open-source rainwater catchment methods and kits

portland, oregon
503-609-0105
Why
save
rain?
Open Dialog. We've found that prioritizing a cause higher than your bottom line raises some eyebrows, and questions. Here we can offer some thoughts on how and why we do things (& why you should!), and more specific details about individual kits as well. If there is a missing question you'd like to find here, please let us know...

Please take note this is one super-long scrolling page of questions and answers. Use the index below to find your question, or just browse around.



......


Your Burning Questions

Why save rain?
•  Why bother collecting rain? Am I really doing conservation? Does it even matter?
•  Is my saving just a little water really going to make any difference?
•  I've heard that rainwater catchment in barrels is a conservation fallacy. How do you plead, sirs?!

Portland Oregon & Rainwater Catchment
•  What does PDX have to say about rainwater catchment? Do they encourage it?
•  Ahh, but is it legal? Do I need a permit?
•  How much rain actually flows off my roof in a year?And how much of that can I really harvest?
•  30,000 gallons a year, d-a-m-n. How much of that do I need to collect to get me through the summer?
•  I've heard that if I collect the water off my roof, PDX'll cut me a break?

Why Contain Rain is a different kind of company
•  You idiots are giving away all of your research and methods for free. That is no way to make money!
•  Your kits are the least expensive I've seen anywhere. What's the catch?
•  Reclaimed? Repurposed? Recycled? Reused? Please tell me how this isn't just fancy-talk for selling me someone else's garbage.
•  So really, honestly, what are you guys doing to these barrels that I can't do myself?

About the Contain Rain Barrels
•  So, what was in these barrels anyway? And how much do they hold? Do they smell?
•  How quickly will my barrel fill?
•  Uhg, more toxic plastic in my life?
•  But what about the toxic junk I've seen folks glue on to make them into rain barrels?
•  I see these barrels are white; I've heard that's no good for water.

Methods and Principals

Technical Principals of Liquids & Misc. Collection and Extraction Methods
•  PRINCIPAL: What is "Displacement"; and how does it work?
•  PRINCIPAL: So who is this guy Pascal, and why does water seek its own level; what does that even mean?
•  PRINCIPAL: What about gravitational pull (the water's weight); won't that be sufficient to create water pressure?
•  PRINCIPAL: What is "wicking"? How can water move upwards against gravity?
•  ALT. METHOD: I want an extraction method that has good water pressure. What about pressurizing the barrels?

Micro-Climate Systems
•  How do your Self-Hydrating, Soil-Wicking Garden Beds work?
•  What is the ideal method and schedule for optimal watering?

Intakes & Overflows
•  What is an intake and what is an overflow?
•  What is the Contain Rain Water Arm?
•  What's the distinction between the Water Arm and the Garden Watersaver™?
•  Why is a combined intake/overflow better than a separate intake/overflow?

Kit FAQs

Cisterns: 330 Gallon Tote
•  What are the specifications of these cisterns?
•  Can you stack these 330g totes? Won't they weigh some insane amount?
•  These seem to be a bit large; I don't think I can install them myself. Do you offer installation or training?
•  Ok, but what's the advantage of doing it myself?
•  I see the waterarm only has a small hose. How quickly will a tote fill?
•  I see these are translucent, will they grow tons of algae?

Self-Hydrating Garden Bed Kit Questions
•  How many barrel-beds can I put on a hydration system?
•  I don't really want to see these barrel-beds in my yard; is there any way I can bury them?
•  What kind of plants can grow in this system?
•  HYDRATING BEDS SELF-INSTALLATION: Preparing your leveled space
•   HYDRATING BEDS SELF-INSTALLATION: Installing filters & infilling with sand & gravel / Installing soil wicks
•  HYDRATING BEDS SELF-INSTALLATION: Adjusting water level / Adding soil / Monitoring progress

Basic Catchment: Questions about a Home Setup
•  How many barrels can I get; how many should I get?
•  I don't see any options for stands/racks/blocks for your basic kits.
•  I'm interested in having enough water to make it through the summer (or as close as I can get!); but I don't want my yard filled with plastic barrels; what can I do?
•  I only need a few barrels—but still, I have a beautiful garden, and these, sorry to say, present an aesthetic "issue".

Why save rain?

Why bother collecting rain? Am I really doing conservation? Does it even matter?

YES! Though there is debate, the answer to this question does not have to be difficult. We believe that collecting rainwater is ACTUALLY just as our intuition would have us believe: A good idea that is beneficial to the environment and furthermore promotes the core objectives of environmental conservation. Catchment is an ancient practice, and though for more obvious reasons in arid locations, it is also an important tactic as our water sheds become unpredictable and more coveted. We cannot assume that our water supply will will always remain a free resource. Critical system redundancy is always a good idea. [For more information about water, water privatization, bottled water, and the future battle over water, see our links on the contacts page.]

