Michele, a self-proclaimed medium green, combines her enthusiasm for communicating about the green industry, with a deep appreciation for all things gardening. Her blogs provide information from the homeowner’s perspective, moving between what works now and what the future might hold.
Before there were public water utilities, many American households harvested rainwater. With the development of water treatment and distribution systems, the appeal of rainwater diminished. However, as the environmental and economic costs of providing centralized water escalate, a new interest in rainwater has emerged. The easiest way to begin harvesting rainwater for your home is to use a rain barrel to provide water for irrigating your lawn.
Here are some items to keep in mind when it comes to a rain barrel.
- Consideration for choosing your rain barrel here >>
- Steps for installing your rain barrel here >>
- Keep your rain barrel in tip-top shape here >>
- Out-of-season storage here >>
- Where to buy a rain barrel here >>
Rain barrels can come in all shapes and styles, and can be painted to match your homes or gardens décor. When deciding on the type of rain barrel make sure the barrel chosen will not let in light – clear or translucent barrels can speed the growth of algae, which can clog pipes.
The size of the rain barrel is also important. To determine the size, it is wise to calculate the square footage of your roof that feeds into the downspout that fills your barrel. The safest way to make this calculation is to visit Save the Rain. Save the Rain’s calculator will help you get a good idea of how much of your roof will go into the downspout.
Certain roofing materials make rainwater collection more challenging because some chemicals and finishes applied to shingles can contaminate storm water. It's reasonably safe to collect water from roofs constructed of aluminum, clay tiles, and slate. Green roof owners can also rest easy since the plant matter acts like a built-in water filtration device.
Another consideration for the size of the rain barrel is the amount of rain you can use. Untreated water will stagnate quickly and can become unpleasant. If you only use 15 gallons a day, then it doesn’t make much sense to install a 200 gallon barrel. You can roughly estimate how much water you can use by timing how long it takes to full a gallon jug. It takes about 15 seconds at my house, which means our water flows at four gallons per minute. If I spend 15 minutes watering the tomatoes, then I’ve used 60 gallons of water.
The cost of a rain barrel is another item to contemplate. They range in price from free to $250 or more, depending on style and shipping. Click here for a list of local rain barrel retailers.
Prior to installing your rain barrel, locate the downspout on your house. The downspout is the pipe that carries rain water from your roof gutter down to a sewer drain or to the ground. Depending on where you live, your downspout may either be connected to the sewer system through a drain or the downspout may direct rain water to your yard or driveway, usually using a splash pad to disperse the flow at the bottom of the downspout.
Besides your rain barrel, you will need a tape measure, hacksaw, elbow and a downspout section, which is optional, for the installation.
Step 1: Location for your rain barrel
Place the rain barrel in the desired location. The barrel should be directly under or near a downspout. Make sure it is level because a level surface will keep any water from ponding on top of the barrel. The ground can be leveled with gravel, sand, a cement tile, bricks, cinder blocks, or similar material.
Step 2: Measure
Measure the total height of barrel, plus any stand it sits on, from the ground to the top of the barrel. Also, measure the height of any diverter (see the photo on the right) being used. A diverter is anything used to direct the water from the downspout into the barrel. If the barrel is placed directly under the downspout, a diverter may not be necessary.
Step 3: Cut
Add all of the measured heights together. This will be the height at which you cut your downspout. Cut your downspout using a hacksaw or similar saw, and be sure to save the downspout piece that you’ve cut off. This extra downspout piece can be reattached in the winter when you take the barrel out of use. If you have a downspout bracket, remove the bracket, make your cut, and place the bracket above the cut.
Step 4: Assemble
Attach any diverters being used to the downspout by squeezing or crimping the downspout end so the elbow will fit over it. Screws can be used to secure it in place. The downspout or diverter should be aimed directly at the screened opening on top of the barrel. If you have an aluminum downspout, secure it to the elbow with screws. If you have a PVC downspout, secure it to the elbow with PVC cement. If the barrel has a screened top, orient the elbow so the water flows into center of the lid. If the barrel has a diverter, use a flex tube to extend the downspout into the diverter.
Step 5: Add Overflow Hose
If an overflow hose is already connected to the back of the barrel, the unattached end of this hose should be directed to where your downspout originally drained, either to a splash pad or the sewer drain. The overflow hose should be at least as large as the downspout going into the barrel and 10 feet long. Direct overflow rain water away from your foundation and into a vegetated area.
Step 6: Use
You are now ready to use your rain barrel. When it rains, the rain water hitting your roof will collect in your barrel. In order to have the greatest benefit, the barrel will need to be emptied after each storm. This will ensure that the barrel will have capacity available to retain rain water in the next storm.
Like most things around your home, your rain barrel needs a little regular attention to keep working smoothly. When you are not using the water, the rain barrel spigot should be closed, sealed and free of organic material so that the rain barrel can collect water. If you are draining the barrel, leave the spigot in a slightly open position so that the water drains slowly from the barrel over several days after a storm.
Freezing may damage your rain barrel. Right before the first big freeze, drain your rain barrel and either store it upside down or indoors. The gutter should also be reattached.
- Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, 1250 Niagara St. Buffalo, 852-7483
- Arbordale Nursery, 480 Dodge Road, Getzville, 688-9125
- Blasdell Nursery, 3527 South Park Avenue, Blasdell, 827-5814
- Dibble Hardware, S-5726 South Park Avenue, Hamburg, 649-4141
- Drews’ Tru Value Hardware, 2245 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, 875-3300
- Elbers Landscape Service, 2918 Main Street, Buffalo, 834-2167
- Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Avenue, Buffalo, 827-1584
- Lincoln Park Nursery, 147 Old Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, 692-6100
- Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark Street, Hamburg, 649-4684
- Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Road, Gardenville, 822-8887
- E.H Enterprises, 555 Ransom Road, Grand Island, 774-8377