Plumbing 55-gal. Plastic Barrels for Water Storage

Why Barrels?
- common waste product
- may be available free
- strong, lightweight, durable, good on water quality

Several types of barrels
removable top/"open-top"
- can be re-used in many ways (compost turner?)
- rarer around here
- more expensive to buy new

"Closed top" barrels
- used fo the design below
- more common
- cheaper to buy new
- fewer re-use possibilities besides liquid storage
- no removable lid, just two threaded holes:

The best barrels for water storage have only held food products, like cola syrup, grain/baking supplies, juices, sauces, animal feed?

On the other hand, this design calls for many PVC joints (see below), meaning many fittings and much time spent fitting them. The price of the PVC fittings may greatly exceed the cost of the barrels. The time required to plumb more than a few barrels may be prohibitive. Fortunately, the design is fully scalable, all the way down to a single barrel.

This system is intended to be connected to a house gutter to provide rainwater storage, ultimately feeding an irrigation system for a garden plot.

On Bungs
Closed-top barrels usually have two threaded holes, one coarse-threaded, the other fine-threaded.

Coarse thread hole/"bung"
- funky threading: buttress threads
- but: bung cap has an adapter for 3/4" NPT

Fine thread bung
- regular 2" NPT female threads

Bung caps are made to accept a bung wrench for opening and closing
You can buy one or you can make one.
A pair of pliers will work in a pinch.

Barrel Support
Weight of water is an important consideration.
Water weighs eight pounds per gallon.
A full 55-gal barrel weighs more than 440 pounds.
Some barrel system designs require the construction of a sturdy timber frame for stacking the barrels. This is a fine idea if you have the necessary time, resources, and expertise. I do not.

Instead: stacked barrels in a pyramid--cheaper, faster to construct, more mobile, less resource-consumptive than timber frame.

- Avoid crushing empty barrels. Full barrels shouldn't sit on top of empty ones.
- Prevent the barrels from rolling away when full. Wire rope wrapped around the barrels like a giant rubber band might work
- Prevent the barrels from blowing away in the wind when empty.
- The higher the barrels are, the greater the pressure at the outlet. Might want to make a base from something sturdy. For more, see this.

Plumbing the Barrels

Scale up/down to suit.

One feature of this design: the nominal distance between any two connected bungs is ~23 inches (diameter of one barrel).

Why is This "Untested"?

We found a local source for IBCs at $20 each, cheaper than plumbing the comparable number of barrels. (2 IBCs = ~600 gallons for $40).
We've had a hard time finding suitable barrels for free in the Richmond area.
Faster to install 2 IBCs than 10 barrels.
But, I couldn't find anything on the intertubes about this.

Related Reading
Art Ludwig, Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds
Stacy Pettigrew and Scott Kellogg, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-it-Ourselves Guide

Shop Skills I Possess

Know-how and good sense are the shibboleths of the shop; they are inadequately conveyed in writing. But here goes.


- I'm a designer, prototyper, troubleshooter, and problem-solver.
- I love designing and fabricating one-off solutions to complex problems.
- I love teaching to interested students.
- I learn new skills quickly.
- Steel is my favorite material.  Aluminum, copper, brass, and hardwoods are nice, too.  I know little about plastics and composites.

Introductory Level

Small gas engine maintenance and repair
Automobile maintenance
Oxy-acetylene welding
CNC machining

Some Experience
Stick welding
Advanced machining (e.g. lathe-cut threads, high-precision work)
Sheet metal work (bending brake, shear)
Blacksmithing/forging steel
Epoxies (wood, metal, plastics)
Tube bending, especially thin-wall steel
Fine woodworking
Table saw (wood)
Wood and metal finishing

Lots of Experience
TIG welding
MIG welding
Brazing steel, with brass or silver filler
Copper pipe (cutting, sweating, brazing to steel)
Basic machining (turning and milling)
Drilling and tapping
Horizontal and vertical band saws (wood and metal)
Power sanders, grinders, chop saws, miter saws
Precision layout and measurement to .001 inch or .1 mm
Bicycle maintenance, repair, assembly
Bondo (applying, shaping)
AutoCAD (2D)
AutoCAD Inventor (parametric solid modeling)

Relevant Coursework:
Welding Techniques, Caldwell Community College, Boone, NC
Computer-Aided Drafting II, J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, Richmond, VA
Small Gasoline Engines, J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, Richmond, VA
Machine Shop Practices, John Tyler Community College, Richmond, VA

Machine Blueprint Reading, John Tyler Community College, Richmond, VA
Intro to Digital Drafting, Corcoran College of Art + Design, Washington, DC
Furniture Fundamentals, Corcoran College of Art + Design, Washington, DC

Relevant Work History
Graduate Assistant, Department of Technology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Volunteer, Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Technical Consultant, MARZ Industries, Richmond, VA
Journeyman Framebuilder, Tektonics Design Group, Richmond, VA
Student Shop Foreman, Machine Shop, School of Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
President and Co-Founder, Bike Fabricators at VCU, Richmond, VA
Shop Assistant, CNK Machine Manufacturing, Richmond, VA
Intern, Fabrication and Model Shop units, Office of Exhibits Central, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Lab Technician, Sculpture Department, Corcoran College of Art + Design, Washington, DC