Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it might as well fall from the sky. With a rain barrel, you can collect rainwater from your gutter downspout and use it around your home and garden, which means spending less on your water bills. Other benefits of rain barrels include conserving water and preventing runoff pollution.
5 benefits of rain barrels
Why should you harvest rainwater? There are selfish reasons, like saving money, and more altruistic reasons, like helping the environment. The following are the main benefits — for you and the planet — of harvesting rainwater with a rain barrel.
1. Save money on water bills
Even if you’re not one to worry about your environmental impact, you certainly care about the impact water use has on your wallet. When you collect rainwater, you can use it for household chores such as:
- Watering the lawn and garden
- Watering indoor plants
- Washing your car
- Cleaning driveways, patios, and other outdoor areas
- Mopping floors
Every gallon of harvested rainwater you use around the house is a gallon you don’t have to pay for. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a rain barrel saves the average homeowner up to 1,300 gallons of water each year. That’s 1,300 gallons that won’t show up on your water bill!
Note: Rainwater collects bacteria and other contaminants on its way to your barrel, so it isn’t safe for all uses. Don’t use rain barrel water for drinking, cooking, bathing, or cleaning surfaces that come in contact with food.
2. Conserve water during drought
Sick of watching your grass and plants wither away every summer because of drought-related water restrictions? A rain barrel could be the perfect solution. You can use harvested rainwater to irrigate your lawn and garden as much as it needs with a guilt-free conscience because you aren’t wasting any water.
And it doesn’t just benefit you. Conserving water in this way benefits your whole community by putting less strain on municipal water sources. It’s one step in preserving our planet’s limited natural resources — that’s right, water is a limited resource, and eventually, we’ll run out.
3. Reduce stormwater runoff
Rainwater harvesting also helps the community and the greater environment by catching stormwater runoff before it can cause problems.
Here’s why too much stormwater runoff is a bad thing:
- Water pollution: As stormwater runoff traverses lawns and roadways, it collects all kinds of contaminants: pesticides, chemical fertilizers, animal feces, etc. The runoff eventually carries all those contaminants into natural bodies of water, where they can harm aquatic ecosystems and diminish local water quality.
- Storm drain clogs: Runoff also collects debris like leaves, sticks, and mud, then carries them into storm sewers. The debris can cause clogs, which lead to flooding and stress on the sewer system.
When you catch a portion of that runoff in your rain barrel, there’s less of it to pollute water and clog drains. One barrel on its own might not make a huge impact, but imagine the impact if everyone in your neighborhood started harvesting rainwater.
4. Prevent flooding and soil erosion
Maybe you have the opposite problem of drought. Maybe your area gets too much rain, flooding your yard with puddles and eroding away your topsoil. A rain barrel can help you, too. All the water you catch from the downspout doesn’t end up in your yard.
When you minimize flooding, you prevent wet lawn-related issues such as damage to your home’s foundation, fungal lawn diseases, and pests. When you prevent soil erosion, you keep your soil nutrient-rich and perfect for growing strong, healthy plants.
5. Provide clean water for plants
Tap water from your sink or garden hose contains fluoride, salts, and other unnatural additives that can harm your plants. Since rainwater is all-natural and untreated, it’s better for your soil and your plants. Rainwater from your barrel is just as good as rain from the sky, which keeps all the plants in the wild happy and healthy.
The bad thing about rain barrels
Rain barrels have many significant advantages, but they can have a downside, too. It’s possible that keeping too much rainwater out of streams and rivers could disrupt natural ecosystems. Because of this risk, many states limit how much rainwater you can harvest.
However, you would have to divert a lot of rainwater to make a significant negative impact, so you shouldn’t concern yourself about the risk too much.
How rain barrels work
Rain barrels are simple. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how they work:
- Rainwater hits your roof and flows into the gutter, then down the downspout.
- The water transfers to the rain barrel, either directly from the downspout or through a diverter you install.
- The rain barrel fills up over time. Most rain barrels hold around 40-60 gallons.
- You drain water as you need it from the spigot at the bottom of the barrel. Use the water to fill a bucket or watering can, or attach a garden hose or drip irrigation system to the spigot.
- An overflow valve keeps the barrel from overflowing by directing excess water away from your yard and your home’s foundation. You can connect the overflow valve to a second rain barrel to collect even more water.
For more about all the parts of a rain barrel and how they work, see Lawn Love’s basic guide to rain barrels.
FAQ about rain barrels
In the long run, yes, rainwater harvesting is worth the investment. Even though store-bought rain barrels can cost up to $200, you can build a less expensive DIY rain barrel out of a trash can, plastic drum, or pretty much any large plastic container that can hold water.
However much you spend on your rain barrel, you can expect it to pay you back in free water over the years. At the same time, you’re contributing to global water conservation efforts, which is priceless.
We briefly touched on statewide rainwater harvesting restrictions, but it’s important to note that rain barrels are outright banned in some places. The practice is legal in all 50 states, but your city, town, or homeowners association might prohibit it, so check local ordinances before installing a rain barrel.
The main limitation is size. A rain barrel can only provide as much water as it can hold. But there’s a workaround: You can hook up your rain barrel’s overflow valve to a second barrel to collect more water, and you can even connect the second one’s overflow to a third. Just be sure not to exceed your state’s limits on how much rainwater you’re allowed to harvest.
Another important limitation is safety. You can’t use water from a rain barrel for just anything without treating it first to make it potable. You shouldn’t consume or bathe in untreated rain barrel water.
Yes, like all standing water, a full rain barrel can attract mosquitoes. The best way to prevent mosquito infestation is to use a rain barrel with a closed lid and keep it sealed.
If you end up with an infestation, you can get rid of mosquitoes by:
–Cleaning debris out of your yard
–Dethatching your lawn
–Planting mosquito-repelling plants such as citronella, peppermint, and eucalyptus around your rain barrel
–Applying a mosquito-killing insecticide or repellent spray
Tips for using a rain barrel
Are these benefits enough to convince you to try rainwater harvesting? Check out How to Use a Rain Barrel for details on where to get started. You’ll find out how to build your own rain barrel, how to install it for maximum effect, how often to clean it, what to do with it in winter, and more.
Your new rain barrel will be a great helper in taking care of your lawn and landscape. For more help, call on Lawn Love’s local lawn care and gardening pros.
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