I’ll admit that this is something I haven’t done myself. We rent, and rain barrels just aren’t the kind of modification I’d try on a rental. But for the someday when we own, I keep looking at what it will take to install a rain barrel, especially with California’s rather desperate drought situation just now. A rain barrel can be a good way to collect rainwater and decrease your water bill, although probably not by much. Rainwater running off your roof can be collected for later use. But is it the right choice for you? Here are some factors to consider.
Laws and Regulations
The laws and regulations on rainwater collection vary quite a bit from state to state, and may change based on the part of the state you live in. Check with your state’s water resource agency before you start any rain barrel project to ensure that you can comply with the rules for your area.
How Much Do You Need It?
Given the size limitations of most rain barrels, it’s probably not going to make a big difference in your water bill. That doesn’t make rain barrels a bad idea, however. Most can hold anywhere from 20 to 150 gallons of water, depending on the size you choose, so if you really want to make a dent in your water bill, it will take more barrels. There are larger sizes available, but the costs and space required may or may not be worth it, depending on your situation.
When Will You Need to Disconnect It?
There will be times when it will make sense to disconnect your rain barrels. If you’re in a place where you get enough rain during fall, winter or spring that you don’t need to capture the rain, odds are you won’t want your rain barrels out at those times, even when they handle the overflow well. Make sure it’s not too hard to switch back to a regular roof gutter drain at such times.
Also, if it tends to freeze in your area, ice can damage your rain barrels. It’s best to put them away before cold weather starts.
Keep the Water Covered
Do not allow your rain barrel to become a breeding ground for mosquitos. It should be well covered, with a screen where the water goes in to keep insects and debris out. This will also help keep unwelcome critters such as mice or rats from using it as a water source.
Do Not Drink From Your Rain Barrel
Odds are very, very good, that the water from your rain barrel isn’t safe to drink. Rain water is lovely stuff, but what your barrel catches came down along your roof, through the roof gutters, and into the barrels. That means it has taken along any dirt, moss and so forth from your roof into the barrel, which itself is probably not all that clean. Keeping some of the debris out as mentioned above is good for your barrels, but it’s not enough to make it safe to drink.
Choose Which Plants to Water
You may or may not want to use rain barrel water to water edible plants. It really depends on the contaminants that get into your system. You can test the water to decide if it’s safe for your food garden, but when in doubt, let the decorative plants or lawn have it.
For More Information
If you want to learn more about installing rain barrels safely, here are some good resources: