Image courtesy of Berkeley, CA, Office of Energy and Sustainable Development
A rain barrel is any above ground container modified to receive, store, and distribute rooftop runoff for non-drinking uses. They are often made from recycled food or wine barrels. The typical size of a rain barrel is 55 gallons - but they do come in different sizes. You can event connect multiple barrels together if need be. The main components of a rain barrel are:
- A connection to the downspout;
- A filter to prevent mosquitoes from entering;
- A faucet to allow for regulated usage; and
- An overflow pipe to divert the excess water.
What are the benefits of rain barrels?
- Rain water is naturally soft, oxygenated, and more acidic than tap water.
- Rain water is free of chlorine, fluoride, salts, and other minerals from tap water.
- Water is saved for use during dry spells.
- Runoff and stormwater pollution are reduced.
- Water bills, especially in the summer, can be reduced.
How can the collected water be used?
The collected water can be used to water lawns and gardens or wash cars and bicycles. Rainwater collected within the barrel is safe for plants because the typical minerals and pollutants trapped in the rainwater are filtered out by plant roots. Rainwater collected in a rain barrel is not for drinking; rainwater is more acidic than tap water and may contain particulate matter from air pollution.
Image courtesy of Lincoln, NE, Public Works and Utilities
How much do they cost?
Rain barrels cost anywhere from $20 to $300. The fancier the rain barrel, the greater the cost. Costs can be reduced if the barrel is installed by the homeowner. In the summer, lawn and garden watering account for 40% of average household water usage. By adding a rain barrel, the need for municipal water is reduced. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a rain barrel can potentially save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months.
Are there different colors, designs, and types of rain barrels?
Rain barrels come in essentially any design or style. Since only a ½ inch rainfall on a 160-square- foot roof will fill a 55 gallon rain barrel, some people choose to place a tandem barrel (two barrels at one downspout) or to place another barrel at a different downspout.
What type of maintenance is required?
The barrel will require periodic cleaning. A safe cleaning solution is two teaspoons of castile soap and two teaspoons of vinegar per gallon of water or two teaspoons of lemon juice per gallon of water. In the winter, the barrel will need to be emptied and disconnected from the downspout.
Where do I get one?
We have a limited supply of rain barrels made from recycled barrels available for sale at the LGA. They cost $55 for LGA members and $65 for non-members — you can't beat the price for such a good looking rain barrel! There are also many local stores in our area that carry rain barrels for sale, and many online vendors do as well. (But don't forget about shipping costs!) You can check out some websites such as the Rain Barrel Company, or the Great American Rain Barrel Company for ideas.
Want to build your own?
There are many sources for directions on how to build a rain barrel — you can even watch a video on You Tube! Click here for a guide from the EPA - pdf or the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - pdf to get you started.
Text adapted from the City of Lincoln, NE, Public Works and Utilities.