Conserve Water by Harvesting Rainwater: How to Make a Rain Barrel

Simple, homemade rain barrels harness one of nature's most basic and valuable resources, reducing water costs and stormwater runoff.


| March/April 2007



closeUnderdrain

In this larger, 12-barrel configuration, a downspout pours into the top of the first barrel and then fills each barrel equally from the bottom up.


Carol Steinfeld

If you ever worry about your home’s water consumption, take heart: Some of the cleanest mineral- and chlorine-free water arrives free to most homes. Rain barrels are a fabulous, relatively inexpensive and easy way to harness this most basic of nature’s resources.

Rainwater can be used for watering lawns and gardens, filling swimming pools, washing cars and pets, rinsing windows, and even bathing and drinking (if it’s filtered and treated). Using rainwater reduces water costs, takes a load off water supplies and reduces stormwater runoff, helping prevent flooding and erosion. That’s a big environmental bang for your buck.

Rainwater harvesting is catching on across the country. In Texas, people have installed thousands of fiberglass, plastic and galvanized steel cisterns in homes and public facilities to supplement lawn watering (which accounts for as much as 40 percent of home water use). Outside Boston, watershed protection programs promote underground rain-collection tanks that allow big storage capacity under driveways. For indoor use, rainwater usually is pumped, run through a particle filter, and either carbon filtered or disinfected. In Colorado and some other Western states where most water is subject to water-rights laws, the only sure legal way to use rainwater is to water lawns and gardens. All other uses require permission from the state water resources agency.

Rain Barrel Basics

Unlike water pumped from the ground, rainwater is soft; it contains no minerals that leave calcium scale or residues, no sodium and no chlorine or fluoride. However, it can carry debris, bird excrement and anything else that washes off a roof. During storage, bacteria and insects can proliferate in standing water. Users can manage this easily by topping barrels with screens and using their water supply frequently, which keeps the water moving and aerated.

To store rainwater, rain barrels and cisterns are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. An easy option is a sturdy trash barrel or a food-grade, plastic, 55-gallon barrel available from food importers and processors. Either dip a bucket or watering can in the opening of the barrel or outfit it with a spigot and overflow drain.

Rain Barrels 101

>Here’s what you should know about creating and maintaining a rainwater collection system.

deborah leas
3/14/2013 5:06:11 PM

Could not agree with you more, Jackie ~~ thanx for your great comments!


jackie negrete
3/14/2013 3:29:07 AM

FYI: The Bats found in Canada and the US eat most of those insects we consider to be a problem. They eat many insects that eat our lovely vegetables, and ones that feed on us. Just one bat can eat up to 1200 mosquito-sized insects each hour! Now that's effective echolocation. Invest in a few bat houses and kiss pesky insects good-bye! Taken from Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats.


jackie negrete
3/14/2013 3:13:12 AM

Please install bat houses instead of worrying about pesky bugs that invade your rain barrel!!! this fellow mammal will go extinct if we don't change anything from what many of us are doing now! To find out more, visit the above sites or books.


jackie negrete
3/14/2013 3:09:17 AM

Love the info on rain barrels! Not to be a stickler or anything, but please consider the environmental effects of using oil in a rain barrel; remember you will be eating these plants afterwards! Plus think of the other animals that share your yard. If you use soap, make sure the back label says its 100% biodegradable. But the best yet, I'd say install a couple bat houses in your yard! It helps with the other bugs already living in your yard, and helps a beautiful creature find a safe home that really needs help finding living space. They are also very entertaining to watch. Please don't worry about bats! Research shows that less than 0.5% of bats carry rabies in most areas (Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats)! If you don't believe me, check for yourself at www.lads.com/basicallybats, or Bat Conservation International at www.batcon.org. There are many other sites in the Stokes guide book. Please take a look before you dismiss a fellow mammal; in fact, the only mammal to ever fly! : )






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