Getting Started With A Rain Barrel

How to harvest water from the sky and in the process cut down on your utility bills.  

September 22, 2015
Rain Barrel
Pamuk/Shutterstock

In the Homestead Garden at the Rodale Institute, we strive to conserve water whenever possible. One way we do that is to have a rain barrel hooked up to the end of each downspout.

Rain barrels are just that: simple barrels that collect and store rainwater from rooftops. Each original downspout is replaced with a shorter one that directs water through a screen and into the barrel. Although not safe for drinking, the collected water can be directed to your garden when you connect a hose to the rain barrel’s spigot.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Related: Top 10 Ways To Conserve Water

Ready-made rain barrels can be purchased at hardware stores, garden centers, and, often, at a discount from nonprofit groups or government agencies involved in environmental education. Not only that, but making a rain barrel from a 55-gallon drum is simple and inexpensive.

According to the EPA, a frequently used rain barrel can save you 1,300 gallons of water, on average, in a summer. To get the most from your barrel, follow these tips: 

  • Elevate the barrel with concrete blocks or a sturdy platform so that gravity can help propel the water from its spigot to your garden. 
  • Clean your gutters regularly to reduce the amount of debris that reaches the rain barrel. 
  • Cover the barrel’s water intake with fine mesh screen to trap debris and to keep mosquitoes and other creatures out.  
  • Don’t let rainwater sit in the barrel for longer than a month. If algae develops inside the barrel, add a tablespoon of vinegar. 
  • In cold climates, drain the barrel in fall and store it upside down so it remains dry and clean. 
  • Repair small leaks with aquarium caulk, a clear sealant available at hardware stores.