hole, this is all possible with no on-and-off switch. It’s a true set-it-and-forget-it solution.

If your barrels have any capacity at all, water will flow in. When they are full, it will flow down as if they weren't there. This is an easy and automatic way to keep barrels topping up even as you use the water throughout the seasons.

When installed correctly (with the inlet hose completely level), a full barrel will cause excess water to back up in the hose. Once the water column starts rising in the downspout, excess flow falls down that hole in the middle to exit your downspout as it normally would.

This adds major convenience—you don't even need to think about system overflow! While there are plenty of ecological overflow solutions you can pursue when you have time, rest assured that you will not be creating any new drainage problems when you install a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™.

a downspout diverter
Our standard diverter connected to a downspout (with a Leaf Eater installed above it). Photo courtesy of BlueBarrel customer Jan K.

How does the downspout rain diverter capture enough water with the hole in the middle?

First, it's important to understand how water flows through a downspout to begin with. Many people imagine stormwater coursing through the gutters, and then free-falling inside the downspout. But that's not how it happens. Surface tension causes water to hug the interior walls of the downspout as it exits.

(Have you ever tried to pour water from one container to another, only for it to run down your arm and drip from your elbow? That's the same effect. The water hugs the surface, whether it's your arm, or a downspout!).

So most water will be delivered directly to the reservoir at the edge of the diverter head. Only when rainfall volumes exceed the inflow rate of the inlet hose will you begin to see simultaneous overflow: another important concept that we'll help you understand.

Understanding Simultaneous Overflow

In heavy rains, you may notice water is entering your system and exiting the bottom of the downspout at the same time. You can double check to make sure the diverter head is installed correctly (with a level inlet hose and not crimped inside the downspout), but otherwise, this is how the piece is designed to work.

If water enters the system faster than it can move through the pipes that connect all the barrels, you will end up with backup. This can lead to uncontrolled overflow, which can be a big problem.

So simultaneous overflow could also be thought of as balanced inflow. That sounds better, doesn't it?

How hard does it have to rain before we see simultaneous overflow?

That depends on the size of your rooftop, paired with the rainfall intensity rate, which can change from minute-to-minute. The smaller your collection surface is, the harder it has to rain before you'll see simultaneous overflow. If you’re collecting from a very large surface, you may see simultaneous overflow with just moderate rains.

TWO DOWNSPOUTS
This (beige-painted) BlueBarrel System taps into two downspouts for a faster fill. Photo courtesy of BlueBarrel customer Erik D.

Is Simultaneous Overflow Bad?

We don't think so! Simultaneous overflow (a.k.a. balanced inflow) allows inflow and overflow to be more balanced throughout the season.

Your storage tanks have the ability to collect a certain amount of water. Excess water will overflow regardless, so by optimizing the inflow rate, overflow exits at lower rates over a longer period of time. This increases your ability to infiltrate this water onsite, which is what you really want for the best ecological design. It is also your best bet for minimizing the chances of damage caused by uncontrolled overflow. 

How to Increase Inflow:

That said, we do have a few suggestions for how to increase inflow for faster fill. First, just remember a multi-barrel system like the BlueBarrel System can't fill any faster than water can get through the connection lines. While there are some creative ways to increase the rate of transfer between barrels, in a standard setup, the most sound approach is to match the inflow rate to the rate at which the system can fill. Otherwise you will have issues with backup.

But there are many ways to increase inflow without creating overflow issues. For example, the system above collects from two separate downspouts: one at each end of the system. The BlueBarrel System is very flexible in this way. Our interactive online store allows you to choose all kinds of customizations, including extra diverters, so you can feed a single system from multiple downspouts.

Selector Valves:

The picture below shows another creative approach to increasing inflow. With two diverters collecting the same downspout, one is installed higher than the other. The lower diverter will catch overflow from the higher one in heavy rains. But again, for a small system, there is such a thing as too-much/too-fast, so the RainRouter Selector Valve on the bottom diverter allows the user to send excess water through a hose to direct it elsewhere. (RainRouters are available in our online store as well).

double diverter set up
This is another system installed by Erik D. He used a second diverter to capture overflow from the first.

Full Diversion:

Still, many folks contact us about cutting the downspout to divert all flow into the rain barrel. While it’s common for beginners to want to fill the barrel as quickly as possible, unless you have large tanks sized to capture full-season rainfall volumes, this is usually not a good design decision. Diverting all water into a barrel requires a separate overflow (we’ll go over that below), and your system will fill so quickly that all excess water will overflow at sometimes-higher-than-manageable volumes.

Again, our professional recommendation is to allow some simultaneous overflow when rainfall volumes are excessive. Overflow is much easier to manage at lower and more consistent rates. 

In most cases, a more balanced inflow solution with automatic overflow handling makes the most sense. Review the double-diverter strategies above for balanced ways to increase inflow while still benefitting from the automatic overflow function.

What if My Downspouts are Not Compatible?

We carry diverter kits for 2" x 3" and 3" x 4" rectangular downspouts, and round downspouts between 3" and 4" in diameter. This covers most standard residential and industrial sizes.

Do you have a different size, or maybe a completely different roof drainage system like rain chains or scuppers? No need to worry. We have a surprisingly simple solution. 

Leaf Eater as Adapter

A Leaf Eater is a standard upgrade to any rainwater system, and is highly recommended for keeping leaves, mosquitoes, and other debris out of your rain barrels or tanks in any case. Also known as a debris excluder, it is one of our most popular accessories

The great thing about the leaf eater is it adapts to any of the standard sizes listed above—round or rectangular! Installation, while simple, does require a clean cut to the downspout. This is a good thing if you have non-compatible downspouts, or no downspouts at all.

Water free-falls onto the leaf eater, so it doesn't matter what dimension you have above it. Downspout material is inexpensive and you can replace your lower segment with 2" x 3" downspout material for a standard diverter connection, as shown in the video. 

While we don't love the idea of plastic in general (except for re-used of course!), plastic downspout material is a low-hanging fruit in this case. It is inexpensive, easy to cut, and seals very well against the rubberized diverter head. 

In fact, the "leaf eater-as-adapter" solution is so effective, it really matters not what's going on "upstream" of the leaf eater, as long as you can funnel water onto the screen in one way or another. 

Rain chains can be cut to release onto a leaf eater. Leaf eaters can be installed to catch water from a scupper, or a makeshift drainage system. The options are limitless!

leaf eater as adpater options
Non-standard downspouts? Simply direct your roofwater onto a Leaf Eater to adapt!

What if I Still Want Full-Diversion?

In general, this is not a proportional approach for smaller systems like single rain barrels, or even linked rain barrel systems, for the reasons described above. But it may be a good idea for larger tanks. 

Whether your tanks are large or small, for proper ventilation and overflow handling, you need to have an overflow equal to or greater in size than the sum of all inlets. To make that simple, if you have a 3" inlet, you need a 3" overflow on the same vessel.

Overflow Issues and Capacity Loss:

Imagining this on a 55-gallon rain barrel, you can see how the overflow port takes a significant bite out of your storage capacity. Multiply that loss for a multi-barrel system. In addition to uncontrolled overflow, loss of storage capacity is another reason full diversion is not ideal for smaller systems.

While our prefab diverter handles overflow automatically by design, full-diversion will need to be paired with a carefully-designed overflow management system.

Consider that overflow rates will be irregular and sometimes very high. Direct overflow to an infiltration basin at least 15' from any structures, where it can safely infiltrate. 

Custom Downspout Diverter
"I commend you on your how-to videos. I've watched many videos for home projects and yours is head and shoulders above most on YouTube. Jesse is precise and easy to understand. Being a plumbing professional, I thought I'd watch your videos and improve upon the design, but now I can't say I'll do this any other way than following your instructions."
- Robert | San Luis Obispo, CA

This BlueBarrel customer created his own inlet. A separate overflow of at least the same size will be required, to route excess water to a safe drainage spot. Photo courtesy of BlueBarrel customer Robert E.

Custom downspout for rain barrels
"Success! My husband installed our 10-barrel system in a day. He added a gutter over the path to feed into the downspout. Genius!"
- Georgann | Montara, CA

In this submission from Georgann C., although BlueBarrel's standard diverter is used, it enters from the top of the barrel. Because her inlet hose is not level, Georgann employs a separate overflow that exits behind the barrels, directed to a drain that feeds a small pond.

What if I Don't Have Gutters or Downspouts at All?

The simple answer is you would need to install them. But not necessarily. What you really need to do is gather your water into a single location so that it can be collected. Really, as described above, all you need to do is get the water onto a leaf eater in one way or another.

Check out Occidental Arts & Ecology Center's (OAEC) Wonder Gutter solution for one inexpensive way to create your own gutter system!

What if I Don't Have a Roof?

In comes the rainwater funnel. Rainwater harvesting works because the roof catches a large volume of water and (usually) funnels it through a series of gutters and downspouts. This concentrates large volumes of water for easy collection. 

Can't I just put an open barrel in a field?

Sure, but if you get one inch of rain, you'll have exactly one inch in the bottom of your barrel... until it starts evaporating!

This is the beauty of the collection surface: That same inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot rooftop will generate over 600 gallons of high-quality rainwater. That's enough to fill 11 standard 55-gallon rain barrels, to put things in perspective. 

Even a very small surface (like an 8' x 8' garden shed) will fill a 55-gallon barrel with less than 1.5" of rain. If you don’t have outbuildings to collect from, you can create a modest increase to your collection surface with a rainwater funnel.

While it won't give you the kind of surface area that even a small rooftop would, the funnel can increase your surface area two times or more. This may be a useful solution for open-field watering needs like livestock, birdbaths, establishing orchard plantings, or habitat restoration

rain barrel with rain saucers
No roof? No problem! You can outfit your barrels with a funnel, a.k.a. "rain saucer"

Outbuildings and Solar Panels:

Consider installing a small outbuilding, or even a shelter to shade your storage tanks. Some folks have installed free-standing solar panels in the middle of a field and collected from those. Solar panels have high collection efficiency, and provide other ecological benefits as well. Wouldn't it be useful to have some shade or storage (or energy production!) out next to your stored water anyway?

rain barrels on shed

Look how much storage Peggy K. fit along the side of her 10' x 12' garden shed.

WindsorWorkshop12.17

With no other rooftops nearby, the Windsor Garden Club also utilized a garden shed to harvest water for their planted beds. Those solar panels make for a nice collection surface!

With this in-depth primer, we hope you're ready to start harvesting, no matter what kind of downspouts you're starting with. Step through our online planning tools to customize a rainwater system for your place, and feel free to contact us with questions. We're here to help!

 

Article by Jesse Savou, MA Ecological Design, ARCSA/ACCE Certified Rainwater Harvesting Professional. Graphics by Olivia Loughrey, MS Ecological Design. Photos contributed by BlueBarrel customers all over the USA!

BlueBarrel Garden Tour Sightings

It's garden tour season and we've had a number of BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ sightings across the USA!

Some tour hosts coordinate with us. Others we find out about after-the-fact when somebody sends a photo. Either way, we're here to share the experience with you.

2024 Garden Tours

Jesse Savou garden tour

BlueBarrel founder, Jesse Savou, with customer Dean Briggs at the Sonoma-Marin Eco-Friendly Garden Tour.

Jesse Savou teaches about rain barrels

Jesse greets tour participants at Dean's place, discussing the benefits of rainwater harvesting.

Jesse Savou demos Leaf Eater and Rain Diverter

Jesse demos the leaf eater and downspout diverter for tour guests. We are so thankful to Dean for inviting us out to his place to help host his tour site.

BlueBarrel System on Garden Tour

Anonymous BlueBarrel sighting! This BlueBarrel System™ was spotted on the Pence Garden Tour in Davis. Zoom in on the decal to know it's one of ours 🙂

Find a Garden Tour in Your Area

Want to find out about tours in your area? Sign up for our email list! We take your ZIP code so we can notify you of events in your local region. You will get a 10% discount coupon when you sign up for our email list.

Enjoy our Virtual Garden Tour!

In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership took their annual tour online. Watch this short video to experience BlueBarrel's 2021 "tour stop."

Showcase your BlueBarrel System™

If you are a BlueBarrel customer wanting to showcase your system on your local garden tour, please reach out to us for materials and support. Depending on the location, we may even be able to send a rep to help you host and educate visitors about the benefits of rainwater harvesting.

DIY Files: How to Set Up Drip Irrigation from Rain Barrels (Bubbler Emitters)

Drip Irrigation from Rain Barrels: a How-To Guide

Watch Jesse demonstrate how to install BlueBarrel's Gravity-Fed Drip Irrigation Kit with Bubbler Emitters.

Got rainwater?

Setting up drip irrigation from rain barrels is easier than you think!

If you’re looking for a gravity-fed drip irrigation system suited to your ornamental garden, bubbler emitters may be your best option. These systems allow you to place individual emitters at the base of each plant, allowing for precise control over where water is emitted from the drip line. Each bubbler emitter can also be adjusted for flow to accommodate the water needs of individual plants. 

Read on to learn how to set up our Drip Irrigation Kit for Gravity Feed with Bubbler Emitters. 

(If you're irrigating veggie rows, we recommend our Inline Emitter Kit instead)

These steps will be useful once you have the parts in-hand. If you're looking for more general information about how to think through a gravity-fed irrigation setup, including videos and a number of different gravity system types, start here

The Step-by-Step

Step 1 – After setting up your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, attach a streamlined 100-micron filter to your drain valve (sold separately from our accessories menu). It screws directly on to the drain, no extra parts needed.

 Step 2 – You'll see that the filter has male threads coming off perpendicular to the drain. Attach your no-pressure irrigation timer here (if using). Timers are also sold separately, and add major convenience, allowing you to automate your irrigation cycle with frequency and run-time. Set it and forget it!

 Step 3 – Next comes the swivel adapter. This part has a standard ¾” hose-threaded port on one end and a compression fitting for attaching ½” irrigation tubing on the other end.  Attach the threaded end of the adapter to the timer, or directly to the filter if you are not using a timer. 

Step 4 – Press the ½” irrigation tubing firmly into the compression end of the swivel adapter. Simply push and twist to seal.  

Step 5 – Design the layout for your drip irrigation system. You may wish to create connected rows, a loop, or a single line depending on the placement of your plants.  Use pipe cutters or garden shears to cut custom lengths of  ½” tubing. Run the line of tubing around the garden using ells and tees (compression fittings) as needed to create your formation. Use the stakes to secure tubing to the ground.

Step 6 – If your design is not a closed loop or if it features any offshoots, use the figure 8 fitting(s) to crimp off and secure the end(s).

Step 7 – Now it is time to insert the bubbler emitters near each plant. Securely holding the tubing, push and twist the hand-held hole punch tool to make a hole and then insert an emitter. If you make a mistake, insert a “goof plug” into the hole and carry on! 

Step 8 – Test the system. Turn on the water (or let your timer do that for you) and watch the magic happen! Adjust the flow of water by twisting individual emitters until each plant is happy.

set up drip irrigation filter, timer, tubing
connect filter, timer, adapter, tubing
insert tubing into compression fitting
insert tubing into compression fitting
bubbler puncher
punch bubbler emitter holes in tubing
bubbler emitter
insert and adjust bubbler emitters
drip irrigation bubbler layout
final layout of drip irrigation system

Environmental Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting + Free Webinar

Enjoy a free webinar on this topic!

Learn the whats, whys and hows of rainwater harvesting with BlueBarrel's founder, Jesse Savou.

(To contextualize the intro, this webinar was given live on April 21st, 2020, the eve of Earth Day's 50th anniversary, and the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic.) Click the image to play recording:

Environmental Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting in Brief

April is Earth Month. What if you could make a big difference just by installing a few rain barrels?

You've heard rainwater harvesting is good for the environment, but if you're like most of us, you can't explain exactly why.

Here are a few quick points followed by some key details for why rainwater harvesting is absolutely vital for a thriving ecology, both in your own garden, and for the global water cycle!

 

Rainwater harvesting is a great way to:

Environmental Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

  • Protect your local watershed;
  • Make your garden more resilient in the face of droughts, floods, and fire;
  • Restore the hydrologic cycle;
  • Recharge groundwater;
  • Reduce your carbon footprint;
  • Maintain healthy soils;
  • Keep your garden lush and healthy (which, in-turn, enriches habitat and helps to regulate local temperatures and precipitation);
  • Lessen the impacts of extreme wet and dry spells;
  • Mitigate impacts of climate change;
  • Utilize recycled materials (a given, if you choose BlueBarrel!)

Environmental Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting Explained

Most of us know that rainwater harvesting is good for the environment, but we need a little help articulating why. Here are five major ways you align with Mother Earth when you capture rainwater for on-site use:

drought

1. Reduce your Draw on Stressed Systems

(Conserve Water)

Aging water infrastructure is expensive to update; and groundwater and reservoirs are often overdrawn. When you supply a portion of your own water from the rain that falls on your roof, you reduce your draw on these stressed systems.

2. Restore the Hydrologic Cycle (a.k.a Water Cycle)

(Reduce Stormwater Impacts & Recharge Groundwater)

Environmental Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

Click to enlarge image

In a natural landscape, approximately 50% of stormwater infiltrates into the ground, hydrating soils and recharging groundwater. About 40% evaporates, and only 10% runs off.

In developed landscapes, by contrast (e.g. our neighborhoods); only 15% infiltrates and a whopping 55% runs off! This is because water can't penetrate hardscape (roads, rooftops, parking lots, etc...).

When you collect rainwater to use in your garden, you reduce stormwater impacts by holding water on-site rather than letting it run off. As you release it later (when the ground is no longer saturated), you allow that water to sink back into the ground where it belongs, hydrating soils, nourishing plants, and recharging the groundwater beneath us. In other words, you restore the broken infiltration link in the hydrologic cycle.  If you've heard the mantra: Slow it, Spread it, Sink it, Store it! that's what we're talking about here (as opposed to Pump it, Pipe it, Pollute it!).

 

Stream ecosystem

3. Protect your Local Watershed

(Reduce Pollution & Erosion)

When rainwater infiltrates onsite, it is filtered naturally by the earth, and is prevented from entering storm drains and surface waters as polluted runoff. Left unmitigated, rainwater sheets off roofs and paved surfaces, collecting contaminants along the way. When stormwater runs heavy, it causes stream banks to erode as well, causing further damage to our sensitive waterways and wildlife habitat. According to the EPA, stormwater runoff is the number one source of pollution in the USA. When you Slow it, Spread it, Sink it, Store it on your site, you prevent this from happening.

 

4. Reduce your Carbon Footprint

(Mitigate Climate Change by Reducing Energy Use)
Footprints on beach

There is a strong nexus between energy and water in our modern world. In the state of California, for example, heating, treating, and transporting water accounts for over 20% of per-capita energy use! When you reduce your reliance on pumped and treated water sources, you contribute to a collective savings in energy at the same time.

Better yet, if you pair your rainwater catchment system with a user-friendly gravity-fed drip irrigation system, you don't need any electricity at all to run your irrigation.

 

5. Increase the Health of Your Garden 

Butterfly in Garden

(Mitigate Climate Change with Healthier Plants & Soils)

It's no coincidence that plants love rainwater better than any other water source. Not only is rain free of the salts, chemicals and minerals found in other water sources; by nature's design it has the perfect pH balance and nitrate delivery, ready for uptake by your thirsty garden.

Benefit from the beauty of a healthy plant and soil ecosystem, while the earth benefits from all that a healthy garden provides... including cleaner air, carbon sink, pollinator habitat, temperature and precipitation regulation, and more!

The Deeper Why: How Rainwater Harvesting Heals the Earth

We just threw a few biggies at you, so let's break down some of these environmental concepts a little more. What do we mean by temperature and precipitation regulation? Here's where we can really start to understand the interconnected nature of Earth's vital systems, and why carbon reductions alone do not address the deepest roots of climate change.

Have you heard of the urban heat island effect? Temperatures in urban areas are significantly warmer than in immediately surrounding natural areas because dark rooftops and pavement absorb extra heat that then radiates back into the environment. The more we can vegetate our towns and cities, the more we will regulate temperatures. Vegetation in urban areas also helps to improve air quality.

And precipitation regulation? Believe it or not, a lush garden will actually make rain. Get this: plants evapotranspirate, meaning they uptake water from the soils, and emit water vapor into the sky, which contributes to cloud formation. Plants also release bacteria that form "water nuclei" that attract water molecules to form rain drops. Plants ask mother nature for a drink, and she provides. Between adding more moisture to the atmosphere and sending up water nuclei to ask for rain, a landscape of lush gardens will summon more rainfall than a parched one.

Just imagine: by tapping into the otherwise-wasted water source that comes from your roof, you can create abundance in your own backyard. If others do the same, we collectively have the power to bring vitality back to an ailing environment.

So What Are You Waiting For?

No need to imagine any longer. With a full understanding of the environmental benefits of rainwater harvesting, you can align with Mother Earth and start collecting rain today. Click here to get started!

BlueBarrel Logo - Earth Day

DIY Files: Danny’s 3 BlueBarrel Systems™ from rain barrel kit to install

Get Inspired!

