Rain Barrels: Conservation Fresh from the Roof

Jim Mallery

Want to save water? Try rain barrels under your downspouts. An inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof equals 623 gallons. Channel that bounty into barrels, and you can water your yard and wash your car for free, plus still have plenty for making mud pies.

Roll Out the Rain Barrels

Many home-and-garden and big-box stores carry rain barrels, as well as many Web sites. An inexpensive system can be installed for under $100, and the setup is simple.

rain barrelEasy as Rolling Off a Rain Barrel

  1. Insert a downspout from your rain gutter into a hole in the lid of the barrel.
  2. Seal off the hole to prevent foreign material from entering the barrel.
  3. A faucet at the bottom of the barrel allows access to your saved water.
  4. An overflow outlet at the top with piping directs overflow away from the house.

Before barreling ahead with this project, here are six important considerations:

  1. Size matters. In a dry climate, you may not have much use for a high-capacity system, but if you live around rain, you might link several barrels to retain a few hundred gallons. Barrel size can be as low as 25 gallons, though most barrels are in the range of 50 to 80 gallons. You can buy huge bladders as large as 300 gallons.
  2. Location. If you don't pressurize your system, water from your barrel is gravity-fed, so you want to position the barrel at a high point around your house. Raise it a foot or so off the ground to ease access to the faucet.
  3. Safety. Strap it to your house. A full barrel can weigh several hundred pounds and could be knocked over in an earthquake or by inquisitive children.
  4. Netting. The buzz you hear about rain barrels could be praise for how environmentally friendly they are--or it could be mosquitoes. Without a proper lid on your barrel, you could be breeding your personal swarm of bloodsuckers.
  5. Camouflage. If you don't want an ugly plastic rain barrel next to your house, pick one from a number of attractive, disguised models.
  6. Diverters. When your barrel fills, you can't just turn off the rain. Rely on the overflow hole at the top of the barrel, making sure the water is piped away from the house. If you already have a gutter system that drains water away from the house, you can put a diverter in the downspout that will direct the water either into the barrel or let it remain in the old downspout to go down the drain. The diverter also lets you bypass the barrel during freezing weather.

A rain barrel is a great step for conservation. and the savings will just keep flowing.



About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

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