Rain barrel recommendations?
November 24, 2006 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Rain barrel recommendations? Plastic versus wood?

I prefer the look of old whiskey barrels and they seem comparably priced to plastic ones, but I am worried about durability. Won't they rot after a couple years exposed the elements?

Also, I've heard that occasionally state/local governments or NGOs will offer special deals on barrels. How can I find out about these? (Specifically, I'm in suburban Maryland, near D.C.)

Finally, I'll take advice attaching it to the down spout and the logistics of putting the water to use around the yard, if you got any. Thanks.
posted by and hosted from Uranus to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If kept full of water, wood barrels last a long time but if they are allowed to dry, the staves quickly shrink and the barrel will no longer be watertight.

The lifespan of the half-barrels I have in my garden (used as planters, so they are not constantly/uniformly wet) has been about 6 years. All ended up rotting or being eaten by termites, in one case, the metal band rusted and sprang open, releasing the staves.

The wood barrels also have a strong odor of whatever was in them before they ended up at the garden store. The ones used to store red wines stink for a lot longer than the ones used for whiskey but in either case, the smell can be eyewateringly strong.

While I think the wood barrels are more attractive, my next batch will be plastic.
posted by jamaro at 1:07 PM on November 24, 2006

I'm a fan of plastic rain barrels -- not for their aesthetics, but for their durability and practicality.

We have two (they're in series) and were able to water two gardens with them. Logistics involved, uh, big watering cans, as one of our gardens is separate from our yard. We didn't use the hose once for watering, though there were (pre-second barrel) days when it was a close thing. This lack of water usage was reflected in our water bill. I can't give you a dollar amount, but I suspect that the barrel came close to paying for itself. Plus, the water was much better, as our tap water is heavily chlorinated.

The plastic barrels we have look like this. Be sure that whatever barrel you end up with has a cover, so as not to encourage mosquito growth. I believe there are tablets that you can drop in your barrel to prevent skeeters from taking up residence -- a little extra insurance.

We got a spout cuff that fits around the end of the down spout; the rest of it is flexible, so we just tied it to a porch post for positioning and stability. Cuff does tend to fall off in heavy rains, though...

I'm not big or tall, so I appreciate the relative light weight of the plastic barrels when it comes time to empty and invert them. Like I said, they're not gorgeous, but they sure are handy.

As for working with your local authorities, call your county agricultural extension. If they don't know, they'll know who does.

Good luck.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:09 PM on November 24, 2006

I have a Rain Catcher, plastic, and like it pretty well. I don't have much to say about wood.

If you're in Montgomery County, I imagine they have some sort of rain barrel subsidy. I think Howard County does. Not sure about PG or the any others. Definitely check out your county's website.
posted by claxton6 at 3:28 PM on November 24, 2006

The skeeter killer MonkeyToes is talking about is Bacillus thuringiensis or just Bt. Most better garden centers or pond stores will have it in a once-a-month "cake". I've seen it sold under the name "Mosquito Dunks". You can also get dragonfly larvae, should you prefer, that'll do the same thing.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:30 PM on November 24, 2006

You may also want to look around for 55 gallon drums. Nowadays they are all plastic and specifically designed to hold liquids.

Specifically, try checking with the bottling plants in your area, they may have some which are no longer considered food-safe and therefore useless to them (but perfect for your lawn)

They aren't going to be the prettiest things in the world (unlike a wooden barrel, which is just cool) but they are damn near indestructible and if your lucky, capable of being had for next to nothing.
posted by quin at 4:01 PM on November 24, 2006

Response by poster: Great stuff! Thanks, everyone. Plastic it is.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 8:39 PM on November 24, 2006

As for the last part of your question, start by getting a good barrel tap. Once you have one of those attached to your barrel you can easily do all kinds of things with the water. Check out the watering section of the Lee Valley site for lots of great ideas.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 9:28 PM on November 24, 2006

While plastic barrels are fine for holding rain water, the production of plastic (new or recycled) creates toxic waste. Just something else to consider.
posted by frogmoses at 6:58 AM on November 25, 2006

It's pretty easy to disguise the look of a plastic drum with fence boards. A piece of steel banding around the top and the bottom and a tube of construction adhesive is the only other things you need. The banding is because practically no adhesive sticks to polypropylene which is what many of the food safe drums are made of.
posted by Mitheral at 1:29 AM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

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