This highlight is from BlueBarrel customer Danny, of Palo Alto, California. He used our custom rain barrel kits to install three separate BlueBarrel Systems™ collecting from four downspouts.

Danny used the tools right here on this website to customize for his site, including extra downspout connections; inlet hose extensions; custom barrel spacing to work around obstacles; and double-row and L-shaped configurations.

Enjoy photos and videos of this project, and read on to get inspired by our DIY highlight of the season!

Barrel Pickup

Barrels in minivan

After placing his order in our online store, Danny picked up his barrels from one of our local BlueBarrel pickup locations.

Danny says: "We could fit seven barrels in our minivan so it took two trips to get all fourteen barrels."

Check out our FAQ for more guidelines on how many barrels fit in different types of vehicles. (Some of our participating barrel suppliers offer doorstep delivery, too!)

System 1: Standard Setup with Extended Inlet Hose

Rain Barrel Kit

This system consists of 5 barrels in a classic single-row configuration against the wall of the home. This space allowed for standard 2' spacing, and the flow from this downspout fills five barrels easily. Danny used our rainwater calculator to estimate how much water comes out of each downspouts, and sized his systems accordingly.

With a downspout more than 2.5' from his barrels, Danny used an extended inlet hose—one of our most common modifications.

Each BlueBarrel rain barrel kit comes standard with an elevated spigot for bucket filling, and a ground-level outlet that can fully drain the rain barrel system, and connect to a gravity-fed drip irrigation line.

PXL_20240228_211223222
PXL_20240228_210952813

System 2: Custom Spacing and L-Shaped Configuration

BlueBarrel rain barrel spacing

This system consists of three barrels, collecting from a downspout that gets less water. While the standard diverter hose is used, Danny spaced one barrel apart from the other two, in an L-shaped configuration, to fit an inset notch at this corner of the home.

While standard spacing requires a simple 2' x 2' footprint per barrel, the beauty of our flexible underplumbed design is that users can increase the distance between barrels to work around obstacles on the site, such as AC units, utility boxes, windows, trees/shrubs, and more.

There is no upper limit to the distance between barrels. That said, all barrels in any one interconnected system need to be level with each other.

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System
BlueBarrel System with custom spacing

System 3: Double Rows and Multiple Downspouts

BlueBarrel Rain Barrel System with multiple rows

The third system consists of six barrels, collecting from two different downspouts. While one downspout will fill any number of barrels with our unique underplumbed design, connecting multiple downspouts will allow for faster fill. This is an easy upgrade with extra downspout diverters available as add-ons to our standard rain barrel kits.

The photo above shows a standard downspout connection. Below you can see Danny used another inlet hose extension to capture water from a second downspout.

To work around an HVAC box, he separated two barrels from the other four, and used BlueBarrel's Multi-Row Connection (another customization available for our DIY RainKits) to maximize the space by doubling up his barrels.

All of these add-ons and customizations are available in our Tools & Accessories menu as standalones, or as part of the checkout process when ordering one of the full rain barrel kit options in our Online Store.

rain barrels around AC unit
Inlet hose extension for rain barrels

DIY Files: Sarah Sets Up a Rain Barrel Drip Irrigation System—10 Steps to Success!

raised bed with drip irrigation
Step 10 - ENJOY!

Contributed by Sarah DePhillips

In my four years on BlueBarrel's customer service team, I fielded lots of questions about setting up a rain barrel drip irrigation system. Gravity-fed drip irrigation systems pair wonderfully with rain barrels to water gardens, shrubs, and trees. If you're feeling mystified by the irrigation component of your rain barrel setup, you are not alone! In this post, I'll walk you step by step through setting up our inline emitter kit. This is what we most often recommend for watering vegetable gardens.

(See this post for how to set up our bubbler emitter kit, which you might prefer for ornamental gardens.)

These steps will be useful once you have the parts in-hand. If you're looking for more general information about how to think through a gravity-fed rain barrel drip irrigation setup, including videos and a number of different gravity system types, start here.

How to install BlueBarrel's DIY Drip Irrigation Kit for Gravity-Feed, Inline Emitters:

Step 1. After setting up your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, attach a 100 micron filter to your drain valve. It screws directly onto the drain, no extra pieces needed.

Step 2. The filter has male threads coming off perpendicular to the drain. That's where you'll attach your no pressure irrigation timer (if using), or a hose. If your garden isn't right next to your barrels, you can either run a regular garden hose to the point where you want your 1/2" irrigation line to start, or you can use the 1/2" line itself to reach the garden. In my photos, I used a garden hose to span the distance between barrels and garden.

Step 3. Next comes the swivel adapter. This part transitions from a standard garden outlet (a hose in my case), to the poly tubing in the drip irrigation kit. Depending on your setup, this piece will either go directly onto your filter (or timer if you're using one), OR go at the "garden" end of your garden hose - it's where your 1/2" irrigation tubing will start.

Step 4. Press the 1/2" tubing firmly into the swivel adapter. If your garden has rows, it's a good idea to run the 1/2" perpendicular to the rows. The actual rows of pre-drilled 1/4" drip-line will tee into this 1/2" main line.

Step 5. Using the hand-held punch tool in your kit, punch a hole in the 1/2" main line where you want your first 1/4" emitter-line to begin. Remove the punch and insert one of the barbed connectors, pushing it into the hole until one side is all the way in the 1/2" tubing.

Step 6. Press the 1/4" drip-line over the other end of the barbed connector until the connection feels snug.  Run the line the length of your garden row, staking it in place where necessary.

Step 7. At the end of your row, cut the 1/4" emitter-line. Insert a goof plug to seal the end of the line.

Step 8. Repeat steps 5-7 for each row, or each place you want to run 1/4" emitter-line off the 1/2" mainline tubing.

Step 9. When all your rows are in place, leave a few feet of extra 1/2" tubing at the end and cut it off. (You'll need the extra length to create your crimped end.) Use the figure 8 fitting to crimp it off and secure the end.

Step 10. Turn on the water (or let your timer do that for you) and watch (and listen!) for the magic. There's nothing like the sound of drip emitters "waking up" with their first flow of water.

rain barrel drip irrigation filter
Step 1
Steps 2 & 3
Steps 2 & 3
STEP 5 (punch hole)
STEP 5 (punch hole)
Step 5 (insert barb)
Step 5 (insert barb)
Step 6
Step 6
Step 9
Step 9

Another Example Rain Barrel Drip Irrigation Setup: Raised Beds!

Additional photos provided by BlueBarrel customer Robert in Virginia.

2 barrel system
drip irrigation in raised beds
rain barrel drip irrigation

Gravity Irrigation Systems: Easy Rain Barrel Irrigation

BlueBarrel's founder, Jesse Savou, demos her tried-and-true gravity-fed DIY drip irrigation system. Four rain barrels supply the water, and gravity does the work to keep her garden beds hydrated. Click the image to watch the video! Scroll down for more video links, including a mid-season update, and a tutorial on how to program and use a no-pressure timer.

Your rain barrels are full... so now what? 

Rainwater harvesters know how fast and easy it is to fill a series of rain barrels from the roof. But once those barrels are full, how do we distribute the water through our garden? With a DIY drip irrigation system, of course! When we let gravity to the work, that part can be easy, too.

If you set your system up properly, you can use gravity to distribute this precious stored water. Drip irrigation is the most water-efficient way to irrigate. When you rely on gravity for distribution, it is the most energy-efficient as well.

In addition to these great efficiencies, irrigating with rainwater is wonderful because plants love the water so much. Fresh from the sky, rain is completely free of the salts, minerals, and chemicals found in other water sources. Rainwater also has the perfect pH balance and nitrate delivery to keep plants and soils healthy!

So now that your rain barrels are full, how do you get that super high-quality water over to your thirsty garden?

Rain barrels aren't pressurized like municipal water, so getting the water from here to there takes a little thought. This article offers tips and tools for DIY drip irrigation systems. Learn how to irrigate with gravity!

Gravity Irrigation Systems

This article covers details of gravity-fed drip irrigation systems, and how to automate them. But first the obvious: the lowest hanging fruit is of course a watering can. Placing your spigot in a convenient location is half the battle—then just fill, water, and repeat!

In this picture, a second spigot on the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ faces the back door of the house for easy access from indoors. Extra spigots are one of many customizations we offer.

But if you're hoping for some level of automation (and better distribution), there are easy ways to automate a gravity-fed drip irrigation system, too. Our Online Store offers a variety of options for drip irrigation kits, filters, and automated timers—all designed for low-pressure or no-pressure applications like rain barrels.

No-Kink Spigot

Add extra spigots to your system for convenience. It's easy to configure a unique set-up that works for your watering needs!

A DIY GUIDE TO GRAVITY IRRIGATION: KEY CONCEPTS
 

Water Flow and Distribution

The great thing about drip irrigation is that it doesn't actually require any pressure, just water in the line. Water will keep flowing downward and outward until it has nowhere else to go. That means as long as your drip line stays below the water level in your barrels, you can irrigate with gravity.

There are a couple of important considerations, though:

Basic Layout

If you have a BlueBarrel System, you can run more than one drip line if it helps you reach more of your garden. In this picture, for example, if you have a drip irrigation connection on Barrel 1 and another on Barrel 6, you can reach plants in opposite directions. And you can tee off your main lines to service the entire area in between using a grid or "fork" pattern. The gravity-fed irrigation kits available in our Online Store include tees and ells to create these basic layouts.

If you follow the basic principles of gravity (meaning you are not asking the water to flow uphill), these rain barrel irrigation systems are completely customizable to your garden.

Rain Barrels Drip Irrigation

This 6-barrel System irrigates a water-wise garden with gravity-fed drip irrigation. The gentle slope towards the sidewalk allows for great distribution through the drip line, and adjustable bubbler emitters allow the user to control how much water each plant gets.

Slope, Distance and Raised Garden Beds

How about distance? We used to advise that a gravity-fed irrigation system on a flat site would perform best if limited to an area of about 25' from the water source in all directions. But after years of observation, we've learned the 1/2" mainline for a drip irrigation system is broad enough that it won't constrict the flow of water. You can carry the water quite far through a 1/2" mainline, even on a flat site.

That said, you may need to limit the distance if you're including up-and-down segments, such as getting up and over into a raised bed. In theory this can be done if the water level in your barrels remains above the level of the soil you are trying to irrigate, but the ups and downs will begin to limit the distance you can distribute the water. The reason for this is you need a little extra head-pressure (a.k.a. water level) in your barrels to give the water that extra push to get up and over any lip. If you're navigating distance and multiple ups-and-downs (in and out of multiple garden beds), you'll need to experiment to see if your barrels provide enough head pressure to service your entire line.

If you have any slope at all working in your favor, you have a big advantage. (Meaning your rain tanks are uphill from your irrigation area, or the ground slopes away from your rain barrels.) The water will flow through your drip line much more freely in this case, and you'll get much greater distribution by gravity.

Max Line Lengths for Predrilled Emitterline

If you are using 1/4" predrilled emitterline to get water to your plants, you need to mind maximum line-lengths to make sure plants at the end of the line are getting water (see below).

If you are using our gravity-fed irrigation kit with inline emitters (available in our Online Store) make sure you limit your line-length as follows:

  • 6" emitter spacing: 16 feet
  • 9" emitter spacing: 22 feet
  • 12" emitter spacing: 28 feet

We also carry a gravity irrigation kit with bubbler emitters. Bubbler emitters punch directly into the 1/2" irrigation mainline, and the ones we sell are individually adjustable for flow, so the distance restrictions are not so strict. (More on inline vs. bubbler emitters below under KEY COMPONENTS.)

EXPERT TIP: If you're working with a flat site and using pre-drilled inline dripline (recommended for veggie rows), plant the most water-loving plants closest to the water source, with more drought-tolerant plants farther away. Friction loss will cause output to decrease farther down the line, so account for this in your planting. (Watch our mid-season update video for more detail.) If you're using our custom-punch bubbler emitter kit (see below), you can twist each emitter to control the flow based on individual plant-needs. This is what we recommend for ornamental gardens.

Watering Time

Keep in mind that while all drip irrigation systems are designed for low pressure, most operate on 12 - 20 PSI (pounds per square inch). A gravity fed system will only offer between 0 and 2 PSI if you are on a flat site, depending on how full your barrels are. This doesn't mean the system won't work. You will just need to leave the water on for longer to get the desired output.

set up drip irrigation filter, timer, tubing

Special irrigation timers are made for gravity-fed systems. See below for details.

For example, your drip line may have a 1 GPM (gallon per minute) rating, but a gravity fed line will take longer than a minute to emit one gallon. So experiment and observe to see how much water your plants really need.

EXPERT TIP: One benefit to slower water delivery is increased saturation efficiency. So while you may expect to double your irrigation time, don't be surprised if you find an extra 5 - 10 minutes does the trick.

Natural Water Pressure and Elevation

If your barrels are elevated above ground level, you will naturally increase the amount of pressure in your irrigation system. To understand the amount of pressure you get from an elevated system, each linear foot of elevation creates 0.43 PSI.

Some folks say gravity-fed systems work most efficiently with pressure below 6 PSI (the amount of pressure created by 14' of elevation). But as long as pressure stays below the 12 - 20 PSI of standard pressurized drip systems, you should be able to get great use out of a gravity irrigation system, without requiring a pressure reducer to protect your fittings.

A DIY GUIDE TO DRIP IRRIGATION: KEY COMPONENTS
 

Bubbler vs. Inline Emitters

It's important to use non-compensating drip line for any gravity-fed drip irrigation system. Water needs pressure to overcome the tight membranes in compensating line. So if you aren't experiencing success on your first try, that's one thing to check for.

Better yet, purchase a drip kit that's designed specifically for gravity-fed applications. BlueBarrel stocks two plug-and-play options for gravity-fed drip irrigation in our online store: one with inline emitters (for vegetables and row crops), and one with bubbler emitters (for individual control over how much water each plant gets in an ornamental garden). Click on Tools & Accessories to see our full menu of rain barrel and irrigation accessories, and recommended uses for each kind of emitter kit. See the video below for a demo of how inline and bubbler emitters can be used together!

EXPERT TIP: Always use a fine-mesh filter with any drip irrigation system to keep emitters from clogging. We offer a streamlined irrigation filter in our online store. Its streamlined shape minimizes the pressure loss in the filter itself. 

drip emitter: inline
inline drip emitter
drip emitter for rain barrel
bubbler drip emitter

Join Jesse in the garden again to see how inline and bubbler emitters can be combined for a perfectly customized gravity-fed drip irrigation setup.

Soaker Hoses

Soaker hoses have a porous surface that allows controlled amounts of water to seep out as water flows through.

Weave a soaker hose through your garden and water will sink into the soil along the length of the hose.

Soaker hoses work wonderfully for perimeter gardens or hedge rows. In other words, any garden layout where the hose can curve gently to serve all the plants. You can wrap a soaker hose around tree trunks for the occasional deep watering those trees so greatly need. (Not tightly around the trunk—that can lead to bark rot—but targeting the root-zone out under the tree's leaf line.)

Click the image to see a short video about irrigating with a no-pressure soaker hose! The image at right shows this garden 5 weeks after planting!

rain barrel soaker hose garden

A no-pressure soaker hose (specially for rain barrels) irrigates this brand new perimeter pollinator garden. See below for a video of how this DIY drip irrigation system is set up.

What's Special About the Rain Barrel Soaker Hose?

Like drip irrigation lines, most soaker hoses are designed to work optimally with certain amounts of pressure. But as rainwater harvesting grows in popularity, special soaker hoses have hit the market just for no-pressure applications. BlueBarrel is proud to be one of the few vendors that offers no-pressure soaker hoses, specifically for rain barrels and rain tanks.

Rain Barrel Soaker Hose

Rain barrel soaker hoses have a more porous wall, so that non-pressurized water can easily seep into your garden. The rain barrel soaker hose offers much greater distribution than a drip line. Each hose is 50 feet long and according to the manufacturer specs, two hoses can be linked together for up to 100 linear feet of distribution by gravity feed.

EXPERT TIP: Over time we've learned that rain barrel soaker hoses are prone to clogged pores. Why is this? Two primary reasons: (1) The pores are larger to compensate for non-pressurized water. This lets a little bit of sunlight in, which leads to algae growth. (2) One of the major benefits of irrigating with rainwater is that it isn't chlorinated. And while your garden loves the organic matter in the water, hose pores can clog over time with prolonged exposure—in other words, there's no chlorine to combat the accumulation of algae and other particulates.

 

So What to Do?

We've found soaker hoses perform best in the long-term when kept fully shaded. Got a dense hedge-row? The soaker hose will be perfect. Need a deep-watering aid for your trees? The soaker hose is your friend. If you put it away between uses, you won't have any problem. Even if you do lay it out in the sun, you'll be a-ok for quite a while. When you start to notice the output decline, flush out the pores with a blast of pressurized water.

As with a drip system, always use a fine-mesh filter. Our new soaker hoses actually come with a 200-mesh filterfiner than what we recommend for regular drip systemsto help prevent clogging.

Fine Mesh Filters

Drip Irrigation Filter TeeAs mentioned (and worth repeating!), a fine-mesh filter is essential for any drip irrigation system or soaker hose, no matter the type. You may have seen the large, cartridge-shaped "Y filters" on drip irrigation manifolds. They are big and bulky and hard to miss! For gravity-fed drip irrigation, we recommend a 100-micron Streamlined Drip Irrigation Filter. These are less expensive than Y filters, much smaller and sleeker (a.k.a. better looking!), and they keep the water on a streamlined course to your drip-line. Y-filters send the water on an off-course loop, and will reduce your already-low pressure more than you may want for a gravity-fed irrigation system. Rain Barrel Soaker Hoses need finer filtration, and they come with a 200-mesh filter that looks similar to the 100-mesh version we sell separately.

Automatic Timers

Drip systems require somebody to start the water flow. But what if you're not home (or can't remember!) to turn your water valve on and off

Automated timers offer major convenience. The only trouble is, standard irrigation timers require pressure to function properly. We've heard many stories from rainwater harvesters with a DIY drip irrigation system who set their timers and walked away proudly, only to find their rain tanks empty (and garden over-saturated!) the next morning.

Here's the kink: standard irrigation timers require a pressurized water source to close fully, so the risk is draining all of your water unwittingly.

No Pressure Irrigation Timer

Luckily industry is catching up and there are now timers on the market specifically for no/low-pressure applications. BlueBarrel offers battery-operated no-pressure irrigation timers. The timer has two simple dials, allowing the user to set frequency and duration. Set the timer and walk away for convenient automated watering.

(We used to carry a solar version of the no-pressure timer, but over time we've found these to be less reliable. Beyond that, dials were mis-labeled in a recent production run which makes them confusing to operate. We now offer only the timer we've found works best.)

Watch our quick video tutorial on how to program and use this amazing no/low-pressure timer!

With these great new products available to help automate non-pressurized tanks, it's now much easier to irrigate with collected rainwater in your garden!

What Parts Do I NOT Need for Gravity Feed?

Typical pressurized drip systems require a few components that are simply not needed with gravity irrigation systems. With gravity, you can keep it simple and forget about these parts:

Pressure Reducers

Do I need a pressure reducer for a gravity-fed drip irrigation system? Absolutely not!

Pressure reducers (a.k.a. pressure regulators) are a key component of most drip irrigation systems. But gravity irrigation systems are remarkably simple and don't need all the parts that normal drip irrigation systems do.

Municipal water is usually pressurized to around 85 PSI. If you're using city water, a pressure reducer brings the pressure down to the 12-20 PSI range so you don't blow out your drip fittings. Of course with gravity-fed irrigation usually operating under 2 PSI (and not recommended to go above 6 PSI), you can completely forget about the pressure reducer for one less headache.

Vacuum Breakers

Do I need a vacuum breaker for a gravity-fed drip irrigation system? Again, the lucky answer is no!

Vacuum breakers (a.k.a. backflow preventers) prevent dirty water from being sucked back into the city main in the event of a pressure reversal. If you are irrigating with city water, these are very important to protect the public potable water supply.

If you are irrigating from rain barrels or tanks, you should not have a cross-connection with the municipal water system. There is no risk of your rain barrels sucking the water back in. Even if they did, it wouldn't create a safety issue, so you can leave the vacuum breaker out of the equation!

Click into our Online Store to view specialty irrigation gear just for gravity feed.

10 Winter Uses for Rainwater

What are the best ways to use rainwater in winter?

If you have rain barrels and you're not in a climate where you have to drain them in the winter, chances are they're full to the brim at this time of the year.

So what now?

If you're in an area that experiences hard freezes, it's time to think about winterizing your rainwater catchment system.

But if you live in a more moderate climate zone, you want to think of as many ways as possible to use your stored rainwater—to free up capacity to catch more. This is especially true in western states where most of the rainfall comes between October and April.

If you can use your rainwater steadily throughout the winter, you will maximize the bang for your buck in a handful of ways:

Rainwater for Christmas Tree
  • Literally, you'll save some bucks... because every drop you use from your rain barrels is a drop you won't see on your water/sewer bill.
  • You'll maximize the many environmental benefits of collecting rainwater... Most notably by multiplying your water conservation and stormwater reduction. If you continually draw down your stored water and allow it to recharge, you will save (and benefit from) much more water than you have storage capacity!
  • You'll cycle older water out, making room for newer water... Although rainwater can be stored safely for long periods of time, common sense dictates that fresher is better.

