Barrels of Fun

Last week I teased you with a few photo hints as to what we've been up to in our backyard. I bet some of you guessed it, but just in case you're in need of an extra hint, let me just say that I had that ol' polka song stuck in my head the entire time we worked on this project. You know, the one that goes like this: 

Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun
Roll out the barrel, we've got the blues on the run
Zing boom tararrel, ring out a song of good cheer 

Now's the time to roll the barrel, for the gang's all here 

Except that this wasn't a beer barrel. Notice the telltale red markings?

... We found ourselves a genuine Napa Valley-original WINE BARREL. 

And we had big plans in store for said wine barrel. Evan had this project on his mind since earlier this spring, so after months of thinking and brainstorming, we were finally ready to get her rolling ...

But before we go too crazy with corny barrel jokes, let me back up a minute and explain a few things. Namely, what we were planning. Since moving to the south Minneapolis area two years ago, we noticed some houses sporting rain barrels situated right under eaves-troughs, waiting to catch the rain. They usually look like this. In case you haven't heard of a rain barrel before, they are quite simply containers (although often of the barrel shape) that harvest the rain water from your roof - then with an attached hose you can water your backyard. These big ol' barrels are known to ease the pain of water bills that spike in the summer due to garden watering, and they're good on the environment too. (I read somewhere that lawn and gardening watering makes up 40% of household water use in the summer!) But we didn't want a big piece of plastic sitting in our yard. If we had a bigger house with a more discrete area where we could hide the barrel or even camouflage it, perhaps we would've rolled with that (there I go again!), but the way our backyard is situated, the barrel would be right in prime patio real estate, so we wanted to keep her looking nice. In fact, we even hoped we could make our new barrel add to the aesthetics of our backyard.

So Evan started looking on trusty ol' Craigslist and soon found that there are a few wine barrel dealers in the Minneapolis area (like this one). We ended up going with By the Barrel, run by a young couple out of their garage. (Their house was pimped out with all sorts of barrel things ... even a rotating composter! Consider us inspired!) Every year they get a shipment or two of barrels straight from wine country out in California, where they are a dime a dozen, then they sell the barrels here where they are more of a novelty. I didn't know this, but vineyards only use a wine barrel once before sending it on it's way (due to flavors soaked up by the wood) so Cali is abundant with used barrels. What a great summer/weekend side-job! I think we might just have to start taking trips to California and selling them ourselves! Just kidding ... maybe. 

We picked up our barrel from By the Barrel for a grand total of $140, and that included a DIY rain barrel kit: a connector piece with a filter, and two spigots, one with an on/off valve. $140 for a 59 gallons barrel didn't sound too bad to us, but we do realize it will take us a while to start seeing enough water-bill savings to offset that cost. For the sake of comparison, we could've gotten a completely finished and ready-to-use barrel from the Barrel Depot for $199, or we could've picked up a similar kit from them for $129 - but they were a little further away for us and we just got a better vibe from the By the Barrel folks (friendlier and easy to work with). The lesson we learned is that barrels are simply pretty pricey (unless you trek out to wine country). But making a decision that in the end would benefit the environment and also add to the aesthetics of our backyard was the payoff we were most excited about - not the dough we might save in the next few years (which would be an added bonus). And it does feel good to be a little industrious and self-sufficient!

So we happily stuffed our barrel in our car (it juuuust fit, whew!), and headed home enjoying the wonderful vino aroma wafting through the car (good thing we didn't get pulled over!). This is the second time our new hatchback Prius has come in handy! Check out how we used it earlier this summer, here.

Evan wanted to keep the barrel in our house for some continual aroma-therapy.

After rolling the barrel into position in the backyard we decided we needed to elevate her a bit to increase the water pressure, which would enable hose-usage (this is where Evan Mr. Pierson needs to step in and give a science lesson!). So we piled up some cinder blocks but soon realized it might be unnecessarily high, so we knocked 'er down to one layer of blocks. We still have the other four handy in case we decide we need more water pressure. (Cinderblocks = $.98/each at Home Depot)

Getting the base level proved to be the most time-consuming task of the entire project! We placed four old patio pavers on top of the cinder blocks - they were just lying around from the previous owner so it was good to put them to use.

Next up, it was doodle time. Well, not exactly, but Evan did whip out a pencil and trace an old barrel piece (provided from the sellers) to make sure he got the opening just right.

Then he drilled a pilot hole

And went to town sawing that puppy outta there with his Jigsaw

I neglected to take a picture of the next step, but he basically just fit the black filter/attachment piece into the opening (you can see I'm very technical). This is where the water will flow into the barrel, so there is some metal netting in there to catch any debris.

Next Evan made an opening for the "overflow spout"

This way the barrel won't ever get backed up (because that would lead to problems with the gutters). Now if we get a sudden downpour during a rainy season when the barrel is already almost full, the excess water can either stream out, or we could connect another hose and run it along our flower bed. Instant watering!

You can see he also attached the spigot with the on/off knob by doing the same exact process: using a 1 inch diameter drill bit to drill open the hole and simply screw the on/off nozzle in place. 
This is where we will connect the hose! And we stopped up the bung hole opening for obvious reasons.

My least favorite step was sawing off the eaves trough and attaching the bendy one (again, I'm real technical) because you know that sound when you scratch your fingernails on a chalkboard? Well it was that times ten. Yea I know, that's why Evan did it and I ran into the house retreated a couple steps to take a picture. This step wasn't super scientific - we just held up the plastic tube and measured where we wanted to make the cut. I forget what tool Evan used here ... (a little help E?). We screwed her in place for a nice secure fit. If ever too much debris collects in the tube, we can simply unscrew it and clean 'er out.

I forgot to take a final full-length body shot of our barrel, but below you can see how all the attachments went together. Admittedly, the bendy eaves spout isn't the prettiest thing in the world, so maybe we'll make some alterations later on down the road. Or I've even thought of placing a nice big fern on the barrel in the summer. You know, so the focus is on the barrel and not the plastic tubing.

And the hose can coil up nicely between the barrel and our raised bed.

Now we just need some rain so we can test this puppy out!

Here's our budget breakdown:

Cinder blocks $.98 X 8
Patio pavers:  free X 4
Wine Barrel w/ DIY kit:  $140

Any other rain barrel fans out there? Perhaps you've cooked up your own method of collecting water - do tell! Was anyone else running around tonight trying to cover up their outdoor plants and veggies from the impending FROST tonight?! (That's for you Minnesota folks). I have some green tomatoes I'm hoping make it through the night so they can live 'til a RIPE old age? I still have high hopes of freezing tomato sauce!

Find out what our patio looked like last fall!


  1. Hi E&C,

    I was randomly searching the web and came across this wonderful blog post... then it occured to me that it was about our barrels! What a great surprise! We strive to run a good old fashioned family business based on trust and friendships. I'm thrilled that you had a positive enough experience to write about it on your blog! The rain barrel looks awesome and keep up the good work!


    Anthony $ Kristen Quill

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post! We really do love the barrel and have been showing it to everyone who stops by. We have to seal it yet this winter ... but we just put it in the garage for now. Hope all is well!

    -Carolyn and Evan


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