Despite the weather we experienced in the summer of 2008 in the UK it is possible that we have hot and dry weather and during these periods water used in the garden can increase your water usage and bills dramatically, with estimates as high as 50% of total usage being used outdoors.

One way to save water and money is to install a water butt. It has been estimated that if every household in the UK used a standard size water butt it would save about 30,000 million litres of water each summer from being piped to their doors – that is enough to fill a reservoir and would reduce the strain on pumping stations and chemical treatment works (your plants do not need high quality, chemically treated water – they have survived on rainwater for thousands of years).

During the year thousands of litres of rainwater falls on an average house roof and it is possible to collect this rainwater and use it on your garden during dry spells. There are many methods of “harvesting” the rainwater, the author has a simple arrangement on his garden shed where the water from the roof goes into a water butt behind the shed and any excess is allowed to overflow as it would normally. During the past 8 years the water butt has never been empty and has been used during several summers to help keep new plants and vegetables such as potatoes growing during dry spells.

It is best to water plants thoroughly once a week rather than damping the surface of the ground every day. Daily dribbles of water encourage roots to develop near the surface rather than grow downwards. One method of watering the roots is to sink a flowerpot or tube (such as a upside down plastic drinks bottle with the bottom cut off) into the ground near the plants. You then put water into the pot or tube and the water you deliver will go directly below ground level to nearer the roots. Watering only when needed ensures that the supply of water in the water butt lasts much longer and is doing more good in the garden.

Types of Water Butts

There are several types of water butt available in the UK, these include:-

  • Slimline butts (also known as space savers) which are ideal for the smaller garden or where there is not much space near the down pipe. These are often square in shape letting you get it closer to the wall.
  • Standard butts, a traditional barrel shape (shown in the photo above) that is usually made from recycled plastic and has a tap incorporated at the bottom.
  • Decorative butts, that come in a wide range of colours, shapes and sizes that can become a garden feature in their own right.
  • There are also underground tanks available, however this article does not cover these as the installation of an underground waste water tank involves a large amount of work that is beyond the average diy’er since the tank has to be buried under the lawn and pumps need to be installed.

How do I install a Water Butt ?

These instructions assume that you will be fitting the water butt onto the downpipe from the guttering of your house using a rain diverter kit, although as the picture above shows it is possible to just divert the downpipe into the waterbutt (if you do this you need to think about what will happen to the water when the butt is full).

Before You Start

You will need :-

  • A power drill with a hole saw bit
  • A hacksaw
  • A tape measure

Along with these tools you will also need :-

  • The water butt
  • A stand for the butt
  • A rain diverter kit (as mentioned above)

Step by Step Guide

  1. Choose a suitable downpipe that is in a convenient place and has room for the waterbutt next to it.
  2. Place the stand on level, firm ground, next to the downpipe, to stop it sinking into the ground or leaning over (a water butt full of water can be surprisingly heavy – a typical 210 litre water but will weigh 210 kg when it is full [or 0.20 tons], that is just the weight of the water and does not include the weight of the butt itself).
  3. Put the water butt onto the stand and mark it’s height on the downpipe.
  4. Cut through the downpipe about 3cm (1 1/4 inches) below the mark with a hacksaw.
  5. Attach the rain diverter fitting to the downpipe and refit the bottom section of the downpipe to the bottom of the diverter (you may need to trim a small amount of the cut section if it is too long).
  6. Measure 8cm (3 inches) down from the top of the water butt and drill a hole big enough for the connector can be pushed through and fitted.
  7. Attach the connector to the water butt by pushing it through the hole you have just drilled and screwing the fittings into place.
  8. Now attached the connector to the rain water diverter using the fittings in the kit.
  9. Place the lid on the the water butt and lock it into place – this keeps pets and children safe, the water clean and prevents insects such as mosquitoes and other garden pests from laying their eggs in the water.
  10. If you want to increase the amount of water that you save you can install a second, or even a third butt by using connector kits so that the excess water flows from the first to the second, and from the second to the third etc.

By using the water that has been collected in the butt and watering your garden only when it needs it (early in the morning or late in the evening during dry periods) you can save a lot of water and money on your water bill. It is important to note that this water should only be used for watering plants and not for filling paddling pools or water toys, these need a clean supply of treated water as there is a danger of untreated water being swallowed with the health risks that this implies.