Can a rain barrel solve my problem? And if not, what's my best option?

I have a downspout that empties into the small space between my house and detached garage. There’s a fence running across this space, maybe 12 feet long with a gate in the middle. On one side of the fence is my driveway, and on the other side is the backyard patio.

Over the last couple of winters, drainage from this downspout has caused a large frost heave underneath the fence, making the gate all but unusable because the two sections of fence are so far out of alignment.

There’s a small patch of gravel where the downspout empties. There’s a diffuser there but it hardly matters – all the drainage obviously pools underneath and freezes in the winter. With hardscape on either side, there’s nowhere for the water to go.

I’m getting the fence replaced, but I need to figure out the drainage problem or I may just face the same situation again.

I thought a rain barrel might be the answer, but most sites advise not using it in the winter, and that’s when I need it most.

Short of investing serious money in routing that downspout through pipes under the driveway or patio – or into the storm sewer – what can I do?

Can you dig down at the downspout for a “dry well”? Say a hole 3 or 4 feet wide and really really deep?

If the water has nowhere to go then a French Drain won’t work.

A rain barrel could work if you can empty it periodically and prevent it from freezing.

Here’s some advice about dry wells from “This Old House”

Is a dry well the same as a French drain? I’m not really sure what’s underneath, but it’s right next to the foundation.

I’m in northern Illinois, so that’s possible but challenging. A bunch of snowmelt could drain into the barrel and freeze overnight. Managing the rain barrel could turn into a daily chore.

Similar concept but the French Drain assumes the water will be led somewhere until it has a chance to be absorbed by the soil. If the soil is frozen in winter, water won’t seep in.

The dry well seems to be the best solution. If you can dig the well anywhere somewhat close to the downspout but as far from the foundation as you can get, you can lead the downspout water through a short PVC pipe into the well.
Dig deep enough and you’ll be below the frost line and the water can seep into the soil even during winter.

Moderator Action

Since this is more advice and opinion than factual, let’s move this to IMHO (from FQ).

Factual information about the various options is of course still welcome.

A “bubbler” pump could prevent that, I think. Get that from an aquarium supply place or Amazon.
That could run overnight or as long as temps are below freezing.

You would still need to empty the barrel periodically somewhere…

Rain barrels connected to downspouts can fill up very quickly. We used to use one to collect water for our gardens in the back yard. You could connect a hose to the rain barrel and put the other end of the hose far away from your fence, then just leave the hose connection open in the winter. I suspect that you will still have freezing issues though.

What about re-routing the downspout?

Well – haha – I’m trying to avoid having to lay underground pipe anywhere. If I were willing to do that I’d just run a pipe under my patio and have it empty onto the downslope of the backyard.

I should have mentioned that I’m not physically able to do work of this magnitude myself. (Set up a rain barrel, yes. Dig wells, no.) And I can’t even get the time of day from local contractors – it took me weeks to find a fence guy.

There’s nothing but hardscape for 10-15 feet in any direction. I could run an extension across my patio but (in addition to it being super-ugly) I’d trip over it every day.

I’m in Grand Rapids Mi. I’ve been using rain barrels at all five of my downspouts. We live on a hill and the erosion from the downspouts was pretty significant. The rain barrels solved the problem. How? Once the barrel fills up it discharges overflow through a plastic pipe onto the ground. This is a gentle flow compared to the furious energy streaming from the downspout.

All summer we use the rain barrel spigots to fill a watering can to water the plants.

Winter. We are unplug the bottom drain and this part is not necessary but we insert a small hose piece in the bottom drain directing flow away from the barrel.

My barrels have been in place since 2006, we’ve replaced a couple stripped spigots. One year we forgot to “winterize” a barrel and it split.

Spruce Creek Rainsaver. This barrel the downspout goes around the corner as we didn’t want it taking space on the deck.

Does the outflow ever freeze up?

What do you do to winterize the barrels, other than running the hoses from them?

Winterizing is basically unscrewing the bottom plug to empty the barrel. iThe downspouts will freeze up and there may be a thick icicle coming out that will drip meltwater into the barrel. If it’s dripping and collecting it’s flowing out the bottom.

The barrel may get all iced up on top and the sides from the downspout but very little icing spreading at the outflow.

Hmm. I’d still have run that hose 15 feet or so across my patio before it reached the lawn. How long do your hoses have to run, and do they remain free-flowing?

Very quickly. We have 3 rain barrels on our home and one on the barn. We use the water for gardening and indoor plants. When the barrels are empty, a good summer rainstorm fills them up.

This is another issue I’m wrestling with. When the barrel is full, everything I need to water has already been watered by the rain. When all that stuff needs watering, the barrel is likely to be dry. Seems like a perfect solution if it rains every 3-4 days on schedule.

Have you got a pic of the offending area ?
Could you route the downpipe to the other side of your garage ?

The barrels remain full until you withdraw the water.

I do have a pic but have never quite figured out how to upload them.

There’s really nowhere to re-route the downspout.

Did it!
Google Photos
The arrow indicates the downspout. The new fence will be aligned with the edge of the house (to the right of the downspout) and the rain barrel would go about where the current fence post is.

(Click on the image to get a better idea of the whole setup.)

Could you change the slope of the gutter so the downspout is on the left side instead of the right?