Read on for ideas about how to use your rainwater throughout the winter, so you can free up capacity to catch more.

Winter uses for rainwater:

In many North American climate zones, it rains during the winter when we're not irrigating. So what can we do with those full rain barrels while we wait for the irrigation season to start up again? Plenty!

winterize rainbarrels snop-capped barrels

Rainwater is suitable for most non-potable uses:

  1. Watering your winter garden (carrots and beets and broccoli, oh my!).
  2. Watering houseplants, because they need water year-round. They'll show extra appreciation for the rainwater for many reasons. (And what about that Christmas tree? Give it a fresh flush of rainwater every couple of days to keep those needles fragrant and green.)
  3. Watering pets, livestock, and wildlife (while us humans need to treat rainwater before drinking, if your animals drink out of toilets or puddles, they can safely drink stored rainwater).
  4. Re-filling the kettle on your wood-burning stove to humidify the dry winter air.
  5. Defrosting your windshield on frosty mornings.
  6. Washing your car—guilt free!
  7. Rinsing patio furniture, compost buckets, and other gardenware.
  8. Flushing toilets.
  9. Pumping water into extra storage containers to free up space to catch more.         (Click here to learn how.)
  10. If you still have extra water, release some into a simple infiltration basin or rain garden during winter dry spells. This allows water to infiltrate and recharge groundwater. It also helps take the peak off of stormwater loads by making space in your barrels to collect more rainfall.
kettle on wood burning stove

Special tip from the common-sense pros:

watering can and rain barrels

Leave a watering can next to your rain barrels at all times and fill it up again every single time you use it (that's right—keep it full!). That way you'll have at least one bucket's worth of capacity to catch more fresh rainfall, and you'll have water at-the-ready to grab in a hurry. It's the best way to encourage consistent use!

If you use your water throughout the winter, you'll get continual refills as the rainy season goes on. You may be able to double or triple (or more!) your effective storage capacity (and your positive impact) by continually drawing down and recharging your system all winter long.

Want to build your own BlueBarrel System?

Visit www.BlueBarrelSystems.com to size and site your BlueBarrel SystemTM.

Then enter our Online Store to customize your RainKitTM and recycled barrels.

Check out our online photo gallery for inspiration, see what our customers have to say, and contact us if we can help you with your order as you get ready to collect winter's rains!

How to Winterize Rain Barrels

Image

Just in time for winter, we're here with tips on how to protect your rainwater catchment system (and drip irrigation gear!) from the frosty weather. Read on for three ways to winterize rain barrels, depending on your climate zone!

winterize rainbarrels snop-capped barrels
Snow-capped barrels! Photo courtesy of BlueBarrel customer Tom in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

How to Winterize Rain Barrels:

We serve customers all over the USA and Canada, so weatherization techniques will vary depending on your climate zone. (Click here for our nationwide network of barrel pickup locations.)

The general recommendation is to follow local protocols for outdoor plumbing in your region:

IF IT'S COLD...

In areas with light intermittent freezes (e.g. many parts of California), there may be no need to winterize at all. Water tanks, barrels, and even PVC plumbing lines will tolerate temperatures below freezing if the water doesn’t have time to freeze solid.

dripping faucet
A slow-drip can keep water from freezing short-term.

SPECIAL TIP: If your pipes are unprotected and you fear they'll freeze and break on especially cold nights, you can leave a slow-drip in the faucet or drain valve. Moving water requires much colder temperatures to freeze, so allowing a slow-drip will offer some protection. Just don't forget to shut off the tap when the sun comes out in the morning!

IF IT'S C-C-COLDER...

In colder climates, plumbing lines can be insulated with standard pipe insulation, available in hardware stores and home improvement outlets.

If you are insulating other outdoor pipes, it's probably a good idea to insulate the underplumbing on your BlueBarrel System, too.

Pipe Insulation

Standard pipe insulation can keep pipes from freezing.

IF IT'S C-C-C-C-COLDEST...

In areas that experience deep freezes (e.g. if you're ice skating on the local lake!), it is recommended to drain rain barrels and detach from downspouts during the coldest months of the year. To protect all parts from freezing temperatures, make sure all ball valves are fully drained as well.

We now have winter covers available under tools & accessories in our online store.* These will restore your downspout to normal function when you disconnect your rain barrels. Order winter covers along with a 1-12" twist plug (also available from our Tools & Accessories menu) to cap the exposed inlet hole in your barrel. Just don't forget to reattach in time to catch the spring rains after the danger of deep freeze has passed!

See BlueBarrel's Maintenance & Operations Manual for more details about weatherizing and maintaining your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment SystemTM.

*The winter cover is compatible with our current downspout diverters. If you ordered your RainKit after August 15, 2015, then it will be compatible. If you ordered before then, to disconnect your diverter, simply remove the inlet hose and plug the hole—both in the diverter and in your barrel—with the 1" Expandable Twist-Plugs, available in our online store.
rain barrel plug

1.5" Expandable Twist Plug caps the barrel inlet.

Winter Cover

Winter cover restores downspout when disconnected.

About Winterizing Drip Irrigation Systems:

Many of our customers pair their rain barrels with a gravity-fed drip irrigation setup—another one of our specialties! Of course we need to consider how to winterize drip irrigation systems as well. Drip irrigation line is more flexible than PVC and not quite as vulnerable to freeze damage. That said, all materials suffer over time with extreme weather exposure.

Rolling up and storing irrigation lines during your off-season will prolong it's life, but it may not be absolutely necessary.

At the very least, make sure your irrigation lines are fully drained if you're expecting hard-freezes. If your system has an obvious low-point (or points), you can drain the line from there. On a flat site, lift the line a few feet at a time until all water discharges at each line's end.

Whether or not you decide to roll up your line, if you are draining your rain barrels to prevent freeze damage (see above), you should also remove any ball valves, filters, and timers that connect to your irrigation line. Shake out any water, and store those for the season—the moving parts can get damaged if they contain water that freezes.

Gravity-fed irrigation systems are remarkably simple and don't usually include pumps, pressure regulators, or vacuum breakers, so you have less to worry about. But if you have a pressurized system with more bells and whistles, here's a resource from PennState Extension with full winterization guidelines for drip irrigation systems.

Want to build your own BlueBarrel System?

Visit bluebarrelsystems.com to size and site your BlueBarrel SystemTM. Then enter our Online Store to customize your RainKitTM and find recycled barrels for local pickup.

Check out our photo gallery for inspiration, and contact us if we can help you with your order as you get ready to collect winter's rains!

Rainwater Quality: Why Plants Love Rainwater Best

by Jesse (Froehlich) Savou, ARCSA A.P.

Rainwater quality is better for plants than water from any other source. Learn the four reasons why!

Imagine walking through your garden after a fresh rain. Thirsty plants doused in droplets fallen from the sky, their leaves expertly channeling moisture down stalks and into the soil—right to the root zone where it is needed most.

Greens are vibrant, and so are the color-pops of flower petals. The soil is moist and alive. This is a happy garden!

While it might not come as a surprise that there's no water plants love better than rainwater, do you know the four (4) reasons why?

Read on to learn about the water quality benefits of rainwater for garden. Listen to our podcast feature expanding on this topic and more!

Four Rainwater Quality Benefits

YoungPlantsLoveRainwater

Why is rainwater such a preferred water source? There is more than just one reason—in fact there are four!:

1. Rainwater is 100% soft water

Free of the salts, minerals, treatment chemicals, and pharmaceuticals that are found in municipal water, groundwater, and surface water, rainwater is pure hydration. Salts and chemicals build up in your soil over time and these residues are tough on plants. This effect is exaggerated in potted plants where the accumulation is more pronounced.

2. Rainwater is slightly acidic—naturally!

Green gardeners know that most organically grown plants prefer soil pH levels between 5.5 and 6.5. This is on the acidic side of the neutral pH 7, and by nature's design, it is the exact pH range for rainwater. City water, on the other hand, is treated to be alkaline to protect metal pipes from corroding, and can have a pH level upwards of 8.5. Greywater (once-used household water from a laundry machine, shower, or bathroom sink) will start with the same pH as your tap water, but can have a pH as high as 10.5 once it gets to the garden depending on the types of soaps and detergents that are in it. Irrigate with rainwater to flush out your soil and help keep your soil pH in perfect balance ongoingly!

 

3. Stored rainwater contains some organic matter

If collected from your rooftop, rainwater contains traces of organic material. While the water is very clean and should run clear, it has been exposed to anything on your roof. We're not talking about chunks (these get pre-filtered out on their way into properly-designed rain barrels)we're just talking about contact exposure to leaf litter, pollen, bird droppings and the like (which perhaps not surprisingly are great for your plants). A rain barrel hosts a beneficial biology to keep the water alive—literally. It's like a light application of fertilizer every time you water!

 

4. Rain contains nitrates—an important macro-nutrient

Rainwater contains nitrates, the most bio-available form of nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the three key macro-nutrients that plants need to thrive, necessary for the development of lush foliage. That said, many forms of nitrogen are not actually absorbable by plants. Nitrates, which are made up of nitrogen and oxygen, are formulated by nature for maximum uptake by your plants. Plants typically absorb most of their nitrates from the soil. And where do those nitrates come from? Rain!

Plants have very unique ways of gathering moisture from the air and delivering it to their root zones. Nature's design!
Plants have very unique ways of gathering moisture from the air and delivering it to their root zones. Nature's design!

On a personal note, before I discovered rainwater, I doubted I would ever be able to keep a house plant alive. I had somewhat better luck outdoors in the garden, but little did I know that the potted plants were really suffering from the salt, chemical, and mineral buildup of tap water. Then I learned about watering with rainwater.  Rainwater straight from my rain barrels into a watering can is what I use for my potted plants and nursery starts. A gravity fed drip line allows me to apply rainwater directly to my in-ground garden with no effort at all. And what a difference it makes. Suddenly I have a green thumb... but (shhh, don't tell.... rather, tell EVERYBODY!) : the secret is the water.

Plant health is just one of the many benefits of harvesting rainwater. Click here for a handful of great reasons to collect the rain that falls on your roof!

Podcast Features: 3 Lively Interviews With BlueBarrel’s Founder

A Garden Podcast for Listeners from Coast to Coast

Join hosts Mike O'Rourke and Scott Sandstrom of Your Midwest Garden Podcast as they enjoy a fun-filled hour with BlueBarrel's founder, Jesse Savou. The trio discusses the water quality benefits and legalities of collecting rainwater for thirsty gardens all over the USA. Listeners also get tips on how to plan a DIY rain barrel system, how to beautify rain barrels, and as a special bonus, a discount code for their first purchase at bluebarrelsystems.com!

Your Midwest Garden Podcast Show Graphic

Mike O'Rourke & Scott Sandstrom host casual conversations about gardening on the popular Your Midwest Garden Podcast. Enjoy fun and relaxed interviews with experts and DIY gardeners that will interest listeners from coast to coast. 

Run time 59 min.

Podcasts Highlighting BlueBarrel's 10+ Year Journey

BlueBarrel was featured in two sustainability podcasts in late 2022, highlighting interviews with our founder, Jesse Savou, as she reflects on the 10-year journey that began with BlueBarrel's unlikely inception in 2012.

Join hosts Izumi Tanaka of Home Green Homes and Neal Collins of The Regenerative Real Estate Podcast to learn about Jesse's journey to launch BlueBarrel, the values behind our business, and how our offerings have evolved to what's available to customers all over the USA through our website today.

Regenerative Real Estate Podcast Graphic

Neal Collins' Regenerative Real Estate Podcast features architects, developers, land stewards, farmers, philosophers, and community organizers who are pushing culture toward a more resilient future.

Run time 1 hr 10 min.

HomeGreenHomes Podcast Image

Izumi Tanaka's Home Green Homes Podcast invites a variety of experts in the world of green homes to have conversations about how we can all live in healthy, resilient and efficient homes. 

Run time 36 min.

Mask or Decorate Rain Barrels: 7 Ways to Beautify & Protect

There are two kinds of BlueBarrel customer (or so we like to say!): those who boast their blue, and those who's first question is how to mask, hide, or decorate rain barrels.

While we love it when people put their rain barrels on display in their landscape or balcony garden (what better way to inspire others to take eco-friendly action, right?) we do understand that blue barrels in the front yard aren't for everyone.

We're here with a handful of great ideas for decorating, masking, or blending your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™, inspired by our very own customers across the USA.

1. Creative Covers

By Laura | Fort Collins, CO

Laura's BlueBarrel System is a poster-child for Colorado, maximizing the 2-barrel per household limit in that state.

Wait, that's a BlueBarrel System? YES! Underneath the wood veneer is a classic 2-barrel BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™.

Wood strips are secured to pre-drilled plumber's tape, measured to wrap the circumference of each barrel.

Barrels masked with wood paneling

BlueBarrel's signature under-plumbing easily exits the bottom of the setup for full drainage, painted black to match the frame. A single hole near the the top of the wood veneer allows for the downspout diverter to handle inflow and overflow automatically.

Laura's system is also elevated on a stable foundation to provide more natural head pressure for gravity-fed drip irrigation.

Well done Laura!

By Greg | Farmville, VA

Would you know there's a BlueBarrel System in there? Indeed, Greg has artfully hidden a classic 3-barrel BlueBarrel System™ with a simple trellis.

With easy access to collect from an existing downsout and the perfect 2' footprint next to his deck, the trellis follows the contour of the home for a perfect use of this corner nook. The irrigation valve exits from the front for easy access to Greg's (hidden) stored water.

Around the corner, a 6-barrel system peeks out behind from behind a different kind of trellis. Plants will fill in to create shade and mask the barrels even more. The flexible underplumbed design is easily customized into double rows, and Greg can access the spigot and drain valve from outside.

Rain Barrel Cover
Trellis for rain barrels

By Linda | Sanford, FL

Linda got creative with an easy idea that anybody could implement at home. She says:

"This is one of the barrels in a 2-barrel system. I covered it in a tablecloth usually used for bar-height tables at outdoor weddings, put it under a table, then added trellises, and planted morning glory flowers. This is in the front yard, so I'm trying to camouflage it while also keeping the hot Florida sun off of it."

Linda points out that creating cover for your rain barrels provides the double-benefit of protecting your barrel(s) from sun damage (more on that under Excluding the Elements below!).

Covered rain barrel
"This is one barrel in my 2-barrel system. I covered it in a tablecloth, put it under a table, then added trellises, and planted morning glories. This is in the front yard, so I'm trying to camouflage it while also keeping the hot Florida sun off it."
- Linda | Sanford, FL

2. Artsy Archways

By Kathy | Windsor, CA

These handy homeowners recently expanded their system with a BlueBarrel Add-On Kit.

Says Kathy: "We had 3 barrels, but after a few years and droughts we recently purchased 3 more. It was easy to add on. Let it rain!"

Rain Barrels with Trellis

And they built an artful wooden trellis for screening, complete with a beautiful hanging glass orb. "It will look even better in a year when it’s had a chance to grow," adds Kathy, "milkweed and black-eyed Susans for the butterflies, and wisteria."

We can't wait to see this when its all grown in!

By Erica | Tallahassee, FL

Look at this garden paradise with a 9-Barrel BlueBarrel System neatly framed behind a lush planted archway. Erica also used an alternative (and artful) stone-wall foundation. With a nice thick mulch layer and gravity-fed drip irrigation from barrels to garden, this is a model water-wise landscape!

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

3. Posed with Plants

By Erik | Moreno Valley, CA

Erik placed his BlueBarrel System in the front yard and paid particular attention to curb appeal! The 9-barrel System is lined up along the curving front walkway and is softened by potted plants placed around and on top of the barrels.

White Rain Barrels for rainwater catchment

Erik also painted his barrels (more on that below), but the potted plants help to nestle the system and soften its look. Some customers surround their barrels with much larger plants such as potted citrus trees, or install behind trees and hedges.

Put up a trellis around your barrels and grow a vine as another vegetated approach to fully-masked barrels (see above!).

Erik did a number of creative things with his BlueBarrel Systems (he has three separate systems on his site for a total of 27 barrels!). Click here for a full tour of Erik's place.

4. Painted to Perfection

By Chandler | Lady Lake, FL

Painting is a simple thing that can be done to change the look of your barrels. Whether you paint to match the house, or just choose the color you like best, you can really exercise your creativity with this approach.

Decorative designs are also possible, but as of this writing, all the painted barrel photos submitted by BlueBarrel customers show solid colors. We look forward to new creative examples for this blog!

green painted rain barrels

In addition to the barrels, Chandler painted the PVC piping and the cinder block base.

By Melissa | Madison, AL

Melissa might win a stylistic award here with barrels painted to match the trim on her southern home. What an inviting garden scene!

BlueBarrel System painted white

By Chris | Independence, OH

Chris mirrored the architectural style of his home, matching the trim and stone wall material with his paint job. The ell-shaped configuration allowed him to maximize water storage space, in keeping with the rectilinear design of his home and landscape.

Painted BlueBarrel System

Says Chris: "I installed my 5-barrel system over the weekend and I love it!  I did an L-shaped configuration and am feeding downspout water from both ends; the entire system is interconnected. I can’t say enough great things about BlueBarrel. Both their product and service are second to NONE!"

By ShuShila | Fort Collins, CO

ShuShila did an amazing job with a decorative approach, in the style of Studio Ghibli & Natsume Yuujinchou. She also credited her partner TJ (and Mal the cat!) for their help with the heavy lifting.

PXL_20230604_154445433

Learn all about how to paint your rain barrels here.

5. Hidden under House

By Tim | Sebastopol, CA

These nine barrels are installed under the deck on Tim's country hillside property. With the ground sloping away under the house, there's plenty of clearance for barrels, and with garden beds even further down the hill, the outlet on this BlueBarrel System exits through the trellis-walls for an ideal gravity-feed setup.

Rain barrels under deck

Narrow side-yard corridors are another great out-of-the-way spot to hide a long line of barrels.

Full disclosure: Tim has another 10 barrels lined up in plain sight, so hiding barrels wasn't his primary motivation. But the under-deck provided another great space for water storage.

Tim used BlueBarrel's multi-row connection to double up on barrels—one of many customizations available to our customers.

By Trevor | Lembertville, NJ

Rain Barrels under deck

Five barrels full are the perfect use of the under-deck space at Trevor's place, providing high-quality irrigation water for the surrounding landscape through his gravity-fed drip irrigation system.

6. Excluding the Elements

By Shane | San Tan Valley, AZ

Yep, there's a 4-barrel BlueBarrel System™ in there!

Shane's system is appropriately shady for this sun-soaked desert region just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Desert climates get a lot of rain all at once with long droughts in between, so in addition to Shane's lattice surround with shade cloth cover, he installed an extra downspout diverter to collect from both ends. This will maximize capture when those rare monsoons come through!

Shaded rain barrels in Phoenix, Arizona

View our customer Photo Gallery for more pictures and details about Shane's desert-ready BlueBarrel System.

By Byron | Loranger, LA

And yet again, there's a 4-barrel BlueBarrel System™ in there!

Byron took it upon himself to protect his barrels from the elements.

Says Byron: "This is my finished assembly consisting of 4 blue barrels on a cinder block foundation and wrapped in double bubble ReflecTix (in Sun all day) with two spigots and piping allowing add on barrels. The BlueBarrel System is well engineered and I recommend this system to anyone who wants garden water or spare emergency water."

Insulated Rain Barrels

7. BONUS: Boast your Blue!

By Randy | Sacramento, CA

With a streamlined, uniform look, many of our customers don't mind keeping their BlueBarrel Systems in plain sight. Even an Eichler-inspired home can benefit from the adornment of rain barrels, as Randy shows us here!

With a set of rain barrels next to each downspout, the clean lines and fresh paint on the house combine with the regularly-spaced vertical massing of the barrels for a clean, architectural look.

A talking-piece for every backyard barbecue!

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

We've featured front-yard installations in some of our other posts as well.

What better way to inspire ecological action than to let everybody see your water system at work!

blue barrels in front yard

How to Measure Downspouts for Rain Barrels

BlueBarrel specializes in DIY rain barrel systems. We're here to help you with customized rain barrel solutions, from rooftop to garden, and everything between!

In the rainwater harvesting world, gutters and downspouts together are known as the “conduit system,” along with the downspout diverter that takes your plentiful roof runoff into rain barrels or tanks.

You may want to use our rainwater calculator to see just how much rainwater your roof will generate. This article focuses on the more specific detail of how to measure your downspouts for a tight-fitting downspout diverter.

Understanding Downspout Diverters for Rain Barrels

A well-designed downspout diverter is the key piece that takes water from your downspout into rain barrels. BlueBarrel's specialty rain barrel system includes a diverter that handles system overflow automatically as an additional benefit.

If you're not familiar with downspout diverters, you may want to read this article first:

Which is Which: Gutters vs. Downspouts

Schematic showing labels for roof gutters (running horizontally) and downspouts (running vertically)

Now that you're ready to measure, let's define our terms. It's common to mix terms when referring to gutters vs. downspouts. When measuring for your diverter, it's the downspout you need to measure.

