Rain Barrel Basics: How to Water with Rainwater

Collecting rainwater in barrels – even in small amounts – makes a lot of sense.

  • A 2,000-square-foot roof can collect 1,240 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on your roof. A mere 1/10 of an inch of rain can collect up to 120 gallons of water
  • You don’t need treated drinking water for your garden and yard! It’s estimated that 50 percent of the treated drinking water in the U.S. is used for watering lawns
  • Rainwater is naturally soft, oxygenated and unchlorinated, which makes it ideal for plants
  • When you collect rainwater you’ll save on your water bill, reduce the load on sewage treatment facilities and keep runoff out of storm drains

Large-scale rainwater collection systems use filters, cisterns and pumps to collect and treat water for household use, including drinking water (learn more about these systems here). But it’s easy to set up rain barrels at the end of your downspouts and collect water for non-household use, like:

  • Watering your gardens, foundation plantings, lawns and houseplants
  • Washing your car and driveway
  • Washing your windows
  • Filling birdbaths

You can find pre-assembled rain barrels at home improvement and garden stores, buy kits or make your own from recycled materials. Sizes range from 35 to 80 gallons. If you plan to use a lot of water in your yard, it’s easy to link rain barrels to each other. To prevent mosquito breeding and algae buildup, your barrel should have a cover and a tight connection where water enters the container.

Tips for success

  • Choose a level spot near a downspout that you can shorten (instructions here).
  • Elevate your barrel on cinder blocks or some other kind of stand. This improves water pressure and makes it much easer to attach a hose or fill a watering can
  • Your rain barrel will fill very quickly! Make sure you have a hose attached to the overflow on the side of your barrel to divert water from your foundation
  • Using a soaker hose is a great way to release water gently and gradually to your plants, with no water lost to evaporation

Important note: Never drink water that’s been stored in rain barrels! It contains bacteria and is not suitable for human consumption.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ohthatheidi