Learn how to install rain barrels and why rainwater harvesting is important. Includes, the pros, and cons of different rain barrel options.
Even if you aren’t on an off-grid property, here are a few reasons to consider rainwater harvesting.
- Better for watering your garden: Most city water is treated with chlorine or chloramine, which is toxic to plants. While the low levels in municipal water sources won’t kill your plants, it will harm the beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Also, an accumulation of fluoride in the soil from municipal water can harm plants.
- Money-Saver: Depending on the cost of water in your region, collecting a bit of rainwater could cover the cost of installing a rain barrel within the first year or two.
- Less runoff: If you have problems with drainage from your gutters, adding a few rain barrels could divert some of that extra water.
- Environmentally-friendly: Less runoff and less demand on municipal water systems is an overall win for the environment!
Simplest Rain Barrel Installation
- Really easy to set up. You just need to position the barrel under a downspout.
- Usually, they’re more esthetically pleasing and available in a variety of different colours and designs.
- Often around 50-gallon capacity.
- In the Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t take long to fill a 50-gallon rain barrel. Our composting toilet roof is only about 10 ft. sq. and we never ran out of water in that barrel, no matter how much we washed our hands. So if you’re filling off of a larger roof, the rain barrel will quickly overflow.
- The overflow on these decorative rain barrels is usually just a channel that diverts the excess liquid to the front of the rain barrel. Depending on where you place the rain barrel, it may not divert water away from your foundation.
- Does not provide safe drinking water.
Daisy-chained Rain Barrels
Connecting a few rain barrels together is quite easy. If you aren’t certain about building your own rain barrel system, or if you are looking for something a bit more esthetically pleasing than a few bright blue plastic barrels, then there are kits available.
(This is the kit we used. It’s considerably cheaper in Canada, so if you’re elsewhere, you may want to look for a different brand).
Either way, the basic concept is the same:
- Each barrel has an overflow hose at the top of the barrel, so when the first barrel fills, the overflow will fill the next barrel.
- The final overflow should connect to a hose that can direct water away from the foundation of your building.
We set up two 50 gallon rain barrels to fill off of the back of our shabin. It was filling off of a roof that was about 50 sq. ft. And it only took a single winter rainfall to fill the first barrel and half of the second barrel. We may be tempted to expand the system and install a few more rain barrels in the future.
If you’re interested in a more affordable option, then you can set up your own barrel system by daisy-chaining together several blue plastic barrels. Here are some easy-to-follow instructions.
- Fairly easy to set up. It took us about an hour to install our two barrels and dig out a gravel-filled trough to direct the overflow away from our building.
- The capacity can be 50 gallons or 300 gallons. It just depends on how many barrels you decide to connect.
- It’s easier and cheaper to set up 6 x 50-gallon rain barrels than a single 300-gallon tank. Especially, if you have to haul the rain barrels to the property yourself.
- While most off-the-shelf rain barrel kits are not safe for drinking water, it is possible to design a system that will provide clean water for drinking and washing. If this is something you’re interested in, I suggest forgoing the opinions of the internet and investing in a very good book on the subject.
- The overflow water can be directed away from the foundation of your building.
- It’s easier to set up a clean drinking water system off of a large-scale rainwater collection tank.
- Depending on the size of your roof and the amount of water you need to collect, you may want to go with a single large tank rather than a bunch of little rain barrels.