Collecting Rainwater from Your Gutters

Collecting rainwater from your roofing system is an environmentally friendly way to take care of your garden while conserving water. Benefits of an above ground collection system, such rain barrels include reducing soil erosion, improving the quality of the soil, and being healthier for plants than tap water. And rainwater is free, saving money. Using a rain barrel for rainwater harvesting from your gutters can be an effective water recycling tool.

Choose the right type and material.

Technically, any type of container can be used as a rain barrel. However, using containers not specifically designed to collect, store, and continually hold water – for example a metal garbage can – are prone to warping, twisting, and water damage (rusting, leaking).

The most popular materials for rain barrels are vinyl or heavy plastic and wood. Plastic barrels are lightweight, versatile, and available in a wide range of colours and textures. Wood barrels are heavier and often cost more than vinyl or plastic but many homeowners like them because they blend in organically with their landscaping.

Regardless of the material of the rain barrel, particularly one made of plastic, ensure the tap is made of metal – plastic faucets can break easily.

If you have a copper roof or copper gutters or your roof has been treated with a chemical(s) for moss control, do not use the collected water from the rain barrel for edible plants.

Avoid contamination in the rain barrel.

Many homeowners like to use rain barrels for rainwater harvesting as a preferred alternative to allowing the water to drain into the landscaping. But in order for the water to be usable even though it won’t be used for drinking, cooking, or bathing, you want to ensure that the rainwater won’t be contaminated.

Purchase rain barrels that have lids to prevent animals and children from climbing inside – a lid that can be locked is best or one that can’t be easily removed. To avoid mosquitoes breeding inside the barrel and debris from getting in ensure all openings are covered by screens or netting.

Select the right location.

Install the rain barrel underneath the downspout nearest to the area where you will be utilizing the water the most. Downspouts have different footprints than rain barrels. The downspout where you choose to put the barrel might be out of the way but once the rain barrel is in place it interferes with foot traffic.

In order to fulfill your sustainable landscaping goals, you might require multiple rain barrels. Plan to install the barrels under one downspout and link the barrels together instead of installing one barrel under every downspout in the gutter system. If you will be installing more than one barrel, make sure there will be enough room for each one in the row.

Choose the size and number.

Common sizes for residential applications range from 160 litres (35 gallons) to 295 litres (65 gallons). A popular size barrel with gardeners holds approximately 228 L (50 gallons).

Local hardware, gardening centres, and big box stores will have rain barrel link kits or hose adapters that will allow you to connect multiple barrels together.

Improve the flow of water inside the barrel.

Depending on the grading slope around the foundation of your home, the flow of water inside the barrel can be improved by placing it on a stand, pedestal, or cement block. Preferably the rain barrel should be located on high ground – if this isn’t the case, using a stand will provide some elevation. It will also make it easier to connect a garden hose to the faucet.

During the installation process, you will have to cut off a section of the downspout and then reattach the downspout elbow to direct water into the barrel. When measuring the height of the barrel don’t forget to include the stand or cement block.

Make sure that the stand, pedestal or block will be able to support the barrel’s weight when full of water.

Manage the overflow of rainwater.

An average residential roof can collect 272 litres (60gallons) of rain for each 9 square metres (100 square feet) of roof, every 25 mm or 1 inch of rain. When conditions are right, a rain barrel can fill up quickly. It is important to plan for overflow. Give some thought to where you want the barrel overflow to go – rain garden (requires an underground pipe), vegetable garden, or water feature (fountain or pond).

You can purchase rain barrels with built-in overflow devices or kits that will help you adapt an existing barrel without overflow capacity. Overflow devices such as an overflow hose or a diverter directs water away for your home’s foundation when it reaches a certain level inside the barrel.

Maintain the rain barrels regularly.

Even with a lid to keep out debris and direct sunlight (encourages algae growth), a rain barrel needs to be thoroughly cleaned regularly. Remove debris from the screen if it has one and check any outlets for clogs.