Category Archives: house

My rain barrel rules

My gardening year ended with the first frost last week. The tomato plants have been disassembled, and it’s time to reflect on the best addition to my yard this year: the rain barrel.

The rain barrel greatly surpassed my expectations in the amount of water it provided. I set it up in May thinking it would take a few weeks to fill completely, and it was full after the first rainfall. From May until mid-October there was only one week when the barrel was empty and I had to fall back on municipal water to keep my garden happy.

Most of my flowers are drought-tolerant native species, but I have annuals in containers and 5 tomato plants that need to be pampered with daily watering. In hot weather I use maybe 10 gallons of water a day.

A rain barrel collects water a lot faster than you’d think it would. My 55-gallon barrel draws from approximately 300 square feet of roof area, and a medium-strength rainfall (more than a sprinkle, less than a storm) fills it in under four hours. As long as it rained once a week I had as much water as I could use.

If I were to make one improvement to my current setup it would be to raise the barrel a few feet on blocks or a frame so there’d be more water pressure in the attached hose. Right now the barrel sits at ground level, and there’s so little pressure that the water only trickles out of the hose, and that’s only if there’s no point in the hose raised more than six inches above the ground. Spraying water from the hose is completely out of the question. If I’m out in the garden working I lay the hose out and let it dribble for five minutes at a time on each plant, but if I’m in a hurry it’s much faster to just scoop water out of the barrel with a big watering can and dump it where I want it.

In some ways hauling a two-gallon watering can around is less of a hassle than wrestling and re-coiling a fully pressurized hose. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it. In any case, 55 gallons of free water a week is definitely worth the extra effort it takes to get it to the plants.

Next year I’d like to install another rain barrel to catch the runoff from the other 500 square feet of roof. Maybe work it into a nice little water feature or a tub with some pond plants. Yeah.


Me vs the frozen pipe

It’s been cold around here lately. If you live in the midwest, you know which cold I’m talking about. The temperatures have been in the single digits for days, and my normally cold but usable downstairs bathroom became cold and unusable when a PVC waste pipe froze solid.

I noticed the problem when the toilet didn’t flush, plunging didn’t help, and the water level began creeping to the rim of the bowl. Always a scary moment, but I kept my wits about me and thought quickly: the rubbermaid trash can! I scooped uriney water out of the toilet and bailed it into the bathtub. Go Clare!

Unfortunately the bathtub drain was also blocked with ice, which left me with both a toilet and a bathtub full of diluted urine-water. Curses! Inevitably, a cat fell into the pee-filled bathtub.

My father-in-law brought over a propane heater and set it up in the crawlspace. It burned all evening but nothing melted. First round to the pipe.

Round two: the next day, I put on 5 layers of clothes and went down into the crawlspace to take the fight to the pipe. I found a foot-long icicle of frozen toilet water dripping from the pipe. Nice. I chipped away most of the peecicle and set up the propane heater, then stripped the insulation off the pipes and piled it up around the edges of the crawlspace to make the space more airtight and trap the heat.

Two hours later, the bathtub and toilet had both drained. I spent an hour boiling big pots of water on the stove and pouring them down the drain to make sure it was clear. Inevitably, I spilled boiling water on my hand.

So I sustained losses of a parboiled hand and a smelly cat, but I persevered. Pipes are clear and water is flowing. Victory!