Monday, May 16, 2011

Rain barrels for DC residents - answers to some of your questions

Yesterday I posted a question  asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. The responses gave me some good food for thought and sent me on a quest to find some more info and possible solutions for our readers.

Here is some great information that I received from Leah Lemoine, Environmental Protection Specialist with the District Department of the Environment:

Many new rain barrel styles have entered the market in the past few years, but choosing one that will perform well can be daunting. There are several design features homeowners should consider before purchasing a rain barrel. I hope to shed light on rain barrels and also assistance for homeowners who may be ready to go ahead and begin capturing their roof runoff for later reuse.

The chances of mosquitoes breeding can be eliminated by choosing a rain barrel carefully and by sealing connections during the installation. Mosquitoes tend to get into the rain barrels from the inlet and around the spigot and overflow.

Use caulk and/or thread tape to seal the connections between the barrel and downspout extension, overflow tubing, and spigot. If the barrel has a screen top the gauge of the screen should be at least as narrow as a window screen. The entire perimeter of the screen should be tacked down with adhesive and also screwed in for added stability.

Other design features to consider are:

1. Overflow: The overflow should be at least 2” in diameter to avoid water spilling out of the barrel near the foundation.

2. Volume: The bigger the better. A typical row house (800 square feet) will have nearly 500 gallons of runoff during a 1” rain storm.

3. Spigot: Spigot no higher than ~3” from bottom of barrel to eliminate dead space.

Installation can be a cinch with the right tools. Homeowners will need downspout extension to connect the barrel and downspout, a hack saw to cut the downspout and drill to fasten the downspout extensions and overflow. The following guide provides step-by-step directions for installing rain barrel: Instructions for Installing a Rain Barrel. If any homeowners need additional assistance, they are welcome to contact me for additional resources.

The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is committed to facilitating the wide-spread use of rain barrels throughout the DC. DDOE offers two programs- RiverSmart Homes and the Rain Barrel Rebate- which are designed to make rain barrel installation easy and cost effective for homeowners. The RiverSmart Homes program offers homeowners up to two rain barrels for $30 each. The beauty of the RiverSmart Homes program (besides the bargain price of $30) is that our nonprofit partner, DC Greenworks, will install the rain barrels for you. These barrels have a capacity of 130 gallons, are constructed from a durable black recycled plastic, and have a fine filter inside which eliminates any chances of mosquitoes breading in the barrel. Homeowners may enroll in RiverSmart Homes by filling out our online application or by contacting me.

We did have a pause in rain barrel installations over the winter. We apologize to any homeowner who has been waiting for a rain barrel for longer than they were expecting. The rain barrel installations are back in full swing and we hope to eliminate the backlog soon. The Rain Barrel Rebate program is a good option for homeowners who would rather install their own barrel, do not have enough space for the RiverSmart barrel, or do not wait to wait for the stormwater audit that is required through RiverSmart. A list of approved barrels and application materials can be found here: The Rain Barrel Rebate Program.

I hope this helps! Please have your readers contact me at 202.654.6131 or with any questions they may have. 

Wow!! Rain barrels for $30! That's a price that should make rain barrel believers out of a lot more gardeners!

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