DIY Rainwater Collection

posted in: Self Reliance, What's New | 6

Winter is coming.  This means different things to different people.  Kids (and some adults) eagerly await Christmas to see what Santa has brought them.  Others just enjoy the spirit of the season and the closeness it brings.  While I take pleasure in all of the above, there is one other thing that I get excited about:  rain.

In a few previous articles I mentioned that I live in Southern California and as most everyone knows, it’s basically a piece desert that we’ve turned into an oasis by dumping approximately 4.47 billion gallons of water onto it daily.  Seems unreal, right?  Do the math.  The average American uses 120 gallons of water per day.  As of 2010, the population in California was 37,253,956 million according to the US Census Bureau, which we know is probably underestimated.  Anyway, moving along…  My point is, water is critical to our survival, regardless of where we live.  Without it, we die.  Yet we never think about it because at the turn of a knob, we have fresh water pumping out of our faucets until our heart’s content.  Well, I think it’s time we thought about it.  Whether you look at it from a prepper’s perspective or a conservation standpoint, we should do what we can to preserve one of our greatest natural resources.  Interested?  Here’s one easy way to help out.

Rainwater Collection  Systems

Rainwater collection or harvesting, is nothing new.  In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years.  Take for example, ancient Lato (Crete).  The roofs of their homes were built on successive terraces which directed water to subterranean cisterns used to collect rain water for household use.  And let’s not forget the Romans, once considered the masters of rain water collection for their closed cistern design and efficient transport/use of water.  And it doesn’t stop there; it’s all over history.  Every culture that has built a dam or dug a swale for their crop has collected rain water.  My point is, it’s nothing new and it’s easier than ever to do it (not to mention nearly free).

DIY Rainwater Collection System

My first try at harvesting rain water started in late 2010 after watching some Youtube videos.  I looked at many designs and hastily put together what I thought worked for me given my short window for rain.

55 gal barrel rainwater catch before updating
55 gal barrel rainwater catch before updating

My plan was to use two standard blue 55 gallon water barrels with the tops cut off (barrel #1 = feeder barrel/ barrel #2 = reservoir).  The two barrels were connected via a 1″ PVC pipe (I’ll call this the connection tube) and was fed via the rain gutter.

Connection tube
Connection tube
Modified downspout from the rain gutter
Closeup of the modified downspout from the rain gutter

Another 1″ PVC pipe was tapped into the “feeder barrel” just above the “connection tube” to act as the “overflow tube” which led the excess rainwater onto a section of rain gutter that would lead the excess rainwater away from the house.  See picture below.

Excess water run off setup
Excess water run off setup – upper half
Excess water run off - lower half
Excess water run off setup – lower half

This setup worked flawlessly, however, there was two areas that I wanted to improve upon for the 2011 season.

#1 – needs higher capacity:  2 x 55 gallon = 110 gallon capacity.  Last year there was a point during the winter months when we actually had a decent amount of rain fall.  Within 15 minutes, the water running off my roof had filled both barrels.  This led me to believe that the amount of rain water collected is only limited by the number of barrels I had.  I recorded the following video (below) to give you an idea of how much rainwater actually flows during a light rain collected from 1/4 of my roof.

#2 – needs filtration:  the rainwater coming of the roof brought with it a lot of debris that had collected on the roof and in the rain gutter.  A simple filter to catch some of this gunk would greatly improve the quality of the water.

DIY Rainwater Collection Updates for 2011

#1)  Capacity – My first priority was to increase capacity and to accomplish this, I simply needed to increase the number of barrels.  While adding more barrels is easy (via connection tubes), I didn’t want to drill holes in any more barrels just in case I wanted to use the barrels for something else once I used the collected water.  To resolve this problem, I made “overhead connection tubes” using materials found at the local Home Depot.  The core of the overhead connection tube is the new bung adapter.

