Garden School:

Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and water management

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Water Butt FAIL!!

 I was talking about a water butt fail the other day - which reminded me of this little fiasco from a couple of months back.

I have a (new) Client whose house completely lacks water butts... there are a couple of them floating around loose behind the shed, and diverters on the down pipes, but nothing is connected. Shocking! Don't they know that rainwater is free?? And nicer for the plants than nasty chlorinated old tap water? (which is still better than letting them die of drought, of course.)

So I asked if their handyman could re-install them.

Normally I would just do the job myself, but in this case I have quite enough on my plate to get the (large) garden under control with just one morning a week in which to do it... so I thought I'd ask the owners if their handyman - who did a very average job on painting some metal gates - would kindly re-fit them.

Oh dear.

This is what I found:

Right, where shall we start?

Let's start with what it's standing on. Instead of the usual green plastic base (which I left handily next to it, ready for use) he used a concrete slab - less than elegant, but I could let that pass if the butt were sitting centrally on the slab.

As you can see, it is not.

Secondly, can you see that wooden construction just immediately behind the butt? That's the pump cupboard, it needs to be accessed a couple of times a year, or more if there is a problem. The front panel is screwed on - it would be interesting to watch the pump engineer trying to squeeze his way in....

Thirdly, there is the matter of the wet patch underneath it.  Is it leaking? Is that why it was disconnected in the first place?

Closer inspection reveals this unbelieveable bodge job:

Fourth item on the "Fail" list: the joint onto the white pipe is not tight at all, it's a push fit, and it's dripping.  All over the corner of the plywood pump cover.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I don't like to have water dripping onto plywood - it tends to delaminate and then fall apart. This would mean having to have a new cover built, which is an unnecessary expense, not to mention the general annoyance of having a permanent damp patch, moss growth, slipperyness of surrounding patio slabs, unsightliness of the damp patch, risk of dampness damaging the underlying patio, risk of constant dampness damaging the foundations, etc etc. You get the picture.

This led to Fail Number Five: the water was sheeting out of the lid of the butt, because - as any idiot can see in the above photo - the inlet pipe is way, way higher than the top of the butt.

As you can see - right - the water butt is filled right up to the very lid!

Now, in case you are not totally familiar with the workings of rainwater diverters in down-pipes, this is the principle:

Water runs down the inside of the down-pipe, into a box (the diverter) which fills up, then the water tips over inot the inlet pipe. This pipe runs into the water butt and fills it. When the water butt is full,  and the water reaches the level of the inlet pipe, it runs back up the pipe, back into the diverter box, and overflows back down the down-pipe. This is a little similar to the principle of a ball-cock in your cistern - for as long as the cistern is not full, the valve is open and more water trickles in. When the cistern is full, the valve shuts off and no more water enters.

Water butts diverters don't have valves - instead, they have to be installed at exactly the right height so that gravity can do all the work. As you can see from the water sheeting out of the top of this butt, the handyman has installed the butt way too low.

As it we didn't already know that it was way too low.... can you spot the mistake in this photo.

Yes, Fail Number Six, the tap is so low that you can't get the watering can underneath it.

And you can also see how far off-centre the whole wretched thing is, as well!

This sort of thing really makes me spit - how can any workman do such a  bad job, and still sleep at night? And how can any so-called "handyman" be unaware of the basics of water butt installation? I would have thought that any handyman would have seen a dozen water butts in his first year, and this chap is an old boy, so I really think he should know better.

So what did I do? What could I do -  I immediately de-installed the water butt: I pulled off the connector,  removed the inlet pipe altogether, and blocked the hole in the diverter. Any small amount of water that drips out of the blocked hole will run harmlessly down the outside of the down-pipe and into the drain.

This meant it was "safe" while I gradually emptied the water butt so that it could then be properly re-installed, under my eagle eye. And next time, I will darn well do it myself!


  1. Your comments are an equal fail.
    Regarding water dripping onto ply, ordinary rain is water dripping onto the ply. The real fail is not the drips but using ply in an exposed position without it being properly treated. the second fail is using plain ply as roofing; this should have been covered in at least a two layer bonded felt covering. As the box contains electrics the correct thing would have been to use a proper weather proof electrics box such as an external meter cupboard.
    The next fail is your beliefs with regarding the connections between the rainwater down pipe and the barrel. Firstly when the barrel is full the water will NOT flow "back up the pipe", it will simply stop flowing allowing roof sediment to settle. What you would create by connecting it your way is a sediment trap, with the result that the connecting pipe would get blocked with sediment. A 1/2 inch pipe should drop by 1 in 5 between the down pipe and the barrel to be self-flushing; a 1 inch pipe by 1 in 10.
    If you object to water running over the top of the barrel, it should then be fitted with a proper overflow pipe leading back to the down pipe or to a suitable gully.

  2. Well, thank you, Mr "Unknown", for your speedy response - I am always saddened to receive anonymous comments, it smacks of people who don't have the nerve to stand behind their opinions. "Unknown" indeed! I hope you enjoyed your coffee while you were making this comment, and that the traffic wasn't too noisy outside?

    To take your points in order:

    The box: yes, you are right. It's not my house, I can't affect their box arrangments (although for your information I have already commented that the box could do with refurbishing) but I certainly can change their water butt arrangements.

    Whilst on The box: there is a world of difference between the occasional shower, bearing in mind the box is hard against the house and therefore in rainshadow, and a constantly dripping join, concentrated in one point.

    My description of the water going "back up the pipe" was simplified for the benefit of readers, most of whom are not water engineers. In point of fact, having done this experiment with rain water diverters (which do come with clear simple instructions)and hoses, I can assure you that the pipe, when the water barrel is full to the input point, will indeed fill with water (perhaps I should change that phrase from "flow back" to "fill with", would that make you happier?)until the water level gets back to the diverter, at which point the internal water trap fills up, and the excess water tips over the inside of the internal water trap and back down the inside of the down pipe. Any sediment is therefore caught in the diverter's inside water trap, and if you have ever had rainwater diverters you would know that they need to be cleaned out periodically.

    Of course I object to waste running over the top of the barrel! Any sensible person would! We're not talking about a couple of odd drips, we are talking about the entire downflow from the roof. If the handyman had bothered to fit an overflow pipe then I would have not lambasted him for that failure, but I would still blow him into orbit for the other five failures.

    I hope you are happy that I have listened to you, and responded, and thank you again for taking the time to let off steam about it.


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