Gutters run horizontally across the bottom of each roof segment.

Downspouts run vertically and bring roof water to the ground. Keep reading for how to measure them.

How to Measure Downspouts for a Rainwater Diverter

Downspout sizes in crossection

We carry downspout diverter kits for 2" x 3" and 3" x 4" rectangular downspouts, and round downspouts between 3" and 4" in diameter.

This covers most standard residential and industrial sizes. These sizes are depicted here in cross-section; these are the dimensions you need to measure.

Please note these sizes are nominal, and your measurements may not match these dimensions exactly. From our experience, plastic downspouts are more likely to measure true to size. A metal 2" x 3" downspout may measure closer to 1-3/4" x 2-3/4". This is okay. Our flex-fit diverters will still work in their respective nominally-sized downspouts, despite the quarter-inch variance.

That said, if you are installing new downspouts specifically for your rain barrel project (or if you are replacing the lower half of your downspout to install a leaf eater) plastic material is the easiest to work with, and will give your diverter the tightest seal.

Where to Insert the Downspout Diverter

BB_Wheretoinstall

If you have rectangular downspouts, make sure you measure to know whether you need a 2" x 3" or a 3" x 4" diverter head. These are the most common sizes in residential and industrial settings, respectively.

Although other sizes are rare, we do occasionally see 3" x 3" downspout material. If this is what you have. you can order the 2" x 3" diverter. In all of these scenarios, the diverter will insert into the 3" wall of the downspout, as shown above and below.

The 2" x 3" diverter head inserts into the 3" side of the downspout.

The 3" x 4" diverter head also inserts into the 3" side of the downspout.

The round diverter head flexes to seal inside downspouts between 3" and 4" in diameter.

DIY Gutters and Downspouts: Everything You Need to Know

At BlueBarrel, we specialize in DIY rainwater catchment systems. Gutters and downspouts are an essential part of the drainage system on any home. They are also necessary for efficient collection of rainwater.

In the rainwater harvesting world, gutters and downspouts together are known as the “conduit system,” along with the downspout diverter that takes the plentiful roof runoff into rain barrels or tanks.

For those who like to tackle their own home projects, this article combines a variety of resources for DIY gutter installation, repair, and maintenance.

But first, a few definitions:

Which is Which: Gutters vs. Downspouts

Schematic showing labels for roof gutters (running horizontally) and downspouts (running vertically)

Gutters vs. downspouts: It's common to mix these terms, but it's important to know which element you're talking about when planning a rain barrel system.

Gutters run horizontally across the bottom of each roof segment to catch water running off the roof.

Downspouts are the vertical elements that bring this water to the ground. They either release it onto the landscape, or into a drain pipe.

Installing Gutters and Downspouts

Whether you're building a new structure, or living in a home that doesn't yet have gutters and downspouts, this is a project you may consider doing yourself. This is a simple way to save money on an important home project, so let’s take a look at the process for DIY installation.

Our friends at Next Modular have provided a how-to guide for standard gutters and downspouts, including materials needed, and site prep:

Cleaning Gutters

well-designed rain barrel system is a low-maintenance addition to your garden. Keeping your gutters clean is the most important thing you can do to keep your inlet screening from clogging. For a self-cleaning system like The BlueBarrel System™, gutter cleanout is virtually the only maintenance the system will need.

If you're not a fan of getting on the roof, take these tips from the experts at Frazier Roofing. Learn how to clean gutters without a ladder!:

Repairing Gutters and Downspouts

If your gutters leak, it will limit the amount of water that gets into your rain barrels or tanks.

Repairing your own guttering may seem like a daunting idea but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Not with these tips from our friends at Bespoke Guttering, anyway:

How to Divert Roof Water Into Rain Barrels

Now that you're ready with gutters and downspouts (thanks to our expert roofing and guttering collaborators!) our team here at BlueBarrel can help you with your rainwater harvesting project. Browse this very site for all you need to know about DIY rain barrels.

A well-designed downspout diverter is the key piece that takes water from your downspout into rain barrels. BlueBarrel's specialty design includes a diverter that handles system overflow automatically as an additional benefit.

Read all about downspout diverters for rainwater harvesting:

One Rain Barrel or Many? Single vs. Multi-Rain Barrel Systems

As a company specializing in multi-barrel rainwater catchment systems, we often get asked: Why can’t I order just one barrel in my rain barrel system? 

The short answer is, you can. But it's a different setup, and therefore a different ordering process. This article covers the pros and cons of single rain barrels vs. connected rain barrel systems, and how to order the right solution for you. 

The BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™

Multi-Barrel Rain Catchment Systems

The BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ is our trademarked, flagship design—the one we're famous for! It is a modular, multi-barrel rain catchment system made from repurposed 55-gallon barrels. The system is plumbed together from underneath using our custom-packed DIY RainKits™, creating one large-capacity storage unit out of separate barrels.

With this uniquely advantageous design, all barrels in the system fill and empty simultaneously. This means the entire system only needs one downspout connection and one outlet (though you can customize with extras of both).

Because the underplumbing is a linking mechanism, the minimum size for taking advantage of the benefits of this design is two barrels. The the maximum size is, well, unlimited.

Our DIY RainKits are versatile and customizable. Users can customize kits for up to four systems at a time, with up to 30 barrels per system in our interactive online store. You can also choose from three downspout diverter sizes, or no diverter. You can start with a couple barrels and order an Add-On Kit later. Customize further from our accessories menu on the way to checkout. We include easy-to-follow, photo-illustrated instructions, and we have step-by-step how-to videos just for our RainKit customers.

Visit our Online Store and select one of the RainKit™ options if you want a complete, multi-barrel system!

Single Rain Barrels

For those who simply want a single rain barrel, we carry the DIY Rain Barrel Kit - Single.

Because this is a pre-packaged product and not user-customized, it is available on our Accessories Menu.

This off-the-shelf kit can be used to turn just about any barrel into a rain barrel. It includes a downspout diverter, and  spigot and drain valves that are installed directly into the barrel (rather than as part of BlueBarrel's bottom-draining, underplumbed design). It also includes all necessary installation tools and instructions. 

Pros and Cons

We are partial to our multi-barrel set-up. And not just because it can hold more water. The system is totally modular, flexible, and portable (when empty). Since it’s plumbed underneath, you can drain every inch of capacity—no pesky water festering in the bottom of your barrels at the end of the irrigation season! For a more detailed list of benefits, please view our About The BlueBarrel System™ page

Here is a quick visual comparison of the features and benefits benefits of single rain barrels vs. BlueBarrel's multi-barrel rain catchment systems.

Single vs Multi rain barrel system features

HOW TO ORDER WHAT YOU NEED

The (Multi-Barrel) BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™

To build a multi-barrel BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™, you will need a BlueBarrel DIY RainKit™, and you will need compatible barrels. Luckily you can find all of that right here on this site!

First, decide if you want to order your RainKit™ with Barrels all from BlueBarrel, or if you want a RainKit™ without Barrels (meaning you'll source compatible barrels elsewhere). 

If you purchase our RainKit with barrels, your RainKit and accessories will ship to your doorstep, and you’ll claim unmodified barrels from one of our participating barrel suppliers across the USA. You get to select your preferred local pickup location as part of the ordering process. When you purchase a RainKit, we discount the barrels automatically from full price.

If you plan to supply your own barrels for our RainKits, you need to make sure they are compatible. Check out the compatibility requirements.

Once you add your RainKit(s) to your order, you will see a list of tools required for installation. RainKits do not include tools because you may have many of them already. We list them clearly on our accessories menu so you can easily add what you need:

  • Bung Wrench
  • Pipe Cutter
  • Drill Bits (7/8” & 1-1/16”)
  • Hole Saws (1-1/2” & 2-1/8”)

You will also need to pick up two items at your local hardware store. We have found its cheaper and easier for you to pick these inexpensive items up locally, rather than for us to ship them. Sourcing these items locally also allows you more control over customizable elements like your foundation and barrel spacing:

  • 3/4” PVC Pipe (2.5’ per barrel)
  • Cinder Blocks 8" x 8" x 16" (2 per barrel)

The Single Barrel Option

To order a Single Barrel Kit, start on our Accessories Menu. Add the quantity you’d like, and add any additional tools or accessories you’d like, and proceed all the way through the checkout to complete your order. 

This kit does not include a barrel. If you want to order a barrel from us as well, you will need to place a separate Barrel Order. This will not cost you any extra, as barrels do not have a shipping or handling fee.

The DIY Rain Barrel Kit - Single includes the tools needed for installation: A set of Hole Saws. There are 2 exceptions, and we carry both tools in our Accessories Menu.

  • If you have metal downspouts, you will need a 2-1/8” Hole Saw for Metal
  • If you purchase one of our barrels, we recommend a Bung Wrench to easily open and re-seal your barrels.

The DIY Rain Barrel Kit - Single comes with a 2” x 3” downspout diverter. Since these are pre-packaged kits, these diverters can not be substituted. If you need a different size, we sell 3”x 4” and Round diverter heads separately in our Accessories Menu.

Decide What's Right for You!

We home this article helps you understand the difference between our single and multi-barrel rainwater catchment system offerings.

If you now want to understand how many barrels will work best for you, we have user-friendly online tools for calculating how much rain you can catch, and how much water you might need. We also have a skilled customer service team at the ready to help, should you need it. Check these out, and when you’re ready, you can place your order and start collecting that precious rain!

 

Article contributed by BlueBarrel's Kelly Nichols.

Clean Gutters Without a Ladder

Collecting Rain? Use a Leaf Eater!

Here at BlueBarrel, we specialize in DIY rainwater harvesting solutions. A well-designed rain barrel system is a low-maintenance addition to your garden. Keeping your gutters clean is the most important thing you can do to keep your inlet screening from clogging.

Before seasonal rains begin is the best time to flush out your gutters. Use a leaf eater for a more robust pre-filter.

Enjoy this short video (filmed on gutter cleanout day!) to see just what a leaf eater can do, and then read below for more tips on how to clean those gutters without a ladder:

And now, about cleaning those gutters...

Most of us dread getting on the roof to clean gutters. Steep roof pitches can be especially scary for those of us who don't like heights.

But gutters are an essential part of the drainage system on any home. And further, clean gutters are necessary for efficient collection of rainwater. In the rainwater harvesting world, gutters and downspouts together are known as the “conduit system,” along with the downspout diverter that takes the rain into your rain barrels, rain tanks, or cisterns.

This article contains tips for how to clean your gutters without climbing up a ladder! The following information has been supplied from our friends at Frazier Roofing:


 

The last thing most of us want to think about when it comes to maintaining our homes is the gutter system. Yet, we force ourselves to give those gutters some attention for fear of water damage caused by considerable clogs. But you don't need to spend money to hire someone to clean the gutters, and these days, you don't even need to get up on a ladder.

If you’d rather keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, here are some tricks that will leave you with clean gutters and less money leaking from your checking account.

 

Gutter Vacuums

Gutter Vacuum

A gutter vacuum is one inexpensive way to clean gutters.

You can either purchase an attachment that connects to a shop-vac or leaf blower with a reverse function, or you can go completely DIY by making one out of tubing and duct venting.

Gutter vacuums will allow you to run along the length of your home sucking up any leaves and debris that are light enough to be caught up.

 

Gutter Tongs

Gutter TongsIf your leaves are wet, or if you have caked debris lining the base, a gutter vacuum may not be strong enough to do the trick.

Try using gutter cleaning tongs (there are several types on the market).

This tool will allow you to grab heavier debris like wet leaves by pulling a string to operate the tongs.

It may be slow going, but if a ladder isn’t your thing, this could be a safer bet.

And hey, you may just be the first on your block to try it!

 

Gutter Flush

Clean Gutters with Hose

A messier option, but one that does not take a whole lot of precision, is a gutter flusher. It's a high powered hose on an extension pole that sends leaves on their way through the sheer force of water.

Warning: you may get a bit wet in this endeavor. But if you don’t mind that, and if you don't live in a drought-prone area, then this may be a good choice for you.

 

Gutter Cover SystemGutter Cover Systems

Another option, with a small upfront investment, may save you the headache of cleaning your gutters at all ever again.

A gutter cover system like Gutter Helmet or Gutter Glove, covers the gutter while still allowing rainwater to pass through.

 

The Good Ole-Fashioned Ladder

Woman Cleaning GutterIf none of these options are appealing to you and you feel you must go up on that ladder, take the proper precautions before venturing up to the roofline.

Make sure your ladder is set on solid footing and have someone with you to help keep it secure. Take your time and proceed slowly.

Always keep three points of contact on the ladder. This means you may have to move more slowly just using one hand to clear your gutters, but safety should be your first priority here.

Garden gloves are also a must. Gutters can be a mucky mess, and sharp debris such as pine needles can wreak havoc on bare hands.

Ready for the next step in DIY gutter maintenance? Check out our blog on gutter repair tips!

Best Roofing Materials for Rainwater Harvesting

By Jesse Savou, ARCSA A.P. / ASSE 21110 & 21120 Certified. Last updated September 23, 2022.

Urban Rooflines

If you're thinking about rainwater harvesting (also known as roof-water harvesting!), you may be wondering about the best roofing materials for rainwater collection. Whether you're working with existing conditions, or spec-ing out a brand new roof, we've got expert advice for you.

The good news is *most* roofing materials are perfectly suitable for rainwater harvesting. While metal roofing or plastic sheeting (e.g. greenhouse roof) has the highest collection efficiency, most other surfaces are also a-ok. There's just a short list of rooftop surfaces that rainwater harvesters should avoid. Read down the list for info on roofing materials for rainwater harvesting.

Standing Seam Metal

If you're installing a new roof for the purpose of collecting rainwater, standing seam metal may very well be your best choice. A high quality enameled roofing material that is easy to clean, standing seam metal offers the highest collection efficiency available.

The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) advises that "standing seam roofs, powder coated or enameled, Galvalume (zinc + aluminum alloy) with non-toxic baked or enamel finish are appropriate for potable use with non-toxic finishes and appropriate components, tanks, and post-tank treatment."

metal roof for runoff
If you're designing from scratch, standing seam metal may be the best choice for rainwater harvesting.

While it isn't the most affordable material out there, think about standing seam metal even for a garden shed or outbuilding. You can fill a 55-gallon barrel with less than single inch of rain falling on a 10' x 10' surface, so don't overlook those outbuildings when you think about opportunities to collect and store rainwater on your site. Check out our rainwater calculator to see how much water you can collect off your roof.

Corrugated Metal

Corrugated metal also makes an efficient collection surface, but there is a precaution:

Most corrugated material is galvanized, which will leach some zinc into the rainwater. Many people collect from galvanized roofs with no problem, but this is something to be aware of. Collect a sample of rainwater and use a home test kit or send it to a lab to make sure zinc levels are below allowable limits. Zinc is an herbicide, so even if you won't be drinking the water, you'll want zinc levels to meet that standard to avoid hurting your plants.

corrugated metal roof water

HINT: Check out the spot where your downspout currently drains (or where rainwater releases from your galvanized roof). If the plants are dead in the spot where the water hits the ground, it may be a sign that zinc levels are high enough to impact plant growth. Consider coating the rooftop to keep zinc from leaching into your water. (See below for details on roof coatings.)

Asphalt Shingle / Bitumen / Composition Shingle

Got asphalt shingle (like most of us do)? Not a problem! Asphalt is inert, and generally safe for rainwater collection. That said, the adhesives used for installation are worth a mention. These adhesives do most of their off-gassing within a year of installation, and virtually all of it within three years, so if you have a brand new asphalt shingle roof (also known as composition shingle), you may wish to avoid irrigating edibles for the first few years. Are you going to be drinking the water? All potable systems must include treatment anyway, but send a sample to the lab to see what you need to treat for.

asphalt roof for rainwater
Most homes are topped with asphalt shingle. Generally speaking, it's safe to collect from this material, and to irrigate edible plants with your collected water.

Folks often wonder about the gravel bits found on asphalt shingles / composition shingles. Make sure you have inlet screening on your tank! BlueBarrel's DIY RainKits and diverter assemblies include this. A Leaf Eater will do the trick for extra robust screening.

Concrete Tile or Clay Tile Roofs

Clay and concrete tiles have lower collection efficiency than other roofing materials, simply because the tiles are porous and absorb so much water. This doesn't mean you can't harvest off them, though. With 623 gallons of high quality water available from a single inch of rain falling on 1000-square-foot surface, even an 85% collection efficiency (estimated for clay tile) will give you a lot of high quality water. Concrete tile may leave you with alkalinity in your water, but this isn't necessarily a problem. A simple home test kit will allow you to measure your pH.

clay tile roof for rainwater catchment

Solar Panels

Eco-conscious homeowners may be interested in solar panels as well as rainwater harvesting. The good news is solar panels make a wonderful collection surface, Water will roll off them nice and smoothly. While the water may also come into contact with your native roof surface, the solar panels will shed water cleanly. If adhesives are used for installation, it may be worth collecting a sample to see if there are toxins in the water.

solar panel roof ok for rainwater catchment

Other Materials

Slate tile, painted tile, plastic sheeting, the list goes on and on. Most rooftop surfaces are just fine for rainwater harvesting. There are just a few roofing materials you should avoid...

 

Materials to Avoid

So what kinds of roofing materials do we need to watch out for when it comes to rainwater harvesting? Luckily the true black-list is short:

  • Cedar Shake: Wood shingles are usually treated with fire retardants. This probably isn't something you want in your water. Have a sample tested to be sure. This water may be suitable for irrigation.
  • Copper: The lucky few who can afford copper roofs may already know that copper is naturally resistant to algae/moss growth because it is an herbicide. Copper will leach into your rainwater, so if using for garden irrigation, copper isn't an ideal choice.
  • Lead: Lead flashing is still available in some parts of the USA so test for lead if you're harvesting for drinking water.
  • Biocides: Some rooftops are treated with biocides. Zinc- or copper-treated shingles are common in the Pacific Northwest to curb mold, moss, and algae growth on the roof. If you're harvesting for irrigation, make sure your biocide levels are low enough not to hurt your plants. (Check the spot where your downspouts drain onto existing landscape to get a sense of whether biocides are concentrated enough to harm the grass or other plants in that area.)

Roof Coatings

Elastomeric paints are specialty roof coatings specifically for rainwater harvesting. While the material isn't cheap and multiple coats are often required, this could be something to consider, especially for rooftops that aren't otherwise safe to collect from. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) provides a list of approved roof coatings for potable rainwater catchment systems.

*All water collected for potable use (e.g. human consumption) must be treated to meet drinking water standards.

roof coating for rainwater catchment
Rooftop coatings exist just for rainwater harvesting, and can be used to make an otherwise-unsuitable material harvestable.

When in Doubt...

When in doubt collect a sample and send it to a lab to know what you're up against.

If you're collecting for potable use, you'll need to treat the water anyway, but it's essential to know what's in it to begin with to know what kind of treatment is most appropriate.

If you're collecting for garden irrigation (like so many people do!), you don't need to worry about organic pathogens... it's just the herbicides you need to look out for. You'll get a good hint about whether your water contains herbicidal compounds by paying attention to where your roofwater currently falls (e.g. where your downspouts release, or where the water falls from your roofline). If the plants in that area are dead, you may want to think twice. Otherwise, harvest away!

Thanks for reading Part 1 of our roofing materials series. Sign up for our email list to get blog alerts!

DIY Hydroponics in a Barrel

DIY Hydroponics...in a Barrel!

“DIY Hydroponics in a Barrel”  is a follow-up to “DIY Aquaponics in a Barrel”. Both “barrelponics” articles are part of our ongoing series covering DIY barrel-conversion projects.

DIY rainwater catchment systems are our specialty. But once you’ve built a BlueBarrel System™️ (or two, or three!), there are still plenty of other ways to upcycle 55-gallon blue plastic drums. (See our other posts for DIY compost tumblers, floating docks, and even a boat!)

Whether you have limited yard space, are interested in water-conscious growing, or are simply looking for a fun alternative to traditional soil-based gardening, hydroponics—in a blue barrel, of course–may be the project for you!  

hydroponios benefits

image source: Fix Blog

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants without soil. 

A quick refresher on the basics of gardening and agriculture: in addition to sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, plants rely on soil (air/water/minerals/organic matter) to support root structure and nutrients for growth. 

 

hydroponics

/ˌhīdrəˈpäniks/

The process of growing plants in nutrient solutions—water + mineral nutrients—without the use of soil.

 From Greek:  hydro- ‘of water’ + ponos ‘labor’ + -ics

 

Hydroponics eliminates the need for soil by providing nutrients (mineral and organic) through a growing solution (water + nutrients). Sometimes an inert medium like sand or gravel is utilized to support root structure. Alternatively, a plant may be suspended in a solution without the need for soil-like stabilization.

Hydroponics: variations on a theme

There are various methods under the larger umbrella of hydroponics. Many require a pump, drip lines, and/or an aerator, plus an electricity source to keep these devices going. If you’re looking for a more involved DIY hydroponics project, check out this cool aeroponics in a barrel tutorial (as pictured below).

