The City of Red Lodge hosted a Catch the Rain Campaign for Red Lodge area residents in June 2020. In this window, Red Lodge residents could purchase the necessary materials to connect a rain barrel to their gutter system for a significantly discounted price compared to commercial value. We were hoping to host an in person workshop for this campaign, but due to COVID-19 health concerns we will instead provide residents with the hardware kits and 55-gallon drums to convert and install the rain barrels on their own. Download the Installation and Care Manual.
We’ve officially closed orders for the campaign! If you are interested in getting put on a list to receive a 55 gallon drum as they become available and/or to hear about updates on a 2021 program, please send an email request to email@example.com.
Why Rain Barrels?
The average American family directly consumes nearly 110,000 gallons of water each year, and if you include water used for producing food, energy, and consumer goods, that total jumps to 1.9 million gallons annually! However, a single 55-gallon rain barrel can save up to 1,300 gallons of water every year.
Rain barrels collect free rainwater to water gardens, trees, and lawns. This saves you money on water bills, AND helps reduce demand for energy-intensive treated tap water, limits stormwater runoff and erosion, and saves water for use during droughts. Installing a rain barrel is one of the easiest ways to reduce your water footprint and help recharge our rivers, lakes, and aquifers.
To provide some context, the City’s Stormwater Preliminary Engineering Report states that the stormwater infrastructure within the City has numerous areas that drain to the sanitary sewer system. These cross connections cause extreme maintenance issues with the wastewater treatment plant, and a public health and safety concern as City employees must deal with excess flow into the wastewater treatment plant to prevent flooding of the plant. More rain barrels would be a great way to address our stormwater diversion needs at the community level as well as help residents save on their water utility bills.
As detailed in section WW-6 of the city-adopted Energy Conservation Plan, support of community initiatives to collect rainwater, develop rain gardens, and use gray water for landscaping is highly encouraged. More rain barrels collecting stormwater in the City will lead to a decreased carbon footprint through reduced need for future incoming Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant capacity, and coincident energy usage at both. This entails a decreased use of taxpayer funds that would’ve been unnecessarily spent on treatment of stormwater.
To help figure out how much water a rain barrel could save from your particular roof, check out this online Rainfall Harvest Calculator. You will need to know the dimensions of the roof that feeds into your gutter system as well as the amount of rainfall in inches. *HINT* In Red Lodge, it rains an average of 10.71 inches in May-September.
What You Need To Know
- In order to install with the hardware kits we provide, you MUST have functioning gutters and a 2×3 or 3×4 downspout.
- Collected water is NON-POTABLE.
- To install, you will need:
- A base for the rain barrel (such as bricks, cinderblocks, a wooden platform, etc.).
- A power drill
- Safety glasses and gloves
- OPTIONAL: Paint for decorating the barrel when you’re finished
- In the winter, the rain barrels need to be emptied and disconnected to prevent damage
How to Convert and Install a Rain Barrel
Even those with no experience can build these simple stormwater collection devices! The RainRecycle hardware kits we provided from the Rain Barrel Depot include:
- a set of hole saws
- a spigot
- a downspout diverter
- flexible connection tube
- rubber seals
- a “non-potable water” sticker
- a winter hole cover
- set of instructions
The connector kit includes:
- a fill hose that extends from 6 inches up to 31 inches
- a hole saw
- water seals
- set of instructions
Get a jump on designing your system by reading the hardware kit instructions ahead of time!
Please out to the City Sustainability Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
- Label Removal – For a paper label, spray it with water and let it soften, then take a scrubby sponge and scrub off all paper and adhesive. A plastic paint scraper is also helpful. Any adhesive you can feel but not see can be sanded off later. For plastic labels, peel off with plastic paint scrapper. A goop type product or lemon essential oil may help for a particularly difficult label.
- Wash entire barrel with warm water and dish detergent. Dry with soft cloth.
- Sand the barrel with 220-grit sand paper. A light sanding is all that is needed to remove the barrel’s waxy coat and give the primer something to bite to. The paint then sticks to the primer.
- Wipe barrel down with either vinegar or an ammonia/water solution.
- Primer – Do not brush or spray on too thin. Work into all crevices, including stamped letters. Cover the entire surface. Let dry well. You must be able to put primer on immediately after sanding, as the surface will re-wax if left. Make sure the primer is able to adhere to plastic. Aerosol primer is another option, figure roughly two cans per barrel.
- When primer is completely dry, you may sketch your design and begin painting. Use a dull pencil, as a sharp pencil will scratch off the primer. The pencil marks do erase well. It is recommended using two to three light coats of paint, to reduce chances of the paint sagging and dripping!
- When you are finished painting the design on your barrel, it is highly recommended to give 48 hours drying time before you move it, longer would be better. The paint needs a period of time to cure to reduce the possibility of damage to the paint job. The lower the temperature of your work area the longer drying time needed.
- Finally, we recommend using a clear coat to protect the paint design and give your barrel a nice sheen.
A Few Helpful Tips:
- Follow the basic rules you would when painting a wall. Tape, cut in and fill in. Do the background first and then the detail.
- Remember thick coats of paint tend to peel! Use multiple thin coats.
- When using masking tape, remove tape before paint dries to prevent the tape pulling off dry paint. If this happens, you will need to re-prime
In short, yes. Montana has no regulations or laws against rainwater harvesting. Some Homeowners Associations may limit or restrict the use of rain barrels, so it’s best practice to review your HOA’s rules before moving forward with rain barrel installation.
