Moby 65 Gallon Rain Collection BarrelIn the summer of 2008, I lived in Cedar Rapids, IA during a devastating flood.  I joined in the mostly futile sand-bagging effort of downtown business and watched the water creep up from the river.  Sometimes it seemed to rise very slowly, other times you’d turn around and the leading edge had leapt a quarter block closer to your feet.  I had never before seen water as a threat – in 2003 the flooding in Iowa City filled the basement of the home my friends and I were renting knee-high, but it was never more than an inconvenience to us. But in 2008 I watched the flood force two of my friends out of their businesses, and then watched it take months and years for people I knew or knew of who had lost homes, property, and hope recover after the water had subsided.

In 2010 I was volunteering for the Indian Creek Nature Center and was struck by information that the center’s director, Rich Patterson, shared with us about how simple efforts like reducing water run-off from businesses and residences could have significantly reduced the power of the flood waters.  If the roofs, parking lots and streets of our cities hadn’t been pouring water directly into the river via our sewer system it could have had significant impact on how swollen the river became.

How much impact?  Consider my modest house – it’s just 1200 square feet and 2 stories so we’ll keep it simple and round the size of my roof down to 600 square feet (not accounting for pitch).  For every 1” of rain that falls on my roof, 374 gallons of water are shed.

How do you calculate that rough number?  Square footage of roof x inches of rainfall x .673 = gallons of run-off.  Run the numbers and see what impact your home has each time it rains.

I was impressed, impressed enough that I decided I should make an effort to reduce that number, so I bought two 65 gallon Moby rain barrels at the next Nature Center fundraiser.  While my two rain barrels won’t capture all of the water coming off my roof every time it rains, and I don’t always empty them fully between storms, they do make a significant dent.  The overflow hoses installed on them are also directed towards the roots of a water loving crabapple tree and a bunch of crab grass I can’t control in my back yard rather than the city sewer system.

Best of all, it was an easy change to make.

Putting the Rain Barrel together is easy

The rain barrels are a cinch to assemble, you just need a screwdriver

- Use a bit of plumber’s tape to create a tight seal on the screw in spout at the base of the unit by hand.

- Insert a plug into the extra hole in the base (there are two options for the spout).

- Install the screen on the barrel lid with 4 screws into pre-formed holes.

- Attach the overflow hose with a hose clamp.

- Place the lid on the barrel and secure it with two zip strips.


View of the rain barrel from the topThen it’s a matter of situating the barrels near an existing ran gutter.  You will probably need to adjust your down spouts by removing a section or cutting an existing piece so that the spout ends a few inches above the lid of the barrel, then slide the barrel under the spout so that water flows through the mesh grid.  It helps to elevate the barrel so that you get a bit of gravity behind your water flow when you attach a hose to the spout if you plan to water your yard or garden.  I just used a few bricks with mine, which seems to work out well, but there are several more sophisticated options available.

When I first got my rain barrels I did a hack job of getting the downspouts directed to the barrels.  Since then I’ve had my gutters replaced and I had the contractors build the rain barrels directly into the system on opposite corners of my house.  Now they look great, but it took us three tries before the installation crew understood where the rain barrels were supposed to go.  Sadly, they didn’t seem familiar with the concept – so I’d recommend that if you want to tie your barrels into a new gutter system you walk the installer through exactly what you want.

My rain barrels are situated on the NE and SW corners of my house so that I have access to water gardens in both my front and back yards.  I’m not the most diligent gardener, but even I was able to see a difference in how much less I used the hose tied to the city water system since I started using my rain barrels.  Add a third eco-friendly boost to your project by checking for a local source of rain barrels and reduce the carbon footprint from transporting goods.  Rain Barrels Iowa is one source in the Midwest.

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2 Responses to “Down Comes the Rain…Divert it to Rain Barrels”

  • Rain barrels are incredible. If more people understood rain water harvesting then we could all minimize our use of water, minimize the need for large, industrial waste-water treatment plants (and their chemical offgases), maximize our reuse of water (think gardens, flushing commodes, car washing, etc), and make natural disasters like you describe more minimal.

    I love that you found some great water barrels to buy and were then able to put them right to use.

    For those that aren’t able to do so though there are some great YouTube DIY’s as well as blog posts on how to make rain barrels and even full cistern systems.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • jen says:

    Simple was the key for me – all the necessary pieces came inside my barrel. I have some DIY handy-ability, but it would have taken me months to get around to shopping for all the parts on my own. Up-cycling would have been a better option, and I applaud those who do it, but I have a philosophy that comes from years of unfinished projects – “Done is good.” (Plus these barrels are all recycled plastics.)

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