What is a rain barrel?
A rain barrel or cistern is an automatic rainwater collection system that stores rooftop runoff to be used later for activities such as lawn and garden watering, car washing, and window cleaning.
Residential irrigation can account for 40 percent of domestic water consumption in a given area. This can be a problem particularly in summer, when the majority of outdoor water use occurs, and also the time when there is likely to be a water shortage. Collecting rainwater from your roof during storms by using a rain barrel can not only lower your water bills, but also help to decrease water demand during the hot summer months.
Rainwater collection and reuse is beneficial to the environment because the stored water would otherwise run off into the storm sewers, bringing pollutants such as oil and grease, bacteria, and nutrients with it. Once water gets into a storm sewer, it eventually ends up in our streams and rivers. Also, the more rainwater that is reused, the less need there is for chlorinated or chemically treated tap water.
Where can I get one?
You can purchase a rain barrel at most major lawn and garden centers. Call your local center to see if they carry them or if they can order one for you. Or, if you are feeling especially creative, you can make your own rain barrel using a large trashcan, agricultural supply container, or other large container and a little ingenuity. Listed below are some links to rain barrel sources online. Barrel sizes range from 50 to 250 gallons, and prices range from $99 to $325 plus shipping charges.
How do I install it?
Most rain barrels are easy to install; however, actual installation methods may vary depending on the individual brand of rain barrel. Installation of a typical barrel will involve disconnecting your downspout, cutting off a portion of the downspout and redirecting it into the top of the barrel (see diagram). Most rain barrels have an overflow pipe that redirects the rainwater back into the downspout or onto your lawn or other surface in the event the barrel becomes full.
If you live in an area where soils have a high clay content, such as Cleveland, it is essential to use a rain barrel with a feature that redirects any overflow back into the original downspout drain. This will avoid soggy lawns and wet basements. Other features may include safety features, spigots, connector barrels, mosquito proofing, and even water filters. Always be sure to empty your barrel before winter comes so you dont end up with a barrel full of ice!
A cistern is similar to a rain barrel, but has much greater storage capacity and requires a little more engineering. You can use a cistern to collect rainwater from your roof, filter the water, store it, and reuse it for your lawn and garden, or in your house for toilet flushing, clothes washing, etc. A cistern is considerably more expensive than a rain barrel, but will provide for much of your water needs, and may pay for itself in the long run.
A spreader is a small slab that can be placed underneath your downspout to direct rainwater away from your house. This reduces soil erosion because it slows down the rooftop runoff, and it helps keep your basement dry by directing rainwater to another area of your lawn or garden. You can purchase a spreader at your local home and garden center.
Caution: Before installing rain barrels or spreaders, contact your city about regulations concerning downspout connections.
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