Gutters and storage device on our Arizona room

Gutters and storage device on our Arizona room

Well I’ve been wanting to harvest rainwater for a long time and now I’ve finally done it!

At our Tucson home, we have a rather poorly built addition called an Arizona room. See, in Arizona it is too hot to sit out on a porch, so most porches eventually get closed in and air conditioned, thereby becoming “Arizona rooms”. Often these conversions are done by homeowners without the dubious benefit of building inspectors.

When I say ours is poorly built, what I mean is that the floor is basically at grade. The concrete patio outside the room doesn’t slope away from the building, and rainwater tends to pool outside the door, seep underneath the threshold, and create problems with rot. Then the ants come in looking for the cat food, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we discover the walls are riddled with termite tunnels. It sure seems like whoever built this particular Arizona room needed some help understanding a few concepts like “water flows down hill” and “standing water against a wood-frame structure is a Really Bad Idea”.

Rainwater storage device

Rainwater storage device

Well, we can’t really afford to “fix it right” (which would involve demolishing the structure, raising the floor about six inches, and rebuilding it). But we can try to do something about the drainage. By installing gutters along the roof and channeling the water into rain barrels, we mitigate (somewhat) the water-pooling-against-the-door issue and collect a little rainwater to reduce our need for irrigation.

I used your basic home store steel gutters, installed a leaf screen over them (our mesquite trees are constantly dropping something), and channeled the rainwater into a storage device that looks mysteriously like a pair of 32-gallon black plastic trash cans connected with a bit of garden hose. One can has a lid on it, the other a tightly-fitted screen to let water in and keep mosquitoes and litter out. The screened can has a large overflow (the grey pipe) to eject excess water once the cans are full. The overflow is channeled away from the house to a place I plan to convert to a rain garden. Connecting the two cans at the bottom allows water to flow from the first can into the second one until their levels equalize.

If you’re interested in making your own rain barrels, I hear it is best to use recycled 55-gallon plastic drums that once were used to contain something edible. Get one that’s easy to clean. Those drums were hard to come by for me so I just got a couple cheap trash cans… if you go the trash can route too, be careful when drilling your holes and installing your fittings because the thinner plastic can crack.

Excellent directions on how to make your own rain barrel are available online (of course). I found better fittings than the ones they used though: the drain fitting for an evaporative cooler makes a wonderful bulkhead fitting into which you can screw a faucet or barbed connector, to which you can affix a standard garden hose. No pipe tap required. If you aren’t in an area where evaporative cooling is used you might have some trouble finding that part.

The night I installed the gutters and rain barrels it rained… a lot. It was pretty satisfying to see our storage device brimming with rainwater the next morning! And just as satisfying was the fact that the back door didn’t leak either. I love it when a plan comes together…

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