Is my saving just a little water really going to make any difference?

Think about it. There are many beneficial reasons for collecting rainwater in barrels. Consider the following... 1) Each with a little, equals a lot: If half of everyone in Portland collected and used a single barrel of water we would have conserved upwards of 15 million gallons with each fill/use. 2) Diverting Stormwater: Though a single barrel makes nearly no impact on stormwater run off itself, often neighbors incorporate a rain garden with their system and disconnect their downspouts to save on water charges (see the stormwater runoff FAQ for more information). This helps ease PDX's stormwater overflow. 3) Energy Conservation—RE: Potable Water: Decresase demand on municipal water purification systems. Does it make sense that we water our lawns, flush our toilets, and wash our clothes and cars with perfectly drinkable water? It takes energy to purify water. 4) Purified by Mother Nature: Many contaminants typically found in surface, ground, or tap water are not found in rainwater. It does not contain chemicals added by the city system, nor does it have any leaching from old pipes. 5) The Conservation/DIY Gateway: When we decide to make a difference, we start with ourselves. We change what is in our control. Such a change is more valuable than our anonymous money in the hands of charities. When we speak, through personal change, it is our voice that is heard. 6) Cyclical Gain: Your rain barrels, so long as you USE THEM, will cyclically produce environmental gain. It may be slow-ish, but this is a gift that keeps on giving.

We have met many folks buying kits or making their own rainwater catchment systems. The smiles on their faces are a priceless confirmation we are helping them do something for themselves. For many of them, this is the first step in a long journey of conscious Do It Yourself, bottom-up conservation. We are all a little tired of waiting for solutions to be handed down from above. It is amazing to witness people who have decided to start out down their own path. We all start somewhere—catching rain is as good a place as any... so long as we start climbing.

I've heard that rainwater catchment in barrels is a conservation fallacy. How do you plead, sirs?!

Re-Use, Re-Purpose, Re-Define. While we will be the first to concede that collecting small amounts of rainwater does more for our sense of doing right by the environment than it does much else, it is important to us that our customers know that actual conservation means an understanding of the triple bottom line
. Don't worry, we've thought a bit about it before putting so much of our time and energy into this project.

Our barrels are rescued from the waste stream. Never buy a brand new plastic rain barrel and think you are benefiting the environment. You're not. The cost of making a new plastic water barrel completely offsets the negligible value of conserving under 100 gallons of water (depending on the annual rainfall of your locale). This often results in a net (bottom-line, end of the day) environmental loss. There is not a new plastic rainbarrel in existence which is not a "greenwashed"
product. Our barrels have been given a second-life. We also make an effort to invent methods which do not render the barrel useless (i.e. by drilling holes in the bottom) for other, unforeseen, future applications. If the barrels can be used again for yet another purpose, all the better.

Our racks, kits and intakes are custom—made from almost all repurposed/reclaimed materials. Creating a brand new, pressure treated, wood rain barrel rack is self-defeating from a conservation outlook. It would be similar to buying hybrid sedan to minimize your CO2 and towing it around with an SUV. Or, to put it another way, how much water did it take to grow the tree(s) that is/are now holding up your 110 gallons; how much energy did it take to cut them, haul them, process them, haul them again, fabricate the rack, and resell it as an inert rainbarrel stand? (HINT: It took more resources than it can probably recoop in many many years service in your garden.)

Portland Oregon & Rainwater Catchment

What does PDX have to say about rainwater catchment? Do they encourage it?

The Portland Water Bureau has this to say: "Collecting rainwater is an ancient practice that people have used throughout history. In Portland, capturing the abundant winter rainfall and putting it to work in your home or garden helps to connect residents with the water that sustains our community." An interesting article in harvestH2O.com
about the BIG PIPE project (currently underway) sites Brad Crowley's graduate research,
which states "that two linked fifty-five gallon rain barrels would dramatically reduce runoff and meet the toilet flushing needs for most households." For more information on the subject, check out this article on the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability website
.

YES it is legal. And NO, in most cases you do not need a permit. The Portland Water Bureau
says, "Using Rainwater Outdoors: In Portland, you are not required to get a city permit to harvest rainwater and use it outdoors. However, since harvested rainwater is most often used for outdoor irrigation, (like watering a lawn or garden), you should consider how much rainwater storage capacity you will need for watering plants during the dry summer months when there is little rainfall."