This depends on how much higher your barrel is than the point you’re watering. The higher the elevation, the greater the water pressure will be at its lowest point. Each foot in elevation change is equal to 0.433 PSI (pounds per square inch) of water pressure.
So, if you place your barrel on a 3 ft. stand and your barrel is full, you will have 2.598 PSI of water pressure. To keep that level of pressure, the base of your barrel needs to be 2-3 ft higher than the highest point of your garden. Examples when using drip irrigation: If your plants are on the ground, your barrel should be elevated 2 ft. or more. If your plants are in a 1 ft. raised garden bed, your barrel should be elevated 3 ft. or more, 4 ft. or more with 2 ft. raised beds and so on.
A common base for barrels is cinderblocks and level concrete slabs, but you could also build a platform out of bricks or wood. Keep in mind that a full 55 gallon barrel will weigh nearly 500 pounds, so make sure the base is sturdy!
Before temperatures drop to freezing each year, you’ll need to disconnect and store your barrel for the winter. This can be done in the following steps:
- Drain your barrel. This is to prevent any water left in the barrel from expanding and potentially cracking and damaging the barrel.
- Disconnect the FlexiFit Diverter and fill hose, then screw in the winter hole cover in your downspout. To keep track of the winter hole cover in the summer months, you could tie the hole cover to your fill hose so you don’t lose it!
- Take the opportunity to clean your gutters and the inside of the rain barrel. See the next question for a cleaning guide.
- Turn the barrel upside down to prevent water accumulation and store inside if possible. If the barrel must be stored outside, remove the hose parts and cover with a tarp for the winter to prevent damage.
Rain barrels are relatively low maintenance, but taking a few simple steps can expand the lifetime of your water collection system.
Make sure to use collected water between rain events so that there’s room for the next storm. This will help water from stagnating and ensure that you’re collecting as much water as possible.
Before and after you set up your rain barrel, make sure that your gutters are fairly clean. Leaves and pine needles won’t clog the diverter but decomposed organic matter will. How well you maintain your gutters affects the degree of performance of your system as well as reflecting on how often you should clean the inside of your barrel. Consider installing gutter guards or screens on the top of roof downspouts to prevent leaves, debris, and critters from entering your barrel.
How to clean the barrel:
- Drain barrel
- Disconnect the barrel from your downspout.
- Flip barrel over and drain any remaining stagnant water.
- Remove any sediment or foreign materials from the barrel. A long-handle brush or coat hanger works well for this.
- Clean out the barrel’s interior. There are lots of cleaning solution options out there, so feel free to research what suits your needs best.
- Here is one recipe: Use 2 tsp. of Hydrogen Peroxide, 2 tsp. of vinegar, and 2 tsp. of Dawn detergent per gallon of water. Pour solution into barrel and secure the bung caps. Coat the inside walls by rolling the barrel back and fourth on its side. Let stand for a few minutes, remove the bung caps, then rinse it out.
Once the barrel is clean, store upside down ideally indoors or outside with a tarp cover.
Although rainwater is natural, it’s not safe to drink without filtering or treating. This is because the collected water is picking up all the bird droppings, dead bugs, debris particulates, and any pollution from the atmosphere and from your roof. For this same reason, plants love the slightly acidic rainwater that aids the provision of nutrients to plants more effectively than mineral-laden tap water.
- When watering a vegetable garden, it’s important to water at the ground level rather than on the plant itself to avoid accidentally ingesting the rainwater once the vegetables have been harvested.
- You can also use collected rainwater to water the lawn, but we’d recommend you increase your storage capacity before attempting to water your entire lawn with just 55 gallons of water. Keep in mind that the higher elevation the barrel is above the watering point, the higher the water pressure will be and the easier it will be to water your plants.
- Collected rainwater can be used to wash the car or siding of your home.
- You could connect a hose to the spigot and divert the water to a rain garden to further decrease your water footprint.
Rain gardens, when planned and installed correctly, can be a very effective as well as visually appealing, stormwater management tool for homeowners. If you have noticed standing water on your lawn, detected soil erosion or need to move stormwater away from your home’s foundation, a rain garden may be right for you. Rain gardens help to manage the stormwater that falls on your property thereby preventing it from entering and overwhelming the storm sewer system. They collect and hold rainwater for a brief time (less than 48 hours) slowly releasing it through the soil or allowing plants to soak it up.
Determining the location, size and slope of your rain garden are all key to the success of this green solution. Most rain gardens are between four and eight inches deep in order to provide enough capacity to handle the average rainfall. If the rain garden is too shallow, it needs to be very large and if it’s too deep, it might take too long to drain and result in standing water and mosquito breeding. According to the 2018 Red Lodge Stormwater PER, roughly 15% of the soil in Red Lodge has a slow or very slow infiltration rate. This means water has high runoff potential in these areas. If the soil in your backyard has a high clay content, you may need to add organic matter to the soil. This will improve drainage and will help to lighten the clay to make it better for planting.
Rain gardens can be very low maintenance, but very visually appealing.
Choose flowers, shrubs and trees native to our region. These plants can tolerate short intervals of standing water or drought, have deep roots that let water soak into the soil, and don’t require fertilizers or other chemicals.
Spring and fall are the best times to start your garden. In spring, the soil is easier to dig and the rainy weather means less initial watering. Perennials often do best when planted in fall when they have sent all of their energy to their roots for winter.
For further reading, the Publications Available from the Bridger Plant Materials Center offers a wealth of information on native and pollinator-friendly plants that would be well suited for a rain garden in Red Lodge.