Friday, March 13, 2009

Rain Barrel Stand

A wonderful way to decrease the price of your garden is to begin harvesting rain. We live in a fairly rainy part of the country, but rain barrels can be helpful regardless of where you live. The water we harvest is used for irrigation, and we get a discounted sewer bill because we have disconnected the downspout. The main expense of a garden (other than personal labor) is the water used to irrigate. With rain barrels that expense is almost completely removed!

There are a few things to consider when purchasing and creating a rain barrel set up. First off, all barrels should be made of food grade materials. This means they will not leech chemicals into the water you harvesting. Secondly, even if they are food grade you need to be sure they didn't contain any detergents, chemicals, or other additives which could have residue in the container. That being said, they are relatively easy to acquire and can be cheap if you are resourceful. We get ours from an industrial food company near where we live that uses them to store tea for transport to the bottling station. When the barrels are done being used, they sell them. Another place to inquire for them is to frequently patrol Craigslist. (Just select your state/city and look in the farm+garden section.)

Rain barrels shouldn't sit directly on the ground, but have air flowing around them. This is mainly because you want to be able to fill up containers from the faucet you place in the barrel. If the barrel is on the ground, you cannot do this without placing the facet in the center of the barrel and rendering half the container useless. Also, with air circulating around the barrel mold, moss, and sludgy gunk doesn't build up. Another helpful factor of having the barrels on a stand is that the ground is not level, so the water won't be level in the barrel if they sit on the ground. Below are the steps and materials we used to create our simple rain barrel stand. The stand is 7 1/2 inches off the ground, 26 inches wide, and 131 inches long. It will hold 5, 55 gallon rain barrels and provide us with enough irrigation for 2-3 months. One gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, meaning the structure needs to be able to support 2,200 pounds. For this reason, it needs to be pretty hardcore.

2 8" 4x4 pressure treated posts; cut into 8 - 25" sections
12 8" 2x4 pressure treated boards; cut into 32 - 29 1/4 " sections (there will be unused boards)
1 box 3 1/2 inch galvanized screws
2 boxes 2 1/2 inch galvanized screws
2 bags quick set cement
(All of these items cost us $110 dollars at Home Depot. One season of irrigation is at least that, probably closer to double.)

Post Hole Digger
Power Drill
Power Saw
String or twine
String level
Post level
1 inch spacer (we used an old scrap board)
(Technically you can just use a screwdriver and a hand saw, but you are WAY more hardcore than we are!)

Making schematic drawings is Jules' area. I'm getting better at it, but still have remedial visual skills at that sort of thing. Below is a recreation of drawing he made to show me just what we were going to be doing.First we looked at the posts we had cut. Some of the ends were flatter and smoother than others. When we selected which ends should be the top sides, a nail was pounded halfway into the center of the post. Not only would this remind us which end to put in the ground, it assisted in using the string level to be able to level the tops of the posts. Next we dug the post holes. Starting with the corner holes we spaced them 130 inches apart length wise and 24 inches apart for the width. After we had sunk the corner posts in concrete, we dug the middle holes. This is mainly so I wouldn't trip or fall over them. I'm really clumsy and accident prone. The middle posts were spaced 43 2/3 inches apart along the length.
After the post holes were dug, we began at the corners centering, leveling, and setting the posts in the concrete. The posts were sunk 14 inches into the ground.
Once the corner posts have been set, use the nails sticking out of their tops to tie the string very taught from one nail across to the other. By hooking the string level onto the string, you can slide the middle posts up and down to make sure they are level with each other. This way your structure won't have a slant to it or be raised in the middle.

We poured the concrete into an old kitty litter bucket and used a trowel to dump it into the holes around the posts. Well, I should say Jules used the trowel. When I tried to use the trowel all that really happened was a lot of concrete scattered about the ground around the hole and not really in the hole. Did I mention I'm rather clumsy. I got to pour in the water! I did that really well (when Jules told me to). We used an old 2 liter bottle and it worked great at making the transport and pouring of the water manageable.
The posts need to set overnight to make sure the concrete has really hardened and is firmly in place. This is why the project takes at least a weekend. Once the posts are done the rest is very quick, however it goes much smoother and faster with two people working so that one can hold and the other can drill.