How much rain actually flows off my roof in a year?
And how much of that can I really harvest?

How much rain you can harvest depends directly on the square footage of your roof, and how many barrels you want hanging out in your garden. Clearly, here in Portland, we do not suffer from lack of rainwater. An average size house (40'x50', or +- 2,000 square foot roof) will yield over 30,000 gallon per year! (Here's a great page that allows you to calculate your potential harvest
.)

30,000 gallons a year, d-a-m-n.
How much of that do I need to collect to get me through the summer?

This is a complicated question, with lots of variables. The short answer, however, is pretty simple: 95% of rain collectors are not prepared nor interested in having the number of 55 gallon barrels it would actually require to rely only on rainwater for an entire summer. For example, let's assume that you need a quarter gallon of water per square foot of "gardening space" in your yard. Our garden has 120 square feet of gardening space, so that comes out to 30 gallons per watering (we are being conservative here). If you watered your garden every other day with rainwater over a 3 month (rainless) summer, that would be 1,350 gallons of water or 24.5 filled barrels.

I've heard that if I collect the water off my roof, PDX'll cut me a break?

The wonderful city of Portland has a nasty storm water runoff problem. They'll pay you to help them fix it. Portland Bureau of Environmental Services has identified certain areas of the city to focus on storm water management (Do I live in this area?
). If you live in one of these areas, and successfully manage your storm water runoff (i.e. disconnect your down-spouts), you can receive a 100% discount on your "on-site stormwater management charges"
). However, collecting an insignificant fraction of the storm water in a barrel will not win you this discount, you can only get the discount when you've disconnected your downspouts and proven that you have successfully designed your yard to absorb the runoff. Many folks are doing this through creating overflow irrigation systems and/or "rain gardens". Here's a city-sponsored how-to video on creating an acceptable rain garden.
(yes they will come and inspect it before applying a storm water discount, and no you do not need a permit for small rain gardens.) You can find additional information on rainwater harvesting from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
.

Why Contain Rain is a different kind of company

You idiots are giving away all of your research and methods for free. That is no way to make money!

Contain Rain is an experimental business & conservation "project". We are equally interested in the inspiration and passion which motivates demand for our product as we are in making a few dollars. Our success depends on the independent conviction of our potential customers. This is capitalism turned on its head (though we're not convinced Ayn Rand would disapprove): instead of creating demand, we act as a kind of barometer for it. Customers always ask us (all kinds of different folks), "So... you guys selling a lot of these systems?" We all seem to be secretly curious who else out there is fighting the good fight.

Your kits are the least expensive I've seen anywhere. What's the catch?

Well, contrary to the assumed business posture of pricing just under what the market will bear, seeing how excited people get when they take on a personal project like this pretty much offsets any desire for artificial price gouging. We are trying to redefine what it means to get ahead—by offering the community both a service and/or a means to accomplish ideals on their own. Whether the reason be conservation, self-sufficiency, or just for the spirit of invention, we are happy to provide free resources, affordable kits, exchange knowledge, and make it happen. Yeah, we're not into rain barrels for their lucrative returns. We aim to provide the best product at the best price, and be part of the solution in general.

Reclaimed? Repurposed? Recycled? Reused? Please tell me how this isn't just fancy-talk for selling me someone else's garbage.

This is a complex, but very important, topic. The question we always ask people is, "Do really think we need more new stuff in this world?" We are waking up from the fallacy that the only products worth the money are fresh from the factory floor. As we realize that very very few of these manfacturing plants are really as we'd like to ideally imagine them, (efficient, effective, streamlined operations, employing fellow Americans with full benefits and pensions, NOT making products designed to break in 6 months), we must recognize that new doesn't mean nice, better, or even viable. The DIY movement in this country is creating a generation of more traditional aritsans, working with reclaimed "raw" materials (or "garbage", if you insist) and creating better, longer lasting products that require NO NEW MATERIALS to produce. These products are often less expensive, local (employ your neighbors; imagine that!), and may even be made by YOU, YES YOU YOURSELF!

So really, honestly, what are you guys doing to these barrels that I can't do myself?

Honestly, really, the basics of rainwater collection are not that hard. Pretty much anyone could make it happen; but, not everyone has the tools or motivation to do so. For those who are looking for a new challenge, we've complied a good amount of knowledge and research and made it available to DIY'ers for free on this website. Everything from collection and extraction methods to how-to install the hardware. For some of the more complex kit designs, people usually leave it up to us. Often it's hard to source repurposed material and make it work.