Instructions for this "aeroponics" lettuce barrel can be found here 

The Kratky method or "plant in a barrel"

These basic barrelponic methods are suited to beginners and expert growers alike. One of the simplest is the Kratky method, named for Bernard Kratky, a researcher at the University of Hawaii. This passive hydroponics approach requires no water circulation (no pumps or electricity), offering a one-and-done approach to feeding and watering the plants. 

Here is a basic rundown of the Kratky method:

  1. Fill a barrel with water (rainwater, if you have it, plants prefer it!).
  2. Add liquid nutrients (such as fish fertilizer).
  3. Place a bare root plant (e.g. a lettuce plug with the soil removed) into the barrel, suspended above the water and with roots touching the water. You can use the existing bungholes (see tomato pic below) or cut a larger reservoir into the top of the barrel for inserting plants. 
tomtoes growing in hydroponics barrel

tomatoes growing in 55-gallon a barrel using the Kratky Method

Check out the “Gardening with Leon” video below for more specific Kratky barrel techniques and nutrient solution recipes. With many resources and videos on DIY hydroponics, we hope this blog inspires you to check them out and start growing from blue barrels!

best plants for hydroponics

image source: Fix Blog

Spanning the Distance: Inlet Hose Extension for Rain Barrels

What if you can't place your BlueBarrel System™ right next to a downspout? You may even need to turn a corner or bypass a fence or walkway. This article provides a guide for spanning the distance between your downspout and rain barrels by extending the inlet hose.

The Standard Inlet Hose: A Briefing

A red BlueBarrel System? Indeed barrels can be painted. Search our blogs for tips on painting and other beautification techniques! (Photo courtesy of BlueBarrel customer Jeff in Helotes, TX)
A red BlueBarrel System? Indeed barrels can be painted. Search our blogs for tips on painting and other beautification techniques! (Photo courtesy of BlueBarrel customer Jeff in Helotes, TX)

When it rains, water flows through the downspout, is intercepted by the downspout diverter, and directed into the barrel through a flexible inlet hose.

Our standard inlet hose, included with the downspout diverter kits in our online store, is an accordion hose that extends up to 31", or 2.5'. If you want to place your BlueBarrel System™ at a further distance from a downspout, we have easy options for extension!

Tip: With BlueBarrel's unique underplumbed design, you only need to access one barrel with the inlet hose. All barrels in your system will fill from the bottom with a single inlet! 

Inlet Hose Extension for Rain Barrels

If you need to span a distance longer than 2.5' from downspout to barrel, we have longer inlet hose available by-the-foot in our online store. Order the number of feet you need, and we'll cut you a custom length. The material is easy to cut at 1' intervals. If you need more than one inlet hose extension for rain barrels, enter the total number of feet you will need to service all systems.

A longer hose can sag, however, so read on for ideas on how our DIY customers have supported their hose extensions for success!

Anchored Extensions

Inlet Hose Extension for Rain Barrel

Here is a classic example from Hilleary in Santa Rosa, CA. A couple of C-shaped pipe hanger straps anchor the inlet hose extension to the wall to keep the hose level.

long inlet hose for rain barrel

Greg in Farmville, VA routed his extended inlet hose along the edge of a deck to reach his 6-barrel BlueBarrel System around the corner. With the deck to support and vegetation to shade and protect the hose, a loose anchor next to the downspout does the trick to hold things in place.

Rain barrels with supported inlet hose

This creative example is from Gayle in Boerne, TX. She used standard PVC pipe and fittings to craft a pass-through tee to support her inlet hose.

Covered/Encased Extensions

wall-anchored inlet hose

With an air conditioning unit between his BlueBarrel System and downspout, Erik in Moreno Valley, CA used a similar approach, but added some standard pipe insulation. The sponge-like insulation protects the inlet hose both from sun and from abrasion with the hanger straps. See more creative ideas from Erik's place here.

PVC extends the inlet hose. The pipe is pitched away from the downspout and anchored to a wall.

In this example, Stephen in Lawrence, CT has encased his inlet hose extension inside of standard 1.25" PVC pipe. This serves the dual purpose of holding the hose steady, and keeping it protected from sunlight. He connected PVC ells to a short pipe segment to turn a corner. He then anchored the pipe extension to the siding using a combination of plumber's tape and pipe hanger straps.

Rain barrel hose extension

Danny in Palo Alto, CA also used PVC to encase a very long run. Danny has three BlueBarrel Systems collecting from four different downspouts at his place. Two of his four downspout connections required an extension. The other two are standard.

Supported Extensions

supported inlet hose extension

Byron in Loranger, LA offset his BlueBarrel System from the wall, so he needed to be creative in supporting the inlet hose extension into his rain barrels.  He employed a lightweight wooden furring strip to support the hose from underneath. Zip-ties secure everything in place.

Custom downspout for rain barrels

This beauty was submitted by Georgann in Montara, CA, showing an extended trellis to bring the downspout over a walkway. She says: "Success! My husband installed our 10-barrel system in a day. He added a gutter over the path to feed into the downspout. Genius!"

Pass-Through Extensions

The following solutions exemplify the creativity of our customers! Sometimes you have to navigate distance or a corner, and sometimes you hit a wall, so to speak!

inlet hose under deck
Trevor-LambertvilleNJ

Trevor in Lambertville, NJ tucked his BlueBarrel System beneath a deck, but had to navigate around timber cladding to connect with a downspout. In order to keep the inlet hose level, he bore a hole in the wood, with the same hole saw used to create the inlet hole in the downspout. On closer inspection, you'll notice that he used copper to trim the inlet configuration! Fine craftsmanship, Trevor.

Mary-LarkfieldCA
Mary-LarkfieldCA 2

A number of our customers have placed a System alongside their house, tucked behind a fence or gate. This is a great solution for utilizing narrow spaces on your property. Mary, in Larkfield, CA, lined up eight barrels discreetly behind a fence, but the nearest downspout was on the other side. Much like Trevor, Mary used BlueBarrel's hole saw to bore a right-sized hole in the planking to ensure the inlet hose would run horizontally from the downspout to the first barrel's inlet.

We love learning from our customers and sharing their DIY tips and tricks with fellow BlueBarrelers! Check out our blogs below for more customer customization ideas. And browse our customer reviews and photo gallery for yet more examples of BlueBarrel Systems across the country.

Free Rain Barrel Maintenance Webinar

Do you know how to properly maintain your rain barrels to make the most of them?

BlueBarrel's founder, Jesse Savou, teamed up with the LA Stormwater Program to present a webinar covering everything you need to know about rain barrel maintenance.

Join us from the comfort of your home and press play to learn something new, and have some fun!

About this Webinar: Rain Barrel Maintenance

Whether you’ve only recently installed a rain barrel, are just thinking about it, or are a rainwater harvesting expert, join us to learn how to properly maintain your rain barrels so you can continue to save water, money and the environment!

This webinar is presented by rain capture system design expert Jesse Savou. Jesse graduated from Stanford and earned her master’s in Ecological Design at the Conway School. After building her first rain catchment system as an AmeriCorps project, Jesse launched BlueBarrel in 2012. Jesse earned her professional accreditation from ARCSA, and has kept current as an ASSE 21110/21120-certified Rainwater Catchment System Designer & Installer. With her immense knowledge of rainwater harvesting, she will take you through everything you need to know about proper rain barrel maintenance and answer any questions you may have!

 

Webinar Outline:

10:30 am - Introduction

10:40 am - Presentation by Jesse Savou, BlueBarrel

11:25 am - Live Q&A Session

11:45 pm - End

BlueBarrel in the News!

Rainwater Harvesting: it's catching on!

BlueBarrel was recently featured in this news segment! Bay Area residents, and indeed our customers all over the USA, are catching on to the benefits of rainwater harvesting in any climate.

Watch the short (3min) video below to learn more about rainwater harvesting from BlueBarrel's founder, Jesse Savou, as she demonstrates the many benefits of a BlueBarrel System™.

Bay Area residents use harvested rainwater amid dry spell

The Bay Area is experiencing a historic dry spell during what is typically the rainiest part of the year. More homeowners are turning to rainwater catchment systems to turn a few days of rainfall into a year-round safety net. KTVU's Emma Goss reports.

The Bay Area is experiencing a historic dry spell during what is typically the rainiest months of the year. More homeowners are turning to rainwater catchment systems to turn last December's rainfall into a year-round safety net.

In Santa Rosa, Jesse Savou owns and operates BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems, one of the leading rainwater catchment system retailers nationwide. She started the business in 2012, and saw business double in 2020 and continue to steadily grow over the past year.

"It's been our busiest January," Savou said, noting that homeowners in the Bay Area as well as other regions of the country are adopting rain harvesting systems in their homes.

The Bay Area hasn't seen measurable rainfall since the first week of January. The brief but heavy December rains easily filled Savou's 20 rain barrels in her backyard.

"What people don't realize is, even a little bit of rain is going to fill a system," Savou said.

BlueBarrel systems connect to the downspouts of a home. Savou also connects some of her barrels directly to an irrigation system, and can fill up her watering can too. The water is safe to give to pets, garden with, or use to wash a car. The more water Savou uses this winter, the more capacity she will have to refill her system the next time it rains.

"Every single inch of rain that falls on a 1,000 square foot roof is going to give you over 600 gallons of high-quality rainwater, to put that in perspective that will fill 11 of these 55-gallon barrels."

"Every single inch of rain that falls on a 1,000 square foot roof is going to give you over 600 gallons of high-quality rainwater, to put that in perspective that will fill 11 of these 55-gallon barrels.

The Sonoma Ecology Center has created a garden park, demonstrating to the public how rainwater harvesting works.

Steven Lee, a senior scientist and research program manager at the Sonoma Ecology Center utilizes a 70,000 gallon rainwater catchment system to keep his five acre Glen Ellen farm hydrated during the dry months. Still, he's concerned about Sonoma's low water levels.

"In this year that we're in now, we are having a pretty bad year that came on top of a pretty bad year," Lee said, noting that the dry January and February has put Sonoma in "dire straights," though there's a chance to recover if rain comes later this spring or in the fall.

For much of the Bay Area, water levels are near levels they were last year, low enough to bring counties and water districts to enforce or recommend water restrictions.

In January, San Mateo County's Flows to Bay outreach program distributed dozens of discount rain barrels in San Carlos. San Mateo County offers a range of rain barrel rebates as high as $200 depending on the size of the system.

"Rather than having that water run down the drain and become a source of pollution where it can pick all kinds of contaminants and pollutants in the roadways and the storm drain infrastructure itself, you can make that water a resource rather than a waste and put it to good use at the same time." said Reid Bogert, the Senior Stormwater Program Specialist for San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program,

The cities of Santa Rosa and Santa Clara offer rain barrel rebates too. Savou recommends interested homeowners check with their city, county, and local water district to find out if rebates are offered, noting that harvesting rain water can help bring down water bills, too.

"It's really what nature intended for water," Savou said. "For it to be getting back into the ground, rather than it flowing away through all this pavement we've been putting all over the place."

man with rainbarrels
Jesse_madelocal_barrels

Ready to get started?

Beginners can get started with just a few barrels and add on gradually. You can surprise yourself with just how much water is available when prepared to collect it, even in drought years. You will get over 600 gallons of high-quality irrigation water with every single inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square-foot roof surface. It's easy to size and site your System, and our easy-to-follow instructions and videos make this a great project for DIY-ers looking to conserve water in the landscape. Plus, your plants will thank you!

Creative Rain Barrel Foundations for BlueBarrel Systems

The BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ is the result of many years of R&D. We tinkered until we got it just right, so there's no guesswork for our customers—just a system that works. Of course, as a customizable DIY kit, there is plenty of room for tailoring your BlueBarrel System to your space, and to your taste! We’ve shared plenty of creative customizations over the years. This article covers alternative rain barrel foundations for BlueBarrel Systems submitted by our clever DIY customers all over the USA.

The Standard Rain Barrel Foundation

Firstly, the standard BlueBarrel System foundation begins with a level gravel base. Each barrel is rests on 2 parallel cinderblocks; the under-plumbing sits in the gap between the two rows of cinderblock bases (see diagram below).

System sketch
man with rainbarrels
BlueBarrel customer Terry set up a standard foundation for his BlueBarrel System.

Creative Rain Barrel Foundations for BlueBarrel Systems

Over time, some of our customers have come up with their own foundation adaptations, most often to elevate the system. The main reason for elevating a rain barrel is to increase head pressure for a gravity-fed drip irrigation system, another one of our specialties! If you want the base of your system above 24” (the height of 3 cinderblocks), a custom platform is your best option.

Raised Platforms

Please note a 55-gallon rain barrel weighs nearly 500 lbs. when full. While BlueBarrel loves sharing inspiration from our DIY customers, the custom foundations featured here are not our design. If you attempt a custom platform solution, make sure you build it to local specifications and standards, or work with a professional suited to the task! You may also want to consider how to strap rain barrels for safety.

Wood platform 1:

Thomas built individual wood frames for his purple-painted 3-barrel system in Connecticut. He began with a level gravel base. Next, he placed concrete footings to secure the platforms and keep the heavy barrels from sinking the platform legs into the gravel and earth beneath it. On top, he used BlueBarrel's standard cinder-block layout that allows for under-plumbing the barrels. And, Thomas chose a lovely purple paint color—for the barrels and cinderblocks—to coordinate with the home’s exterior. Nicely done!

barrels platform purple
purple barrels
Wood platform 2:

Steve used a similar approach—including a classy custom paint job!—for his 4-barrel system in Washington. He left out the cinder blocks, and instead drilled through the wooden base for the underplumbing. In this setup, the barrels are placed directly on the platform. Additionally, Steve stained the wood platform to match the storage shed the system is connected to (yes, even a small storage shed roof can fill a system—find out how much you can collect from your rooftop with our nifty rainwater calculator!)

***please note: it is necessary to use pressure treated wood to help prevent rot and moisture damage over time.

4 barrel platform green
Metal platform:

Laura raised her 2-barrel system up significantly by placing crafty wood-clad barrels on a metal platform, artfully maximizing Colorado's 2-barrel-per-household limit. And, yes, this is a BlueBarrel System: the barrels are hidden beneath wood strips, the underplumbing is painted black to match the frame, and the addition of a brass spigot completes the look. Read more about Laura's system, and other strategies for masking your BlueBarrel System here.

clad barrels platform

Custom Block Wall

Erica built a decorative block wall foundation for the 9-barrel system in her Florida garden. Instead of the standard two rows of evenly spaced cinderblocks, Erica constructed 2 parallel walls (about 18” in height) with room for the under-plumbing in the gap. She placed the barrels in groups of three, leaving space between each grouping to access the plumbing when needed.

block wall florida

Distributing the Weight

Shane made a smart and simple modification to the foundation for his 4-Barrel System in sunny Arizona. He used an additional row of cinderblocks for extra height, plus a capstone on the top and bottom of each tower. Not only do the capstones add additional height for his gravity-fed irrigation system, they distribute the weight of full barrels over clay-heavy desert soils. This is a smart move to reduce settling over time. Another climate-inspired move is the lattice shade that Shane built. More on that here!

rain barrel foundation, cinder blocks

More Customizations: Share Your Creations!

We love hearing from our customers and are delighted to see creative customizations for the Bluebarrel System™. Don't hesitate to share your own DIY ideas with the BlueBarrel community...please send photos and videos to info@BlueBarrelSystems.com.

The Act of Harvesting Rainwater: an Interview with Jesse Savou

This Q&A with BlueBarrel's founder and owner, Jesse Savou, is republished from the original article by Jess D. Taylor in the May/June 2021 issue of Made Local Magazine. Read the full article here.

An interview with Jesse Savou + MadeLocal Magazine

jesse savou bluebarrel

Jesse graduated from Stanford and earned her master’s in Ecological Design at the Conway School. After building her first rain catchment system as an AmeriCorps project, she launched BlueBarrel in 2012. 

JDT: Brifely explain the process of rainwater harvesting

JS: Rain barrels allow you to collect your roof-runoff for use in the garden (and other non-potable uses). Water that would otherwise be bound for the storm-drain gets diverted into barrels using a simple downspout diverter.

JDT: Why do it?

JS: So many reasons! It’s good for the environment: helps conserve water, reduces storm-water impacts, and builds soils (if used in the garden). A full outline of environmental benefits can be found on our website. Other benefits include reducing water and sewer bills, emergency preparedness, a healthier garden (rainwater is the highest-quality water available for plants), and the great feeling of accomplishment that comes with sourcing water on-site and tuning into nature’s flows.

Jesse_madelocal_barrels copy

"People believe we don’t get enough rain to justify harvesting in dry climates. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, a long dry season is a very good reason for storing water when it does rain."

JDT: What is one surprising thing you’ve learned?

JS: Just how easy it is. BlueBarrel ran a customer survey a couple years ago and most folks said the installation was easier than they’d thought. People are also surprised by how quickly the barrels fill. A lot of them come back to add more barrels once they see the kind of flow that’s available.

JDT: And one common myth you’d like to dispel?

JS: Many people believe we don’t get enough rain to justify harvesting it, especially in California and other dry climates. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, a long dry season is a very good reason for storing water when it does rain.

Historically, rainwater harvesting was the only way desert communities survived, before society developed energy-intensive methods for pumping and transporting water over long distances. So while rain barrels are re-emerging as an environmental trend, rainwater harvesting is not new. It’s an ancient technique learned from indigenous communities of the Southwest, and many others worldwide, because in fact, rainwater harvesting is a benefit in any climate.

A single inch of rain falling on a 1,000-square-foot roof surface will generate more than 600 gallons of the highest-quality irrigation water. To put that in perspective, it’s enough to fill 11 (yes, eleven!) 55-gallon rain barrels. At my home in Santa Rosa, I have a string of eight barrels collecting from one downspout, seven from another, and three from another, and I could collect so much more.

Jesse has created a number of how-to videos that walk DIYers through the BlueBarrel install process and explain the many benefits of rainwater harvesting. 

"Many DIY-ers have the experience of researching and installing and then the first time it rains, the water shows you exactly what you did wrong."

"That's when I realized the value that BlueBarrel could bring as a business. We tinkered until we got it just right, so there's no guesswork for our customers. Just a system that works."

JDT: One challenge or mishap you overcame?

JS: It took a lot to figure out an optimized inlet/overflow solution in the beginning. Many DIY-ers have had the experience of researching and installing and then the first time it rains, the water shows you exactly what you did wrong. That’s when I realized the value that BlueBarrel could bring as a business. We tinkered and tinkered until we got it just right—so there’s no guesswork for our customers. Just a system that works.

DIY Aquaponics in a Barrel

DIY Aquaponics...in a Barrel!

We love a good upcycle project featuring 55-gallon blue plastic drums (see our other posts for DIY compost tumblers, floating docks, and even a boat! Not to mention our flagship BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™️).

The latest project we’d like to share with you is a DIY aquaponics system...in a blue barrel, of course! But first, a brief introduction to aquaponics.

Aquaponics: The Cycle
Image source: Fix.com Blog

What is Aquaponics?

The term itself is a combination of aquaculture (the cultivation of aquatic organisms—e.g. fish—in a controlled aquatic environment); and hydroponics (the cultivation of plants in nutrient solutions—water + mineral nutrients—without the use of soil).

 

aquaponics

/ˌäkwəˈpäniks,ˌakwəˈpäniks/

A system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.

 

Fish and plants form a symbiotic relationship in an aquaponics system. As fish release biological wastes into the water, plants take in the nutrients through their roots while simultaneously purifying the water for the fish. In other words, the fish make the fertilizer and the plants clean the tank (see infographic above).

Barrelponics: Aquaponics in recycled barrel(s)

Much like the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, a barrelponics system can range from just a couple of barrels to an infinite number connected together. 

Australians seem to be especially knowledgable about aquaponics and water conservation projects in general, so we've highlighted a few Aussie projects relevant to DIYers around the globe. Enjoy this photo tour to get inspired!

barrels for aquaponics
Image from backyardaquaponics.com
multi barrel aquapoincs
A more complex multi-barrel system from backyardaquaponics.com
aquaponics with 55 gallon drums
Another fun example of a custom aquaponics set-up using blue barrels.

Aquaponics: fun for the whole family

We hope this post has inspired you to delve into upcycling blue barrels into fun projects like a DIY aquaponics system. You can give yourself credit for saving plastic barrels from the waste stream and growing plants sustainably. Plus, it's a pretty cool science project and garden activity for kids and adults alike!

To conclude, we offer this very informative how-to DIY aquaponics video from Rob in Australia. Learn about the tools and parts needed, as well as the steps for building a "chop and flip" style DIY aquaponics system from blue barrels:

Build a Floating Dock with Plastic Barrels

Our DIY Rainwater Catchment System is just one way to upcycle 55 gallon blue plastic drums. We’ve seen many creative uses over the years—including a DIY composter. And when they’re not holding water or tumbling compost, empty barrels make a great base for a floating dock or even a DIY boat! Read on to learn how to build floating docks with used plastic barrels.

