There is nothing new about the idea of a rain barrel to store water for future use. People have been catching and storing rain water for centuries and in many countries rain still provides the majority of the water for irrigation, washing, and even drinking. In fact, rain barrels were a common sight in rural parts of America up to around the mid 20th century when they became virtually extinct. However, even though rain barrels have fallen out of fashion, the logic of having a rain barrel to supplement your water supply is hard to dispute.
Consider some of the practical advantages of a rain barrel.
o Rain barrels can capture the water that runs off your roof, flooding your yard and potentially ending up in your basement.
o Rain barrels provide a ready source of soft water containing no chemicals such as fluoride or chlorine. Growing plants love naturally soft, chemical free water.
o Water from a rain barrel is ‘free’, meaning you do not need to pay the local utility for it. But the financial benefits do not end there. By keeping water out of the drainage system, there is less community demand for drain capacity, so sewers will not need to be expanded as quickly, helping hold down your tax bill.
o Even if you get ‘free’ water from your own well, rain water has fewer minerals dissolved in it, making it better than well water for irrigation and even washing.
o Installing a rain barrel is a relatively easy and inexpensive project whether you do it yourself or have a professional do it for you.
Can you really collect enough water to make a difference?
o Definitely. Most people have no idea how much water comes off their roofs during a rainfall. A 1/2″ rainfall onto a ‘catchment’ area of 2000 square feet. (an average sized roof) delivers approximately 2400 gallons of water. So, even if you only receive 20 inches of rain in a year, you could potentially capture and reuse 96,000 gallons of water, and most locations receive substantially more than 20″ of rain in a year.
o While practically, you may not be able to capture and store 2400 gallons of water every time it rains, you could certainly easily capture 100 to 200 gallons by using multiple rain barrels. Either place multiple barrels at different downspouts or a series of barrels at a single locations connected with overflow tubes, so when one barrel is full the water flows into the next one.
o Once you have captured the water it is up to you how you want to use it. Some ambitious people use it to flush their toilets, wash their clothes or even drink it. However, doing those things requires a more complicated system to filter and pump the water so the most common use people make of stored rain is to water their lawns and gardens.
How can you water a lawn or garden using a rain barrel?
o There is the old tried and true method of filling a watering can and carrying the water to your garden, or you could install a drip irrigation system.
o A little science here – It takes 2.3 feet of elevation to produce one pound per square inch (PSI) of water pressure. So the height of your rain barrel will affect the amount of pressure in your watering system.
o Now, commonly drip irrigation systems are designed to work with water coming into them under pressure and they normally require between 10 to 30 PSI to operate. Primarily this is because the systems use ‘pressure compensating’ sprinkler heads or emitters that need a minimum of 10 PSI to work. (Pressure compensating emitters have a pressure valve inside to prevent ‘siphoning’ or water being drawn back into the system when you turn it off).
However, it is possible to run a drip irrigation system with less than 10 PSI if you design it properly.
o Start by elevating the barrel or tank as much as possible so gravity will help the flow.
o Keep the length of the water lines as short as possible.
o Use non-pressure compensating emitters.
o As well, since friction inside the tubes will steal water pressure, you should use oversize tubing on long runs to help minimize pressure losses.
Even in today’s modern world, an old fashioned rain barrel still make a lot of sense. Rain water will help your gardens grow green and healthy, you will be reducing your environmental footprint and you might even save a few dollars. How can you not like that old fashioned idea?
Villette Nolon is the President and CEO of HomeSavvi.
HomeSavvi provides free home remodeling guides, including Seattle home remodeling resources and instant inspiration. Online guide features home remodel design ideas, photos, expert advice, including bathroom and kitchen designs, budgets and costs and other helpful information.