About the Contain Rain Barrels

So, what was in these barrels anyway? And how much do they hold? Do they smell?

The barrels are 55 USG (United States Gallons), and were used to ship syrup concentrate. The barrels smell slightly, but over a few fills will lose the odor.

How quickly will my barrel fill?

Very, very quickly. Obviously each fill would depend on how hard it is raining, but even a light rain will fill up barrel after barrel. Think about it this way: If it rained 0.1 inches (Portland yearly average is +-37 inches per year), and your roof was 2000 square feet (20'x50' house), that's 124 gallons (94 gallons at a 75% catch rate). For the most efficient use of a small catchment capacity, say <240 gallons, using the water during the rainy season, in toilets washing machines, etc., would maximize your overall conservation.

Uhg, more toxic plastic in my life?

Once the barrels have been used, they are (for some mysterious reason) deemed useless and are trashed directly— sometimes chipped, sometimes dumped or incinerated—whichever (of course) is the cheapest overall disposal cost for the corporation. We think re-purposing them for use in conservation provides the best, most positive impact for their "second life". HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) is among the safest (least leaching) of the plastics and is used as vessels for foodstuffs.

But what about the toxic junk I've seen folks glue on to make them into rain barrels?

Unlike many of the barrels we've seen around, we have made it a goal to produce an inexpensive, effective rain barrel design that uses only a small bead of silicon caulk to produce a quality, leak-free system. All of our "add-on" parts are approved for use with potable water. (All this, just in case you one-day find your toddler drinking out of your rain water spigot!)

I see these barrels are white; I've heard that's no good for water.

Our barrels are semi-opaque (partial light emitting) white High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). As most of us have discovered long ago, where there is light and water, there is life. These barrels, as is, are not good candidates if your goal is potable water containment. If they are kept in direct sunlight, life (usually in the form of harmless green algae) will spring forth. We do not recommend use of these barrels for potable applications unless you plan on altering them to eliminate light from entering.

Technical Principals of Liquids & Misc. Collection and Extraction Methods

PRINCIPAL: What is "Displacement"; and how does it work?

Archimedes discovered that any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid. Something placed within something must "displace" the molecules equal to itself. How else would it fit? The same principal applies to water flowing into a closed system occupied by air (it's not a vacuum). Where water goes in, an equal amount of air must go out. This is why most rain barrel systems must have a way of venting their air. Some methods of collecting rainwater have the air and water exchange in the same tube. When enough water enters, it creates pressure. This internal pressure forces air out (essentially 'clogging' the intake tube temporarily to let out air). The greater physical weight of the water 'falling' is enough to force its way past the air coming back out. Otherwise, the barrel would not fill. It's the same principal when you see air bubbles enter a water cooler as you are filling your cup, but in this example air is displacing water.

PRINCIPAL: So who is this guy Pascal, and why does water seek its own level; what does that even mean?

Blaise Pascal (b. 1623) was a French mathematician "of the first order". He built mechanical calculators and introduced new areas of mathematics research. His main contributions, as far as we're concerned, is his work in hydrodynamics and hydrostatics (centered on the principles of hydraulic fluids). In fact he invented the hydraulic press and the syringe. Fantastic! In the physical sciences, Pascal's law (the principle of transmission of fluid-pressure) states that "pressure exerted anywhere in a confined incompressible fluid is transmitted equally in all directions throughout the fluid such that the pressure ratio (initial difference) remains the same." (Bloomfield, Louis (2006). How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life (Third Edition).) Basically, he discovered two things that explain water seeking its own level, the first was that pressure on a liquid is transferred through the liquid equally in all directions (regardless of the amount of liquid present). The second was that pressure experienced by a liquid changed at different heights (barometric, atmospheric, or air-pressure), meaning that liquid which was physically higher in space had a different amount of pressure applied to it. Because of this principal, atmospheric pressure upon liquid in a confined and connected system will seek to equalize its level. And the weirdest part is that the physical amount or proportions of liquid in the equalizing containers doesn't matter. It will ALWAYS level out to exactly the same height from the ground.

PRINCIPAL: What about gravitational pull (the water's weight); won't that be sufficient to create water pressure?

Many people have this question and hold an intuitive belief that gravity will create a significant amount of water pressure (weight) at the bottom of the barrel and in turn force the water out a spigot and hose with considerable force. We admit, it would be fantastic if this were the case. However, for as heavy as water is, the only force with consequence is the force of air (barometric pressure) pushing down on the water. The water will essentially 'fall' out of the barrel, but with only the force of falling water. It will flow so long as it is falling (flowing downward). It will not fall with any pressure behind it, and if you are holding a hose higher than the top-most level of the water, it will not flow at all. Otherwise it will spill out with hardly any force whatever. This is sometimes desirable for those who wish to drip-irrigate with their rainwater.