2" PVC plugs
2″ PVC plugs x 3
1" PVC "T" adapters
1″ PVC “T” adapters x 2
1" PVC threaded adapter with nut x 3
1″ PVC threaded adapter with nut and gasket x 3
1" PVC 90 degree elbow and optional endcap x 1 ea
1″ PVC 90 degree elbow and optional endcap x 1 ea
Drill out a 1-1/8" hole in the center of the 2" plug
Drill out a 1-1/8″ hole in the center of the 2″ plug
Hole cut out of the 2" plug
Hole cut out of the 2″ plug
Insert the 1" threaded adapter into the hole in the 2" plug
Insert the 1″ threaded adapter into the hole in the 2″ plug
The new bung adapter complete
The new bung adapter complete
Multi angle view of the new bung adapters
Multi angle view of the new bung adapters

The threaded ends screw into the existing bung holes (yes, I said bung hole) on the lids, creating the connection between as many barrels as you like.  These additional barrels were placed slightly lower so that the tops of the “overhead connection tubes” are flush or lower than my existing two barrels (the feeder and reservoir) .

My rainwater collection system updated with the overhead connection tubes
My rainwater collection system updated with the overhead connection tubes
Overhead connection tube connected to the feeder barrel
Overhead connection tube connected to the reservoir barrel
New bung adapter installed on the barrel lid
New bung adapter installed on the barrel lid
The last barrel was fitted with a 90 degree elbow instead of a "T" adapter
The last barrel was fitted with a 90 degree elbow instead of a “T” adapter

Remember, water is self leveling.  Finally, on the last barrel in my system, a “vent tube” was fitted into the remaining bung and serves two purpose:  1) it will allow air to escape while the water replaces the space in the barrels and 2) it will be higher than the overflow tube to counteract the self-leveling property of water and prevent water from dumping out from the wrong end (see 4th picture above).

Below is a list of parts I used to assemble 1 each “Overhead Connection Tube”

  • 3 – 1″ threaded adapter with nut
  • 3 – 2″ plugs
  • 1 – 1″ 90 degree elbow
  • 2 – 1″ T adapter
  • a length of 1″ PVC pipe (the main tube used in the overhead connection tube)
  • 1 – 3/4″ threaded coupler (for the vent tube)
  • a length of 3/4″ PVC pipe (vent tube)

Good luck building your own rainwater collection system.  Remember, there is no right and wrong way to build it.  Adapt your system to fit your needs.

We’d like to hear your comments, see your pictures, or answer questions on rainwater collection.  So if you have a minute, you can say your piece in the comment section below.  Thanks!

~ John, Modern Bushman

6 Responses

  1. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy John,
    Thanx, for the design & how-to of the barrel reservoirs!!! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for…. We have 15 55gal barrels to set up for storage and a large roof area to drain from… I didn’t notice any drains in your extra barrels, but I’m putting hose bibs on mine to drain them…
    NOW, IF IT’LL JUST RAIN!!!

    butterbean carpenter
    RunningStar Ranch
    Coleman county
    Texas

    • Butterbean Carpenter: 15 barrels! That’s awesome! This reply is alittle late since the rain has already come and gone, but I hope you had a chance to setup your rain catch and collected a lot of water! I don’t have drains on my barrels yet; I’ve just been scooping it out the top with a 5 gal bucket and using that to water my garden. If you’ve installed your barrels, shoot a picture over. I’d like to check it out. Thanks – John

  2. Hi John,

    How much did it cost you to for all the bits needed?

    • Cleaus: I already had most of the bits so I can’t say for sure, but I did buy a hole cutting set at the local swap meet for $15.00. It was an inexpensive set and fit the bill at the time, but in retrospect I wish I had bought a higher quality set that will last.

  3. Hello, did you use food-grade barrels?

    • Yes, the barrels are food grade, but were used when I bought them. One of the barrels was used to transport sun tan lotion and that barrel had a strong odor. I washed it out and with a few days, the odor was almost gone.

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