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EVERYTHING you need to know about Rain Barrels

Posted by Steven Rosenberg on

EVERYTHING you need to know about Rain Barrels

Now that you have a free source of extra water, what do you do with it? Even though rainwater is natural, it isn't safe for drinking unless it's been filtered and treated. All that rainwater washing off your roof is carrying pollution with it. This includes particulates from car exhaust and manufacturing smoke stacks, not to mention bird droppings and parts of dead bugs. It's still great water, though; plants love it. You can water the lawn and flowerbeds with it, clean off your siding and hose down the driveway. It's great for washing the car, too.

You can also use it to water your thirsty vegetables, but not in the same way as you would with tap water. When watering your veggies with rainwater, keep the water flow at ground level, away from the stuff you'll actually be eating, and don't use rainwater within a couple of days of harvesting your crop. After harvesting, always wash your vegetables thoroughly with tap water

There are some good habits you should adopt when using a rain barrel. Keep the top firmly in place. Exposing rainwater to sunlight and open air will encourage algae growth. Make sure the screen is secure to keep out water-loving bugs, like mosquitoes. Clean the filter regularly according to the manufacturer's directions, and inspect your rain barrel every once in a while for leaks. Keep your roof gutters clean, and make sure that water is flowing freely to and through the downspout when it rains.

If you live in an area with freezing winters, don't forget to move your rain barrel to a safe location so it doesn't freeze and crack over the winter. It may be necessary to replace part or all of the downspout to adapt it for use without the rain barrel attached. Remember, it's important to be sure that the downspout is working properly at all times to ensure that water isn't pooling too close to your home's foundation.

Rain Barrel Guide

How to use rain barrels for rain water harvesting

Collecting rainwater for use during dry months in rain barrels or other depositories is an ancient and traditional practice. Historical records show that rainwater was collected in simple clay containers as far back as 2,000 years ago in Thailand, and throughout other areas of the world after that. With the rising price of municipal water and drought restrictions now facing much of the United States during the summer months, more and more homeowners in our own modern society are turning to the harvesting of rainwater to save money and protect this precious natural resource.

It is a common belief in many parts of the world that water is an infinite resource to exploit as needed, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know the value of water until the well is running dry.” This is especially true in arid parts of the U.S. where most of the municipal water comes from overstressed underground aquifers. Whereas rainwater is considered a renewable natural resource, many aquifers are being “mined,” that is, communities are drawing out more water than the aquifer naturally receives to recharge it.

As drought and aquifer mining begin to call attention to an increasing water crisis, people are seeking ways minimize impact on their municipal water supplies. Rain barrels can be part of the solution. Just look outside your window the next time it rains and imagine all the water that’s running down your driveway being put to beneficial use in your home and garden!

Benefits of Rainwater from Rain Barrels

Since the rain water is usually collected from the roofs of houses, it picks up very little contamination when it falls. You’ll of course want to keep your roof clean of debris and potential contaminants to maximize purity. The material your roof is made of is also important in how much contamination the water will carry (see Safe Rainwater Harvesting Catchments). The chemicals and hard water from many of our municipal water systems can produce an imbalance in the soil of your garden. Chemical fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, and drought can also disrupt the balance and harmony of the soil. This imbalance causes trees and plants to weaken and makes them more susceptible to disease.

Trees and plants have an

Trees and plants have an efficient immune system that allows them to fend off diseases and other invaders as long as they have a healthy soil environment and aren’t stressed by other factors such as drought. Trees and plants rely on fungus, bacteria, and nematodes to help them absorb the minerals and nutrients they need. Trees and plants depend on a fungal root system called mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae attaches itself to tree and plant root hairs and extends the root hair system.

Mycorrhizae uses some of the plant’s energy, but provides the plant with minerals it can’t otherwise absorb. In healthy soil, the mycorrhizae of one tree connects with mycorrhizae of other similar trees. When you look at your garden, visualize it as a vast interconnected community of trees, plants and tiny critters that live in the soil, all interacting and affecting each other. Thus, the type of water you use in your garden will affect the health of this intricate community.

And speaking of community, one of the best reasons to start harvesting rainwater with rain barrels is that if you teach and encourage others to do the same, you will help to spread the culture of rainwater collection and in turn help your larger community and the environment. It is always important to remember that every living thing on the planet needs water to survive so we as humans must expand our idea of community to the plants and animals that surround us.

How to set up and install a rain barrel

Preparing Your Rain Barrel Site Location

The rain barrel will need to be located near a down spout from your rain gutter, if you want to get water from a downspout.

If you don’t have downspouts, you can often still use a rain barrel. You just have to find one of those troughs where two parts of the roof come together and water pours out whenever it rains. Place the rain barrel under one of those spots, and you’ll get plenty of water.

Generally, downspouts are attached to the house by straps and will need to be dissasembled. Remove the screws holding the straps to the downspout and any screws that may have been put in to attach the spout to the gutter. Once the brackets have been released the downspout can be removed and set aside.

When removing the screws and detatching the downspout, remember to wear safety glasses if you are using power equipment. We wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself, would we?

Now that the downspout is out of the way, we need to find a way to redirect water flow into the top of the rain barrel.

There are several comercial products available for this purpose.

The Garden Water Saver downspout redirector is an excellent choice in that it attaches inline between joints of your spout and once your rain barrel is full water is automatically directed back out through the original spout. It does require a small amount of cutting with tin snips in order to fit properly. Unfortunately, our downspout in this example is too large to use the Garden Watersaver.

It is important that the concentrated water flow be directed away from the house or into the barrel as too much water in one place near the house could result in foundation damage. Therefore it is unwise to simply let the water fall from gutter into the barrel for any significant distance. For this particular installation the best solution was to use a plastic flex hose available at most home improvement stores. The flex hose can be secured using the existing straps and expanded and directed to the needed position. You can also find these flexible downspout redirectors online.

What is a Rain Barrel? A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise run off and be diverted to storm drains, streams, and the White River. It is composed of a large drum (usually about 50 – 60 gallons) a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other common items. A rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under a residential gutter downspout.

Rain Barrels have become very popular again because they lower water bills for those who water their gardens in the summer, rain water is better for plants than chlorinated city water, and collecting water during storms helps to decrease runoff from our properties thus making a small step towards controlling flooding downstream.


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Thank you and have a GREEN day,

Steven Rosenberg


Green Purpose, LLC

PO BOX 6351

CHAMPAIGN IL 61826-6351

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