PRINCIPAL: What is "wicking"? How can water move upwards against gravity?

Wicking is scientifically explained using a physics principal called capillary action. "Capillary action occurs because of inter-molecular attractive forces between the liquid and solid surrounding surfaces. If the diameter of [a] tube is sufficiently small, then the combination of surface tension (which is caused by cohesion within the liquid) and forces of adhesion between the liquid and container act to lift the liquid." (http://science.jrank.org/pages/1182/Capillary-Action.html) Basically, we've all seen a meniscus in our drinking glass. Water has a magical property of "crawing" up surfaces that are unlike itself. Wicking is (more or less) a plethora of crawling meniscus, but each moment the meniscus encounters another particle to crawl up, hence the water soaks into certain material, even vertically. Water can wick almost 12" up through soil. For more information and a guide on soil wicking see The Permaculture Research Institute's page

ALT. METHOD: I want an extraction method that has good water pressure. What about pressurizing the barrels?

We have had a few folks who bought barrels from us with the intention of pressurizing them. To us, it doesn't make sense to pressurize the system at its most dangerous point; i.e. creating a potential explosion where all the water is stored. Most systems we have seen pick another point at which to introduce 'pressure'. It takes energy to create pressure, and a COMPLETELY sealed and sound system to maintain pressure (not even tires can always maintain their pressure). Why not use the energy on demand to create water pressure when you need it, like in a pump extraction method? Or if you must create and maintain pressure in the system, most we've seen use an air compressor attached to the system. In short, we do not recommend unnecessarily pressurizing the water barrels themselves.

Micro-Climate Systems

How do your Self-Hydrating, Soil-Wicking Garden Beds work?

The system is inspiringly simple. You catch rain. You divert a few barrels to this system, say, one (55 gallons) per two beds (12 sq ft). The barrel is joined to a cistern with a float valve, which turns the water supply on and off according to the specific level of water it is adjusted to maintain (your toilet has one of these so it does not overflow when filling after a flush). The barrel-beds are leveled out and connected with tubes so that they will all contain the same amount of water as is present in the cistern. Each barrel-bed is filled with gravel and sand above this water level. The dirt in the bed sits atop the sand, staying relatively dry. And now here's the trick: Small 4" plastic planters are evenly distributed and dug into the sand. These planters fill with water. Dirt connected to the soil above is packed into them, transforming them into wicks (like in an oil lamp) employing the principal of capillary action. These wicks work against gravity to absorb water as needed into the soil. The soil will not become completely saturated, but will maintain a consistent moisture level. With good soil, this creates an ideal environment for plants to grow. By defining an impermeable bed space with the barrel, the system can conserve a great deal of water, and requires zero maintenance. Simply plant and harvest.

FURTHER CONSERVING WATER
It is possible to conserve an even greater amount of water by minimizing the amount of evaporated water released from the top of the bed. This can be accomplished by placing another impermeable layer (such as plastic) around the base of the plants you are growing. In fact, we suspect that you might be able to get through the entire three-month Portland dry summer on one rainbarrel (55 gallons) per two grow beds. If you had 8 beds, that's nearly 50 sq ft of garden space on 4 barrels (only 220 gallons)!

For more detailed reading about this system, see the Self-Hydrating Garden Bed kit FAQ

What is the ideal method and schedule for optimal watering?

On the one hand, the answer to this question is simple and intuitive. We kind of know how life goes and how it works, and, for the most part, we can intuit the best way to water plants. Not too little, and not too much—right? On the other hand, when you begin to consider that water is one among a few different elements of concern, all interacting differently with one another depending on the particular environment... then we tend to get out our books and start scouring the internet for advice on raising our plants.

CONVENTIONAL/CLASSIC/CAN WATERING
If you, first of all, remember to water, and furthermore, view your opportunities to water as sacred communal acts consummating you and the natural environment... then THAT is clearly the best and most effective method of watering we imagine a plant could ever hope for. For the rest of us who wish we enjoyed every moment of watering, the watering can is of marginal effectiveness. It is sometimes unavoidable if we have a rainwater catchment system with a simple drain and no nifty hydrating beds or irrigation technique. Then it is the daily march back and forth to fill it up, waiting, and waiting some more. There is the inherent danger in this method, especially if we are impatient, of underwatering. If we soak only the first few inches of soil, well, that's barely doing much good—and encouraging more surface weed growth than optimally watering your precious babies. Basically, can watering is a good method for those with soaking time on their hands and who don't nearly consider it a chore.

