PEX Tubing Rain Barrel Catchment System

Our rain barrels are finished, full, and functioning. The 1 inch of rain we got over the last 2 days on the 187.5 square foot section of our roof filled them to capacity, which, with overflow space, is about 180-200 gallons.

We used PEX tubing after reading about the potential toxicities of PVC, although, we’re convinced that PEX just hasn’t been tested enough to have found any toxicities, since that just seems how it goes. For the meantime, it works pretty well though. There are no glues to bond, the cuts can be crudely made with a hacksaw, and the tubing is flexible and cheap. All pluses to us, but we weren’t able to find anyone online who has used it on a rain barrel set-up before.

Here’s what we did.

  • Ordered 55 gallon, food-grade barrels from the Memphis (Missouri) Pepsi Bottling Plant. They came to us smelling like the green sweetness of Mountain Dew.
  • Built a frame out of palettes, found wood, and local white oak 4×4′s for the future rain barrels to sit on.
  • Punched out a hole in the middle of the lid which, for some reason, is 3/4 inch threaded- perfect for flipping the barrels upside down and fitting them with PEX adapters.
  • Fit the lids with PEX adapters. Elbows for the outer ones, and Ts for the middles.
  • Put Plumber’s Tape (Teflon Tape) on all the male threads of our adapters and lids to prevent most leaks.
  • Fit PEX tubing along the line to each adapter.
  • Screwed in a hose bib to one of the barrels.
  • Put all the barrels on the frame. (We actually connected two of them at a time, then made the final connection while they were in place on the frame).
  • Drilled two tiny holes in the tops of the three barrels that would not have a downspout connected to them. Big enough to let out the air pressure that would build up from filling from the bottom, but small enough to prevent mosquitoes from access the still water.
  • Cut a hole with a dremel tool in the top of the barrel where the gutter comes down for the water to drain into.
  • Covered the entrance hole with a cut out piece of screen we found and taped it on.
  • Cut an overflow hole in the downspout barrel and fit a gutter piece to it. We cut a flap in the bottom of the gutter so it could slide in and the flap would press against the barrel, then we silicone caulked it to seal and glue it in.
  • Waited for the storm clouds to fill them with the sweet nectar of the heavens (aka rain).

There is one veeeeeery slow leak (the sun nearly dries the leak up as it falls). I have actually yet to see it drip, but water beads on the underside of it and there is a water spot under a PEX T adapter. With that being the only issue, it’s a definite success.

There is sufficient water pressure with the barrels being 3 feet off the ground to use a 50 foot hose to water the garden. We can spray (with our thumb over the end of the hose) the water about 8 feet. Enough to get the job done. If we had put another T adapter on the main line and fit the hose bib there, it theoretically should have had 4x the water pressure, but I’m not positive. We didn’t want to spring the extra 8 bucks for the adapter, and this system seems to function well.

    Rain Barrel Costs for us:

  • Rain Barrels= $40 ($10 each)
  • 4 foot of PEX tubing= $2 (49 cents/foot)
  • 2 PEX elbow adapters= $12 ($6 each)
  • 2 PEX T adapters=$15 ($7.50 each)
  • Hose bib=$6.50
  • Plumber’s Tape=$1.50
  • Rain Barrel Total: $77 or 19.25/barrel
    Frame costs:

  • 6 3-foot oak 4×4′s= $18
  • Palettes= $0

That brings the entire set-up for us to $95. We successfully made a 4 rain barrel, 200 gallon rain catchment system for well under the cost of a single commercial rain barrel.

There will certainly be variations on other’s set-ups, but those were the real costs for us to build our rain barrel catchment system.

Overall the set-up is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and gives us about 200 gallons of water (less than 220 due to the placement of the overflow) to use on the garden when the rain isn’t enough. I plan to put together some kind of pdf/zine on building the rain barrels this way, but if you want to talk to us about this set up and its advantages and disadvantages, or have any ideas on how to improve the system, contact us and we’ll talk rain barrels.

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4 Responses to “PEX Tubing Rain Barrel Catchment System”

  1. K. Welch says:

    I just completed my four barrel system very similar to this. I have a very slow leak as well and was wondering if you are just going to let yours leak or try and repair it. Mine is leaking from the connection into the lid. Do you think applying Plumbers Goop would work? I think it is near impossible to take it all apart and start all over. I have yet to try it out with a rainfall, only tested it with the water hose. I really like the way it turned out, though.

  2. admin says:

    We ended up taking it apart and putting plumbers tape on all screw-in parts. So it got applied to all the pex adapters, the hose bib, and the large screw in caps on the rain barrels. The problem was completely solved and hasn’t leaked since. It was a pretty big pain (and frustrating, as you probably know), as I had to take it all apart, but looking back on it now, I’m glad that I went ahead and did it. I’ve never used plumbers goop, so I can’t say as to that product. Why do you say yours is near impossible to take apart? Did you use PVC? The PEX tubing wasn’t too bad to take apart.

    Either way, good luck, and if I can be of any help (hope something I said helped :) then feel free to re-comment.


  3. JD says:

    i love your write up. i had a question about the PEX. do you have any problems with rats? i heard that they LOVE to eat PEX out here(Hawaii) . i know the PEX is cheaper, but i might have to use brass or PVC on mine.

  4. admin says:

    We haven’t had any problems with them. We have some mice around from time to time but never any rats. Since the barrels are upside-down and the PEX is on the bottom, I can’t imagine there’d be much of a good way for the Rats to get to it. So, in all, we haven’t had any problems with critters attacking our barrels, but I don’t know what the situation is like in Hawaii. I hope that helps.

    We opted not to use PVC because we have read that it can leach lead into water as it degrades. If we can be of any help, let us know!

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