Why everyone should have a rain barrel

You might be interested in installing a rain barrel on your property because you want to:

  • Use the collected rainwater to water plants/gardens
  • Reduce standing water that may develop in your yard during a heavy storm
  • Reduce runoff into streams and lakes to protect the water supply

Whether you’re looking to benefit the environment, save money on your water bills, or simply rid your yard of puddles, setting up a rain barrel is an easy DIY project.

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Why You Should Use Collected Rainwater To Water Your Garden:

According to veggieharvest.com, a typical vegetable garden requires an inch of water per week. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it equates to 125 gallons of water for a 10 x 20 garden! So, if there’s a week with little to no rain, your veggies will need to get that water from somewhere else… like your hose. Or, you can conserve water and save money on your water bill by using the water in your rain barrel.

Using collected rain water to water garden

A Deeper Look Into The Impact Of Runoff On Our Water Supply:

If you’re like me, you probably think that when it rains, excess water flows into the storm drains and into the sewer where it eventually gets filtered and cleaned before going who-knows-where. At least, that’s what I thought before I took a rain barrel workshop and learned the real story about what happens with all that rainwater.

To begin, think about all of the stuff that’s in our grass and on our driveways. Fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides, car oil, and even dog poop gets washed into the gutter when it rains. 

Storm drains don’t lead to a water treatment facility. They lead straight out to the lakes, streams, and rivers in our communities. That means that all of those pesticides, chemicals, oils, liter, and feces get washed into our local waterways.

Not only does this affect the wildlife in those waters (including the fish you catch and eat) but it also reduces the quality of the water we enjoy for recreational use as well. Just think about what you’re potentially swimming/jumping/wading through when you’re enjoying your local river or lake.

Photo by Anita Denunzio on Unsplash

So, How Can We Help Reduce Runoff?

We can take measures to reduce the amount of runoff that goes into storm drains from our property. Installing a rain barrel helps capture some of the water that might otherwise run down into the storm drain. Other ways to reduce runoff include replacing concrete driveways and patios with permeable pavers and by planting shrubs and trees that help absorb water through their root systems.

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How Does A Rain Barrel Work?

When it rains, water runs off your roof, down your gutter downspout, and either gets intercepted by a diverter running to your rain barrel or the downspout is directed to flow into the top of your rain barrel.

In my experience, it typically only takes one rainy day to fill my 55-gallon barrel up most of the way. That’s a lot of free water.

Completed rain barrel

What About Mosquito’s?

As long as you have a closed top system, mosquitos won’t be able to get to the water. If you’re using a barrel with a removable lid (like a trash can) or a top collection method, and are concerned about mosquitos finding their way through gaps between the can and the lid, you can always place a fine mesh cover over the top of the opening for an extra layer of security.

The Types Of Rain Water Collection Barrels:

  • The first style of rain barrel (and the kind I use) features a closed barrel system with a downspout diverter. The system works with either a closed-top barrel or a trash can with a lid, and uses a diverter kit to intercept the water that flows down your downspout and transfer it into your barrel. This system provides maximum protection against mosquitos and other insects and is great for downspouts that go all the way to the ground.
Closed-system rain barrel
  • Another style of rainwater collection barrel is, what I call, an open-top system which allows water from a downspout to flow freely into an opening in the top of the barrel. It typically features a grate over the opening to discourage mosquito breeding, however, the grate alone may not be 100% effective. This system requires a downspout that ends right above where the top of your rain barrel will be.
Open-system rain barrel

Both types of rain barrels are very effective at collecting rainwater from your downspout.

What Do You Need To Set Up A Rain Barrel?

To hook up a rain barrel, you’ll need:

  • A rain barrel or trash can of your choosing — for an open-top system, I recommend this barrel from Amazon.
  • Some cinder blocks or large flat edging rocks to set it up on (This is necessary to create water-pressure. I built a two-level platform made of eight edging blocks and four cinder blocks.)
  • This handy hook-up kit if you’re using a closed-top system.
  • Optional: sandpaper, spray paint and primer, and a clear outdoor top-coat

This hook-up kit for closed-top rain barrels literally has everything you need, including the special drill bits to cut the holes out of your barrel and downspout. It also includes a spigot, diverter, flexy tube for connecting your barrel to the spout, all of the seals, and a winter downspout hole cover for disconnecting your barrel in the winter (optional) or permanently in the future. This is the kit I used and it was so easy to assemble.

Keep in mind that the higher your rain barrel sits off the ground, the more water pressure you’ll get out of it — particularly useful if you’re looking to hook up a hose to it.

How To Do It:

  1. First decide whether you’d like to paint your rain barrel and do this first — it would be difficult to paint your barrel after it’s been installed and sitting right against your house. To do this, simply run a piece of coarse sandpaper over the entire surface to improve adhesion, clean the barrel surface with an oil-free cleaner, and then spray two coats of primer all over. When the primer is dry, apply two coats of spray paint. You can get really creative here and go in with a hand-painted design too. Lastly, if you’d like to give your paint job some extra durability, you can add a clear, outdoor sealant.
  1. Next, prepare the platform your barrel will sit on. You can use cinder blocks, edging stones, flat rocks, or a platform made specifically for rain barrels. The rain barrel will get really heavy when full so it’s important to make sure the platform is flat, strong, and secure.
  1. If you’re using an open-top system, simply attach the spigot and grate and place it under your downspout. Easy day!
  1. If you’re using a closed-top system, use the drill attachments in your kit to drill the holes for the diverter hose, clean-out plug, and water valve in your rain barrel (the instructions provide details on how to do this). It’s important to place your water barrel in its forever home prior to drilling to get an idea of where exactly where to drill your holes. Remember to have your water valve hole facing out from your house so you can access it.
Drilling into rain barrel
  1. Then, drill the hole into your downspout so you can attach to connector hose. You want the connector hose to be as level as possible. Don’t worry, full instructions are included in the kit.
Preparing downspout for rain barrel
  1. Once your holes are drilled, simply insert the seals, spigot, diverter, and tubing and you’re all done!

Using Your Rain Barrel:

Once it’s all hooked up, do a rain dance and wait for it to fill up! You have a few options for using the water once you’ve collected it.

  • You can use it to fill your watering can or buckets to water flowers, clean equipment, etc.
  • You can hook it up to a regular or soaker hose and turn the valve to let water through when you need it.
  • You can hook an automatic battery-powered timer up to it with a soaker hose to conveniently water your garden at a set time every week, few days, whatever.

In my opinion, the third option is the most convenient and efficient way to use your rain barrel but if you don’t have a garden, don’t get semi-consistent rain, or don’t have your rain barrel elevated enough to get sufficient water pressure through your hose, you might want to choose a different option.  

Can I Move My Rain Barrel From Its Location?

If you ever decide to remove a closed-top rain barrel from its spot, the hook-up kit comes with a handy plug for your downspout. You don’t have to remove the rubber insert, just screw the cap on and all of the water will go down the spout just as it did prior to installing the rain barrel.

And that’s it! Everything you need to know about using and installing a rain barrel.

Have you installed a rain barrel at your home? Leave a comment!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: The Most Simple Raised Garden Bed Design Ever

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