DRIP DRIP DRIP, FOREVER
Many folks are trying their hand at using water more efficiently. Drip irrigation is often cited as an obvious alternative to conventional watering. As perhaps the single most impactful invention in modern agriculture, clearly it has a proven effectiveness when we think about farming innovation. Drip irrigation, while more complex to set up over a large area, is most effective for very large gardens, we dare say, farms. It is however very simple to set up a rainwater-fed, gravity-based drip irrigation line around your small garden. This will continuously water the soil around your plants. However, issues arise when we try and regulate when, where, and how much water our drip irrigation system distributes; that is, when it's not clogged. There are electronic timers that can switch systems on and off, and there are attachments that will evenly distribute drip water in multiple directions. There is much tweeking, monitoring, fiddling, and oversight required to get a drip irrigation system, large or small, to a point where one need no longer worry about watering their plants.

NATURAL WICKING
There is a method of watering, called wicking, which hyperwaters a small area of soil below groundlevel (the "wick") and through capillary action allows that soil wick to pull moisture upwards toward the plant roots. This is less effective for extremely large gardens or farms, and for water conservation efficiency requires some form of impermeable surface boundary. It is, however, a very good choice for small gardens, greenhouses, and even indoor, urban farming applications. Perhaps the best part of this method is that, when correctly set up, there is no human regulation required whatever. The system regulates the water in the gravel/sand beds, the soil sits on top, and the wicks pull as much water as needed to the surface. It is also a very good environment in which to germinate seed. For more information on how this method works, check out the Self-Hydrating Garden Bed kit FAQ.

THE 'PONICS
Further exploring micro-climates, there are also many more methods for a total regulation of the habitat, such as in aquaponics, hydroponics, terrariums, trombes, and the list goes on. We have an ebb & flow aquaponics system at Contain Rain headquarters which works fabulously, but it does require a constant eye to be certain that the delicate balance struck is maintained. We will travel further down this road when our urban aquaponics system becomes available as a kit.

Intakes & Overflows

What is an intake and what is an overflow?

An intake is simply where the water enters the system. An intake could have a filter and a hose attached to it, or it can just be a hole. An overflow is the method used to deal with excess water after the system has filled. It is often referred to as a diverter. These two points can be combined in some methods and separate in others. We prefer combining them, as it is a more elegant solution. More time is given to this point below.

What is the Contain Rain Water Arm?

The Water Arm is Contain Rain's custom water diverter. It is made with 80% reclaimed material. It acts as both a water intake, filter, and overflow system. The purpose of the Water Arm is to send incoming water to the rain barrel until it fills completely. Once the barrel is filled, water backs up through the attached hose, filling the main chamber and is then diverted out the 2-inch-diameter "arm" and back into your downspout. With some tin snips and a screwdriver, you can easily install the Water Arm into your downspout. Click here for a visual illustration of how the Water Arm works.

What's the distinction between the Water Arm and the Garden Watersaver?

The Garden Watersaver is a good product; it handles intake and overflow adequately. It has a low profile, and is easy to install. However, we've encountered some issues, particularly that: The Garden Watersaver hose slips off easily (especially in summer conditions), there is no supplied connector (hose barb) to attach it to a barrel, and it depends on 100% fabrication of new materials through injection molding. It is also made outside of the United States, and it is quite expensive ($30+ MSRP).

Because of the fragile net environmental gain of collecting rain in barrels, we have invented the Water Arm to address these issues. The Water Arm hose fits so snugly you'll need two body builders to take it off (well, not really). The Water Arm is made from almost all reclaimed material, therefore reducing demand for new plastics and lowering the price! Our design for the Water Arm is available as open-source (open-hardware), so you (yes, you!) can make your own. (But you might find that ours is less expensive anyway.) The Water Arm is even easier to install than the Garden Watersaver (if that were even possible!) because it requires no specialized angled cuts. We still carry the Garden Watersaver (at $10 less than MSRP) alongside our Water Arm. The choice is yours! [ Check this link for more about the Garden Watersaver
. Here's a great video by CleanAirGardening.com which shows you exactly how to install the Watersaver
]

Why is a combined intake/overflow better than a separate intake/overflow?

