Pimp your downspout

Did you ever watch the MTV show Pimp my Ride? In each episode, the team would select a person with a truly awful car and then spend a few days restoring and customizing the vehicle. I could have definitely used their help twenty years ago.

My first clunker was a Dodge Omni, which was a hand-me-down from my mom. I was sixteen and overjoyed to be out on the roads in anything with a motor and wheels. We had moved from California to Wisconsin in that Omni, with a trailer hitch welded to the back of the car so that we could tow a U-Haul trailer through the Sierra Nevadas, Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains on our way. Needless to say, by the time I started driving it five years later, the clutch was long since gone. My next jalopy was a red Ford Escort, which I pimped out with furry, cow-spotted seat covers. Though it may have been stylish, the car barely carried me through one year of college. Rounding out those early years was my first Honda Civic, this time a hand-me-down from my grandmother. It eventually broke down on the freeway in rush hour traffic, en route to work on my second day at a new job. That was back in the day when most of us still had landlines and people would pick you up from the side of the road if you needed help.

Though I’ve never had a downspout leave me stranded on a country road in the middle of the night, I still think they’re a household feature that could use a little flair. Google “pimp my downspout” and you’ll find Pinterest boards overflowing with images of downspouts shaped like rabbits, fish, and towers of teapots. There are rain chains made of colorful rocks, cutlery, and copper flowers, as well as a Seussical contraption in Germany that makes music when it rains.

Kunsthofpassage Funnel Wall
Kunsthofpassage Funnel Wall in Dresden, Germany. Photo by Attila Acs.

If you’re ready to give your downspout a makeover but aren’t sure that a giant copper river with salmon swimming upstream is the right look for your home, you might consider a more practical upgrade, such as a rain barrel to catch water for reuse.

Rain barrels are a simple and inexpensive way to capture rainwater from your rooftop that would otherwise go to waste. A typical barrel holds 45-60 gallons of rainwater and will easily fill during a ¼ inch rainfall. Use the water to irrigate your lawn and gardens during dry weeks to help reduce your overall summer water usage and keep stormwater out of streets and streams. Multiple rain barrels can also be connected in a chain to collect more water.

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Jim Reckinger of Woodbury shows how he uses rain barrels to collect water from his rooftop.

Through a partnership with the Recycling Association of Minnesota, Washington County is selling rain barrels and compost bins at a discounted rate for county residents. The Rain Catcher rain barrels hold 45 gallons of water and have a large opening and flat back design that allows for easy installation. The spoke and wheel pattern in the top of the barrel keeps it child and pet safe, and an aluminum mesh screen keeps out mosquitoes and debris. The barrels are $59 for county residents (normally $79) and include a debris screen, garden hose, shut-off thumb valve, hanging hose clip, overflow hose, and linking kit. Spigots on the side of the barrel also make it possible to connect multiple barrels in series.

The Home Composter compost bins are made of sturdy, lightweight, recycled plastic materials and come in two pieces that will fit in most vehicles. The bins hold 125 gallons of material and have a lockable lid on the top to deter animals. They cost $44 for county residents (normally $64).

Order both the rain barrels and the compost bins online at www.RecycleMinnesota.org and enter promo code “Washington” to get the discount. Pick them up during any open hours at the Washington County Environmental Center (4039 Cottage Grove Dr., Woodbury). When you’re done, you can get back to dreaming about downspouts shaped like dragonflies that pour water onto frogs carrying umbrellas.

Woodbury home with two rain barrels to collect rainwater
Woodbury home with two rain barrels to collect rainwater.