Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rain Barrel Review

Doubtless some of you were expecting dancing rain barrels, with feather headdresses and sequins, or given their watery connections, an overhead shot of them dancing in a pool. That would most commonly be a rain barrel revue. Alas, this post is a bit more prosaic though hopefully quite a bit more useful. We've got two different varieties of rain barrels and I helped some fellow Oaklanders with a third, so when Retro Housewife Goes Green tweeted wanting to know about rain barrels, I decided to finally post this.

Great American Rain Barrel

First up is the Great American Rain Barrel (GAB), which reuses food-grade plastic barrels. We got this one one because I wanted to better control the rain water that comes to the entry side of the house. Even before I built the addition, some construction flaws with the original house led to water being an issue. The GAB comes with all the fittings and parts you need except an overflow hose (it includes the elbow fitting, just not the hose.) It's fairly easy to set up, though fastening the inside fittings takes some doing. (I highly recommend bracing the barrel before you try to wiggle inside it.) I don't like the fact that it's plastic, but I do like the fact it's made from a reused food barrel and that there were color options available. As with most rain barrels available, multiple barrels can be linked to collect more water. The only problem we've had with it is overflow. If it's raining really hard, or if the small holes in the lid are partially blocked with debris, more water comes down the downspout than can get into the barrel. That results in water splashing over the edge rather than making it into the barrel and out the overflow hose.


60 gallon capacity, linkable, ~$169

  • includes all fittings
  • colors available
  • reused food barrels
  • pricey
  • lid clogs easily
  • doesn't include overflow hose
  • shipped from MA

Rain Water Solutions

Next up is the Moby from Rain Water Solutions. These barrels are made from recycled plastic, and have a custom shape. There are some color choices available though the non-black options cost a bit more. I got two of these through a City of Oakland program which sold them at a large discount (22% of list and no shipping) to residents. The design holds slightly more water, but the big difference to me is the lid. Instead of 16 small holes to let water in, the entire lid is slightly funnel shaped and leads to one large hole in the middle. There's plastic screen over the hole to catch debris and keep insects from breeding in the water. But the large hole makes it much less likely to clog, or clog enough that the overflow doesn't work. Again I'm not wild about them being plastic, but at least it's 100% recycled plastic. Reuse (theoretically at least) is better than recycling, as it uses an item that's already been manufactured, but recycled is better than made new.


65 gallon capacity, linkable, ~$199 (black)

  • includes all fittings
  • colors available (though cost more)
  • recycled plastic
  • even more pricey
  • shipped from NC

Obviously given the program through the city, the price was much more attractive for us, and the shipping was theoretically more efficient since they shipped a whole truck load of them.

DIY solution

Last, but not least, is the DIY solution. Given the title of my blog, you might have assumed I'd try this first. I probably would have, but I kept putting it off because of other DIY projects (like the addition and the kitchen remodel), and in the back of my mind I've been planning a larger, more elaborate system to store more water since it doesn't rain all summer here. That didn't happen, so my experience with DIY rain barrels is more limited. I did help the good folks at City Homestead with a platform for their converted wine barrels. These are locally sourced (less than 50 miles), reusing materials, and non-plastic. Others have used reused food grade barrels (very helpful, step-by-step instructions) like the ones the GAB uses. There may be other options in your area depending on where you live. The hardest parts of the DIY option are (1) finding a source for the barrel (2) getting the fittings to work with it. But the upside is that not only can you get the barrel locally, you may be able to get it for free or at least for very cheap. You'll still need to get the fittings, and those will cost you $10-$25.

55-80 gallons, linkable, free-$120

  • cheap!
  • sourced locally
  • reused barrel
  • finding a good source can be hard
  • you have to find and install the fittings
  • wood barrels won't last forever
  • may not handle high volume well
So there you have it. As with many things, there are trade-offs to the different approaches: cost, greenness, difficulty, et al. With any of these, some may be more important to you or not an issue (e.g., if you live in MA or NC). But hopefully this provided a useful comparison.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dual Flush Toilet Conversion

The rains finally seem to have stopped for the summer. This winter was an El Niño year, which helped make up for the previous years of drought. But that means that it's time to get ready for fire season, so I've been busy pulling blackberries and weed-whacking the yard. Each year usually gets a little easier, but this year the growth has been above normal with all the rain we've gotten.

I took a break from that to fix the toilet in the original bathroom. It's a 1.6 GPF toilet that I installed some years back that's worked fairly well. Lately the fill valve sometimes doesn't shut off, which can waste a large amount of water if it goes unnoticed. I decided to replace the flush mechanism at the same time with a dual flush conversion kit.

I saw a similar product at West Coast Green last year, then saw them install one on Ask This Old House. On the HydroRight website they claim it can be installed without tools in 5 to 10 minutes. That's true, though it requires a pencil and a measuring bucket plus a few minutes to calibrate for optimal water usage.

Replacing the fill valve with their HydroClean valve took a little longer, though not much. The hardest part was removing the old fill valve and required a wrench. Installing the new one was very easy. The nut to attach the new valve underneath is even self-calibrating: you just turn it until it clicks once or twice, and it's properly tightened.

My only concern is the long-term durability of the valve and flush mechanism. They seem well designed, but they're all plastic. That's pretty common for toilet parts these days, but does give me pause. The manufacturer, MJSI, offers a 5 year warranty on both, though hopefully it will last longer than that.

enjoying the sun

As usual, Star was unimpressed. She was too busy enjoying the warmth and sunshine.

Hey, FTC! I didn't receive any thing in exchange for this review. Though I'd be happy to if MJSI wants to give me something :-)