We've researched many rain barrel designs which have an intake and a separate overflow. A separated overflow is usually a hose of some sort coming out of the side of the barrel, near the top. There are some simple disadvantages to these systems: In some designs, the overflow is a standard 3/4 garden hose. A hose this small is simply not large enough to handle the Portland two-month winter deluge. Small-hose overflows, therefore, fail to overflow all the water coming in the top. This results in excess water gushing out of the intake (and everywhere else it can get through), inundating your foundation and flooding your basement. To remedy this, some overflow systems have a large (like 2-inch diameter) hose coming out of the top-side of the barrel. This handles deluges just fine, but there are three disadvantages: over 2 inches of fill capacity of the barrel is wasted (which translates to nearly 2 gallons lost); large-size hardware is expensive; the integrity of the barrel is severely compromised, so leaks are hard to prevent.

Furthermore, we've found that separate intake/overflow systems are much trickier for customers to install. A much more elegant solution is some sort of combined intake/overflow. In these systems, water comes in to the barrel. Extra water is diverted back to the system and then out (either to the sewer or to an on-site rain garden.) Products like the Garden Watersaver fill this need nicely and are easy to install with no specialized knowledge or skill. At Contain Rain, we offer the Garden Watersaver as well as our in-house diverter called the Water Arm.

Cisterns: 330 Gallon Tote

What are the specifications of these cisterns?

Each cistern has a capcity of 330 USG. They measure 48" long by 40" wide by 54" high (4' x 3.3' x 4.5'), and are surrounded by a 1" galvanized steel support "cage" (included in the measurement). The intake in the top (hole in the red cap) is a 2" female NPT (National Pipe Thread). The outlet is on the width plane and is a 2" NPT male industrial plastic, heavy-duty ball valve. The container has a thick plastic 'foot' which steps it off the ground 6".

Can you stack these 330g totes? Won't they weigh some insane amount?

Yes and yes. You can stack them 2 high (MAX), and they each weigh approx 2,600lbs when full (80lbs empty). Stacking will require a poured concrete slab foundation of at least 4".

These seem to be a bit large; I don't think I can install them myself. Do you offer installation or training?

Yes, we offer both installation and training. Our product comes with all of the necessary parts installed; however, the large 2" intake capcity of the cistern often requires a custom plumbing job. We recommend and encourage our consultation option where we come out and help YOU install the plumbing. However, if that is not possible, we do partner with and offer additional serivces through a licensed and bonded contrator.

Ok, but what's the advantage of doing it myself?

Aside from the obvious DIY (what's DIY?) learning experience, our installation consultation fee is INCLUDED in the price of the totes. Bascially, we help you install it, and you avoid the charges a contractor must charge to be licensed and bonded. (Ask about our contracting options.)

I see the waterarm only has a small hose. How quickly will a tote fill?

The totes come with a large-capacity 2" outlet waterarm. This allows the enitre flow of the gutter to be redirected and captured. Otherwise, the waterarm works as usual, forcing a backup of the system and redirecting the flow back into the downspout.

I see these are translucent, will they grow tons of algae?

If left in a sunny spot, they will likely grow algae on the sides of the tank. Minimizing the exposure to light will significantly reduce the amount and speed at which algae will grow. Attaching a lattice and growing peas or grapes (for example) is a good option, but simply covering it with an opaque tarp will also suffice. In any case, algae is not harmful and in fact is good fertilizer for plants.

Self-Hydrating Garden Bed Kit Questions

How many barrel-beds can I put on a hydration system?

Because the system is linked to an independent cistern + float valve (how does that work?) which regulates the water level, you can add as many garden beds to the system as space will allow. As long as each is on the same atmospheric level—meaning they are all on equal ground levels with each other—the water will equalize between them (water seeks its own level). Each bed provides 6 square feet of grow space.

I don't really want to see these barrel-beds in my yard; is there any way I can bury them?

Yes. The self-hydrating system can be buried in the ground and become essentially invisible. However, this requires some additional installation work, especially (talking to Portlander's here) if they are not in a terrarium
, trombe
, or greenhouse (i.e. any covered space). If they are open to rain then an additional overflow/drainage system (e.g. a French drain, etc.) must be installed so they do not fill with rainwater during the wet season. Note that if the beds are buried, the cistern regulating the water level must also be sunk to the exact same level. Feel free to contact us anytime for more information about installing the hydrating bed system.

What kind of plants can grow in this system?

At its deepest point, the beds have a little over one foot of vertical space for roots (in covered spaces, this area can be increased by crafting a raised bed above the walls of the barrel). This is a limitation of the system as it does not have enough vertical space for some types of edible plants, such as beets and potatoes. It is entirely possible to modify this system to create deeper grow beds. Just be aware of how deep your favorite veggies must root before planting. Also note that the bottom few inches of the beds will ALWAYS be filled with water. This will most likely be fine for most plants (think hydroponics
).

