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Installing a Rain Barrel

This spring we purchased and installed a rain barrel. I decided to buy the Fiskars 58 Gallon Salsa Rain Barrel System with Diverter ($148 with sales tax). The online video of the product was impressively marketed. It appealed to two important needs: (1) it made the installation look easy and (2) it made the features look useful. How could I pass up on an easy-to-install and effective rain barrel system for less than $150? The rain barrel and diverter soon arrived at our door in a large box, thanks to free shipping from Amazon. We decided to locate the rain barrel by the corner of our garage along the path to the garden, since we would walk past it frequently.

Installation

The finished rain barrel and diverter.

The finished rain barrel and diverter.

The finished rain barrel and diverter.
The Fiskars rain barrel and diverter came with a set of picture-based instructions that were easy to follow.

The first step in the installation was to prepare a level foundation. We used a bow rake, shovel, and level to move aside woodchips and chisel the ground level at the site. Then I purchased four 12″ square brickface patio blocks from Menard’s to place on the ground. The four blocks together cost about $5.50. We arranged the blocks two by two and set the rain barrel on top.

The next step was to drill a hole in the side of the rain barrel for the tube that would drain from the diverter to the rain barrel. We used a 1″ spade/paddle drill bit for this task, which we also purchased at Menard’s for $4.

Then we needed to install the diverter onto the downspout. To do this, we needed to cut the downspout at some measured locations. We destroyed two blades trying to use the coping saw we had at home, so we had to go back to Menard’s for a better saw. I found a 12″ high tension hacksaw for $17, so my husband used that successfully to make two cuts and remove a section of the downspout.

According to the instructions, we then needed to insert the diverter onto the downspout on the top and bottom and add some screws. This sounded easy, but in reality, the diverter didn’t fit onto the downspout. It was too big and there were large gaps around the sides that would have been impossible to caulk. The diverter kit came with two adapters for smaller downspouts, but they were too small for our downspout to fit into. Using a wrench, we shaped and squeezed, cut and bent, and tried to get the end of the downspout to fit. No luck.

We looked for some type of adapter at the local hardware stores and found two downspout couplers for $5 each at Ace Hardware. We had to re-measure and re-cut the downspout with the hacksaw to adjust for the additional length of the couplers, but with some more prodding, we managed to get the downspout couplers to fit into the diverter adapters which then connected the downspout to the diverter on both sides. Unfortunately the white color of the plastic couplers doesn’t quite match our white steel downspout, but that’s what we could find and make work. The last part of the diverter installation was to drill some holes to add in screws, which would keep the adapters and couplers from coming apart.

The plastic drainage tube from the diverter to the rain barrel had to be cut to the distance between the two, but it slipped on easily enough.

And the Rain Came

Close-up of the filter over the rain barrel chamber in the downspout diverter.

Close-up of the filter over the rain barrel chamber in the downspout diverter.

When rain came, we watched and observed how it was working. The water went into the diverter, where some of it pooled up in a chamber under a plastic leaf-guard filter. More of the water probably should have flowed into the chamber, but some missed and went past. We might need to make an adjustment to the angle of the downspout so that more of it flows better into the chamber. The water in the chamber then goes into the plastic drainage tube to the rain barrel, and when the rain barrel is full, that chamber backs up and the water overflows to the lower downspout.

However, the seal between the diverter/adapter/coupler isn’t perfect, so the water leaks out the back by the house instead of flowing down the downspout away from the house. We would need to add some caulk there.

Conclusion

Well, we now have a rain barrel!

If we decided to purchase another rain barrel, I think I would go with a different brand next time to see how it compares. I enjoy the opportunity to do hands-on projects and figure out creative solutions as problems arise (as long as our kids can keep themselves entertained), but I feel disappointed that the diverter and adapter didn’t fit well on our standard-sized downspout. The Fiskars marketing team set the expectation that installation was easy, and failed to mention the need for couplers and caulk. Another downside to this system is the included spigot. I’m a bit frustrated by the location of the spigot. Located about a foot up on the rain barrel, there might be 10 or so gallons of water at the bottom of the barrel that isn’t accessible. The spigot is also made of cheap plastic and looks like it will break as soon as I bump it with a full watering can. However, perhaps we can add a short hose on the end of the spigot to keep the watering can at a distance.

Environmentally, having a rain barrel is great. Financially and labor-wise, I don’t know if an economist could say that we’re coming out ahead. After $184.50 in costs, we will now be able to save a few dollars each year in water from the city (with the cost of water currently at $2.81 per 1,000 gallons). Yet, it feels good to use it and see it by our house, knowing that it is sustainable to use free rain water to care for our yard. Who knows how the cost and supply of water will change over time? Every little bit helps.

Yes, it feels good to have 58 gallons of rain water saved up. Hurray for rain barrels!