A rain barrel is a simple but effective rainwater harvesting tool that can help you reduce stormwater runoff and conserve water in your own backyard.
At Indiana American Water, we understand the value of rain barrels, so we compiled this handy guide of everything you need to know to harvest rainwater water at your home. Read on to learn more!
Rain Barrels: An Introduction
So, what is a rain barrel?
By its simplest definition, a rain barrel is a container designed for harvesting rainwater. It consists of a large container with a spigot on one end, a drain, and a mesh screen secured on top that filters the rainwater as it falls from your rooftop or exits your drain pipes.
While there is a common misconception across the country that harvesting rainwater is illegal, there are currently no laws or regulations that prohibit you from collecting rainwater or limiting how much rainwater you can collect in Indiana according to the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program.
Conservation in Action: How a Rain Barrel Works
Stormwater runoff is the number one cause of water pollution.
As it rains, the water lands on impervious surfaces, such as your roof, your car, your driveway, and your lawn. There, it picks up bacteria from pet waste, motor oil residue, lawn fertilizer, and other pollutants and carries them with it as it flows into your storm drains. Eventually, the stormwater and these harmful contaminants end up in your local waterways, such as streams, lakes, and rivers, where it can severely damage natural ecosystems and even the drinking water supply.
When you collect rainwater with a rain barrel, the amount of water flowing off your home and from your lawn is reduced, directly decreasing the amount of pollutants in your local waterways. Collected rainwater is also the best form of free water.
Rain barrel water can be used for watering your lawn and garden, washing your car, composting, or refilling outdoor ponds or water features. While collected water is considered safe for these purposes, it can still contain pollutants or other contaminants from your roof, drains, or other surfaces that make it unsuitable for human consumption. Unless you carefully clean and test the drain water, you shouldn’t use it for cooking, drinking, bathing, or watering edible plants.
Why Should You Use a Rain Barrel?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 24,000 gallons of water run off a single rooftop every year. By implementing a single 55-gallon rain barrel at your home, you can save up to 855 gallons each year.
Using a rain barrel will also help you save money. Nearly half of most home tap water usage is used for watering lawns and gardens. When you use more water collected in your rain barrel for watering your outdoor spaces, you’ll easily reduce your water consumption, and decrease your water bill.
Additionally, you can reduce runoff pollution and erosion, and prevent flooding during heavy rainfall. The plants in your outdoor environment will also prefer rainwater to the water from your hose as natural rainwater tends to be more highly oxygenated.
While the benefits of a rain barrel could be a seemingly endless list, there can be some drawbacks. Too much collected rainwater could disrupt local waterways and ecosystems by drastically reducing the amount of natural rainfall that occurs in those areas, especially in times of drought. So, the use of rain barrels simply requires balance to equally maintain our environment and reduce our water bills.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Rain Barrel
If you’re ready to upgrade your yard and keep waterborne pollutants and sediment from the ground out of local waterways, it’s time to build a rain barrel. While the average homeowner can find a completed rain barrel for sale at most hardware stores or purchase one from a local conservation group, it is more cost-effective and simple to build one yourself!
To start, you’ll need the following tools and supplies:
- Electric drill with 1 1/2″ drill bit
- Shoe rasp
- Flat head screwdriver
- Caulking gun
- Adjustable channel lock pliers
- 20-50-gallon container with removable lid: food-grade containers able to hold liquid or other recycled plastic containers, such as a garbage can, are ideal.
Then, you can clean the container, get set up, and follow these steps:
- STEP 1: Drill a hole near the bottom of the barrel using the 1 1/2″ bit for the outflow spigot.
- STEP 2: Use the rasp to sand down the edges of the hole to ensure a watertight fit when attaching the spigot
- STEP 3: Attach the spigot to the outflow hole and secure it into place using the channel lock pliers and a caulk gun.
- STEP 5: Attach the hose to the spigot.
- STEP 6: Cut a hole in the lid so that it is still attached to the container but has a large opening on top for water to freely flow through. Then, hold the mesh screen under the lid and put the lid back on the container. Be sure to cut away any excess mesh. This screen will help keep out bugs and prevent algae growth.
Congrats! You’ve just built your very own rain barrel. Once the caulk is dry, simply place your barrel under your gutter downspout or a corner of your roof and start collecting water the next time it rains. For more in-depth instructions on DIYing your rain barrel, check out this rain barrel PSA from Clemson University.
Indiana American Water – Your Partner in Water Conservation & Education
At Indiana American Water, we’re committed to the safety and satisfaction of our customers. Water conservation practices, like rain barrels, not only benefit the environment but also your wallet. To learn more about our efforts to reduce excess water pollution and spread awareness of the risks to local waterways, visit our website today.