HYDRATING BEDS SELF-INSTALLATION: Preparing your leveled space

1. Check the levels of all your barrel-beds so that they are on exactly the same atmospheric level. If your beds will be buried, level the entire dug hole. → 2. This step is critical. If you don't get this right you'll be quite sorry when you realize you must now somehow move filled beds weighing hundreds of pounds! one way to correctly level ground is to use a tube "Water Level"
.

HYDRATING BEDS SELF-INSTALLATION: Installing filters & infilling with sand & gravel / Installing soil wicks

1. Ideally, for two beds (12 sq ft) you will need 1 (50lb) bag of gravel and around 4 (50lb) bags of sand. The kit will provide you with a "filter" to cover the intake hole. Dump half the gravel bag near the water intake at the front of the bed. Hold the filter over the bung hole opening and spread the gravel around so the filter will stay securely in place. → 2. Take your sand and infill the rest of the barrel (holding the gravel in place). Level out the sand. → 3. Take the plastic pots provided, dig out holes with your hand, and arrange them to evenly distribute the water over the entirety of the bed(s). They should remain completely empty for now. Redistribute the displaced sand. It is ok if the pot is too short to touch the bottom of the bed, or if it sticks up slightly above the level of the sand.

HYDRATING BEDS SELF-INSTALLATION: Adjusting water level / Adding soil / Monitoring progress

1. Connect all the hoses (including the cistern) and turn on your rainwater catchment system spigot. → 2. Adjust the float valve so that water begins to fill the system. Wait until the water is at the desired level (just below the surface of the sand). [Please note, water travels very slowly through sand. Do not be fooled by the level of water in the first wicks, it will tend to be higher than the rear wicks at first, but will level out over time. The method for checking the water level requires some patience.] Be certain that the water level is UNDER the sand, or the soil will get too saturated. → 3. After you have acquired the perfect level, pull the float up to stop the flow, adjust it so that at EXACTLY that level it shuts off. Fine tuning may be done by literally bending the float's metal bar up or down. Wait an hour or so and return to make CERTAIN the water has not risen unexpectedly and is leaking out the overflow holes in the bed(s). This could potentially empty the entire contents of your rainbarrels. → 4. Add your glorious dirt. Fill and pack the wicks first, then fill the beds at least to the level of the barrel walls. You will notice that after you add dirt, the float valve will start to drip again. This is GOOD, as the soil is absorbing the water and dropping the overall level in the beds and the cistern. This will occur for two days or so... drip drip drip. Even after you're all set up, you will only ever notice the float valve dripping. This is normal. This system distributes water VERY SLOWLY (only as fast as it is absorbed by the air and plants in the system). You may have to come back and adjust the system later, but with careful setup, it would work like a charm. We had sprouts appear after only two days! Good luck!

Basic Catchment: Questions about a Home Setup

How many barrels can I get; how many should I get?

You can get as many barrels as you want, in any configuration you wish. Many people have multiple downspouts on their home and want, say, one "mother" (a barrel with an intake/overflow and a spigot) with two children (secondary barrels with just a "link" to the mother) for each downspout. With two downspouts in the backyard and one in the front (say you only want one mother in the front) that's 7 barrels @ 55 gallons = 385 gallons.

I don't see any options for stands/racks/blocks for your basic kits.

For the basic kits, you must figure out the best way to place them in your yard. We do not know your property, and these are basically just barrels requiring only some lift off the ground. Most folks go find some cinder blocks and a piece of wood to make a short stand. But be aware, a gallon of water weighs around 8.3lbs, so a 55 gallon barrel filled with water weighs nearly 500lbs! Also, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to make concrete; so don't buy new blocks!

I'm interested in having enough water to make it through the summer (or as close as I can get!); but I don't want my yard filled with plastic barrels; what can I do?

The basic kits we offer are really intended as supplementary water sources. (See this FAQ on getting through the dry season.) However, we will soon be offering kits which include more sophisticated steel racks, more options for "blending" with the garden, combination cisterns and compost turners, etc. Please let us know if you have any specific ideas or needs that we might be able to meet. We are always interested in custom orders and new design ideas. Email us! [info@containrain.com]

I only need a few barrels—but still, I have a beautiful garden, and these, sorry to say, present an aesthetic "issue".

For certain, more refined gardens or yards, these barrels just need to be hidden away. There are many ways to do this, so don't let it discourage you. We can make it work. Some people are content with some form of cover, for example a bamboo fence-wrap, while others have found a hiding place under a deck or behind a tree. We will be happy to figure out how to modify any design to make it work with your vision.