Tag Archives: water

Winterizing the rain barrel

Did you notice that jumbo ice cubes for cocktails are all the rage? How about a 250 gallon mega ice cube? That would be my full rain barrel frozen solid.

Well, maybe not. I would like to keep using it next season and rather not have it burst because it froze. To protect it from any winter damage, I went through the task of winterizing in early December before freezing temperatures settled in for good.

Come springtime, I’ll basically reverse the winterization steps and have it back in operation in no time.

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Rain barrel hook up

Well, it’s less of a rain barrel and more of a rain tote – a 250 gallon IBC tote! (IBC: intermediate bulk container). Considering that I have 1,500 square feet of contributing roof surface, I didn’t want to tinker around with 55 gallon rain barrel drums.


An IBC tote comes with very convenient plumbing connections. For example, the screw lid on the top comes with a standard two inch threaded female connection. All I had to do is connect the supply pipe to it with a two inch male schedule 40 connector – and, done!


The tote also comes with what you may call a faucet. A ball valve drain with a spout, and it is even located at the very bottom. Filling up a watering can from a regular faucet eats into your time. But this thing has a flow rate that fills a two gallon watering can in less than ten seconds. I love it.

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The only thing that it didn’t have was a plumbing connection for an overflow. I solved that problem with a two inch bulkhead fitting. Because – remember – the supply pipe to a rain barrel should be the same size as the overflow. Two inch supply, two inch overflow.


To fit the two inch bulkhead fitting, I had to drill a three inch hole into a piece of vertical and flat tank wall. That got me below the maximum fill line of the tank. But a couple of elbows got me back to that 250 gallon fill line.


I also included a piece of mosquito screen across the overflow pipe. This way I keep the blood suckers from breeding in my barrel. On the supply side, the screen in the diverter-filter combo keeps the critters out.

Oh yes–and I had to connect the diverter to the rain barrel (or tote) with a couple of elbows and some two inch pipe.


Now, where did I find this beauty – this IBC tote? Craigslist! It came from an industrial cookie bakery and had originally high fructose corn syrup in it. Cost: $75. Sweet, isn’t it?

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Downspout diverter set up

Fitting my new, homemade diverter-filter combo into our downspout was my next task. Its was fairly straight forward stuff.

I cut out a piece from the existing downspout to fit in the diverter. The piece I removed was slightly shorter than the diverter is tall to assure it slides into the downspout.


The diverter-filter combo is fairly heavy. I needed two sturdy angle brackets on the porch post that would hold the diverter. I also installed two saddles that would keep the diverter in position for a perfect connection to the downspouts.

Well, an almost perfect connection … My five inch downspout is still a little smaller than the six inch diverter. To overcome the one inch discrepancy, I flared the end of the downspout that connects to the top of the diverter.

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Once the diverter was sitting on the brackets and pushed into the saddles, it fit like a glove. Last but not least, I strapped it to the porch post.


What isn’t included in this set up is a winter bypass. At the beginning of December, I will have to disconnect and take down the diverter-filter combo and replace it with a piece of downspout for the duration of the freezing months. This way, I will bypass the rain barrel altogether for that time.

Oh, yes! There is a rain barrel involved, isn’t there?

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About flow and filtering

It wasn’t pretty or long lasting, but our system in from the early days got the water from the downspout into the rain barrels and got it filtered along the way.

I am now looking for a more permanent and slightly more elegant solution. The plumbing part seems straightforward; the filtering, not so much.

As mentioned in the last post, it is not that difficult to find a number of downspout diverters that would get the rainwater into your rain barrels. The good ones come with a built in, self cleaning filter that keeps debris out of the barrels. The even better ones also come with a winter bypass option.

Yet, none of the diverter-filter combos for sale would fit our five inch, round downspout. And if you live in the City of Chicago, you may share my dilemma! It was time again for some DIY. I cobbled together a diverter-filter combo following the basic principles of the better products that are on the market.


One thing to remember is that water likes to cling to the wall of your downspouts. That is where you find most of the flow. Once in the filter, it runs across an angled screen. Most debris should wash across the screen and continue down the downspout. Clean water, on the other hand, passes through the screen and is diverted into the rain barrel.

From concept to creation

I got myself some PVC pipe and fittings in the hope that the concept would translate into a functioning creation.


Looking into the diverter from the top, the angled screen is visible. It starts at a six inch diameter and narrows down to a four inch diameter, where it is attached to the outflow pipe.

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Looking into the diverter from the bottom, the four inch outflow pipe and the four to six inch reducer are visible. The outflow pipe extends beyond the reducer into the six inch diverter pipe. That is where the filtered water is collected.


On the side, just atop the reducer, is a two inch pipe connection that leads to the rain barrels. It will convey all the water that passes through the screen and is collected between the four inch outflow and six inch diverter.


And for those who are interested, here is my shopping list for the diverter-filter combo:

  • Six inch schedule 40 pvc pipe
  • Two six inch schedule 40 pvc couplings
  • One six-to-four inch schedule 40 pvc reducer
  • Four inch schedule 40 pvc pipe
  • Two inch schedule 40 pvc pipe plus fittings
  • Some pvc cement and some hardware
  • Stainless steel or aluminum screen
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Sump pit lid

It’s down to the finishing touches on the back porch enclosure. And to make it not just user friendly but also safe, I had to get a lid for the sump pit – a gas-tight lid to prevent moisture and potential radon from diffusing.


There were a number of lid options out there, and I probably have been looking at most of them. But I am a cheapskate and those lids were expensive. That may be because some of them have a vehicular traffic rating, which we really didn’t need. Foot traffic is all this lid will see.

Because I didn’t want to reach deep into my pocket, I decided that a three quarter inch plywood cover should do. But how would I fit it onto the pit without creating a trip hazard?

Well, we cut out a one inch wide ledge from the upper most concrete adjustment ring. And we made it just deep enough so it would accommodate the three quarter inch plywood cover.

To prevent mold from growing on the bottom of the the cover I attached two layers of a 6 mil poly sheet. Those sheets will also serve as a vapor barrier. And to make the system gas-tight, I grabbed a neoprene gasket and installed it on the ledge. The plywood cover, which was now flush with the floor, is held down by six screws.

Cutting out the ledge was tricky, yet fairly easy thanks to the great help of our friend Rubani!

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