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Catching Rain with Rain Barrels

Catching Rain with Rain Barrels

When I was young we used to hightail it outside, clanging pots in hand, at the first whisper of a spring or summer storm. It was our firm belief that shampooing with rainwater imbued our hair with magic. Girlhood diversions aside, the truth is that harvesting rainwater may be more important than we realize.

According to the UN, 20 percent of the world’s population in 30 countries faces water shortages. This number is expected to rise dramatically by 2025. Although water is something that many of us take for granted, 1.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water. And consider this: While the average American individual uses between 100 and 176 gallons each day, the average African family uses only 5 gallons. (Just one flush of a toilet in the West uses more water than most Africans have to perform an entire day’s washing, cleaning, cooking and drinking.)

Fresh water from underground aquifers is finite—there is only so much of it, and because of pollution and the rate at which it is being extracted—well, the word “crisis” comes to mind. However, rainwater is considered a renewable natural resource. And while domestic potable water collection requires effort, energy, and chemicals for purification and transport, rainwater conserves natural resources, is free of chemicals, and is delivered without challenging the environment.

The easiest way to collect rainwater is with rain barrels, and harvested rainwater is great for your lawn, garden and houseplants. Especially in the summer months, many of us have intense heat accentuated with brief yet heavy summer storms—with a dry ground much of that water simply runs off.

By setting a rain barrel beneath your downspout you’ll have a free supply of water for your landscaping. Wooden barrels provide rustic charm, but plastic ones are more widely available. You can buy ready-made rain barrels (check with your water company or municipality, first, as many provide them free of charge or at a reduced price). Alternatively, there are many websites that provide instructions on how to build your own. You may not be ready to make the commitment to a more permanent system, but you can always start out by placing plain buckets underneath your downspouts just to get your feet wet.

Use a lid to minimize evaporation and to keep out debris and mosquitoes. A hose fitting will give you easy access to the collected water, and a diverter lets you switch back to the downspout, or another barrel, should the rain barrel get full. Don’t expect to be able to use a hose directly from your rain barrel; gravity probably won’t give enough pressure to get water through it. Instead, use the hose fitting to conveniently fill a watering can or slow delivery containers.

If you have a garden or tool shed, heck, even a playhouse, why not attach a gutter and barrel there as well? If you have a collecting (or “catchment”) area of 1,000 square feet and an average annual rainfall of 20 inches, you have the potential to collect 24,000 gallons of water annually—the equivalent to the water 13 African families use in a year.

Related:

25 Things You Might Not Know about Water
Calculate Your Water Footprint

Read more: Home, Environment, Household Hints, Lawns & Gardens, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

323 comments

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4:07AM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

Use your roof and downpipe to collect in your first barrel,(Plastics ones are cheap), Use a divertor kit and linking kits to save it all. You can also store GREY water from showers and baths in another set of barrels.
THEN use a SUBMERSIBLE PUMP TO DESEMINATE THE WATER VIA A LONG HOSE.
YOU CAN THEN USE SERIAL WATER BUTTS IN OTHER LOCATIONS ON YOUR LAND AND THAT WAY YOU SAVE GALLONS AND GALLONS. YOU CAN USE THE WATER BUTTS AS "DIPPING PONDS"

I live in the UK's North and I still ,despite our high rainfall find many uses for my saved water.

it's a good feeling Folks, Just do it today



4:07AM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

Use your roof and downpipe to collect in your first barrel,(Plastics ones are cheap), Use a divertor kit and linking kits to save it all. You can also store GREY water from showers and baths in another set of barrels.
THEN use a SUBMERSIBLE PUMP TO DESEMINATE THE WATER VIA A LONG HOSE.
YOU CAN THEN USE SERIAL WATER BUTTS IN OTHER LOCATIONS ON YOUR LAND AND THAT WAY YOU SAVE GALLONS AND GALLONS. YOU CAN USE THE WATER BUTTS AS "DIPPING PONDS"

I live in the UK's North and I still ,despite our high rainfall find many uses for my saved water.

it's a good feeling Folks, Just do it today



4:07AM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

Use your roof and downpipe to collect in your first barrel,(Plastics ones are cheap), Use a divertor kit and linking kits to save it all. You can also store GREY water from showers and baths in another set of barrels.
THEN use a SUBMERSIBLE PUMP TO DESEMINATE THE WATER VIA A LONG HOSE.
YOU CAN THEN USE SERIAL WATER BUTTS IN OTHER LOCATIONS ON YOUR LAND AND THAT WAY YOU SAVE GALLONS AND GALLONS. YOU CAN USE THE WATER BUTTS AS "DIPPING PONDS"

I live in the UK's North and I still ,despite our high rainfall find many uses for my saved water.

it's a good feeling Folks, Just do it today



9:03AM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

some plants prefer rain water - i only give my outdoor acer rain water as tap water burns the leaves - as too the indoor papyrus. i have an indoor pond and the fish only get rain water.

i'm also looking into self-watering systems

11:06AM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

Thanks!

10:06PM PDT on May 27, 2011

Thanks!

6:43AM PDT on May 14, 2011

I've used a rain barrell for many years, the problem this year is that in my part of the UK we haven't had very much rain since Christmas. In fact we've only had 10% of our normal rain fall this year.

6:07AM PDT on May 9, 2011

I am searching for 2 Rainbarrels as we speak. Me and my wife are wanting to save as much money as possiable. We normally use about 3000 Gallons on the yard and garden per month that is almost $30 where we live and i can save that much per month

10:30AM PDT on May 7, 2011

Interesting article.

7:13AM PDT on May 7, 2011

Check whether it's legal in your area. I'm in the Seattle-Tacoma area, where some municipalities protect salmon runs by making it illegal to collect rainwater.

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