Whether rain is scarce in your part of the world or you want to do everything you can to conserve water, a rain barrel is a great addition to your home. Collecting rainwater can give you gallons of free water that you can use to wash your car, water your garden, and more.
If you’re considering adding a rain barrel to your home, the first thing you have to do is make sure it’s permitted where you live. Some municipalities prohibit rain barrels, so it’s important to check before investing in the time and the materials.
You also need to know what materials your roof is made of. If you have a newer home, it’s likely safe. That said, some roofing materials can contaminate the water, making it unsafe to use. If your roof uses tar, gravel, or treated cedar or your gutters use lead paint, a rain barrel will not be safe. Make sure you check into this before getting started.
Now, let’s take a look at how to install and use a rain barrel.
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Prep and Supplies
You can buy a rain barrel kit or create one of your own. If you choose to make your own, start with a 55-gallon barrel. Make sure that it’s made of food-grade plastic to prevent any further contamination.
Next, determine the best place for your rain barrel. Most people place them beneath the downspout from the gutters. It’s also best to place it in an area close to where you plan to use the water. For example, if you’re planning to use it to wash your car, try to place it close to your driveway.
You also have to make sure that the barrel has enough support. Most people prefer an elevated surface because this makes it easier for the water to flow out later.
To elevate that barrel, you have to make sure that whatever you use to elevate it is strong enough to hold the barrel. Water is heavy, and a full 55-gallon barrel weighs about 400 pounds. If you’re looking for an easy base that’s able to stand the weight, try cinder blocks.
Making the Rain Barrel
If you’re making your own rain barrel, the next step is to lay the barrel on its side and use a one-inch drill bit to put a hole in the side of the barrel. This hole should be placed about three inches below the top edge of the barrel for overflow.
Next, drill a second hole about five inches above the base of the barrel for the spigot. Insert the spigot or a hose into this hole. Next, place rubber washers and sealant on the outside and inside of the hole to make sure it stays watertight.
Repeat this process to the overflow hole at the top of the barrel. Some people prefer to attach a hose to the overflow because this lets you guide the runoff to an appropriate place in your yard. You can also add a second rain barrel and direct the hose for the runoff into the second barrel to fill it.
If you buy a rain barrel kit, you don’t have as much work to do. The holes are already in place, and the kit should include any connectors that you need. If not, the company that made the rain barrel should sell optional accessories to make installation easier.
Installing the Rain Barrel
Cut a hole into the top of the rain barrel, making sure that it’s large enough for the downspout to fit. If you can’t position the rain barrel directly under the downspout, you can use a diverter. If you bought a kit, you may even have the pieces you need available.
Either way, you are likely going to have to cut the spout to fit into the barrel appropriately. Use metal snips to do so. Then, cover the opening in the lid with fabric or mesh to keep bugs and other debris from getting inside the barrel.
You can also use a rain barrel in places without gutters. Walk around your home the next time it rains and pay attention to where pools of standing water collect from the roof. For example, maybe there’s a spot where the water pours off of the eaves or you have a shed in the backyard without gutters that gets a lot of rain.
Place the rain barrel in the spot where the water collects. Cover the top with mesh to prevent bugs and debris from getting in. You can’t use a solid lid as this will keep water from getting in, too. In this approach, you don’t have control over the intake as you do with a downspout, but it’s still possible to collect water.
You can also install diverters. These are small, thin metal sections you can install to divert water away from above doorways or areas in front of windows where you’re trying to prevent water from collecting.
When installing a diverter, you can angle it so that the water runs down the metal and into a rain barrel nearby. Again, you’ll need to install a screen to prevent bugs from getting into the water.
Generally, you don’t have to do much maintenance once the rain barrel is up and running, but make sure you use the water quickly so it doesn’t stagnate. After it rains, try to use what you’ve collected in the barrel within a week.
Rain barrels need a thorough cleaning about once a year. To do this, empty the barrel and pull out the downspout. Tip the barrel over and empty any water from the bottom.
Next, rinse the inside with a hose, making sure to remove any sediment or debris. If not, it can decay and contaminate the water. Wear gloves and remove any dead leaves or anything else at the bottom of the barrel.
After the large pieces of debris are removed, use a bucket of warm soapy water and a sponge to clean the outside of the barrel. Then, use the soapy water and a mop to clean the inside. Rinse, then let the barrel sit in the sun to dry.
How to Use Rainwater
Remember that rainwater flows over your roof and through the drainpipe before collecting in the barrel. It picks up a lot of chemicals, pollutants, and bacteria and is not safe to drink unless you treat it first.
During an inch of rainfall, a rain barrel can collect a lot of water. In all, you’ll get about a half-gallon per square foot of roof size. There are a lot of ways to use rainwater, including washing your car, cleaning your porch furniture or pool toys, or watering your plants, lawn, or garden.
If you choose to use rainwater to water a vegetable garden, make sure it gets onto the soil and avoid watering it directly onto the vegetables and plants.
Remember, this water isn’t quite the same as rainwater as it’s been on your roof, through the gutters, and sitting in the barrel, so you have to take some extra precautions. Wash the vegetables well in the sink before eating just to be on the safe side.