Getting Started: How to Build a Floating Dock

A quick web search will result in many methods for building a floating dock from barrels. Whether you choose to go for a simple solution or complex custom design, the basics will include:

  • recycled 55 gallon blue plastic drums (make sure to get "tight-head" drums with no removable lid)
  • treated lumber for the frame and platform
  • fasteners (ranging from bungee cords to bolts)

A floating dock can be anchored to the land via a stationary platform or other landing for attaching the dock to so it doesn’t float...away. Alternatively, you can anchor the dock with cinder blocks or other weights, but this may not work in deep water or fast currents.

build floating dock
This sturdy upcycled barrel dock is ready for life by the water!
A dock in the making! Click the image to visit the DIY blog.
This longer dock extends far into the water. Click the image for the DIY video.

Blue Barrel Boats

Why stop at a stationary floating dock? If these barrels float (and they really do!) why not turn that platform into a pontoon party boat?! There are many fun examples of barrel boats to look at for inspiration. Here are a few to get your imagination going…

Platform boat with picnic table and umbrella built with blue barrels.
Belly up to the beach with this picnic boat sighted in Australia.
This pontoon is great way to upcycle barrels and get out on the water.
This pontoon is great way to upcycle barrels and get out on the water.
Fishing boat? Party boat? The possibilities are endless! Make it your own.
Fishing boat? Party boat? The possibilities are endless! Make it your own.
A blue barrel boat built for two. Click the image to visit the DIY blog.

Find Used Barrels Near You!

Barrel docks and boats are a great way to pluck 55-gallon drums from the waste stream and utilize them creatively. There is an island of plastic trash floating in the ocean...let’s try to upcycle and float some of it responsibly! 

Here at BlueBarrel, we connect people with local recycled blue barrels throughout the US. Visit our website to find barrels near you and to learn more about creative ways to upcycle them.

Virtual Garden Tour: See a BlueBarrel System Demo

Join us on the Eco-Friendly (Virtual) Garden Tour:

Thinking of adding a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ to your landscape? Curious about the ins and outs of a harvesting rain on your property? This video—part of an eco-friendly virtual garden tour series—is a great opportunity to view a live demo of a BlueBarrel System. Jesse will show you around her home garden and explain the process (fairly simple) and benefits (many!) of rainwater harvesting.

Three separate rain barrel systems collect from the downspouts of the 1,350 square foot home in this residential neighborhood. These include: an interconnected 3-barrel system, 7-barrel system, and 8-barrel system. This amounts to a total of 18 barrels and 990 gallons of water storage tucked discreetly along the sides of the house. And with continual drawdown and recharge during the rainy season, the total water savings is substantial. Jesse estimates it is upwards of 3,000 gallons annually, especially when there are dry-stretches between rainstorms.

virtual garden tour: bluebarrel near house
vegatable garden

Ready to get started?

Beginners can get started with just a few barrels and add on gradually. You can surprise yourself with just how much water is available when prepared to collect it, even in drought years. You will get over 600 gallons of high-quality irrigation water with every single inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square-foot roof surface. It's easy to size and site your System, and our easy-to-follow instructions and videos make this a great project for DIY-ers looking to conserve water in the landscape. Plus, your plants will thank you!

Take the Full Virtual Garden Tour!

Many thanks to the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership for producing the 2021 Eco-Friendly Garden Tour with 14 high-quality virtual tour-stops! This tour features gardens in northern California, but many of the eco-friendly gardening techniques (ahem, rainwater harvesting!) are universal. Join us from wherever you are, at your convenience!

Blue Barrels for Habitat Restoration

We're proud to see BlueBarrel Systems™ all over the map and love hearing from customers the world over who have installed their own unique systems. The Oikonos Bird Sanctuary on the Island of Año Nuevo provides an especially interesting setting for a BlueBarrel System. Read on to learn about their shorebird conservation project and how they utilize rainwater catchment to support habitat restoration.

 Año Nuevo: A Bird Sancturay

Content provided by Rozy Bathrick, BlueBarrel customer and project ecologist at Oikonos

For about 80 years, Año Nuevo Island was an active Coast Guard station, occupied year-round by lighthouse and foghorn operators until these tools were mechanized. The island is still recovering from the ecological damage caused by human occupancy during that time: displaced wildlife, introduced species, and the removal of native plants. 

Oikonos has been monitoring the seabird population at Año Nuevo Island and improving habitat for the last 28 years. Seven species of seabird breed on the island, including two rare species of auklet which are puffin relatives. The island is also home to four species of pinnipeds that haul out on the beaches and raise their chicks on the shores. 

Screen Shot 2021-01-05 at 1.25.25 PM

Islands free of invasive predators and human activity are extremely rare, making Año Nuevo highly desirable for tens of thousands of individual birds and seals. At just nine acres of area, this means lots of spatial competition and specific habitat needs within a small space. Oikonos works to improve habitat for seabirds without compromising the area’s value as a seal rookery. 

map of año nuevo island

The name Oikonos is derived from Greek and Latin roots and is pronounced “oi·kô·nôs.” The literal translation of “oikos” is home. The root “konos” is derived from the Latin “cognoscere,” which means to recognize, learn, inquire or examine. Hence we define Oikonos as ecosystem knowledge.

Rainwater Harvesting

Until recently, there was an old cistern on the island used to collect fresh rainwater. It was built by the coast guard and functioned for over 150 years(!) until it finally began to leak in 2018. 

There is no natural source of freshwater on the island, and all of the materials and water are carried across the 1-km channel in a small, inflatable boat. We installed a BlueBarrel System in 2019, utilizing the roof of the old foghorn building (the current field station). 

Rozy and a helper installing a bluebarrel system
Rozy and a helper installing a BlueBarrel System on Año Nuevo

It filled up over the winter while the ocean conditions were too challenging to visit the island, and provided four full barrels to water freshly planted saltgrass, dune grass, and beach burr. These plants will continue to stabilize soil and reduce the erosion on auklet burrows.

Habitat Restoration

birds on island

Over the past 10 years, Oikonos has innovated restoration methods to improve the "central terrace" of the island—a one-acre area with the highest density of seabird nesting. 

Auklets raise their chicks in long, underground burrows that they dig with their sharp toenails. The biggest risk to their nesting success is soil erosion causing burrow collapse, which can cause death of adults or chicks. 

Around the central terrace is a sea lion exclusion fence, designed to prevent sea lions from entering the seabird habitat and crushing these burrows. Within the fenced area, volunteer groups have planted many native plants and installed biodegradable erosion control fabric. Both these techniques help stabilize soil and improve the success of nesting auklets.

In collaboration with California College of the Arts, Oikonos designed ceramic artificial nests shaped like auklet burrows that provide completely safe nesting habitat within the central terrace.

ceramic brid nests
CCA students with the ceramic nests they designed
Shorebirds enjoying their island sanctuary
Shorebirds enjoying their island sanctuary

Learn more about Oikonos’s habitat and restoration work at Ano Nuevo Island here

 

We love being inspired by our customers’ real-life BlueBarrel stories. Whether for the backyard garden, for an exciting project like Rozy’s, or anything in between, please click here to send us your notes from the field!

Rain Barrel Overflow Solutions

This article explores methods of diverting the overflow from a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™. Our downspout diverter automatically directs rain barrel overflow down through the existing downspout without any effort, but there’s so much more you can do with that valuable resource of excess water. Read on for multiple sustainable rain barrel overflow solutions, to transport, infiltrate, and store that precious rainwater!

You've Got Your Rain Barrels - Now What?

So you’ve installed a BlueBarrel System and you're all set to collect the rainwater that cascades off your roof. Collecting rainwater in barrels or tanks is referred to as active rainwater harvesting. You’ll see the water level in your barrels going up and down as you use water from the system and fresh rain fills it back up.

But what happens with excess water when your barrels are full? Rain barrel overflow gives you an opportunity for passive rainwater harvesting. Passive rainwater harvesting simply means collecting rainwater in the ground, allowing it to infiltrate. You can do this with a variety of techniques that I'll delve into in this article. 

Both passive and active rainwater harvesting are excellent for the environment. The main difference is active rainwater harvesting allows you to store water for irrigation and other uses. Passive rainwater harvesting simply directs water back into the ground to hydrate soils and recharge groundwater, as it would do in nature.

You may realize you could add more barrels to your setup. Even after doing your roof calculations it is hard to believe just how much water accumulates in a brief rain shower! But even so you will have overflow, so let's look at the best ways to deal with it:

rain garden example
This planted, rock-lined swale is a great example of passive rainwater harvesting in the landscape.   Photo courtesy of the Kitsap Conservation District.

Designed for Overflow

Even in arid regions, your barrels will reach their capacity and overflow. You get over 600 gallons of high-quality irrigation water for every single inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square-foot rooftop. Just to give you an idea, that’s enough to fill 11 standard 55-gallon barrels... for every single inch of rainfall!

Our overflow-handling downspout diverter is one of the most brilliant parts of the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System design. It shifts the flow of water from the barrels and directs it back down the existing downspout automatically when the barrels are full. In other words, any time your rain barrels are full, rainwater will flow out as it did before you had a BlueBarrel System. 

 

Downspout Diverter system overflow
A BlueBarrel downspout diverter.

How Downspouts Work

Before we talk about utilizing this precious overflow of rainwater, it helps to understand how your downspouts work in the first place. This is because the BlueBarrel System allows your downspouts to function as normal after barrels fill.

Note and Caution: BlueBarrel is very unique with our built-in overflow solution! Many systems require you to cut your downspout. This also requires you to invent a safe and effective overflow solution. Otherwise, you will be left with uncontrolled runoff at the base of the rain barrel, which can jeopardize nearby building foundations.

Remember, your home probably has multiple downspouts (one or more for each stretch of roofline). Each one may utilize a different method for directing overflow away from the foundation. Some common methods include:

system overflow downspout drop off into grass
downspout plastic tray
downspout connected to pipe
Downspout drop-off: Your downspout just ends where it meets the ground (perhaps with an elbow and short extension). The water is left to pool and infiltrate in situ. Ideally, the ground slopes away from a building, but it’s never a good idea to create a wet-zone near a building's foundation.
Splash block or flexible drainpipe: A 2’ tray or a segment of flexible plastic pipe carrying water that much further from the end of the downspout. These often empty onto a lawn or other planted area. A slightly better method than the drop-off, these direct water further from the foundation, preferably towards a permeable surface where it can infiltrate.
Built-in drainage system: The downspout connects to underground drainage pipe, carrying overflow to the street or into your household wastewater system. This method keeps water away from your foundation, but carries this precious resource all the way to the municipal water works where it will be treated with wastewater and sewage. This vital infrastructure is often overwhelmed during rainstorms, leading to issues with runoff control and combined sewer overflow.

Rain Barrel Overflow: Slow it, Spread it, Sink it

Slow it, Spread it, Sink it (and Store it!) is a popular mantra amongst water stewards. This is a sustainable contrast to the modern water systems’ standard: Pump it, Pipe it, Pollute it. 

Ideally, you want to direct rainwater away from buildings while keeping it on your property as long as possible (slowing the flow). This encourages water to spread across the landscape and infiltrate (sink!) into the ground.

Why is infiltration important? Infiltration is the vital link in our global hydrologic cycle that hydrates plants and soils, and recharges groundwater underfoot. 

The planted, natural, permeable surfaces surrounding your home are likely able to accommodate the average rainfall. Soil acts as a sponge, and plants soak up water through their roots. However, the non-permeable surfaces on your property—including roofs and pavement—prevent infiltration. They shed water and create unnatural amounts of runoff. If your property has a high ratio of impermeable (roof, driveway, patio) to permeable surfaces (gardens, gravel) you will want to direct the course of runoff into the permeable areas in an effort to slow it, spread it, and sink it into the ground.

You can increase permeability on your site by tearing up hardscape where you are able. Dig basins and swales (which can be beautiful!), to give water a place to sink into the ground. See the infiltration basin diagram below for further details on their ecological benefits.

When you slow the flow of water it is more able to permeate the land and percolate through layers of earth. A fast-moving stream will continue flowing downhill (think: gutters, street curbs, rivers), but if you can intercept this stream in a flat wide basin in order to spread the water out across a larger, permeable surface area, it will then be able to sink back into the ground.

infiltration basin example diagram

A Better Place for Overflow to Go

Your rainwater catchment system is a great way of intercepting roof run-off and distributing it throughout the green spaces around your home. But your garden (and Mother Earth) will get maximum benefit if you direct the overflow to permeable ground that can infiltrate excess water. This way, you combine active and passive rainwater harvesting techniques. Below are some options for managing and utilizing rain barrel overflow.

Taking cues from a Riverbed

We have seen many creative overflow handling systems form BlueBarrel's own customers. Bill, of Pelham, NY, lined an infiltration channel with gravel and river rock. The channel carries his rain barrel overflow away from his house and downhill towards a larger gravel-filled depression. The larger basin serves to infiltrate just about all of the water coming from this downspout. 

rain barrel overflow catcment drainage
A passive inflitration set-up form a BlueBarrel customer in Pelham, NY.

Remember, because BlueBarrel's downspout diverter handles overflow automatically, Bill's two rain barrels will fill first. When they are full, excess water course down his downspout, through the drainpipe, and into the rocky channel.

Rocks and gravel are especially useful for slowing the flow of water and are an attractive alternative to perforated pipes. As an added bonus, Bill's adjacent flower beds will benefit from the rainwater percolating into the ground near the roots.

Rain Gardens

This method uses plants to uptake and infiltrate overflow and runoff. Let’s say you were to use Bill’s method, above, to channel overflow downhill and away from the house. In this version, however, the water is directed into a shallow basin filled with specially selected plants. An ideal rain garden plant palette includes species that tolerate wet feet (after a rainstorm when the basin fills with water) and can also withstand dry periods (between rains when the basin dries out). Rain gardens usually have their own overflow system (because sometimes when it rains, it pours!). This may be an outlet that directs overflow further downhill and/or an elevated overflow drain that is piped away from the rain garden. 

Expert tip: Rain gardens and infiltration bases should sit at least 15' away from building foundations. Ask your local Master Gardeners for a regionally-appropriate rain garden plant list!

Rainwater Storage 

If you live in a dry climate or are particularly attuned to the benefits of rainwater for your plants, you may be wondering: why can’t I hold onto that precious rainwater? Well, you certainly can. Our Add-On Kit allows you to easily add more barrels to your existing BlueBarrel System, increasing your holding capacity. But what if you’re maxed out and you just don’t have room for more barrels near your downspouts? Or what if you simply want to store some water in a more convenient location (e.g. closer to your garden, rather than right next to the house)? 

You might consider building a non-roof-tied BlueBarrel System in a more convenient location (contact us to special order your kit without a downspout diverter). You can then pump water from one system to another to free up capacity in the barrels that fill fastest, increasing your capacity for stored rainwater. 

A beautiful Monterey Bay rain garden example  from green-gardener.org.
Add on additional barrels to your existing BlueBarrel System for extra rainwater storing capacity.

 

But I must end by affirming, no matter how much storage capacity you install, expect overflow. The earth is our biggest water tank, and allowing rainwater to infiltrate into the ground to hydrate soils, activate the rich microbiology that lives there, and recharge groundwater is the absolute best way we can steward water onsite.

 

Article by Olivia Loughrey, BlueBarrel staff writer, MS ecological design.

How to Make a Composter

To Compost or not to Compost?

If you are reading this article you are likely already convinced of the many benefits of composting, so we’ll start with inspiration for how to make a composter out of (you guessed it!) a blue plastic barrel

If you’re completely new to composting, we’ve included some tips below for how to create your own “black gold.” Compost is a rich, regenerative resource made from kitchen and garden scraps, naturally!

hands with compost
Compost: it's called black gold for a reason!

How to Make a Composter

A compost set-up can take on many forms from a free-standing mound on the ground to a fancy, pricey compost contraption with all the bells and whistles.

Our suggested composter at BlueBarrel? Well, a blue barrel, of course! 

A 55-gallon recycled plastic drum is an ideal receptacle for composting, and with a few DIY modifications you can build a rotating, aerating, compost-making tumbler of your own. (And, yes, we can help you find recycled barrels near you.)

There are many custom designs out there for a rotating DIY composter. Whether you re-use materials on hand, or make a trip to the hardware store, the basic design elements include:

Elevation:

A frame elevates the barrel off the ground and supports the rotation pole. An elevated composter also allows you to place it on a deck or patio—a great option for urban composters!

Rotation:

A rotating pole and optional handle or crank is the key to keeping your compost in motion. Tumbling the compost incorporates newly added materials while aerating the mixture and accelerating the aerobic decomposition process.

Ventilation:

Drill holes into the drum to further aerate the mixture. Holes can be screened if they’re large enough for debris to escape. 

Access: 

A hinged door for adding ingredients and accessing the finished product. This is also an entry point for water—an essential ingredient in any compost recipe. 

Example DIY Composter

barrel composter

Here is one example from BlueBarrel customer, Andrew, of Columbus, Ohio. A simple wood frame provides elevation for easy rotation and allows for convenient deck placement right outside the kitchen door. 

Can you identify all of the above elements in Andrew’s home composter design?

Click here for a similar example, including a step-by-step from Instructables.

We love learning about all the creative ways our customers use our recycled blue barrels. Thanks for sharing, Andrew!

This is actually a great case-study in “upcycling,” or repurposing used items into something of even greater use.

How is that for a great segue into compost itself, which re-imagines kitchen and yard “waste” as a valuable resource for nourishing any garden. Because we know there is no such thing as waste in nature’s design.

Getting Started with Composting

Compost enthusiasts may find the process and its results magical, but composting is not magic, just nature. In other words, anyone can do it! Below is a brief introduction to the best practices and benefits of composting...have fun and good luck!

Reduce waste and utilize your organic “trash” to make “black gold” (a.k.a. compost!)

You’ve got the coffee grounds, the vegetable peels, the grass clippings, and the fallen leaves so don’t go shipping them off to the landfill! Keep this organic matter on site and turn it into food for your garden—the ultimate in upcycling.

Don’t have a garden per se? Scatter finished compost on the lawn, beneath trees, or in your neighbor's garden...share the wealth, it is black gold, after all. 

 

Browns and Greens

There is a method to this magic and it has to do with proportions and ingredients. The millions of micro and macro organisms breaking down the organic matter into compost have some requirements: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen. Accordingly, the organic matter should include a mix of carbon-rich "brown" materials and nitrogen-rich "green" materials (check out the handy Browns and Greens list below for details.) A very basic approach to proportions is 2 parts green to 1 part brown. Water can be added as needed to keep the mixture moist, and the tumbling action and ventilation holes introduce oxygen to the process to keep those hard-working organisms happy. 

 

There is no wrong way to compost

Are there better methods than others? Sure.

Again, a well-aerated and turned pile with the right combination of brown and green materials will result in hotter, faster, and more “standard” compost (i.e. that earthy, crumbly black gold). But the recipe for aerobic decomposition (the biological process transforming your scraps into compost) is as easy as organic waste + air + water. You may have to tinker with your recipe and make adjustments over time, but the organic matter will break down, and you can be proud that you’re sending it back to its rightful home, completing the cycle of nature. 

 

Make your plants happy(er)

Adding compost to your garden increases the organic matter in the soil which improves soil structure, increases beneficial microorganisms, and provides essential nutrients for plant growth. Decomposed organic matter is one of the original fertilizers provided by mother nature and it works, naturally! Since we are a rainwater harvesting company, may we also add that rainwater is another amazing and natural way to make your plants happy

compost infographic on carbon and nirtrogen
from Stacey Murphy and GrowYourOwnVegetables.org

Article by Olivia Loughrey, BlueBarrel staff writer, MS ecological design. 

DIY Files: Flora Noble Installs a DIY Rain Barrel System

We love hearing from our customers about their DIY rain barrel experience. This post was submitted by Flora Noble Plant Studio in Milwaukee, Oregon: a full review of their experience installing a two-barrel BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System.

The Flora Noble Story: Installing a Rain Harvesting System

Setting up a rain harvesting system has been on our garden to-do list for a while. Collecting rain water has many benefits including reducing stormwater runoff, water conservation and lowering of water bills in drought months.

Our online research found many DIY rain barrel setups that are affordable but not very easily expanded. Pre-made systems were more expensive and similarly inflexible. If we’ve learned anything in the garden it’s that the best plans are the ones that can be adjusted as we go!

Using a rain calculator to work out the amount of water runoff from your roof is a good place to start but the size of your system will depend a lot on rainfall and the water needs of your yard. We’re starting with a two barrel system that can hold up to 110 gallons and adjust as needed.

DIY Rain Barrel System
spoiler alert: the finished BlueBarrel System

On Board with BlueBarrel

We ended up going with California-based BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems as a good mix of DIY and pre-built. BlueBarrel sells upcycled plastic barrels and a kit (the DIY RainKit™) with the pieces to construct their system. New barrels can be added easily if needed. We purchased a full system including the barrels (paid up front, picked up at local supplier) + the materials and tools we didn’t have. These were all available via BlueBarrel's website, making it super convenient and one less trip to the hardware store, win.

plastic blue barrels
upcycled food-grade barrels
how to Install a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System
DIY RainKit™ supplies and instructions

Because of the current demand the supplier was weeks out on barrels. We contacted BlueBarrel and they quickly found us a new supplier. Fast and responsive customer service!

The barrels were cleaned, as in their former lives they were filled with agave syrup. An area near the downspout was prepped and leveled.

