9 Need-to-Knows for Setting Up a Rain Barrel

For many homeowners, rain barrels are a popular and eco-friendly home improvement project. What should you know before installing one in your yard?

1. The Benefits of Harvesting Rainwater

First, saving water means saving money. This is especially true if your water is supplied through a local water provider.

In most cases, you are charged for any water you use plus a sewer fee for each gallon, even if some of your water is used on your lawn and doesn’t enter the sewer system. So collecting your rainwater can reduce both bills.

Using rainwater also reduces the impact on your local water treatment plant, diminishes stormwater runoff, and gives you a free supply of freshwater to use as needed around your home.

If you have a well, collecting rainwater decreases the wear and tear on your well pump and extends its life.

2. Ways to Use Your Rainwater

According to The Conservation Foundation, 40 percent of total household water used during summer months is for watering lawns and gardens—and just a quarter-inch of rainfall on an average home will yield over 200 gallons of water.

Collected stormwater is commonly used to water lawns, flowerbeds, vegetables, and herb gardens. In addition, it is ideal for washing cars, bathing pets, and filling birdbaths.

You can also use this free water source for outdoor water play (including filling a wading or swimming pool), washing windows, mopping floors, power-washing driveways, siding, and watering indoor plants.

Many people swear by the benefits of this “soft” water for washing their hair.

Some crafty homeowners have created systems to automatically pipe rainwater into their homes for toilet flushing, one of the most significant household water uses!

3. The Importance of Selecting the Right Rain Barrel

Rain barrels are more than just a large container that catches the runoff from your roof.

A suitable rain barrel system will make collecting rainwater more efficient and using rainwater easier. It will keep the collected water cleaner while improving the safety aspects of operating a rain barrel.

4. Safety Considerations

An open barrel is a drowning risk for pets, wild animals, and small children, which is why it’s best to choose a covered container.

Water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon. A typical rain barrel holds 50-60 gallons or up to 500 pounds of water. So, placing your rain barrel on a secure foundation is imperative.

If it is not secure, the barrel could overturn, injuring a child (or an adult) who pulls on the side or bumps into it. Consider using cinder blocks or securely stacked paving stones to create a safe platform.

5. Other Health Considerations

Any open body of still water invites mosquitoes to lay their larvae. So your open rain barrel could quickly become a source of a mosquito infestation in your yard—and in your neighbors’ yards as well. A fine mesh screen will keep mosquitoes out and prevent debris from falling into your rain barrel.

6. Rain Barrel Restrictions

Most states allow residents to harvest water, and some states provide incentives. However, some states restrict the amount you can collect the method you use. For details, review this summary or search specific to your state.

7. Finding Affordable Rain Barrels

Most home improvement stores sell rain barrels, although prices vary widely. In addition, many cities and towns offer rain barrels to residents at discounted prices. Call your local water district to determine if yours does.

Environmental conservation organizations also offer discounted rain barrels. Contact your agriculture extension agent or search online for potential programs in your area.

You can also find video instructions on making your rain barrel from various sources, like this one from Clemson University. In addition, the Carolina Clear Program offers a “How to Build a Rain Barrel” manual as a free download for DIY homeowners.

8. Positioning Your Rain Barrel

You can collect more water by placing a barrel at each of your home’s downspouts or by linking two or three barrels together.

Linking barrels means that water overflows will be pushed into the second barrel through a connective elbow when the first barrel is full. The same thing will happen when the second barrel is full, moving excess water to the third barrel. This setup can be beneficial for rainwater collectors living in areas where extended dry spells follow heavy rains.

If the overflow drainage pipe isn’t attached to another barrel, ensure the line drains away from your home’s foundation to avoid any water damage from potential overflows.

9. Using and Maintaining Your Rain Barrel

To make it easy to use, position your rain barrel on a stand or a secure platform. This will give you more room to place a bucket or watering can under the spigot. Also, the extra height means that gravity will help water flow more quickly out of your rain barrel.

To improve water pressure, you can also install an in-barrel pump.

It’s essential to occasionally drain your rain barrel entirely and clean it out to keep the water you collect fresher and reduce any potential for algae growth.

If you live in an area with hard freezes, it’s a good idea to drain and store your rain barrel during the winter months to prevent it from freezing and cracking the faucet or the barrel.

Rain barrels come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Select the design that works best for your home and your aesthetic sensibilities to enjoy saving money and the environment!