Taking Advantage of the Rain

We get a lot of rain in Florida. It’s known as the sunshine state but this is kind of a misnomer. In the summer (the “rainy season”) it rains almost every day for a half hour in the afternoon, and in the winter (the “dry season”) it rains about every three or four days when a cold front blows through. With all of this rain it would seem like the plants would be just fine on their own, but there’s some nuance to the weather that led me to install some rain barrels to the downspouts on my house.

First of all, I live pretty close to the coast, which means that the sea breeze can keep the summer storms just inland. It can go weeks in the summer without raining at my property, while every afternoon I can look west and see huge thunderstorms. So it’s good to have a free source of water for all of my plants in case the thunderstorms don’t make their way over to me for a few days.

Additionally, since the rain comes down so hard so quickly, the water management organizations in Florida actually encourage people to get rain barrels because it reduces stress on the storm drain systems. Always nice when the local government is on board.

So I have one system with a 165 gallon capacity in the back which is hooked up to a pump and a hose, but I recently put in a smaller system closer to the house for filling up watering jugs. This is just a 55-gallon drum that the city gives out to property owners for free, which is already equipped with a spout, a screen on the top (to keep debris and mosquitoes out) and an overflow hookup. I have a small section of roof with its own gutter, so this small system is perfect for this spot.

First, I had to grade the area a little bit and limit erosion. There was a little slope leading down to the only crawlspace access point so I found some concrete blocks in a neighbor’s garbage and used them to build a little retaining wall. Some other concrete blocks serve as the platform for the rain barrel itself.

When I bought this house there was a hot water heater tank in this spot in its own little house. It was horribly constructed and took up way too much space, so I pulled it out and put in a tankless hot water heater. That freed up some space for the rain barrel and, as a bonus, I can take hot showers of unlimited length now.

Rain barrels are a great way to get water for plants or for whatever you need (although it’s not good to drink it without proper preparation) and they can help your local ecosystem too! I plan to add a few more and do a more thorough how-to in the future based on my other solar-powered pressurized rainwater system.

Carrying the Torch

Whenever I’m working on a project around the house, I try to do it in a way that minimizes cost to me, sometimes to the extreme. For example, I started painting my house a few months ago because the previous owner chose a ghastly color combination for the exterior. Rather than rent a paint sprayer, or buy a bunch of different rollers and pans, I went a different route: painting my whole house with a 2.5″ brush.

It’s probably important to note that my house is around 1000 square feet and is a single story, so this task isn’t exactly herculean. Maybe I saved myself a few hundred dollars on renting a spray gun and compressor, and maybe I saved a few tens of dollars on rollers. But in general, this is how I try to get things done: by buying as few “things” as possible while still effectively completing the task.

In addition to the “cost-savings” approach I normally take, I also like to learn new skills if I can. Recently, I’ve come across a whole set of projects I’d like to do that are a little out of the realm of my meager handyman skills and woodworking abilities. I have a laundry list of projects that need some basic welding to get finished, and since my garage (and probably house) don’t have a big enough electrical service to support an arc welder, I bought myself an oxygen-acetylene welding rig. Needless to say, this was a little more expensive than a paintbrush or two, but it’s the tool I need to get the job done.

Up until I bought these tools, I had never welded anything. I have been around welding, and have spent the past few weeks watching videos of people welding all sorts of things together so I’m not completely clueless. So far my experience has been that it’s much harder in real life than it is on YouTube.

But I plan to keep practicing and getting better, so I can start working on projects that I want to work on, and that I think will improve my life and home in measurable ways. Some of the projects I’d like to do include:

  • Building a mount for some solar panels in the back yard. My existing mounts are made out of pressure-treated lumber, but don’t last long in Florida’s high-humidity environment
  • Setting up a stand for hanging pots in the backyard. There’s an area on the side of the property where virtually no plants will grow because of the extensive roots of my neighbor’s beautiful sabal palmetto. This is a great place to have a hanging garden, though.
  • Building bicycles and bicycle attachments. I like the idea of modifying a bike trailer originally meant for toting children around into a trailer I can use to tote a cooler and tackle box to my fishing spots. I’d also like to build a bicycle sidecar so I can pick up larger loads from Home Depot (like lumber and mulch) and maybe one day will even build something like a tall bike.
  • Fixing my pergola. The 4×4 lumber posts are starting to rot, and I can’t think of anything better than replacing them with steel posts (especially since I live in a hurricane-prone area). This might not require any welding, though.

Once I start practicing more and getting more involved, I will certainly be posting some of my work. Get ready for some great examples of rookie welding mistakes!

Photo credit: This is my current welding setup. Not the most safety-conscious, but until I can weld together a welding table (kind of a catch-22), it’ll have to do. Maybe next time I’ll put on some shoes.