Rain barrels have been growing in popularity in the past few years, as they are an effective way to use natural rainwater for a variety of uses. They are best used for watering trees, lawns and gardens, and can result in a saving of considerable amounts of drinking water, which is an increasingly threatened resource.
Choosing a Rain Barrel
Choose a commercial rain barrel that suits your personal style and complements your home. The standard 4-gallon barrel can range in price from $90 to $250, depending on construction materials and aesthetics. If you purchase a commercial barrel, the features you need in a rain barrel will already be included.
If you choose to use your own wine barrel or other food-safe, large collection device, you will need to modify it before use. Rain barrels require a very finely-knit screen to prevent dirt and insects from entering. It is particularly important to keep out mosquitoes, as they are attracted to water for breeding purposes and may carry the West Nile virus.
When you make your own barrel, you will also need to construct an overflow system to ensure any extra water will flow away from your house to avoid flooding.
Lastly, you will need to install a spigot at the bottom of your DIY barrel in order to get the most functionality out of the barrel itself.
Design Your System
Select a location for your barrel that will put it at a higher elevation than the rest of your property. If your home is on a slant at all, simply place it by the corner of your house at the highest evaluation. If your property is fairly even, place the barrel on bricks, a dirt hill or design a similar method to keep the barrel higher than the rest of your property. Because water travels downward, keeping your barrel elevated will allow you to maximize the device's efficiency.
Design your rain-gutter system along your roof. It will need to bring the water to your rain barrel and should also include screens to keep out dirt and insects. Remember to build the system at a slight angle to help increase flow efficiency.
Design the down spout to go out a few inches from your wall to meet and enter your rain barrel. If you already have a rain-gutter system, you may need to change the main down spout's location to align and enter your barrel and you may need to install screens to keep the water clean.
Install the Barrel
Hire a professional if you are not comfortable installing the system yourself. This work can be dangerous, as it requires spending a lot of time on your roof and on ladders. In fact, if you have not already installed your rain gutter before, it is advisable to work with a professional.
If you are familiar with installing rain gutters, than install according to the instructions for the specific gutters you have chosen and the design plans you created for your system.
Attach a hose to your spigot and use the water for your gardens or to wash your car. Remember that anything requiring a hose will have to be at a downward elevation from your barrel. If you cannot use a hose for watering, you can always fill up a watering can and carry the water wherever you need it--even for use on indoor plants.
About this Author
Jill Harness has written on a variety of subjects for more than 10 years. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including "San Diego City Beat," "Mental Floss," Rue The Day! and Neatorama. Harness has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from San Francisco State University.