Not Your Grandmother's Rain Barrel

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Not Your Grandmother's Rain Barrel

For the average home, up to 40% of the water consumed goes to outdoor use such as caring for your landscape. Yet

 half of the water we use outside is wasted due to evaporation, misapplication or overwatering. Although water may seem abundant at times, no one knows if this will be another year of scarcity by midsummer. Don’t be caught unprepared. You can save water every time it rains with a simple solution...a rain barrel.

In addition, minimizing storm water runoff helps improve water quality overall by reducing sediments and contaminants that enter watersheds and storm drains. To collect the runoff from your roof, just install a rain barrel under a downspout. Harvesting rainwater in this manner is an easy way to collect and store a valuable resource for use on-demand, especially in times of drought.

So how much water do you need to collect? For every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1000 square feet (the size of a typical roof), approximately 600 gallons of water can be harvested. In general, your plants need about an inch of rain per week (a half gallon of water per square foot of garden is a good rule to follow). So, if your garden is 100 square feet, you'll want to have about 50 gallons available on demand.

Barrel capacities range from under 50 to over 300 gallons. If you find that you'll be using a large amount of water, you can connect two or more rain barrels in series or install barrels under multiple downspouts. At my house, I subscribe to the idea of a rain barrel for every downspout. My rational is simple and one I use for many circumstances; it’s better to have and not need it, than to need and not have it.

Conserving water with rain barrels is a centuries-old technique used by many cultures. Today's rain barrels don't look like the one your grandmother used. You may be surprised to find that they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and finishes to complement your home. A typical design will include an opening at the top to allow for flow from the downspout, a tight-fitting lid, and a spigot at or near the bottom of the barrel. In addition, I insist on models that include an overflow outlet or downspout diverter. This device channels the water into the barrel and once the barrel is full, the backpressure redirects the water to the spout and away from your house. Also, the top opening should be fitted with a screen in order to control mosquitoes and other insects.
You could make your own rain barrel by recycling an appropriate container. A common choice is a 55-gallon food grade barrel from a local food or beverage processing plant. Some companies will sell you the barrel at a nominal cost. You can also purchase old wine and olive barrels online. Some municipalities are offering rebates for rain barrels to help homeowners conserve water. Check with your local water authority.

If you want to be fashionable while conserving water, Fiskars has functional, yet stylish rain barrels that meet both of these criteria. They come in multiple finishes to enhance your yard or blend with your home's exterior. The concave back helps the barrel sit flush against the exterior of your home.

The Fiskars rainwater harvesting system works with a water diverter kit, included with each rain barrel. The downspout diverters are designed to work with standard 2"x3" or 3"x4" gutter downspouts. The diverter has a filter that prevents the downspout from getting clogged with debris and a window that lets you see when the filter needs to be cleaned.

Fiskars rain barrels are available in three sizes: 48 gallon (35" height), and 57 and 58 gallon (40" height). The Fiskars Salsa 58-gallon rain harvesting system in spice granite is made of UV treated impact resistant polyethylene for maximum durability. The Fiskars Tuscany II 57-gallon system comes in a handsome terra cotta color. The Holden model 48-gallon system's neutral khaki color and flowing design blends well with any home.

Other features of these barrels include: a snap-on cover, threaded spigot for garden hose connection, and an integrated base that provides clearance for filling watering cans. These barrels come with a 3- year limited warranty. The installation instructions are very easy to follow. In addition, you can click on the video link here to watch me installing a rain barrel.

As for maintenance, there’s not much to it other than winterizing your system each year. Simply empty your rain barrel and if possible, store it indoors or turn it upside down to prevent water accumulation that could freeze and crack the barrel wall.
Rain barrels are a low-cost and effective way to conserve water. Whether you make your own or purchase one, I can’t think of a better way to save it for a sunny day!