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Wait! Catch that Rain!

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Wait! Catch that Rain!

When it rains, it pours. And when it pours there is an awful lot of nutrient-rich, usable water just waiting to be collected and put to work. Water is a precious commodity, especially during  the hot summer months. Why not help conserve this natural resource but “harvesting” it or collecting it. Here’s how.

Rainwater harvesting is a basic and timeless technology used for collecting and storing the rainwater gathered from rooftops, the land surface, or rock catchments using simple containers such as jars and pots as well as more complex systems including, but not limited to, underground check dams.

The history of rainwater harvesting is found in Asia and Africa where early civilizations caught rain to drink and irrigate. Today rainwater is harvested for similar uses but can also serve as an outdoor sink, a garden soaker, and even commodes. And because rain doesn’t contain the minerals found in 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.

The basic harvesting setup is constructed of three principal components – the catchment area, the collection device, and the conveyance system. In the case of a simple rain gutter – barrel system, the catchment is the gutter and downspout on a rooftop, the collection unit is the 50-gallon drum, and the conveyance system is a simple spigot valve.

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Depending on the complexity of the system you either purchase or DIY build, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in tanks, make sure the tanks are covered or screened.
  • 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 and gardens. If you choose to move water to a level higher than the tank, you’ll need a pump.
  • To water a garden with harvested rainwater a system such as a spigot with hose attachment (or using a watering can to “drain” water into) must be in place.
  • There are municipal restrictions that need to be considered if collected rainwater will be used for anything other than gardening or cleaning.
  • Although fiberglass and plastic containers are the easiest to clean there is no limit to how attractive or artistic a catch water system can be made. They are as much a part of landscaping as annuals and hostas!

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1 anotherkindofdrew { 07.16.11 at 6:35 am }

Luckily, Josie, my barrels already had two threaded 2″ holes in the end (or top, depending on how you are looking at it) so I just outfitted one of those holes with a spigot and a rubber gasket. However, I would think you could drill a hole just a little larger than your spigot, insert the spigot, and fill the remaining space with some sort of marine-rated caulk. It might not look beautiful but it would work.

2 Josie { 07.15.11 at 7:56 pm }

I have been collecting rain water for my garden for years using barrels that I got from work that held laundry soap. I have the north side of our shop lined with about 30 barrels and we really use the water in the garden since it is right beside them. I would like to know how is the best way to install spigots in a plastic barrel as I have some bigger ones at the corner of our patio that I water my flowers with.

3 m { 06.21.10 at 8:57 pm }

Save water ,fill a swimming pool with rain water.Put it up early.

4 Stephen Rubinchak { 06.17.10 at 6:15 am }

This is a great Idea. Here in Bermuda,we collect all of our drinking ,washing, showering,flushing water from our roof .It goes down into a tank below the house.All houses must have them by law.Some people even collect water off the road into a separate tank for flushing.It is called gray water.Our roofs are painted with a lime based wash as too purify the water.This system would do well in areas in the U.S. where there isn’t any frost.Thanks for letting me share.

5 Andrew Odom { 06.16.10 at 12:48 pm }

Hey Dale. You have stumped me. Other than a reverse osmosis pump and perhaps some antiquated sand filtering I have no idea how you would filter the water prior to it going to the well. I am afraid I am not much help. I don’t have any training in water purification or wastewater treatment so I hesitate to offer a solution without further understanding of what you are ultimately trying to do.

6 Dale Palmer { 06.16.10 at 12:05 pm }

I would like to harvest the rain water off my tin roof to be used in the home(cooking, drinking, etc.), when I was a kid at home(I’m 62 now), my dad did this, but I forget how he got it to be good for home use. I’ve got a hand dug well & would like to filter the water befor it gets into the well. I found ways to filter it between the ewell & the tine it goes into the home, but I want it filtered before it goes inti the well. How & what should I use to do this. I’ve also found things you can take water out of a mud hole & get it fit to drink, but only a small amount at a time, like a bottle at a time.

7 Robin { 06.15.10 at 11:08 pm }

I can’t believe how quickly my rain barrels fill up. I have two, on either side of my green house, and they can fill up completely in one strong rain storm. The great thing is that the water comes off the greenhouse roof, which is plastic. I often worried about catching water off of asphalt roof shingles.

8 Andrew Odom { 06.15.10 at 11:39 am }

Absolutely you can Laura. In fact, you can use any barrel like device you choose. However, using an old garbage can for collecting rainwater may yield disappointing results. Rain barrels (which also include plastic barrels from the carwash or commercial use area) are designed with a wall thickness that can withstand freezing, expansion of freezing water, and distortion from the weight of the water and/or the effect of prolonged direct sunlight. Barrels used for water collection and storage should:

1. Be opaque to inhibit algae growth
2. Not leach toxic materials
3. Be securely covered to prevent small children, pets and wildlife from drowning
4. Be screened to keep out debris
5. Be accessible for cleaning

9 Laura reason { 06.15.10 at 9:34 am }

The rain barrel info is very helpful though could I use a common plastic trash can to collect rain water or is there certain plastic I should use?

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