Save Water, Help Our Environment
Watering your lawn and garden can account for up to 40% of your total household water use. Using a rain barrel for rainwater harvesting is not only a popular green alternative to treated water, but also a great way to save money while protecting the environment.
A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Collected rainwater can be a great resource for watering gardens and can even be used for non-potable applications such as flushing toilets. It is also a convenient way to collect and store water for use during droughts and water restrictions.
Benefits of a Rain Barrel System:
• Reduces your eco footprint
• Lessens runoff into streams minimizes soil erosion
• Grow healthier plants
• Can be used during water restrictions
• Save money on your water bills
Types of Rain Barrels
Rain barrel manufacturers offer a vast array of shapes, styles, and colors to suit most water storage needs. Below are listed the main types, as well as some advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind.
Decorative Plastic Rain Barrels
Ceramic Clay or Stone Rain Barrels
A great way to catch and store small amounts of rain water, they can be highly decorative and make attractive additions to flower and small vegetable gardens. Setting in place or rearrangement can sometimes be difficult due to the unwieldy nature of natural or ceramic stone.
Wooden Rain Barrels
Galvanized Metal Rain Barrels
These systems usually incorporate flexible membrane liners and are great for people who need a larger rainwater storage system. Metal rain barrels are intended as more permanent fixtures and tend to be too unsightly for normal residential settings.
Conservation comes in all sizes
Residential rain barrels range from small 15-gallon models to larger commercial sizes designed to hold up to 1,000 gallons. Some modular cistern designs have greater storage capacities for larger agricultural and industrial operations. Ready-to-use rain barrels can be purchased at The Home Depot.
Advantages of Rainwater Harvesting
Grow Healthier Plants
Rainwater is good for plants. It's free of salt and other minerals that can harm plants and their roots. Treated water can contain fluoride, chlorine and other impurities, so utilizing rain water affords a pure and natural source for gardens and landscaping.
Harvesting rainwater is a great resource for keeping your garden green during water restrictions and droughts. Rain barrels that hold several gallons of water can help you through the dry season without having to use water from your hose.
Good For Your Wallet
Installing a rain barrel can save you money. It helps decrease your water bills because all the water collected and used is free.
Learn More About Rainwater Harvesting, Storage and Usage
In arid areas where rainfall is light and drought is common, large storage tanks can be expensive but well worth the money. If rain falls often in your region, you might consider a smaller system like a rain barrel to handle your watering needs during the occasional dry spell.
Make sure that your rainwater collection devices are covered and tightly sealed. This helps minimize mosquito populations and prevent them from becoming a drowning hazard to small children. Tightly secure your storage device to the ground so that it won't easily fall over. One gallon of water weighs over 8 pounds, so even a half-full 55-gallon drum can be a crushing hazard.
Rainwater is relatively free of chemicals and toxins when it leaves the clouds, however dust, leaves, bird droppings or bugs from your roof can easily be washed into your conveyance system (the gutters and downspouts). Keeping your storage tank free of this debris is critical if you want to maximize water pressure and the longevity of the rainwater system.
A simple metal mesh screen is ideal for filtering out larger debris, and a second fine screen at the mouth of the storage tank will help keep small critters out of your watering supply. Be sure that the filtering screens are readily accessible to make cleaning and maintenance easy.
Once you have filtered the water in your rainwater storage tank, you can retrieve it with a manual hand pump, electric pump or through a spigot. Most of the rainwater storage tanks available to homeowners come equipped with a standard garden spigot near the bottom of the tank where you can easily hook up a garden hose.
For larger irrigation systems or systems where most water is stored below grade, a pump is generally required to get the water out of the storage tank. There are two types, manual and electrical. Hand pumps require manual energy and aren’t as convenient as electrical pumps which cost more, but will enable you to water plants in a raised or hanging location with ease.
With a rainwater harvesting system, the water must be moved from the collection system to the filtration and storage tank before you can use it. For standard roof-collecting systems, gutters are the first part of the conveyance stage. The most common place to tap into a conventional gutter system is at the downspouts. From there the water can be diverted directly into a rain barrel or storage container.
You can cut the existing downspout and attach it directly to a filtering device, or you can install a downspout diverter to direct excess water down and away from your home when the rain barrel is full.
Rainwater Collection Calculation
The amount of water you can collect from a rainwater collection system is determined primarily by the rainfall in your region and the size of your roof. The accepted rule of measurement is to determine the square footage of your roof that drains into your barrel and multiply that number by the monthly average of rainfall for your area (in inches). Once you have that number, divide by 12, then multiply by 7.48. The formula looks like this:
Square feet of roof that drains into barrel x monthly average (in inches) of rain ÷ 12 x 7.48
Additional Environmental Benefits
The harvesting of rainwater can be used in a large-scale environment, such as schools, parks, office parks, etc. In more urban areas rain harvesting can provide supplemental water for the city’s requirements.
It increases soil moisture levels for urban greenery, increases the ground water table through artificial recharge, mitigates urban flooding and improves the quality of the groundwater.
Installation and Maintenance
A rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under any residential gutter downspout. Rain barrels may be constructed from plastic, wood, fiberglass or stainless steel and are usually installed above ground.
They are also usually opaque to prevent the exposure of stored water to sunlight. This decreases the growth of algae inside the barrel. It is important that the system is sized to meet the water demand throughout the dry season. The size of the catchment area or roof should be large enough to fill the tank.
When it comes to maintaining your rain collection system, no matter where it's located, there are certain initial and ongoing steps that should be conducted to keep your system operating properly.
• For safety and to minimize intrusion by animals or breeding of mosquitoes, make sure to that the
collection system has a cover that adequately encloses the unit
• Maintain a debris-free conveyance system. This would include inspecting gutters and downspouts.
Regular cleanings will prevent blockage
• Periodically flush debris from container bottom
• Inspect your system after a heavy rain and at the end of the rainy season for leaks, overflows or water in
• Look for any occurrences of overflow and determine a plan for addressing the harvesting of this excess
water if appropriate. An additional collection system or overflow container may be needed.
Winterize your rain barrel system when temperatures are below 41° F or 5° C by completely draining the barrel. If storing outside, be sure to turn the barrel upside down and place a heavy object on top to keep it from blowing away. Emptied rain barrels can also be stored in a shed, garage or basement during the winter months.
Rain barrels are for water collection and outdoor use only. Rainwater harvested from roofs may be contaminated and can contain animal and bird feces, windblown dust, pesticides and particles from pollution making it unsuitable for drinking. No other uses are recommended.
Protect your home’s siding with a sheet of wood inserted between the downspout and the siding to prevent damage. Downspout edges may be sharp. Wear protective gloves when cutting and handling downspouts to avoid cuts or scratches. Always wear safety glasses when doing cutting or drilling to prevent eye injuries.