Wise water use with rain barrels

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 10, 2012
- Contributed Photo

Over the last several years, I have noticed that many of our local home supply stores have begun to offer rain barrels and accessory kits to make them work for you. What's more, conservation groups in local communities have joined the campaign to save water and money at the same time by sponsoring rain barrel programs.

We are not alone in this trend. An Internet search on the topic returns an incredible amount of information about new and recycled products, acquisition programs and implementation know-how. If you haven't considered parking a rain barrel or two around your home, think about the instant return on a very small investment, as well as the positive impact on your personal environment.

The roof on your house acts as a water diverter every time it rains. But instead of letting all that free water escape through the gutters and downspouts, you could convert the roof into a water collector. If you water your lawn, and especially if you cultivate vegetables or flowers, you know they will need consistent water this summer.

You can find several sources to get an estimate of the amount of water your roof might capture. The Rain Barrel Guide claims that “for every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect approximately 600 gallons of rainwater.” In practical terms, that is equivalent to 15 large (40-gallon) trashcans full to the brim. Imagine spilling those 15 trashcans onto your driveway, and watching it all run into the street and down the storm drains. Why not capture all that water instead? You have options - and they are not expensive.

The quick and easy way to start collecting free water is to run to a store that sells ready-to-use rain barrels and the implementation kits that make them useable. That is also the most expensive way. One 50-gallon barrel itself will cost $100 or more, and that's just the basic unit with a filter screen and single spigot at the bottom.

That same $100 might buy you three 50/55-gallon recycled "food grade" barrels, tripling your first collection. (Search "food grade barrels for sale.") With those as the basis, and using information you can readily collect on the topic, you can devise your own custom solution, and be ready to water your plants and flowers or wash the car after the next rainstorm.

Rain barrels that are readily available in stores or from Internet sites come in different sizes, shapes and colors. Choose something that blends into your exterior decor, or have some fun decorating yours to meet your own taste. If you aren't too fussy about the appearance, your system can start with a plain gray or brown trash can and lid, or perhaps an old whiskey barrel.

Before you start, realize that a 50-gallon barrel full of water will weight hundreds of pounds. So you won’t be moving it once you have collected all that free water. Plan your system well, and decide how you will get the water out of the barrel with ease for use when and where you want it. A little research will go a long way to educate you about the workable methods as well as the pitfalls. Suffice it to say that you will need to have it raised up off the ground, on blocks or a sturdy platform or deck, so that you can attach a hose or fill a bucket.

Having a top for the collection vessel is important. It will keep debris out of your barrel, and discourage the breeding of mosquitoes and the like. If you do not have a tight-fitting top, create a screened cover to achieve the same purposes.

You can simply cut a drainpipe just above the barrel, re-attach the elbow, and direct the flow of water into the collector. It is also pretty easy to find a ready-made diverter unit that fits between the gutter and drainpipe.

A threaded spigot inserted near the bottom of the barrel will serve a hose or bucket. Give some careful consideration to creating the desired water pressure for your project. Different valve types will have an impact on the force with which water leaves your barrel. That is a special consideration if you are going to use a soaker hose to irrigate the flower gardens and bushes around your house.

Adding a second barrel to act as an overflow vessel is a good idea. You will have rainy weather as well as long spells of hot, dry weather. Collect the rain while it falls; use it when you need it. Install another threaded outlet near the top of the primary barrel, and attach a hose there, allowing excess water to run off onto the lawn or into the reserve barrel.


More Ways to Conserve Water

I worked for a non-profit that tried to get people to use rain water harvesting systems exactly like this. People don't seem to want to use them. Through trial and error, I have found that it is much easier to save water by installing things that people will always use, like a 0.8GPF toilet. Some water companies give you rebates for high efficiency toilets like this. Here is a website that may help people looking to save water: niagaraconservation.com.

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