For centuries collecting rainwater in some form of barrel or tank was common. Once collected, the water can water lawns, gardens, and in some cases to provide water for your entire home. However, over the course of the last century, rainwater collection systems featuring at least one rain barrel have slowly disappeared.
No matter where your home is located, anything you try to grow in the garden is subject to the weather. By installing your own rain barrels around your home, you will prepare for long, dry summer days. By collecting rainwater for use in your gardens, you avoid running up your water bill.
More importantly, you won’t be watering your vegetables using water containing a wide variety of toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Your vegetables will be much happier if you use naturally balanced and oxygenated rainwater.
Before You Rush Out and purchase your rain barrel
Before you rush out and start buying rain barrels, you should first check your state and local laws. For many years collecting rainwater was illegal in Colorado, but in 2016, HB-16-1005 passed allowing the collection of rainwater from roofs. However, the law limits you to two 55-gallon rain barrels or other containers that add up to 110 gallons. In all other states, the use of rainwater tanks is legal. However, several states have specific regulations pertaining to the collection of rainwater. Be sure you check with your local city or county offices before investing in rainwater collection barrels.
What is a Rain Barrel?
A rain barrel is some form of tank that sits above ground where it collects and stores rainwater for future use. In most cases, you place the barrels under one or more of the downspouts from the gutters along the roof of your home. You can install them as single barrels or if you need more water storage plumb the barrels together. This will allow the excess water to flow into the next barrel in line.
Using a rainwater collection system can help cut down the cost of watering your garden while at the same time helping to reduce your water bill. If you live in an area of the country where the summers tend to be dry, extra water is a blessing. Collecting water using barrels or tanks is a good way to ensure you have water set aside for your gardens.
There Are Many Great Reasons to Install a Rain Barrel
Cutting down on the costs of your monthly water bill is an important reason to install a series of rain barrels around your home. However, it is not necessarily the best reason. Most important is that water in the form of rain contains no chlorine, calcium, or lime. Using rainwater eliminates these substances which are not healthy for a vibrant garden. Also, by collecting water coming off your roof in barrels, it won’t gather along the foundation of your home.
Know Your Roofing Materials
One of the first steps in deciding whether to install a series of rainwater collection barrels around your home is knowing more about your roof. A study in Washington state used both asphalt shingles and wood shakes. The intent of the study was to see what, if any, chemicals leached into the water after a good rain. The results might surprise you, the asphalt shingles had exceptionally low levels of heavy metals of less than 1 part per billion. On the other hand, the water collected from the sample wood shake roof contained high levels of arsenic, lead, copper, and cadmium.
Choosing Your Rain Barrels
In the “olden days” wood rain barrels were the only choice. Today, however, you have a much larger selection from which to choose. Most of them are plastic 40-gallon barrels that are readily available and affordable. If your barrels are going to be out in the open, consider choosing a color that fits your home and landscaping.
Alternatively, once you have your rainwater collection system in place, you can always build an enclosure that hides the barrels from sight.
Wooden barrels are certainly more eco-friendly, and you don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching out of the plastic and into your garden. You can also buy plastic barrels that are BPA free and less likely to leach anything into your water.
What To Look for in a Rainwater Collection Barrel
There are several things you should look for when picking out your rainwater tanks.
- Shape – While those cheap blue barrels might be an affordable option, you may want to find barrels with one flat side. This will allow the barrel to sit closer to the wall and in many cases require less modification to your downspouts.
- Debris Screens – If you are using barrels with an open-top, you will need to cover them with debris screens. This will keep out insects, bird, leaves, and many other things that might pollute your water.
- Rain Barrels with Lids – If you have small children, you should consider barrels that feature a removable lid. This way you can remove the lid to dip out water when you need to, but otherwise, the barrel remains sealed.
- Number of Outlets – The typical rainwater barrel comes with a single spigot at the bottom for you to connect your garden hose to. Some have an extra spigot higher up on the side so that you can fill your watering can.
Installing Your Rainwater Barrel
Installation of a rain barrel is a relatively simple process and shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours. One thing to remember is that you should clean out the gutters before putting any kind of rainwater tank in place. The last thing you need is dead leaves and muck flowing into your nice clean barrel. Not only will they pollute the water, but they will make a big mess on the bottom of the barrel. If you don’t clean this out, you risk clogging the spigot. The typical rainwater barrel comes with a single spigot at the bottom for you to connect your garden hose to. Some have an extra spigot higher up on the side so that you can fill your watering can.
A Step By Step Guide to Installing Your First Rainwater Barrel
1. Choose the downspout or downspouts you plan to use.
2. Assemble your rain barrel. This may include installing the spigot (s) or hose connections, and an overflow hose. If you plan to connect multiple barrels together or add a rainwater storage tank, you will need to install the hardware for this.
3. There are several ways to prepare the spot where your water barrels will sit.
- Dig down into the ground a couple of inches, then use sand or gravel to create a level spot for the rainwater barrel to sit on.
- Level the ground and use pavers as a base for the barrel to sit on.
- If you need or plan to elevate your barrels, you will need to build a sturdy platform for them to sit on. This is a good way to ensure steady water flow if your yard is flat. Keep in mind that one gallon of water weighs 8.3lbs so a full 40-gallon barrel will weigh close to 350lbs including the weight of the barrel.
4. Install the water barrel under the downspout you plan to use in its final position.
5. You must modify the downspout to direct the water into your freshly installed rainwater barrel. Before you make any type of cut into the downspout be sure there are no heating cables or wires running through it.
- Cut the downspout far enough above the barrel that you can install an elbow that will direct the water into it. This method is best for open-topped barrels. The downspout elbow is likely to be much bigger than the opening in a barrel with a lid.
- If you are using a barrel with a small plughole, you can buy a kit with a fitting that mounts on the elbow. The fitting tapers down to a size small enough to fit in the hole.
- If you don’t want to invest in a diverter kit, you can place a large funnel in the bunghole. This might overflow during heavy rains but will work in a pinch.
- A word of caution when cutting a metal downspout. Be sure you wear leather work gloves to avoid cutting your hands. If you are using an electric saw or disc cutter, be sure to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes.
- You should also place a thin sheet of plywood between your house and the downspout if you’re using any type of power cutter. This will protect the side on your house.
- Use your favorite organic cleaner to clean your barrels regularly.
6. Slide the barrel into place under the modified downspout and check that it is level.
7. Be sure that you install the rain barrel with the spigots perpendicular to the wall of your house. Also make sure the overflow is pointing away from your foundation. This keeps water from building up and causing damage. You can add a splash guard to help keep the water away or use a hose or tubing to divert the water further away.
Using Your Freshly Installed Rainwater Barrel or Tank
If you plan to use an open-topped rain barrel, you should cover it with a fine mesh. This will keep out most debris and any number of insects such as mosquitoes. Even if you do this, mosquitoes and their larvae may enter the barrel through the downspout. The best way to avoid this problem is to use the water frequently. If you must leave the rainwater in the barrel, you can add Bacillus thuringiensis. This is a natural soil-borne bacteria gardeners have been using for decades to control a variety of insects.
It’s best if you use the water within a couple of weeks to prevent it from becoming stagnant. If you won’t use your rain barrel to collect water, leave the spigot open and place a splash block under it.
To use the water, simply connect a garden hose to the spigot and open it. You can now water your garden with the best possible form of water available. Fresh from Mother Nature with no toxic chemicals or metals. Sit back and enjoy watching your garden grow. It is sure to produce bumper crops of the healthiest fruits and vegetables you have ever grown!