Based in Lake County, Illinois, Heidi Cardenas has been freelancing since 2000. She studied business administration at the College of Lake County and has a background in human resources administration. She has written for "Chicago Parent Magazine" and guest blogs for The Herb Companion, Natural Living and TribLocal. She enjoys writing on a wide range of topics, but especially gardening, natural living, and home and family eco topics.
Who doesn’t like getting something for free? I would much rather get something without spending money, especially something that costs a lot. Rain water is free, delivered to your home at no charge, and ready to use. Watering a lawn and garden and hanging flower baskets each week during the hot summer months can be expensive and wasteful. If your water bill increases during the summer, consider doing a water bill audit. Take your water bills from the last two or three years, add up the increases in June, July and August, and compare them to the one-time cost of purchasing and installing a rain barrel with simple irrigation. Now reflect on that savings over the past ten or fifteen years, or however long you’ve been in your home, to see how much you could have in the bank today if you had been using a rain water collection and irrigation system from the beginning.
This is what I did after I made an impulse purchase of an attractively designed rain barrel at a local home and garden center last year. The $69 was more than I felt comfortable spending, even getting a sale price, but I’d wanted a rain barrel for a long time, and this one matched our home’s exterior nicely, so I bought it. The purchase price was a bargain compared to the cost of watering lawns, flowers, vegetable gardens and shrubs for three months. And we don’t have to worry about summer water restrictions or try to remember what days of the week we’re allowed to water the lawn.
Our stylish rain barrel catches free water for our lawn and gardens. Photo By Heidi Cardenas.
We had a few problems with the rain barrel that my husband likes to bring up whenever anyone asks us about it. The adapter kit to connect the rain barrel hose to the gutter is narrower than the gutter interior and trapped some tree debris, clogging it. It had to be removed and cleaned out so the rain water in the gutters would run freely again when it rained. I highly recommend the investment of a properly fitting gutter screen system when you buy a rain barrel if you don’t already have one, especially if you have any trees near your gutters.
Another minor problem we ran into with the rain barrel is that the spigot is very low for filling, requiring bending down to fill any watering cans. Since we already cut into our gutter’s downspout to attach the rain barrel, we’d have to buy a whole new section of downspout and cut into it to reposition our rain barrel on cement blocks or some other objects to elevate it to a more comfortable position for use. It would be well worth the expense and effort; we just haven’t done it because we would rather have at least a couple more barrels connected for a larger rain water collection system to use all of the rain water that comes our way and are considering how to position a larger system. Our barrel’s overflow ejects at least two barrels for every full barrel of water collected, sometimes much more, and I feel like that is wasted water.
That leads to a third problem. If we want to install and connect more barrels for a bigger collection system without junking up our backyard, we would have to buy the same kind of barrel we already have for aesthetics. Other options are building our own system with large plastic lidded cans or barrels, and then disposing of the rain barrel we now have. These aren’t small considerations, either financially or in terms of time and effort, for a busy family of four. We want our rain barrel system to look nice, match the house, and be as easy to use and efficient as possible. That takes some planning, some investment and some dedication to using something other than the hose and city water.
When I talk to people about why we have a rain barrel and how we use it, I always recommend a real examination of dedication to sustainable home practices and good planning. It doesn’t do any good to get a rain barrel and then find out it is too difficult to use or it’s not big enough or it doesn’t look right next to your house. I also recommend starting bigger than you think you’ll need at first, because it’s not that easy to add on after you’ve installed and made adjustments for one barrel. My dream system for our single family home with a front and back yard lawn, five gardens and a gazebo fully loaded with summering houseplants and flowering hanging baskets would be four or five rain barrels that are plugged into a really efficient in-ground irrigation system. That would totally eliminate all use of water that we have to pay for and would allow us to water more often and more consistently than we do now.