Conserve Water by Harvesting Rainwater: How to Make a Rain Barrel
Simple, homemade rain barrels harness one of nature’s most basic and valuable resources, reducing water costs and stormwater runoff.
Once used for making wine and spirits, oak barrels offer Old World charm, though they can be heavy and usually require plugging a too-high bunghole and drilling a new one for your spigot. Try local wineries and distilleries or Kentucky Barrels (www.KentuckyBarrels.com).
If you ever worry about your home’s water consumption, take heart: Some of the cleanest mineral- and chlorine-free water arrives free to most homes. Rain barrels are a fabulous, relatively inexpensive and easy way to harness this most basic of nature’s resources.
Rainwater can be used for watering lawns and gardens, filling swimming pools, washing cars and pets, rinsing windows, and even bathing and drinking (if it’s filtered and treated). Using rainwater reduces water costs, takes a load off water supplies and reduces stormwater runoff, helping prevent flooding and erosion. That’s a big environmental bang for your buck.
Rainwater harvesting is catching on across the country. In Texas, people have installed thousands of fiberglass, plastic and galvanized steel cisterns in homes and public facilities to supplement lawn watering (which accounts for as much as 40 percent of home water use). Outside Boston, watershed protection programs promote underground rain-collection tanks that allow big storage capacity under driveways. For indoor use, rainwater usually is pumped, run through a particle filter, and either carbon filtered or disinfected. In Colorado and some other Western states where most water is subject to water-rights laws, the only sure legal way to use rainwater is to water lawns and gardens. All other uses require permission from the state water resources agency.
Rain Barrel Basics
Unlike water pumped from the ground, rainwater is soft; it contains no minerals that leave calcium scale or residues, no sodium and no chlorine or fluoride. However, it can carry debris, bird excrement and anything else that washes off a roof. During storage, bacteria and insects can proliferate in standing water. Users can manage this easily by topping barrels with screens and using their water supply frequently, which keeps the water moving and aerated.
To store rainwater, rain barrels and cisterns are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. An easy option is a sturdy trash barrel or a food-grade, plastic, 55-gallon barrel available from food importers and processors. Either dip a bucket or watering can in the opening of the barrel or outfit it with a spigot and overflow drain.
Rain Barrels 101
>Here’s what you should know about creating and maintaining a rainwater collection system.
• Prevent debris and insects by screening all rain barrel openings. Add a bit of oil or soap to the barrel to make the water surface unsuitable for mosquitoes to lay eggs.
• Reduce rainwater’s mild acidity with 1 teaspoon baking soda per 100 gallons of water.
• The first half-inch of rain, known as the “first flush,” can carry particles and bird excrement. If this is a concern, divert it to the ground, or filter it through a draining container filled with course sand, crushed shell, wood chips or coconut coir mats.
Read more: Conserve Water by Harvesting Rainwater: How to Make a Rain Barrel.