Monday, November 4, 2013

Rain barrels: What's hype, and what's helpful, Part 2

Wa-ay back in August 2011, I published this post which fact-checked the issue of rain barrels for use at single family properties. 
These things.
My conclusion was obvious: that rain barrels are likely to pay for themselves if used consistently over the long term, but "save you money on your water bill", as the popular PR song and dance proclaims??  Not really. 
Screengrab from the first hype post
Well, it turns out that the situation is even less cost-effective than I initially forecast, at least with respect to the barrel that I bought, which was a Systern model
This is what happened to mine within the first year of its use. 
Let's see a close-up of that.
No bueno.  The shell cracked under the weight of the water contained within it.   
I was willing to overlook this as a one-off failure, especially given that the manufacturer replaced my barrel under warranty at no charge (I now use the original cracked one for dry mulch storage and the crack conveniently lets accumulated rainwater drain out of it).  But a year later, my replacement has also started to leak.  It didn't suffer a photogenic stress failure as the original one did.  Rather, it seems to be a maddening pin-hole this time, which I haven't been able to locate and fix. 

However, what I can locate is a perpetually soggy spot adjacent to my slab as the stupid thing slowly bleeds out after every rain.  Not only is that not useful, it's actually worse than useless because you don't want to have any areas of differential moisture around your slab.  That could lead to uneven soil settling, which could eventually lead to slab damage.

So now my warranty replacement follows its older sibling straight out the window, and not only have I not achieved anything "eco-friendly" with this effort, I've actually generated a lot of wasted plastic, wasted money, and wasted time. 

I've looked at other consumer-grade rain barrels on the market, and I don't have sufficient confidence in what I'm seeing to purchase any of them.  I bought the Systern because I did the research and concluded that it was one of the more robust models on the market.  You have to remember that a full rain barrel will weigh 8.34 lbs/gal * 55 gal = 460 lbs!!  Four hundred and sixty pounds!!  I look at some of the thin plastic brand names being sold in big box stores and other places and I don't believe they would stand up to that kind of a weight loading for very long.  If the Systern can't take the heat, I doubt that any of the others could either. 

I do believe there are non-consumer options out there that could work very well in a residential setting, but I will save that discussion for a subsequent post.  In the mean time, I suggest that you take the continuing flow of local news stories like this one with a grain of salt. 


  1. on a vaguely related topic - it's been a year since the new water meters have been installed. Checking my monthly consumption, it's been very obvious that I've been clocked at an average of 1000 gal/month more in the past year than in any preceding year. Maybe it's just something wrong with my meter, but I wonder if it's more widespread than that.

  2. Hmmmm.... curious. I tend to face my own water readings with both a benediction and a grain of salt, because female teenager plus her own bathroom equals who knows how much shower water consumption. But I'll take a look at it.


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