Sunday, March 15, 2009

Care and Feeding of Rain Tanks

We have two rain barrel tanks - one of 350 gallon capacity, one of 500 gallon capacity. They are low-profile and hidden behind our house in our backyard. We got the tanks from Tank Depot online in 2005. We hooked them up to our gutter system and we use the water for our garden and fruit trees.

Me in the 350 gallon rain tank, preparing to muck.

We originally hooked the larger tank up to a drip irrigation system, but found that the pressure was low and because of that, the timers that I hooked up would not work. I kept running off and leaving the tank running all day. Needless to say there was some cursing when I found the tanks almost completely empty. Now, I just use a watering can to water the garden, and a bright blue hose to water the fruit trees.

We had three main reasons to get the rain barrels:

1. We can water our garden in spite of any drought restrictions which might be imposed in the future.

2. We have emergency water rations from early spring through late fall (although we would need to filter the water through our Katadyn filter in order to drink it).

3. To decrease our water footprint.

Reducing our water bill was not one of our goals. The cost of this kind of system will probably never be paid back in money, since we are only charged about $3/1000 gallons of water.

Like any system, the rain barrels require maintenance. We installed filters over the top of the lids and in front of the faucets so that twigs, leaves, and other particles are filtered out. However, this doesn't solve the problem of dust and bird poop and shingle pieces. I've considered the "first flush" systems, but they are kind of expensive and we aren't using the PVC pipe that they require to work, so we'd have to rework the whole downspout part of the system. Unless anyone has suggestions??

There are a few times every year when we have to pay attention to the rain tanks.

1. After every major rain we check the top filter and scoop away any major gunk. Since we want to go outside and see how full the tanks are, this is not an imposition. We will probably have to replace these filters every five years or so, but have not yet had to do so.

2. In the fall, we disconnect the tanks from the gutters and drain the tanks to protect them and the faucets from freezing. We had a faucet crack one year. This part can be kind of a pain because we have to tip the tanks to get the last few inches out of the bottom, and tanks with water in them are HEAVY. I'm not sure we would have to do this if we got more durable faucets.

3. In the spring, we muck out the bottom of the tanks. You'd be surprised how much dirt and shingle particles get in the tanks! We usually just climb in the tank and use a trowel and a bucket to scrape the mud off the bottom of the tank. Luckily, it doesn't smell. If there is dry dust, we sweep it up. (This is a two-person job - one to muck and one to dispose of the muck.) Then, we hose out the tank, drain it and hook up the guttering system. Ready for another spring, summer and fall of sweet rainwater!

4. Several times a year, we have to clean out the gutters. But that's kind of standard for anyone who has a gutter system.

Although dust/dirt does get in the rain tanks, it seems to settle to the bottom. The water that comes out of the spout always looks clear and pure. I haven't had a water test, but I am considering it. I am curious how the shingle particles are affecting the water quality.

If you are interested in rain barrels for emergency water or to cut down on your "water footprint", be sure you are ready to maintain them! A smaller, simpler system, with barrels that are lighter and easier to maneuver, would probably require less maintainance. Obviously, they wouldn't provide as much water storage for dealing with emergencies or droughts.


Theresa said...

What sort of shingles do you have? I think some of them have asbestos in them, but I'm not completely sure of that. We are going to get more serious about our rainwater collection this year, and we do have the kinds of shingles that give off 'particles' as well. I shall have to do more research on this....

Theresa said...

Check that, it's asphalt, not asbestos - whew!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Theresa - Well, they are the kind that everyone has here. It seems like if they had any major kind of asbestos toxicity they wouldn't be allowed to still install them (ours were installed 4 years ago). I couldn't find many hard facts on the web, although metal roofs are recommended, most sources don't say what the "dangers" of regular shingles are. I would love to know if you find some real information on it!

Lisa Sharp said...

Very cool! I need to get some rain barrels.

I also wanted to post because I'm in Oklahoma as well and there don't seem to be a lot of us Oklahoma environmental bloggers lol.

Lisa Sharp said...

You going to the lunch at OSN? My mom (she is also a blogger) and I are going to eat at Chipotle and it would be a lot of fun if us few OK bloggers could meet up.

Theresa said...

Sorry Hausfrau, I should think more before I comment. I did google a bit and the standard shingles are an asphalt composite, not asbestos! Here is a quote from '':

"The standard asphalt shingles, also known as composite or fiberglass, are made by infusing a paper or fiberglass base with asphalt. Then one side is sprayed with even more granules of a mineral of the desired color."

I guess it would depend what mineral the granules are made of as to how it would/could affect the rainwater's quality.

Barb and Steve said...

We bought some rain barrels last winter to hook up this spring. we will also be using some barrels in our "someday" greenhouse setup. Thanks for the post!

Gavin said...

Hi PO Hausfrau. I have a device installed in between the gutter and the tank called a First Flush diverter. It catches all the muck before it goes into the tank and saves a lot of work. I don't know if they are available in the US, but I am sure you could make one.

Bettina said...

Thanks for describing which maintenance work you have to do with the rainbarrels!
This will help me decide which kind of barrel I'm going to use. Hope the big old barrels in our barn will do the job.

Keep up the work and teaching us about it. I stop by your blog every week, thinking, "now see, what's peak oil hausfrau up to today" :-)

Greetings from Germany,

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Gavin - do you have a specific model of First flush diverter to recommend? I am definitely interested. It would save us at least 6 hours of work.

Gavin said...

Hi Hausfrau. Have a look at this link. This is the type of device I am refering to.

The first 20L of rainwater goes down the First-flush with all the dirt and rubbish, then clean water flows into the tank.


Tricia said...

Thanks for this! Rainwater harvesting is on the to-do list; it's nice to have an idea of the maintenance involved.

Thankfully we don't live in Colorado, where rain harvesting is illegal! Insane, huh?,0,5585599.story

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Tricia - I think I am going to find a first flush system and see if it cuts down on the work any. Will report back!

Chris said...

Good morning,
I went to a rainharvesting seminar last year in California. (ARCSA if you want to check it out). Here are my notes from the speakers on roof materials.
Scientific literature indicates that asphalt rooftops do not leach more contaminants than other materials. The older the roof, the more leaching. Best choice of roof materials: enamaled steel, ceramic tile, clay tile. Galvanized and non galvinized metal roofing leach heavy metals. Deposition of materials on roof is more important than the roofing matterial (he was HUGE on first flush diverters). Also, using gutter mesh helps keep sediment to a minimum.
Here's a link from's RWH resources about roof materials and health:

Here is a downspout diverter relatively cheap:

There are instructions out there that I have seen that tell you how to make your own diverter with materials from Home Depot or Lowes. It's pretty easy, sorry I wasn't able to dig them up.

Chris said...

Well, If you look at the diagram in Oregon's Rainwater manual on page 11

and follow the instructions on page 14 of Texas's guide

You could make one easy enough. If I find actual step-by-step instructions, I'll send them along.