How to Use a Rain Barrel for Water Conservation

Jane Marsh - March 26, 2024

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Rain barrels are containers designed to collect and store rainwater runoff from rooftops. Rain barrels aim to harness and utilize rainwater that would otherwise be directed to storm drains or runoff areas.

They are a sustainable water source for watering gardens, lawns or plants. The key objective is water conservation, reducing reliance on traditional water supplies and promoting eco-friendly practices in residential or community settings.

Understanding Rain Barrels

Rainwater harvesting offers several benefits, including:

  • Water conservation: Collecting rainwater helps reduce dependence on traditional water sources, conserving precious fresh water.
  • Cost savings: Using harvested rainwater for non-potable purposes can lead to lower water bills, especially in areas where water is metered. Using rain barrels during the summer can save approximately $35 per month on water bills.
  • Environmentally friendly: It reduces the demand on mains water supply, minimizing the environmental impact of water extraction and distribution.
  • Flood control: Harvesting rainwater can help prevent local flooding by reducing the volume of stormwater runoff.
  • Independence: Rainwater harvesting provides a decentralized water source, offering greater resilience during water shortages or emergencies.

Sizing Considerations and Capacity Options

When choosing a rain barrel, it’s essential to consider several factors. The region’s roof area and average rainfall are necessary for determining the appropriate size.

Usage needs, such as watering gardens or landscapes, play a role in selecting a barrel with the right capacity. Available space and local regulations regarding rainwater harvesting capacity should also be considered.

Overflow mechanisms and the overall design of the rain barrel should align with specific requirements. Standard capacities range from 50 to 100 gallons, but larger options exist for those with more extensive water storage needs. Ultimately, the optimal choice depends on the user’s unique circumstances and preferences.

Different Types of Rain Barrels

Choosing the right type depends on factors such as durability, cost, aesthetics and the intended use of the collected rainwater. Rain barrels come in various types, including: 

  • Plastic barrels: Common and affordable, plastic rain barrels are lightweight, durable and corrosion-resistant. They often have a spigot for easy water access.
  • Wooden barrels: While less common, wooden rain barrels provide a more rustic aesthetic. They may be treated to resist water damage and typically feature a screen to filter out debris.
  • Recycled materials: Some rain barrels are made from recycled materials like food-grade barrels or containers. These eco-friendly options repurpose items that would otherwise be discarded.
  • Metal barrels: Metal rain barrels, often made of galvanized steel or aluminium are durable but may be prone to corrosion over time. They are less common due to potential rust issues.
  • Decorative barrels: Designed to blend with outdoor aesthetics, decorative rain barrels can mimic the appearance of various materials while serving the practical purpose of water conservation.

Installation and Setup

In setting up a rain barrel, choosing a flat and stable spot is crucial to avoid tipping. Placing it close to a downspout maximizes rainwater collection and a partially sunny location helps prevent algae and mosquitoes. 

Accessibility is key, so positioning it near areas of intended water use is essential. Consider the aesthetics by choosing a location that fits the outdoor space. 

If the barrel has an overflow outlet, placing it strategically ensures excess water doesn’t cause damage. Thoughtful positing ensures the rain barrel works seamlessly while blending into the environment. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Installing a Rain Barrel

Follow these steps to effectively install a rain barrel to collect and utilize rainwater for various purposes while promoting water conservation:

  1. Prepare the area: Ensure the chosen spot is debris-free and level the ground if needed. This helps stabilize the rain barrel and prevents tipping.
  2. Install diverter or redirect the downspout: Use a diverter kit or redirect the downspout to channel water into the rain barrel. Ensure a secure and sealed connection to prevent leaks.
  3. Inspect for leaks: Check all connections and fittings for leaks. Tighten any loose components and address any issues before filling the rain barrel.
  4. Harvest and use rainwater: Once installed and checked for leaks, let the rain barrel collect water during rainfall. 

Ensuring Proper Connection to Downspouts or Gutters

To ensure a proper connection to downspouts or gutters when installing a rain barrel, start by evaluating the downspout location and choosing one that facilitates optimal water flow—measure and plan for the connection, utilizing a diverter kit or downspout extension for redirection.

Securely fasten and seal all connections to prevent leaks and consider elevation if the rain barrel requires it. Clear any debris or obstructions from the downspout and install filters or screens to prevent clogs.

Before leaving the system unattended, test the connection by running water through the downspout, ensuring it flows smoothly into the rain barrel without any issues. Following these steps provides an efficient and reliable setup for rainwater collection.

Utilizing Collected Rainwater

A roof with an area of 2,000 square feet can collect around 1,000 gallons of rainwater during heavy rainfall. A routine cleaning schedule is essential to prevent contamination and maintain water quality.

Remove debris, leaves and sediment that may accumulate in the gutter, downspout or the rain barrel itself. This simple maintenance step safeguards the stored rainwater and promotes a healthy, functioning rain barrel.

Rainwater can be effectively utilized in various ways in residential settings:

  • Garden and lawn irrigation: Employing collected rainwater to keep outdoor spaces lush and vibrant, homeowners can efficiently water plants, gardens and lawns.
  • Outdoor cleaning: Utilize rainwater’s purity for cleaning decks, patios and sidewalks, offering a natural and cost-effective alternative to tap water.
  • Car washing: Save on water bills by using rainwater for car washing, using its softness to prevent water spots on vehicles.
  • Toilet flushing system: Enhance water conservation by connecting rain barrels to toilet flushing systems, reducing reliance on municipal water for non-potable uses.
  • Filling ponds or water features: Sustainably maintain ponds, fountains or water features using rainwater as a reliable source.

Rain Barrell for Water Conservation

Using a rain barrel for water conservation is an innovative and eco-friendly choice. It helps reduce reliance on regular water sources, reduces water bills and supports sustainable practices. Embracing this approach is a meaningful step toward a water-conscious and environmentally friendly lifestyle.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.