Building a rain barrel is a worthwhile do-it-yourself project.
Rain barrels help conserve water and have a number of other beneficial purposes. Perhaps their best known use is for watering plants, whether for gardening or landscaping, but don’t forget about indoor plants that also thrive on natural rainwater. Rain barrels also can be used to help control flooding in your yard, and water released slowly from rain barrels can help recharge local groundwater resources (rather than the stormwater simply running off in a downpour). But don’t stop there; water you collect in a rain barrel is also good for washing your car. Rainwater does have some limitations, however; it’s important not to use rain barrel water for drinking, cooking or bathing. Finally, and this is a big plus: if you live in a town with municipal water, using water that doesn’t come from the tap can help save on your water bill.
Doing it yourself
So let’s say you want to build a rain barrel. Where to start? First ,get the lay of the land. Determine where the runoff from your roof goes now. Overflow from your rain barrel should also be discharged to this same location. Based on where you will use the rainwater you collect and where the current stormwater discharge point is, choose the location of your rain barrel, locating it at the base of a downspout from your roof gutter. Keep in mind that you can move the downspout if necessary to suit conditions.
All rainwater collection systems must have a disposal location for rainwater overflow. While the average rain barrel holds 55 gallons, runoff from a 1,000-square-foot roof yields 623 gallons of water. Depending on roof area, a rain barrel will fill up with as little a 1/10th inch of rain. Even if you have multiple rain barrels, you must have an overflow to a safe discharge location. (Note: If the downspout to be connected to your rain barrel currently drains to an infiltration area in your yard, the overflow from your rain barrel should also discharge to that location.)
• Your rain barrel must be secured on a firm, level surface. A full 55-gallon rain barrel weighs over 400 pounds, and tipping is a risk if it’s unsecured or on uneven ground.
• The barrel must be structurally sound and should be a food-grade container made to hold liquid. Containers such as trash cans are not designed to withstand the pressure of the water.
• The barrel must have a lid and a sturdy fine mesh covering all openings to prevent mosquitoes and debris from getting inside.
• Never use water from your rain barrel for drinking, cooking, or other potable uses.
• Your rain barrel must have an overflow to a safe discharge point.
Larger or more complex systems
More complex rainwater collection systems have a much larger storage container (a cistern). For rainwater collection projects of this scale, you should consult a professional to review design, construction and safety considerations.
When cold weather approaches, you will at least want to drain the barrel completely of water by using the bottom spigot, and drain all connecting hoses as well. It is also recommended that you then flip the barrel over to drain out any remaining water, and store the barrel and hardware in a protected place over the winter months to keep the barrel in good shape for the following spring.