Country Traditions

September 13, 2010

Harvesting the Water With Rain Barrels

Filed under: rain water — Tags: , , — dmacc502 @ 1:49 am
Rain Barrel

Image by robertstinnett via Flickr

By collecting rain from a roof during wet months and storing it in a tank or cistern, homeowners can create an alternative supply that won’t tax the groundwater or jack up the water bill.

And because rain doesn’t contain the minerals found n wells or the chlorine in municipal supplies, it’s ideal for watering the lawn, washing the car, doing the laundry, taking a shower—even drinking if it’s properly filtered.

“Rainwater is the purest water you can find,” says Dr. Hari Krishna, president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA).

A rainwater-collection system can be as simple as a rain barrel at the end of a downspout or as elaborate as a whole–house system, which supplies all the water needs for my family of four in the Texas Hill Country. Cost and complexity depend on how much water you need and how you plan to use it.

A simple system is adequate for landscaping needs, but cost, complexity, and maintenance increase if you’re planning to drink rainwater or pipe it into the house. Check with your local building official about the regulations on rainwater systems for indoor use—codes differ widely from one community to another.

A house with a sloped roof, gutters, and downspouts is well on its way to harvesting rainwater for landscape irrigation or other nonpotable uses. You just need a few simple components: wire–mesh gutter screens to keep out debris, a storage tank, and a way to move the water out of the tank.

The storage tank, or cistern, can be made from almost any material—even a clean recycled metal drum. Gardening stores sell 55– to 75–gallon plastic rain barrels, complete with leaf screens and spouts, for $50 to $250. Wooden barrels have a nostalgic charm, but they’re hard to come by and expensive. A wine or whiskey barrel made by a professional cooper will cost at least $250.

Larger storage tanks can be made of stone, cement, metal, wood, or fiberglass.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in tanks, make sure the tanks are covered or screened. Also, during winter months, barrels should be kept only three quarters full to allow freezing water to expand.

Gravity is the easiest (and cheapest) way to move rainwater out of the tank. Systems that work by gravity are good for watering landscapes; you only need to open a spigot or valve at the bottom of the tank. However, if you have to move water to a level higher than the tank, you’ll need a pump.
Collecting for Household Use
Things get more complicated if you’re planning to drink, wash, or bathe with rainwater. You need specific types of roofs, gutters, and storage tanks, as well as a way to filter and purify the water and pump it into your house.

Filter can take out most bacteria and particulates, and reverse osmosis will catch the sulfuric and nitric acids in acid rain.

Unfortunately, there are areas with such heavy air pollution that rainwater cannot be filtered enough to make it drinkable.

“If you live in a highly industrialized area, I recommend using rain for gardening only,” cautions Hoffman. “If you have any concern about rain quality, have a professional water test done on a sample.”

Unpainted galvanized metal roofing is the best catchment surface for potable–water systems because it’s smooth and nontoxic. Clay or concrete tile and slate also work well. Asphalt, asbestos, chemically treated wood shingles, and some painted metal roofs, however, can leach toxic materials and are recommended only for nonpotable water uses.

As in a simple system, gutters and downspouts should have leaf screens. But it’s important that those gutters not have lead solder or lead–based paints. Seamless aluminum and vinyl gutters are fine. Also, a roof washer, a filtration system that removes any remaining leaves, debris, and bird droppings, should be placed in the line before the water enters a storage tank.

Like nonpotable systems, storage tanks can be made of stone, cement, metal, wood, or fiberglass. But if you’re planning on showering with or drinking rainwater, stone and cement can leach minerals, and galvanized tanks can release zinc in the water unless a PVC liner is used (zinc from galvanized roofs is filtered out before being stored).

Fiberglass tanks, though hardly the most attractive, are easily the cleanest and most durable. You’ll need to keep the tank out of the sun in order to avoid algae growth. Tanks are sometimes buried, either partially or fully, to keep the water cool or to hide the tanks (and to prevent the water inside from freezing).,,1180779-2,00.html


1 Comment »

  1. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many fascinating stuff in your blog site especially its discussion. From the tons of responses on your content articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the excellent work. Respectfully, Blanch.

    Comment by Blanch — December 6, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

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