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

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.


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.