We purchased four green plastic rain barrels almost right away when we started building our homestead. We loved the idea of taking an extra step toward self-sufficiency and sustainability in our garden.
During the building process, our builder even made our gutters at a specific height to accommodate our barrels. We originally intended to have two for our house and two for our barn, but unfortunately, plans went awry and as a result we have one rain barrel at each of the four corners of our home. Nevertheless, the arrangement has still proven to be effective in reducing our water bill.
We learned however, that there are a few cautions one needs to keep in mind when collecting rainwater.
1. Rainwater can be toxic for drinking.
Since the water is collected from the roof, bird droppings and toxins from shingles and other roof materials can potentially end up in the water. Therefore, one should use caution when using it to water plants that are going to be consumed (such as herbs and vegetables). As a general rule, we use rainwater on ornamental plants only.
2. Some states may have some legal restrictions on harvesting rainwater and how it is used.
Before collecting and using rainwater, familiarize yourself with the laws in your state. If you are urban homesteading in a neighborhood, be sure to investigate any covenants or restrictions your homeowners association may have against rain barrels before you make the investment.
Shopping for a Rain Barrel
Rain barrels themselves can be as fancy as those seen in decorator catalogs or as simple as something you make yourself from materials purchased at a home and garden store.
While shopping around, here are some things to consider:
Material. While I have seen and coveted some beautiful (and expensive!) copper-like models, ours are plastic in the same color as our green gutter spouts and roof. They are functional and affordable while still being somewhat attractive.
Height. The water is typically collected from the roof through your gutter spout. Since most gutter spouts flow all the way down the ground you may need to adjust them according to the height of your barrel. Height, of course, will depend on barrel capacity.
Capacity. How much water do you need? This depends on how you plan to use it. We have four 40-gallon barrels, which has proven to be ample for watering our ornamentals and perennial bed.
Overflow. A surprising amount of water can accumulate during a single summer rain. Be sure you have an additional spout or grate of some sort to allow for overflow.
Algae and mosquitoes. Any time you have stagnant water sitting, this is going to be a problem. A browse on the Internet shows solutions ranging from mosquito dunks to goldfish. Our solution is to simply drain the barrels when we notice the water no longer runs clear. This has worked for us, hassle-free.
Water flow. My initial naïve expectation was that we could connect a hose to the spout and we’d have a strong and steady flow of water. This hasn’t been the case. There are numerous pumps and gadgets available to help effectively and efficiently get the rain out of the barrel, some of which we have tried. Still, my favorite method is to simply use the spout on the barrel and drain into a large watering can.
Do you collect rainwater? What are some ways you use it?
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