Now that the posts were all set, the supports for the base of the stand were nailed into place. Beginning at one of the corners measure the distance to the center of the third post. Cut 2 2x4 to that length and screw them to the sides of posts using the 3 1/2 inch screws (See the top down view of the schematic). Make sure the 2x4's are flush with the top of the post. Measure the remaining distance from the center of the third post to the end of the stand. Cut 2 2x4's to this length and screw them to the sides of the post. Repeat this procedure for the opposite side. It is the most structurally sound, if the short boards from the center of the third post to the end are on opposite ends of the stand. By this I mean that if you placed the short board on the east side of one end of the stand, place it on the west side of the opposite side. This will distribute the weight away from one specific weak place or joint in the structure. It may seem a bit like overkill, but the amount of weight on the stand is extremely heavy. If you have sunk $100 into the materials, why not go the little extra mile and make sure it will last quite a while. At this point the support structure for the stand is completed and all that is left are the slats the barrels will sit on top of.
The slats are the 32 2x4's which are cut into 29 1/4 inches. They should be just long enough to hang over the side a teeny bit. Begin at one end of the stand and screw the slats flat onto the 2x4 supports at each of the four places they contact each other. Using the 1 inch spacer (in our case an old spare board) but the spacer up to the secured board and in between the next slat to be drilled into place. This is where the extra person comes in really handy. Trying to juggle the spacer and secure the next board can be tricky. Don't move the spacer until at least two of the screws have been drilled into the new slat. By using the spacer before each new slat is drilled down, the will all be in a uniform distance apart and you won't have to cover the entire space with boards. This allows the movement of air as we discussed earlier as well. Make sure the edges of the slats are fush with each other or the end product will look a little awkward. If you would like to place a 2x6 cover over the exposed 2x4 ends there is no reason not to, we just didn't want to spend the extra money right now. We also placed some stepping stones in front of the stand when it was completed as we realized how muddy the exposed dirt is going to become with us walking back and forth during the rainy season. Some pavers might be in our future. If you had the money you could purchase those in advance and lay them after the posts were set, but before you began drilling the supports. This would allow the pavers to sit under the stand and continue out infront where you will be walking.

All in all the completed project took us about 7 hours of work and that includes the trip to the hardware store, but doesn't count the time for the concrete to set. We braved a hail storm, monitored a child and his puppy, and didn't have to go to the emergency room. To me, that would count as a success!

5 thoughts:

Anonymous said...

I'm going to build a stand for 3 barrels and am wondering if you would do any thing differently if you were building one today.

Granola Girl said...

After conferring with Jules, two things come to mind, and possibly a third.

First off, if possible, get rain barrels which have an O-ring closure along the top. This means the lids come completely off. They often cost a bit more (ours are 5 dollars more) but are well worth it. Being able to remove the lid, means you do not need to cut the large hole in the top of each barrel since you can just remove the lid for access. Secondly, they are SO much easier to clean it is amazing.

Second, the coupling which is used to extend the spigot out of the barrel we originally made plastic. Our (then 4 year old) son promptly decided to climb on the barrels to see inside, stepped on this coupling and snapped it clean off. He did this to two barrels. 110 gallons of water rushed toward the foundation of our house and I had a wonderful parenting moment of screaming at him in a panic. To repair the barrels we switched to a metal coupling (identical part, only galvenized metal) for the durability.

Possibly third, we cannot decide if this is a change we should make. We want to hook a fountain pump up to the barrels to automatically flush and fill our toilets. The overflow valves are not in the correct places for such an endeavor. In order to have the barrels refill after being drained, the overflows would need to be on the bottom. We haven't attempted this and do not know what the results or issues would be. At this point, we are merely throwing it around.

If you would like to email me with any other questions, we'd be glad to talk about our learnings and thoughts on the barrels. Feel free to email us at brynniewynnie AT

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of building a rack to hold 5 on the bottom and 5 on top. Can you tell me if 4x4's and 2x6's hold the weight? Or how I can find out?

Granola Girl said...

@ Anonymous #2 - The best way to figure out if your stand will be structurally sound is to calculate the load you will be putting on the stand and then the load bearing weight the boards can handle. My father is an architect and has two famous sayings every time I ask him if something will be structurally sound.

1) Anything can be done, it is just how much it will cost and if you are willing to pay for it.

2) Follow general common sense and it is probably okay.

With that in mind. I can give you a few helpful guidelines. The first is that one gallon of water weighs 8 lbs. Figure out how much each of your empty barrels is going to weigh with all the hardware and then add in 400lbs for each barrel. That is your general load. If you want to be really sure, throw in an extra 100 lbs of fudge weight.

Second, different boards have different load bearing weights and different spanning distances which they can support. You can find load bearing/span charts online with much looking or you can do it the quick way by just going to the library. The tables look way more intimidating than they need to be. Just read the first couple pages and it will explain the abbreviations. Often times formulas are thrown in there as well.

For a very intricate explanation of how to calculate load bearing weight, go here:

Lastly, you are basically building a very small deck structurally speaking. The load bearing capacity of your soil for the footings should be checked out. For a structure holding that much weight, it needs to be put down permanently without any thought of moving. The factors for soil bearing capacity can be found through a Google search.

Hopefully this helps. We have found that most any structure can be sound by using either 2x4's (enough of them) and 4x4 posts. Most all of a house, deck, awing, etc, are all built with these materials. The thought needs to be about where they are placed and how far apart. Our stand is WAY overbuilt for just the 5 barrels, but we like it that way. I'd probably just sink the posts further in the ground and build a second tiered stand for the dual level if we were going to do something similar.

Anonymous said...

Where did you purchase your rain barrels?

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