How to Install a Cistern


A cistern, commonly called a rain barrel, usually holds water for irrigation purposes during the dry season. Typically, a series of gutters divert rainwater from a building's roof to a downspout. The downspout delivers the water to the cistern, where it's stored until it's needed. Some cisterns use an electric pump to force the stored water through long irrigation pipes. Other cisterns use a drain system that relies on gravity to force the water into a pipe or garden hose.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Sand
  • Gravel
  • Bubble level
  • Patio stones
  • Pipe thread compound
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Hacksaw
  • Measure the cistern's base with a tape measure. Add 6 inches to the base measurement and transfer the total measurement to the ground below a downspout. Remove the vegetation from the base area.

  • Dig a 4-inch-deep base in the soil for the cistern with a shovel, using the cistern's base measurements as a size guide. Smooth the base's surface with a rake.

  • Fill the 4-inch-deep base with either sand or gravel. Place a shovel's flat side on the sand or gravel and use a foot to tamp the material below the shovel. Pack all of the base material with the shovel and foot.

  • Level the sand or gravel, using a bubble level as a guide. Hold the bubble level on the base material and work the level back and forth across the base's surface, shaving the excess material off its surface.

  • Cover the sand or gravel with patio stones. Adjust the patio stones until they form a level surface, using the bubble level for guidance.

  • Set the cistern in place on the patio stones.

  • Cover the last two threads on the cistern's drain valve with pipe thread compound. Twist the drain valve into the 3/4-inch-wide hole near the bottom of the cistern tank. Tighten the drain valve with an adjustable wrench.

  • Mount an irrigation pump, using the pump manufacturer's installation instructions, or a water hose to the drain valve.

  • Cover the threads on the cistern's clean-out plug with the pipe thread compound. Twist the clean-out plug into the large hole, usually 3 or 4 inches wide, near the bottom of the cistern tank. Tighten the plug with the adjustable wrench.

  • Cover the threads on the cistern's overflow fitting with the pipe thread compound. Spin the overflow fitting into the topmost hole on the side of the cistern. Hand tighten the overflow fitting.

  • Attach the overflow tube to the overflow fitting. Usually the overflow tube slips into the overflow fitting without using tools. Run the overflow tube the required distance away from the building, using the local building codes as a guide. The required distance depends on the type of soil and the depth of the building's basement or slab.

  • Insert the cistern's bug screen into its water-inlet hole, located on top of the cistern. If the cistern uses a bowl-shaped bug screen, the screen's depression faces down.

  • Position the building's downspout above the cistern's water-inlet hole. If using a pre-installed downspout, cut the downspout to size with a hacksaw.

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