Tyler prepares a level foundation for the cinder blocks
Tyler prepares a level foundation for the cinder blocks

Weekend Warrior: DIY Rain Barrels

With all the tools and materials in place the process was very straightforward. It took Tyler two evening sessions to set up and put together our DIY rain barrel system, so this is a perfect weekend project, in between sips of beer or your refreshment of choice.

One trip to the hardware store was needed for pipe and cinder blocks.

Since it's summer now, we’ll have to do an update on how the system holds up during the rainy season. So far the testing we’ve done has been positive, and we’re excited to be able to use rainwater for plants and ducks very soon!

man Install a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System
a duck near a bluebarrel rainwater catchment system
Epilogue: The ducks approve of the new BlueBarrel System!

Guest Blog: An Interview with BlueBarrel Founder, Jesse Savou

Watch the conversation with BlueBarrel founder Jesse Savou and Gabrielle Reed of "Finding Country".

Slow it, Spread it, Sink it:

Anyone can build an independent water supply

By Gabrielle Reed, managing editor at the homesteading blog, Finding Country

Jesse Savou, the founder and owner of BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems, says DIYers come to her company for a simple, but effective way to collect and store rainwater. The unique online retail store specializes in rainwater catchment systems made from recycled 55 gallon plastic drums.

During a stint with AmeriCorps, Jesse worked with a community farm in Novato, California, about 30 miles from San Francisco and surrounded by thousands of acres of nature preserves. The farm needed a 1500 gallon rainwater catchment system, but on a budget, so no pricey materials or fancy equipment would work for the job.

An organic fertilizer producer out in the country held her saving grace: fields of barrels as far as the eye could see. She asked the owners if they’d be willing to donate those otherwise underutilized barrels and they were more than happy to have her take them off their hands.

Blue Barrels and Beyond

Now, Jesse Savou's company, BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems, partners with plastic recyclers, food producers, and other manufacturers across the country to source standard food grade barrels so she can replicate the design she created for the farm for others who are interested in saving water.

“The principle of rainwater harvesting is that you are catching the water that is falling off of your roof,” Jesse said.

With just 1,000 square feet of rooftop surface, you can generate over 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on it.

A BlueBarrel customer and his custom-painted System

A Step Towards Self-Sufficiency and Sustainability

In Tennessee, we get an average of 54.7 inches of rain a year, which translates into approximately 32,820 gallons of water we have the potential to collect off the same 1,000 square-foot surface. That means a family of four could get more than 10 gallons per person per day for daily water usage and have enough water leftover for an 800 square-foot garden like the one belonging to local homesteader Nicole Sauce.

Nicole has lived on a 3.2 acre homestead for 14 years. For the sake of self-reliance, she has developed a system that allows her to take control of her water supply and quality.

It helps that she has a year-round spring at the base of a hill on her property, which she has pumped into a storage tank that then circulates that water to her house. Although she could connect to city water, she hasn’t hooked up to it for several reasons including superior water quality, cost savings, and the instability of public utilities in rural areas.

For Jesse Savou, however, rainwater harvesting is a step towards both self-sufficiency and sustainability. She’s from a drought-prone area with long, hot, and dry summers. In developed areas, much of the landscape has been paved over so that water washes off the surface and collects pollutants before getting dumped into waterways.

“What would the water be doing if your house weren’t there?” Jesse asked. “It would be falling on plants and bare soil, infiltrating into the ground, and recharging the groundwater.”

It’s a principle she refers to as “slow it, spread it, sink it,” and it’s a natural process we as humans can encourage through rainwater catchment.

“Without hardscape, that is what water would do,” Jesse said.

Whether the prospect of saving more money or the idea of controlling your water source and quality appeals to you, a water catchment system is a core piece of crafting a more self-sufficient lifestyle.

If you’re in an apartment or on multiple acres of land, you can start saving water and using it more efficiently today.

Take a Step Forward:

Beginner to Extreme Levels of Water Collection, Storage, and Purification

 

Beginner
Pick a number of days as a goal (we recommend 7 days to start) and store one gallon per day per person. Devise a way to catch rainwater, even if it’s as simple as a pan on a deck railing. Use the water to wash ceramic dishes and metal utensils, clean your floors, flush your toilets, do your laundry, and water plants (if you have any). The water you catch will be non-potable, so avoid drinking it at this stage of your learning.

 

Intermediate
Try only using your stored water for a week for all your non-potable water needs, as listed above in the beginner section. Determine how many gallons are needed per person per week for these purposes based on your experiences from the 7-day experiment. This is your new goal.

For collection, build a rain barrel.

Jesse Savou reminds beginner rainwater collectors to focus on basic infrastructure first. Do you have gutters and downspouts you can pull the water into one place from?

You also need a surface, like a rooftop or even a shed, to collect rainwater off of. Lastly, you need stable and level ground to place your rain barrel on.

If you are renting, contact your landlord and ask for permission before installing a rainwater catchment system.

 

Advanced
Store enough water for all of the non-potable uses for one week (washing dishes, cleaning non-food surfaces, laundry, gardening, etc.) and add 7 gallons per square foot of garden space you have or hope to have.

Nicole stores water in half gallon glass jars.

“Four gallons suffice for this purpose and I keep them in the house, but there are as many gallon stores as we have glass containers and this number grows each month,” she said.

Your rain barrels should be able to collect enough during an average month’s rainfall to meet these needs. Figure out how much water you can collect off of your roof with this handy rainwater catchment calculator. Buy a portable water filter.

 

Extreme
Lastly, consider storing water for consumption. Trent Nessler, managing director of Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville, recommends as a general guideline that people consume a half ounce to one ounce of water for every pound of body weight. Calculate how many ounces of water you and your family might need based on this guideline and add that amount to your storage goals.

Find out the longest period of drought in your area. This number multiplied by the daily amount of water your family needs for consumption, cleaning, showering, and gardening is your total storage goal.

Unless you have access to running water outside of the municipal supply, make sure you can collect enough from a roof. Create a catchment system to provide enough water to keep pace with your total projected usage. Blue Barrels Rainwater Catchment Systems might work for your needs, or you can find several DIY options through a quick Google search.

Finally, buy or build a large scale purifier that can handle that volume. Since we're adding drinking water to the mix at the extreme level, it's important to ensure that water you consume is safe. Get the water tested, and also use a purification system to ensure bacteria aren't lingering in it.

Nicole had the water in her creek tested before they started drawing water from it. She discovered she was in danger of coming into contact with E. Coli, a common inhabitant of spring water in rural America. Equipped with that knowledge, she bought the Berkey Water Filter so she could collect and purify the amount of water she expected to use from the creek.

“It [the Berkey Water Filter] leaves the trace minerals in our water which is great for health while filtering out the nasties. We are adding an infrared filter this year at the pump house so that people can drink the water from the tap should they wish.”

Mythbusters: Are Rain Barrels Illegal?

By Jesse Savou, M.A., ARCSA A.P., ASSE 21110 & 21120 Certified, Founder of BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems

Are Rain Barrels Illegal?

Jesse Savou with a perfectly legal 12-barrel rainwater catchment system.

Here at BlueBarrel, we love highlighting customer projects on our website and Facebook page. But these days we can hardly post on social media without a litany of comments claiming rain barrels are illegal. In years of speaking professionally about rainwater harvesting, it's one of the more common questions I get:

 

Aren't rain barrels illegal?

The good news is, this question has a simple answer.

[Spoiler alert!...]

No. Rain barrels are not illegal.
In fact many jurisdictions incentivize rain barrels and cisterns because harvesting rainwater is so very beneficial for the local water supply and for the greater environment.
So what gives? Why do rumors run rampant that it's illegal to collect the water that falls on your own roof?

What's With the Nasty Rumors?

I can't tell you for certain, but after fielding the question for so many years, I have a few theories:

Tim Taylor with Mr Wilson over the fence

Mr. Wilson: "Did you know you're not allowed to capture the water that falls on your own roof?
Tim: "You don't say...."

1. It's a catchy idea, and a fun rumor to spread. In a day and age when it's popular to grumble about the government, it sure is fun to tell your neighbors you can't even collect the water that falls on your own roof. Picture Mr. Wilson and Tim-the-Tool-Man Taylor. I say no more.

2. In (very) limited cases, it used to be illegal. Colorado is probably the most classic example of one of the only states that actually did have a statewide ban. Rainwater harvesting wasn't outlawed in name, but due to interpretations of a complicated and antiquated set of laws governing the Colorado River known as the prior appropriations doctrine, water falling in Colorado was determined, by law, to already be owned by downstream users. But in 2016, CO passed legislation to legalize rainwater harvesting on a limited basis. Read more about Colorado's interesting story here. Nevada also used to have significant restrictions but has eased those as of 2017 to allow rain barrels and large tank storage for residents.

3. In places where there are no codes or regulations on the books, it may be assumed to be illegal when it isn't. Untrained code inspectors may not know what to do with rainwater harvesting in absence of a code reference, so they may resist a permit when there's actually no law on the books to prohibit it. The good news is more and more states are adopting code with simple standards for non-permitted rainwater catchment systems. This not only helps to make regulators comfortable, it ensures safe installations and streamlines the process for homeowners, often with no permits required!

 

What Can We Do to Spread the Facts?

While I groan about Facebookers spreading the illegal rumors on so many of our posts, it's actually a good opportunity to cross-check resources and get input from people far and wide.
Federal Energy Management Program Rainwater Harvesting Regulations MapThese days, when anybody insists that rainwater harvesting is illegal, I ask them to cite the local code that they believe outlaws it. Believe it or not in eight years as a rainwater harvesting professional (at the time of this writing), I've never once had somebody reply to show me a law or ordinance.
I'll even give you a cheat. Check out this state-by-state resource from the Federal Energy Management Program. Notice Colorado and Nevada (as mentioned), are in limited (but not illegal) status. Please also notice those states designated with "regulations," specifically points to regulations allowing & encouraging rainwater harvesting, not disallowing it.
What a relief!

To conclude, I have a challenge for you.

It's a three-part challenge:

1. First, don't be that guy (or gal...but honestly its usually a guy!) to post uninformed comments about rainwater harvesting being illegal.

2. If you do believe rainwater harvesting may be illegal where you live, take a moment to check your facts. Search your town, county, and state for laws. For a state-by-state overview, start here. An easier approach may be to search for rebates and incentives. If you find your county or water agency is incentivizing rainwater harvesting, then you can be darned sure it isn't illegal. (If you do find a law on the books, send us the reference so we can keep this blog up to date!)

3. Now here's the meat of the challenge: go tell everyone you know that rainwater harvesting is good for the environment and actually encouraged in many places!

And hey, if you're feeling inspired, build one of these. (We can help you!):

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

This 8-barrel system joins 7-barrel and 3-barrel systems for a total of 18 barrels at this Santa Rosa, CA residence, providing just shy of 1,000 gallons of storage capacity. The city rebates $0.25 per gallon!

The only way to combat the spread of rumors is to spread truth. So for the sake of water supply and happy gardens everywhere, please help spread the good word!

A Letter: Here to Help You Hunker Down

BlueBarrel Logo - Earth Day

March 19, 2020:

Dear Community,

We find ourselves in a unique moment in history. My county has given “shelter in place” orders. Schools are closed through April 7th and we’re being told to expect longer. Store shelves are sparse with people stocking up for an extended stay at home. Perhaps you are experiencing something similar in your town, or are about to. 

We are being called home, to hunker down, to turn inward and care for ourselves and the ones closest to us.

As we work to cultivate calm amidst chaos, here is what comes up in BlueBarrel’s world:

Due to our online mail-order business model (and local-to-you barrel supplier network) I am pleased to announce we are still operating at full capacity, though I am humbled by the reality that health and supply chains are fragile and our situation may change at any time. 

While we are still able, perhaps we can offer a little help and a few suggestions as we navigate this situation together.

1. Plant your garden: I struggled with what to do, anticipating 3 weeks (and maybe more) of shelter in place. Buy more canned food? I did… and then I remembered to plant my garden. As I stocked up on canned veggies (because the frozen ones were sold out), I realized if I could just ground myself enough to do what I usually do this time of year, I could prep the soil and plant the food that will feed my family for months to come. We are now expecting a variety of fresh vegetables starting as early as next month (photo included below). 

2. Keep water on hand: It’s important to note stored rainwater is not potable without treatment. That said, stored water is essential during an emergency. Being prepared with a variety of water treatment methods can expand your options and offer peace of mind. I keep standard camping gear around for these “just in case” moments: carbon-filter backpacking pump; iodine tablets; bleach. We don’t expect our municipal water supply to be impacted, but it’s possible if crisis mounts. Ideally, we’ll continue drinking tap water, and use the rainwater—fresh and alive—to water the garden that feeds us.

What’s up with BlueBarrel? At the time of this writing, BlueBarrel is still fully operational, carrying used barrels made of food-grade plastic, and a full range of rainwater harvesting and gravity-fed drip irrigation gear. Our web and customer service teams work remotely (always); our fulfillment center is locally-owned and still shipping orders expeditiously; and our nationwide network of participating barrel suppliers is at the ready to supply you with high-quality used HDPE drums (barrel availability varies by region). Please note, our barrel suppliers all expect to honor social distancing at this time. Once you have your barrel voucher, you can make arrangements for pickup or delivery, sans handshake!

We have enough inventory on the shelf to get us through a “normal” season in business. Will this be a normal season? Will our supply chain be disrupted in the near future? Yet to be seen, but for the time being, we have what you need to get started with rainwater harvesting and gravity-fed irrigation.

On behalf of Team BlueBarrel, I wish you health and safety; solidarity in solitude; encouragement to get spring gardens planted; and peace accompanying an unexpected opportunity to ground, center, and be home. 

In other words: wishing you well,

Jesse Savou,
Founder/Owner
BlueBarrelSystems.com

History of the Blue Plastic Barrel

by guest blogger Adam Stephen of B. Stephen Cooperage, Inc., with intro by Jesse Savou, founder of BlueBarrel

You’ve seen them everywhere: along the side of the road, in refuse yards, in your neighbor’s garage (or maybe even your own!); and repurposed into all kinds of things like ballasts, floats, storage bins, planters, and of course rain barrels. What could we be talking about?

55-gallon plastic barrels—the blue ones—what else?!

plastic blue barrels
blue barrels floating dock in indonesia

And when I say everywhere, I mean literally all over the globe. Traveling in Bali in 2011, I took this picture (at left): a floating dock constructed with many of them. Well, a not-so-floating dock at low tide, but you get the point! Their versatility is proven, and we are happy to add rainbarrels to the list of blue plastic barrel uses.

A friend sent me a similar photo from her travels in India—and here in the USA on a lazy river weekend, I waved to a floating party on a platform boat made of... you guessed it!

We’ve shipped our DIY RainKits™ to Fiji and the Caribbean, because they have no problem finding barrels there. In fact, you'll have no problem finding them anywhere.

Why are these 55-gallon blue plastic barrels so ubiquitous?

Also known as poly drums, they are the internationally-approved container for shipping liquid food products, world-wide.

They get shipped in bulk to food manufacturers and distributers all over the globe containing edible oils, juices, sauces, vinegars, food flavorings, colorings, you name it. If you can eat it (or drink it!) and somebody needs lots of it, it probably reached its destination in a blue food-grade poly drum.

While the FDA has approved HDPE blue poly-drums for food storage, the US food industry is highly regulated. Once the the poly drums are empty, the barrels themselves enter the waste stream. In other words, they are not re-usable for food transport.

But how could we throw such high-quality, durable, food grade, BPA-free, HDPE plastic containers away? Luckily there are many creative re-uses for the blue poly drums.

BlueBarrel was founded on the principle of keeping as many of these out of the landfill as possible. Their thick, durable side-walls, food-safe plastic, leak-proof and UV resistant qualities make them perfect for harvesting rainwater. Of course there are many other uses for them as well.

Blue Barrel Planter
A creatively crafted set of garden beds.

We partner with food manufacturers and barrel dealers all over the USA to make these food-grade barrels available to our customers in many different regions. We reached out to one of our participating barrel suppliers, Adam Stephen, to give us more detail about the history of the food-grade poly drum.

DIY Fountain made from Barrel
IMG_2563

Creative garden art for day and night, by BlueBarrel barrel supplier Anthony from Florida!

Blue Barrel Tractor
Count on kids to inspire us with fresh new ideas!

Here's what Adam had to say:

History of The Polyethylene Drum

The use of barrels as storage containers is not a new concept. Originally, barrels were created from wooden planks and metal bands. These containers were excellent because they didn’t leak when filled with liquid and required no glue or nails to build. The iconic wooden barrel is still used to this day in wine and whiskey making.

In the early 1900s, wooden barrels gave way to a new more durable and easily machined material: Steel. Steel barrels were stronger, safer for use in transport and able to be manufactured on an assembly line with much less labor than wooden barrels. The steel drum is still widely used for liquid storage and transportation to this day.

More advanced technology and manufacturing practices in the late 1960s allowed for another iteration of the barrel to come about: the plastic barrel. Plastic barrels are made from high density, high molecular weight polyethylene (HDPE).

Polyethylene is an excellent material because it is inert and resistant to high or low pH contents. As foodies know, the acidity of food products can be high or low. Some materials, including food products, are caustic and can even break down steel. Have you ever left tinfoil over tomato sauce for an extended period of time? The undesirable result is a case in point: the sauce eats right through metal.

The use of high density polyethylene (HDPE) as opposed to low density (LDPE) allowed for barrels to be created completely from polyethylene, as opposed to using a plastic liner in a steel drum.

 

How are plastic barrels made?

Plastic drums are manufactured through a process called blow molding. This process allows for various shapes to be created with no seams on the inside. Barrels are still molded in a cylindrical shape to allow for rolling and handling using the same tools as a steel drum. The round shape lacks weak corners (corners are vulnerable to cracking with impact and exposure). The added benefit of a seamless design is that it prevents buildup of bacteria in crevices.

 

Why are the barrels blue?

Ah, the million dollar question. Polyethylene barrels come in various colors. Some barrels come in a natural semi-transparent color to allow for a filler to see the levels of material in the barrels. However these are not UV resistant and are not suitable for outdoor storage. Black drums are problematic as black pigment is often created by mixing various colors in a recycling process and there is no certainty as to what the previous plastic material was used for. Black barrels are generally not food-grade.

Most polyethylene drums are blue. And thus blue became the industry standard for food storage. The blue pigment in polyethylene drums has a higher UV light resistance than natural and does not show dirt or residue as readily. Blue is the standard food-grade drum.

One of the often forgotten and perhaps most important aspects of polyethylene is how easy it is to recycle and reuse the containers. The inertness and impermeability make them a perfect candidate for reuse or "upcycling."

upcycle definition

And this is where BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems steps in to upcycle food grade polyethylene drums as rain barrels. Their innovative and effective approach for water conservation is sure to lead to a positive impact on the environment – for the tandem benefit of reusing high quality barrels and helping users manage rainwater sustainably on site.

Blue Barrel Rain Water Collection System Demo
A 3-barrel BlueBarrel System. Customize your own and find recycled food-grade barrels at BlueBarrelSystems.com

How to Strap Rain Barrels for Earthquake Safety

It's one of our most frequently asked questions: Do I need to strap rain barrels?

Californians especially may be wondering, due to the likelihood of earthquakes.

The probable answer is no. ARCSA/ASPE Standard 63, which lays the framework for most code standards related to rainwater harvesting (for those states that have adopted code at all), does not require strapping for rain tanks or barrels unless they exceed a 2:1 height-to-width ratio.

BlueBarrel's 55-gallon rain barrels are 35" tall by 23" in diameter—well within the 2:1 guideline. The squat proportions, even when full of water, will maintain a low center of gravity which mitigates the risk of toppling. If empty, barrels wouldn't do much harm if they were to fall.

That said, full barrels are heavy (a 55-gallon barrel full of water will weigh nearly 500 lbs!), so you may not want to take the risk. Strapping rain barrels will also help protect the under-plumbing on a BlueBarrel System™ in the event of tremors. School sites, like the one depicted below, may want to take extra precautions.

Luckily strapping is easy to do if you feel the need.

Strap rain barrels

This 7-barrel BlueBarrel System™ is installed at a school site. A thick nylon strap keeps the barrels firmly in place.

As usual, we have some recommendations and how-to tips:

1. Find the studs in your wall. In standard stick-framed buildings, you'll find a stud every eight feet. That's where you'll install your anchors for a solid brace. A BlueBarrel System requires a 2' x 2' footprint for each barrel, so with standard stud placement, you can strap groupings of up to four barrels.

2. Use a thick nylon strap. The internet at large will show images of thin metal tape used to strap rain barrels. We don't recommend this for a couple of reasons:

a. Metal-on-plastic is never a good idea. Especially if you live in a seismically active area, the metal will erode the plastic barrel walls over time, and can eventually destroy the barrel.

b. The stuff's so thin, what's to keep it from tearing right out of the wall with a 500-lb barrel pulling against it with a seismic jolt?

Instead, use a robust nylon ratchet strap, available at most automotive stores. The nylon is exceedingly strong, and won't damage your barrels. Ratchets make for easy installation, as you can tighten the strap down after securing the anchors at the wall, and make adjustments over time if needed.

