We want to help, and seem to be among the Cultural Creatives, so in 2013, our ears perked up when our local environmental action council said we could:

  1. extend the time that our plants get watered, while we
  2. slow and reduce the amount of water that runs off our roof and driveway, down the gutters of our street, into our neighborhood's wetland, the unnamed creek behind the local Middle School, and continuing downhill into Carl Creek, the Grand River, and the Great Lakes of North America/Saint Lawrence River.
All we needed to do was get and install some rain barrels, which they offered us free.  Well, for a small charge—basically the cost of fittings they put on plastic barrels;  I think they said the barrels themselves were donated by our local cola bottler.

We bought three.  Somehow managed to get them home in our sub-compact 🚗︎ Honda Fit/Jazz car  Adobe Acrobat Reader file in two trips.  Good things we are good at thinking visually.

We asked our handyman to install them.  He did a nice looking job, but the rain barrels seemed to have all kinds of problems, listed here by altitude — from top to bottom:

  1. Problem:  Getting water into your rain barrels from your gutters and downspouts, including handling ☃ winter.
  2. Problem:  Rain barrels filling up with algae.
  3. Problem:  Getting water out of your rain barrels, into your garden.

As I recall, these rain barrels came with little or no instructions, only the verbal instructions during our rain barrel workshop.  After pushing them for years, WMEAC put up instructions for installing rain barrels.  Adobe Acrobat Reader file   But they still seems massively inadequate.

After six years of frustration, punctuated by occasional conversations, modifications and experimentation, it looks like we may finally have solutions to each of these problems, which we present splattered among your various tasks:

Installation

Problem:  Getting water into your rain barrels from your gutters and downspouts, including handling ☃ winter

You are going to need a bunch of small self-tapping sheetmetal screws.   I like the kind whose heads are shaped for a hex-drive instead of a screwdriver, and already-painted in something close to my house's color.  And maybe some downspout fittings that go with the downspouts already on your home.  You can probably take back any parts you didn't use.  And you will need a tapemeasure, hacksaw, screwdriver (electric will go faster), and other handtools.

If you live in a climate that freezes for more than 🕑︎ at a time (probably Plant Hardiness Zone = 7 or smaller), and you don't want to dismantle and reassemble your downspouts twice a year, purchase and install a downspout diverter valve.  See photo at right or below.  photo of top valve, select to view full-size Then you can add to your ⚘ summerize and ☃ winterize task list to flip your downspout valves from channel to rain barrel, or visa versa.

Examples include Rainwater Collection System, Aquabarrel Offset Downspout Diverter, Basic Downspout Diverter for Rain Barrels, or other downspout diverter valves.

Other installation issues:  Drainage

photo of splashblock, select to view full-size As you had without the rain barrel, use a splashblock to get downspout water and overflow water away from your basement or foundation.

Grass can take a certain amount of flow.  If that not enough, put in some nice river rocks to be an ephemeral stream.  If close to a basement, put an impermeable barrier (we used trashbags, partially-overlapped) under the rocks, to make sure the water moves a way a few feet more than your splashblock.

overview photo of author's rain barrel installation, select to view full-size Dig through any berms that may prevent water going away from your house.  We did, to keep overflow from going under our shed.

Other installation issues:  Overflow

photo of barrel top, select to view full-size

In even a short rainstorm, your rain barrel is going to fill up, plus a lot more.  To avoid unplanned overflow and erosion, install an overflow hose or pipe to your existing splashblocks or other channels.  If it doesn't have a built-in port for that purpose, make one.

Use

You really want to read the discussion above on using water from your rain barrels.   Our installation is kinda set-it-and-forget-it (fire-and-forget).  Others have more work to do.  Oh, but don't forget the …

Spring—after nights no longer freeze for over 🕑︎

If you have downspout diverter valves:

Autumn—when nights might freeze for 🕑︎

If you have downspout diverter valves:


Take down the barrel, hose out the inside, drain it empty, put it back up, and cover or something to keep out snow and such until Spring.  If you want, see the cleaning instructions above.

Or if you don't want to do that, at least make sure the barrel drains completely, so the ice doesn't blow through the side of the barrel.