Integrated Family Community Services 3370 South Irving Street, Englewood, CO 80110-1816 Ph: 303-789-0501

Three Sustainable DIY Backyard Upgrades to Do in Your Community

The environment is shared by everyone in your community. What one person does can ultimately affect everyone else. However, instead of muttering under your breath how your neighbor doesn’t recycle, use this as an opportunity to grow closer with the people who live in your area.

Even though we’re still in the cold months of winter, there are plenty of sustainable outdoor projects you can do that will not only prepare the backyards of your community for this season, but also for seasons far into the future. 

Landscaping additions such as rain barrels, garden beds, and fire pits can conserve and reuse resources to the benefit of the environment while also adding value to the homes in your community. The best part is that you can make all these upgrades together through inexpensive and recycled materials. So before there’s too much snow outside, get out your toolbelt and embrace a more sustainable lifestyle with these three outdoor projects.

1. Rain Barrels

According to the U.S Geological Survey, each person uses up to 100 gallons of water a day. That’s a lot of water. As people become more concerned about water conservation, different ways have been found to put a dent in our everyday usage.

One of these ways is with a rain barrel. Depending on where you live, you can collect over a thousand gallons of water you can use for plants and lawns in just one year. Ready to get started? Here’s what you’ll need:


  • 1 large plastic garbage can
  • 1 tube of waterproof sealant
  • 2 rubber washers
  • 2 metal washers
  • 1 hose clamp
  • 1 spigot
  • A drill
  • Landscaping fabric

The first thing you’ll need to do is drill a hole towards the bottom of the garbage can. Don’t drill the hole too low since this is where you’ll insert your spigot. If it’s not high enough, you will not be able to fit watering cans or buckets underneath it.

Also make sure the drill bit you use is either the same size or smaller than your spigot. You’ll then insert a metal and rubber washer through the threaded part of the spigot. By placing the rubber washer after the metal one, it will prevent possible leaks while holding the metal washer in place.

The next step is applying waterproof sealant on the rubber washer that’s on the spigot. Once applied, push the spigot in the hole and let the sealant dry. Then you’ll put a rubber washer first and a metal washer afterwards on the threaded part of the spigot inside of the garbage can.

Keep the spigot from coming loose by securing it with a hose clamp from the inside of the garbage can as well. Next, cut out a hole in the lid big enough to receive the water coming out of your home’s downspout. You’ll also want to drill a couple holes near the top of the garbage can so that excess water can drain out.

To prevent any unwanted pests from entering your rain barrel water supply, place a piece of landscaping fabric over the garbage can and secure the lid firmly on top of the fabric. Now all you have to do is place the new rain barrel under a downspout.

Find areas in your community in need of rain barrels such as park enclosures and picnic spots. This in activity all ages can participate in as well. Although children may not be able to put together a barrel, they can certainly be a part of making a difference by decorating it. 

2. Garden Beds

Planting a garden is one of the most rewarding experiences to be had. However, it can also be one of the most difficult. If you or the members of your community don’t have a green thumb, it can be hard to figure out whether plants are getting enough water or too much of it.

Not only can you be wasting water, but you’ll also be drowning your seedlings! Thankfully, with the advent of wicking garden beds, this is much less of a problem. Wicking garden beds water from the ground up, meaning plants will always get the right amount of water they need. Sounds good to you? Let’s get started:


  • Black plastic
  • Vinyl tarp
  • Gravel
  • 4″ flexible drainage hose
  • 3″ PVC pipe, 2 ft
  • Shade cloth
  • 2″ x 2″ lumber
  • 3″ wood screws
  • Staples
  • Shovel
  • Pickaxe
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Saw
  • Stapler
  • Soil

Before you begin, you need to decide where you want your bed to be. When you have chosen your desired location, dig a hole about a foot deep with the same dimensions of your garden bed. In each corner, place a 2″ x 2″ post so that each one sticks out 5 feet at ground level.

Along the length of the hole, place a 3-foot post every 2 ½ feet. In between the posts, screw  2″ x 2″ pieces of lumber at the top as well as 2 ½ feet from the bottom of the hole. Next, you’ll place the black plastic in the hole and line the bottom and sides of the hole with vinyl tarp by stapling it to the posts.

The shade cloth will also be stapled to the posts along the length and width of the hole and will stand 2 ½ feet tall from the bottom of the hole. Then lay the flexible drainage hose in the hole in a serpentine-like fashion. Cut 6 inches off the end of the hose and insert the PVC pipe so that it’s vertical.

Afterwards, fill up the hole with gravel. You’ll then put another piece of shade cloth over the gravel. Once in place, fill up the wall of shade cloth with a foot or more of compacted soil. Drape even more cloth along the side and top of your frame to regulate temperature and protect the bed from frost. To give your soil an extra boost, use a garden tiller to work in leaves to serve as compost during the winter season.   

Now all you have to do is plant your seeds when spring comes and water them by filling the PVC pipe until it reaches the top of the gravel layer. To begin with, you’ll need to water plants from above until they develop strong roots. If you plan to use herbicides to keep weeds and invasive plants (such as English ivy, kudzu, and Norway maple) at bay, make sure they do not contain glyphosate.

The use of herbicides with this chemical have been linked to many cases of cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This can especially be problematic in community gardens or farms. It’s best to find safer or organic alternatives to keep your area and your plants healthy and strong. If you don’t already have a community garden nearby, contact your local government to see what’s needed to start one.

3. Fire Pit

As the temperature drops, there’s nothing like sitting next to a warm crackling fire. This can be enjoyed all year round in the backyards of your area if everyone has a fire pit. However, this backyard accessory can be expensive, deterring many people from experiencing the toasty warmth only a fire can give.

Did you know, though, that a fire pit could be hiding in plain sight in every home this very instant? Most people don’t see any worth in a broken-down washing machine, but the drum inside actually makes for the perfect fire pit. Instead of taking up space in a landfill, let it serve a second purpose in your backyard or communal space. Here’s how you can do it:


  • 1 Washing Machine Drum
  • Angle grinder
  • Cup wire brush, cut-off wheel, and flap-wheel sanding disc
  • Safety Glasses

The first step is to take off all the plastic parts of the drum, such as the base and the rim. Afterwards, give the drum a nice scrub down. With the cut-off wheel and angle grinder, remove the spindle inside as well as the metal lip.

With the flap-wheel attachment, smooth out any rough or jagged edges. Get rid of any stains or residue with the wire brush attachment for a clean finish. Optionally, if you want to paint your new fire pit, choose a high-heat paint that will withstand the hot flames. It’s also a good idea to buy a tarp for your fire pit so you can cover and protect it from the winter elements when not in use.

Winter is here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in a few more projects before you have to bundle up and go inside. Rain barrels, garden beds, and fire pits can all find a place in your area in a short amount of time and at a relatively low cost.

You can truly serve your community on any level. By incorporating these sustainable DIY upgrades, your neighborhood will not only conserve resources, but preserve the environment for seasons to come.

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