Friday, October 03, 2008

Harvesting the rain.

I spent the last couple of days working on our rainwater collection system- a great Spring project that happens to be about 5 months behind schedule- just in time for freeze-up. The big delay was finishing the silo exterior so that the rain gutters could be installed. Fitting the gutters around the silo proved to be a challenge- nothing seems to come easy in the life of a bad-boy barn builder. A couple months ago, while prepping the silo for stucco, I needed to find a way to divert the water away from the roof-wall interface and keep it from working its way under the stucco. After pondering it for quite awhile, I modified a section downspout and attached it to the silo wall. Then I lapped the step flashing, housewrap and foamboard over the top of diverter piece to make it waterproof. Once the stucco was applied and the scaffolding moved out of the way, I was finally able to install the gutters and downspouts, which look like this: Now how to collect the rainwater? Actually, collecting the water is the easy part- the problem is dealing with our 6 months of freezing weather that has me worried. Usually I can find alot of useful problem-solving information via our good friend Google, so I spent several sessions searching for examples of rainwater cachment in cold climates. No luck. The only suggestion I came across was to "drain and remove the rain barrel in the fall." The system I have designed aims to collect and store 100% of the available rainwater, which means we'll have ALOT of barrels by the time this is all done. Removing them all at the end of each season would be a nightmare- not just the work, but also the logistics of storage and dealing with downspout extensions, etc. Call me lazy, but I want to make a system that can stay in place year round. So, without any good examples to work from, I'm just going to experiment. Using recycled plastic barrels that we repainted to match the barn, I started by cutting a hole in the lid and covering it with window screen (held in place using a metal stovepipe flange). I terminated the downspout directly over the barrel here.
Each barrel will sit on a stand to keep the collected water high enough for gravity-feeding to all the gardens. The stand also gives me room for the plumbing connections below the barrel. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the barrel and threaded a 2" fitting in place. Using PVC fittings, I installed a "tee" leading to a faucet that I mounted off the front of the stand, then below that a shutoff valve before the pipe goes underground. Below grade, I transitioned to ABS pipe, which will continue around the perimeter of the barn and connect all of the rain barrels in series. By maintaining the same height across all of the barrels in the system, they should fill equally regardless of where the water is coming from...
With the first two barrels installed, I decided to quit for the season. I can drain the underground line and close the hand valve to keep them from re-filling during the winter. I plan to remove the hose from the tee fitting so that the barrel can self-drain should it rain anymore before winter. I'm not sure what will happen during the snow season- will melting snow from the roof fill the barrels with water, causing them to freeze and rupture? Or will they survive here at the North Pole? I'm not sure. Any suggestions????

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