Green Team How-To Guide: Rain Barrels

Spring is here, and though the warmth is still trying to push its way to a more consistent schedule, the rain has arrived in full force. Now is the time to start thinking about your yard and outdoor area.  Do you have a lawn? Will you be planting and tending to a flower, fruit or vegetable garden? Do you wash your car at home during the warmer days? Does your outdoor space require excess water?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may want to consider conserving water by recycling the source of water we receive for free and naturally through rain. By attaching a rain barrel to your gutter and downspout system, you can start collecting your useable water.  A rain barrel is as it sounds, a small storage container that collects rainwater from your rooftop and gutters and stores the rain for outdoor use.  You can learn about different types of rain barrels and safety considerations here.

Make sure you take safety precautions when setting up your rain water system.  The rain barrel should be a structurally safe container, made specifically to hold water.  A 55-gallon rain barrel filled with water weighs over 400 lbs.  This brings about another safety issue. Make sure your barrel is secure and on a firm, level surface to reduce the chance of tipping.  Make sure all openings are covered with sturdy fine mesh to prevent bugs and debris from getting inside. This is not potable water and should not be used for drinking, but is perfectly fine for watering the garden and yard or washing your car.

The system works simply as long as it is installed correctly.  You will want to scope your property and identify where the runoff from your roof collects.  If you have gutters installed on your home by a professional, the downspouts should already be in this location.  When gutters are installed, they are gradually sloped so all the water runs to one location – the downspout, which then redirects the water to your yard away from the home.  This downspout should be where you locate your rain barrel. The rain barrel must have an escape for the overflow of water and should be directed to the same area the downspout was sending water – to a safe disposal location, such as a drain or out in the yard.

Another factor to consider when installing your rain barrel is the proximity to your garden or garage, depending on what you will use it for the most. As mentioned before, these barrels are incredibly heavy once full of rain; you will want to make sure it is installed relatively close to your garden or garage to ensure it is easy to access and use. Many barrels either have attachments or can be fitted with a hose that can help make using your water more convenient. 

Though this is a simple system and holds only water, some maintenance is required. Clean your gutters at least twice a year, make sure gutters are repaired and/or working correctly to direct water to the rain barrel, check to make sure everything is secure and fastened together, clean out the rain barrel and check for leaks, at least once a year, and check the screen for holes and replace or repair when needed.

Some states have regulations regarding rain water collection (particularly in the drier states in the South and Southwest), so be sure to check your state and local government websites before you set up your rain collection system. 

Green Team Staff

Habitat for Humanity of Michigan is a designated Green Organization through NeighborWorks America.