No wall studs? Perhaps your rain barrels don't line up with studs, or maybe you've installed away from the wall. Sink steel posts (eg. parking bollards) as an anchor, as shown above.

 

Highlight from Cesar Chavez Elementary School

The 7-barrel BlueBarrel System above is at a school site. The school district did not want the rain barrels to interface with the building itself, so the post solution made sense in this case. The precaution of strapping seems to make perfect sense at a school site, or any area where children play. As you can see, you can strap more than four barrels together if you are not limited by building studs.

By the way, there's another cool hack we can point out with this installation. The school district also did not want to disrupt the existing drainage from the school roof. Do you notice there are two downspouts in the picture? Because a BlueBarrel System will easily fill with just a small portion of the runoff that comes off the classroom roof, we didn't need the full capacity of the industrial-sized spouts on this large building. We installed a standard residential 2x3" downspout just upstream of the existing 3x4" downspout. The smaller downspout diverts rainwater into the BlueBarrel System. When the smaller downspout is overwhelmed, any excess water will continue down the gutter to reach the original downspout at the end of the line. No impact to the existing drainage system!

How to Keep Mosquitoes Out of Rain Barrels

Mosquito PreventionMosquitoes need water to lay eggs and grow. Without proper prevention measures, rain barrels can become a breeding ground (so can kids' pools, buckets, and puddles, by the way!). Luckily, there are easy ways to keep mosquitos out of rain barrels. Read on to learn how to mosquito-proof your rain tanks or barrels.

It's one of our most frequently asked questions: How do I keep mosquitoes out of my rain barrels?

 

We'll start with the Don'ts just to illustrate the problem. Be sure to read to the bottom for the Dos!

 

Don't Do This (unless you want a mosquito problem):

  • Don't use open-top barrels
  • Don't use barrels with contoured tops that trap standing water
  • Don't leave any openings unscreened (even a closed-top "tight-head" barrel is vulnerable to mosquitoes if you consider open vents, inlets, outlets, or overflow ports).
Molded Top Rain Barrels

(Photo credit: San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District)

Pre-Fab Pitfalls: Watch out for decorative pre-fab rain barrels. If the barrel-top has concave features, water will pool on top. These depressions will hold enough water for mosquitoes to lay eggs and breed, despite any effort to keep mosquitoes out of the barrel itself.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 1.07.23 PM

(Photo credit: San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District)

DIY-er's Demise: Even though these barrels are closed on top, the rimmed lids allow water to pool , sending a loud invitation for mosquitoes and their friends.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 1.07.33 PM

(Photo credit: San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District)

Large mesh = Larvae: Large-mesh screens and perforated tops will not keep mosquitoes out. The openings are way too big.

What about lining an open-top barrel with screen?

Screened open-top rain barrelYou guessed it... DON'T. This is a common solution. While it will be effective in preventing mosquito breeding (if held secure at all times, and replaced when worn or torn), it won't exclude sunlight, so you may still end up with an algae problem. If barrels don't have a properly-placed overflow to direct excess water, stored water will rise above the level of the screen, which will make it immediately ineffective in keeping mosquitoes at bay. Fiberglass mesh is commonly used, and is vulnerable to tearing, especially with exposure to weather.

Do it the Right Way!

How to Keep Mosquitoes out of Rain Barrels

Preventing mosquitoes in rain barrels comes down to two basic factors:

  • Keeping water from pooling in exposed places
  • Keeping stored water fully concealed, screening all openings with 1/16" mesh

Here's how we do it at BlueBarrel. Our BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems prevent mosquito breeding by design. Here are the key features that will keep mosquitoes out.

 

1. Closed-Barrel Design

Dean's BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

BlueBarrel's unique underplumbed design has many advantages. One of them is full system drainage, so there won't be a pool of inaccessible murky water in the bottom of your barrels after irrigation season is over. The bottom-tapped design allows for particulates to flush through constantly, keeping your stored water quite clean, and accessible to the last drop.

Beyond that, there is no place for mosquitoes to get in. By using tight-head drums (the kind with no removable lid), stored water stays cool and protected.

Our drums are UV-resistant as well, which also keeps the water algae-free. (Algae needs sunlight to grow).

2. Screened OpeningsBlueBarrel Vent Piece

Best practices (and local codes, where applicable), require 1/16" mesh covering all openings on a rainwater catchment system. While this helps to keep debris of any kind out of a rainwater catchment system, the main reason for this requirement is to prevent mosquitoes from entering that are large enough to breed or lay eggs. Each BlueBarrel RainKit comes with inlet screening, and specialty screened vent pieces. This allows for proper inflow, ventilation, and outflow, while keeping pesky critters at bay.

 

Check out these photos for more examples of a mosquito-proof design. Once you make sure you're taking the proper precautions to keep mosquitoes out of your rain barrels, harvest away!

Steve's BlueBarrel System
BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System Santa Rosa
This diverter is installed with a descending inlet hose to force system overflow through the other diverter.
BlueBarrel System at WCU
BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

Ways to Paint and Decorate DIY Rain Barrels

Contributed by Sarah Smith

Many of us love arts and crafts. The process of making something yourself comes with a sense of accomplishment that feels good. Today we'll talk about ways to paint rain barrels—a creative and practical garden project! That’s right, painting and decorating an item that is used frequently in homes: plastic barrels. Your rain barrels are a staple in the garden, so why not give them some personal flare.

What is a rain barrel used for? A rain barrel is a large container that collects rainwater (or roofwater) from your downspout. A standard 55-gallon barrel can be filled in a matter of minutes in a rain storm – which is why BlueBarrel’s multi-barrel solution is so very popular.

sunflower painted rainbarrel

Water that otherwise would have run off into the sewer system can now be reused. People use water from rain barrels to wash cars, water veggies, or fill pools. As a result, rain barrels will help you save money on your water bill, improve the health of your garden, and reduce storm runoff. (Read more about the benefits of rainwater harvesting here).

With this guide, you will learn how to make durable plastic rain barrels beautiful!

White Rain Barrels for rainwater catchment
Can you believe these barrels started out blue? Painting is a great way to get the aesthetic you're looking for. Go for plain or read on for more decorative inspiration! Click here for more details and inspiration about single-color paint jobs like this one!

Things You Will Need

The following list contains everything you need when preparing to paint your rain barrel:

  • Plastic Barrels
  • Warm water
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Hose
  • Ultra-fine sandpaper (800-1000 grit)
  • Spray Paint (2-3 cans of acrylic)
  • 2 cans of acrylic plastic primer
  • 2 cans of polyurethane sealer
  • Artistic acrylic paint (for decoration)
  • Assorted paint brushes
  • Drop Cloths

 

Tips and Cautions: Before Painting

Below are some tips and cautions when painting rain barrels.

1. Create a spray guard when painting your barrel. Large cardboard boxes with the top and one side cut out to make for good booths to keep the spray from going on surrounding areas.

2. If you are spray painting your barrel indoors, do so in a well-ventilated area.

3. If you are spray painting your barrel outside, make sure to avoid windy days. The wind will distort the direction of the spray.

Rain Barrel Painting Steps

Here are the all-inclusive steps on how to prepare, prime, and paint your rain barrel.

1. Wash your barrel with equal parts warm water and white distilled vinegar. Use a scrubbing brush to ensure that all the dirt and grime come off your barrel. If a barrel is not clean, the paint will not stick well.

2. Use fine grit sandpaper to rough up the outside of the barrel. You can use an electric palm sander to speed up this process, but sanding by hand is perfectly fine. Sand the barrel until its outer surface looks dull.

plastic barrel painted with trees

3. Use water and a brush to clean off the dust from sanding. Use a towel to dry off the barrel completely.

4. Shake the spray can of primer well as directed by the label. Apply a light coat of primer to the outside of the barrel. Use a sweeping motion as you spray back and forth across the barrel. This primer is designed for plastics and will help the spray paint adhere better. Let the barrel dry as per the label’s instructions.

5. Spray the barrel with acrylic spray paint in the color of your choice. Use the same sweeping motion you did for the primer to evenly coat the barrel. Apply the paint in coats, allowing for drying time in between coast.

6. If you are happy with the color of your barrel, you can seal it with polyurethane spray sealer. Spray on three layers of sealer to ensure it is fully covered; use the same sweeping motion. Otherwise, keep applying coats of paint until you are satisfied with the color and then seal it in.

Optional Decoration

You can decorate your barrels after letting the spray paint dry, but before the sealer. Use acrylic paints with paint brushes to add a creative design. Stencils may come in handy, but these are optional if you prefer free-painting. Add any design you like and be as creative as you want. Your rain barrels will be on full display next to your house, so you want them to look good. Once you are finished with decorations, allow the paint to dry before sealing it.

PXL_20230528_220117213
PXL_20230604_154445433
PXL_20230528_225445252
Decorative painted rain barrels

This series of photos was submitted by BlueBarrel customers ShuShila and TJ (and Mal the cat!) from Fort Collins, CO. ShuShila painted the barrels crediting the style of Studio Ghibli & Natsume Yuujinchou, and TJ and Mal helped with the install. See here for more inspiration from BlueBarrel customers all over the USA.

Rain Barrels for LA Stormwater LID Requirements

Los Angeles is a hot region for rain barrels. With a balmy Mediterranean climate, LA residents enjoy often sunny skies. This makes the value of collecting water when it does rain exceptionally high. In fact, the LA Stormwater LID program requires residents to collect rainwater.

The Los Angeles metro area has a couple of programs that support rainwater harvesting. Many folks have heard of the LA Stormwater LID requirements, but did you know SoCal MWD offers rebates for rain barrels, to help offset the cost? 

We’re here to help you demystify the requirements of both programs. Read on for some starting points, and please reach out to your local permitting agency to understand the specific requirements that may apply to you. 

 

This southern California home has 9 rain barrels in the front, 2 in the back, and another 16 concealed in the narrow side yard. Less than 1″ of rain falling on a 2,500 square foot rooftop will fill all 27 barrels!

 

LA City Stormwater LID Program: 

Prone to drought, The City of Los Angeles now requires new buildings (and remodels) to implement stormwater mitigation strategies. This helps to hold water onsite, keeping it from washing away to the Pacific Ocean. 

Despite a generally dry climate, stormwater runoff in LA’s mostly-paved landscape rises to the top as one of the most pressing environmental issues in the area. LA Stormwater’s website reports:

“Even on the driest day in Southern California, tens of millions of gallons of contaminated water and debris flow through our local creeks, rivers and lakes and into Santa Monica and San Pedro Bays.  On a rainy day, the flow can increase to as much as 10 billion gallons.”

Los Angeles’ LID ordinance took effect in 2012. LID stands for Low Impact Development: a leading stormwater management strategy. LID practices mitigate runoff by helping to slow, spread, sink (and store!) water as close to its source as possible. This not only reduces stormwater impacts, but also recharges groundwater underfoot, and provides a sustainable source of high-quality irrigation water to boot. That’s right, LID practices help to mitigate stormwater, conserve water, and restore the environment all at once. Click here for more details about why rainwater harvesting is so darned good for the environment. 

Click image to enlarge.

Projects that are larger than one acre (or over 2500 square feet within environmentally sensitive areas); require special review by the City, and a plan for mitigation. 

Smaller projects, however, qualify under Appendix E: Small Scale Residential Prescriptive Measures, and homeowners can meet the requirement by installing as few as four rain barrels. 

In fact, we’ve had a number of LA residents satisfy their requirement (and qualify for SoCal WaterSmart’s rebate!) with a 4-Barrel BlueBarrel System

 

 

4-Barrel System meets LA Stormwater LID requirements.

“I just finished building a 4-barrel BlueBarrel System. It was easy to do. I submitted my receipt from BlueBarrel, and SoCal Water Smart rebates covered all but the blocks and boards.” – Jeff, Murrieta, 2016

 

SoCal MWD’s SoCal WaterSmart Rebate Program: 

Another reason rain barrels are popular in southern California is that most residents qualify for rebate through the Metropolitan Water District’s SoCal WaterSmart Program

Here’s a word from our customer, Pieter, from Santa Monica, who installed a 2-Barrel BlueBarrel System in 2016:

“The installation went well and I just received a rebate from the City of Santa Monica through the SoCal Water Smart Program that covers the total cost of the system. Thanks once again.”

“Home-made” systems will not qualify for southern California’s rebate programs, but BlueBarrel provides a great DIY kit that meets all California state code requirements and has been approved by SoCal WaterSmart and the LA Stormwater LID program team, in cases where projects qualify under Appendix E: Small Scale Residential Prescriptive Measures.*

*BlueBarrel does not represent the City of Los Angeles or any of its programs. BlueBarrel does not administer permits or rebates, and cannot guarantee the outcome of permit or rebate applications. Customers are advised to work directly with their local permitting or rebating agencies to determine eligibility for local programs. 

 

Rain Barrels Los Angeles

Ready to get Started?

BlueBarrel offers a one-of-a-kind solution for a multi-barrel rainwater catchment system, made from locally-sourced recycled barrels.  Our unique system design meets California state code standards for a non-permitted rainwater catchment system. Check with your local agency to see about qualifying for municipal programs and available rebates

When you’re ready to order, start at BlueBarrelSystems.com and use our sizing and siting tools to plan out your multi-barrel system. Then enter our Online Store and follow the prompts to find your nearest source of recycled barrels. Choose from multiple southern California barrel pickup locations. We have participating barrel suppliers throughout southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego. 

 

Ready to Get Started?

Rain Barrel Kit

Roofing Materials for Weather: Rain, Snow, or Shine

No matter the weather, there’s a roof material built to withstand it. In order to pick the right roofing material for you, you have to understand how roofs are built to protect you. This article covers a few different roofing materials and how they protect you in various climates.

Related Article: Roofing Materials Part 1: Best Roofing Materials for Rainwater Harvesting

Roofing for Snowy Weather

Dark colored roofing is recommended in snowy climates, since it absorbs winter sunlight and helps melt snow that can often linger on top of your roof. It will also draw heat into your home, which will help you save money on heating costs. If you choose a roofing like slate or tile, check the state of your home’s foundation to ensure that your home is built to deal with such a heavy material. Rubber roofing is a great choice for absorbing heat and resisting those damaging winds. Though dark colors have benefits in cold climates, you can choose from a variety of different colors.

rubber roofing shingles rainwater

Roofing for Warmer Weather

If you live in an area that gets incredibly hot, stay far away from rubber roofing. It can cause burns to skin if you touch it and can cause the inside of your home to rise in temperature. Metal isn’t the best solution either, but lightly colored metals will do a better job of reflecting sunlight away from the home. The best choice for hot climates has to be clay tile roofing. It’s more expensive than rubber or metal, but it does a lot better for blocking sunlight and resisting wind. Clay tile provides good insulation against the beating sun, and can save you lots of money on air conditioning.

solar panel roof ok for rainwater catchment

Roofing for Tropical Climate

As you deal with high humidity and levels of precipitation, you might run into algae growth on your roof. Metal roofing is a great choice to withstand this problem. It’s resistant to rust, won’t let water run through it, and is resistant to algae. Asphalt shingles might be very popular, but they won’t help you against algae and mold unless algicides are built into them. Metal is also a great choice for areas that deal with heavy winds since they are more likely than shingles to stay intact.

metal roof good for rainwatercatchment in tropics

Choosing the right roofing for your climate might seem like a long process, but don’t get too frustrated. Be sure that whatever roofing that you choose meets your needs in the best way possible. Also, if you still have more problems with deciding your roofing, talk to local roofing companies about your choices. You might be distracted by the allure of DIY projects in order to save money, but improper roof installation can cost you more money in the long run when a storm rolls around. Your roof is supposed to an investment towards your protection, so you should do the best you can in order to make sure that it’s the right material for you and your climate.

happy family under roof

Content for this article provided by:

Frazier Roofing & Guttering is a roofing and gutter installation company serving Tarrant County in Texas. They have over 18 years of experience in roofing, gutters, and construction. Founded by Rich & Sheila Frazier in 1977.

Hole-y Barrels! Patch or Plug Holes in Plastic Barrels to Re-Use Them Yet Again

As a company that specializes in converting used barrels into rain barrels, our customer service team often answers questions from folks who want to convert an existing rain barrel to a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™.

The trouble is, a typical rain barrel has at least one hole drilled into the side for a spigot. Often there is a second (and even third!) hole used as a drain and/or overflow port.

Whether this is your situation, or your simply messed up and drilled a hole you don't need, we've got some great solutions for you!

This article will teach you how to patch or plug holes in plastic barrels for a watertight seal. Whether you need a removable or a permanent solution, read on for expert advice!

Single Rain Barrel

How to repurpose this...

Jeffs BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

...into a multi-barrel BlueBarrel System!

The BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System is a completely closed design, which keeps water very clean. Our unique, underplumbed linking solution allows the user to drain every last drop of water through the provided drain valve.

But if barrels need to be all closed up, what can you do with hole-y barrels? The good news is, we’ve discovered a great plug solution, for a water-tight seal on pre-existing holes.

The Plug-and-Play Solution (Removable)

rain barrel plug

We carry twist plugs in our online store to seal holes that have been drilled in barrels.

Now available in our Online Store, these rubberized twist plugs insert into holes around 1″ to 1-1/2″ in size. The plugs are tapered to work with holes of varying sizes. Insert until it feels tight, then twist the knob to expand the rubberized plug head for a water-tight seal. It’s brilliant!

The 1″ version will work in many spigot holes. We also carry a 1-1/4″ version for larger spigot holes (such as those drilled for the EarthMinded rain barrel kits). The larger 1-1/2″ version will plug the inlet hole in a BlueBarrel System. These are perfect for those who need to disconnect downspouts in winter. They can be easily removed when it's time to reconnect in Spring!

The Quick Patch Solution (Permanent)

Quick Patch Barrel Patch

Quick Patch is a newer product that provides a permanent stick-seal solution for holes in barrels, downspouts and more!

Quick Patch is a newer product that instantly repairs almost any hard surface. Simply peel it and seal it! Quick Patches adhere to all types of piping, glass, fiberglass, metals, wood, polyethylene, and more. Use this product for sealing unwanted holes in barrels or tanks, fixing ruptured PVC, patching gutters/downspouts and more!

Quick Patch is as pliable as a Band-Aid when you take it out of the package and as hard as fiberglass with just 10 minutes of exposure to UV. This product cures in the sun outdoors, or with a UV flashlight indoors. See our video gallery for a product demo.

Available in two sizes in our online store, the 2" x 3" Quick Patch Mini will permanently patch unwanted spigot holes in your barrels, and small ruptures in your PVC line. The larger 3" x 6" version will permanently patch your downspout if you mis-drilled the hole, or wish to move (or remove) your rain barrels. Quick Patches can be cut to size easily with regular household scissors.

Threaded Insert Tap Seals

Threaded Insert Tap Seal

Also available in our online store, threaded insert tap seals provide a watertight seal for your spigot or drain.

If you have leaks around your tap or spigot, you can tighten up the connection without plugging the hole and starting over. For this, we recommend our threaded insert tap seal. Unlike bulkhead fittings, which are two-part fittings that require you to get inside the barrel to screw them in, threaded insert tap seals easily insert from the outside.

Similar to the tapered twist plugs, these fittings have a tapered shape that help them seal. They create a watertight port for any standard 3/4″ tap, spigot or drain valve. When the valve screws in, it tightens the tap seal beautifully against the barrel wall.

See our Online Store for these parts, as well as high-flow spigot and drain valves to pair with them. Our high-flow valves will improve your output for gravity fed drip irrigation (or just faster bucket filling!) while you’re at it.

An Example From the Field

Twist Plug Patching a Hole in blue barrel

Simply insert the plug and twist for a water-tight solution for hole-y barrels!

As a case in point, I had a conundrum while setting up a BlueBarrel System for a friend. She already had two 55-gallon blue barrels that were configured as single rain barrels. While they were the right kind of barrel, they already had spigot holes drilled in the side. They also had an overflow hole drilled on the sidewall toward the top.

After learning about BlueBarrel’s unique system design, my friend decided she would much rather have a 2-Barrel BlueBarrel System than two singles. I had a chance to test the twist-plugs and they worked great to plug holes in plastic barrels!

Furthering Our Sustainability Mission

Many BlueBarrel customers are attracted to our company not only for our unique rain barrel system, but also because we stand by our environmental values of creating a lighter footprint. If you’ve read about BlueBarrel’s history, you’ll know it all started with a desire to create a rainwater harvesting system that uses upcycled food-grade barrels destined for the landfill. We make them available locally to our customers, thus reducing the costs and impacts associated with manufacturing, storage, and transportation.

The products highlighted in this article help us take our mission further by giving yet another life to barrels that may have already been repurposed. Now you can patch or plug any barrel holes to prep them for another use. Turn a single rain barrel back into a sealed barrel suitable for reuse in the BlueBarrel System!

Furthering your ability to recycle, reduce, and re-use, re-use, re-use, we are proud to offer these simple and inexpensive solutions.

As always, we love to hear your stories from the field, so please keep them coming!

Article contributed by Beth Auerbach, BlueBarrel staff writer, MS ecological design.