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Rainwater harvesting (Design-build), Ithaca, NY

Date: 2006

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Design notes:

We recycled five 55-gallon food-grade barrels, used originally for some unidentified syrupy food product and purchased at low cost from Agway (Trumansburg, NY), to harvest (collect) rain water from existing roof gutters and downspouts. The water will be used to irrigate gardens and lawns on the property.

Technical notes:

fittingBecause the only inexpensive barrels available at the time did not have large screw-on lids, it was necessary to create connections from the outside only (since it was not possible to clamp fittings from the inside). I used standard polypropylene (or was it polyethylene? the stuff is not labeled adequately) fittings with 3/4-14 NPS thread size, then purchased a metal tap through eBay for $6.50, and threaded the fittings directly into the plastic barrels, pre-drilling the barrels with 15/16" holes. To minimize stress on these connections, the hoses attached to the barrel fittings are spliced and firmly attached to the pressure-treated barrel stand I built, so that they can be disassembled without pulling directly on the barrel connection. In fact, all faucets were built into the wooden stand, rather than into the barrel, for the same reason. The five barrels are connected in series through fittings at the bottom of each barrel, using 3/4" hose and plastic pipe. Fittings are also provided at the top of each barrel, to be connected to overflow pipes directed to the storm sewer system.

Design-build notes:

I built pressure-treated stands for the five barrels, attached to the house (and its addition) on one side, and resting on shallow pressure-treated footings on the other side. 2x6 planks were cheaper than the standard 5/4" deck material, so they were used for the "floor" of the stand. For more details on construction, see step-by-step construction images and commentary.


At the end of June, 2019, I removed all the rain barrels and re-routed the downspouts either through 4-inch pcv drain pipes that were already in place, or temporarily through corrugated flexible drain pipe into the yard, away from the house. After 13 years, the barrels began to get brittle and started to crack, and the small-diameter hoses clogged up. An interesting experiment, but in the end, not altogether successful.

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Related links:

Design-build addition to house

Design-build renovation of original house

Driveway construction