Why Rainwater Collection Works And How To Do It Correctly

Rainwater collection project install

Rainwater collection isn’t just a trend for experienced gardeners with established plots, either. According to the survey, about 15 percent of millennials, many with small but efficient urban gardens, report using rain water collectors. One in five of these younger cloud harvesters are located in the increasingly arid West.  A recently published study conducted by The Home Depot found that one in four gardeners is opting to reap the rewards of heavy storms through a variety of rainwater collection alternatives.

Whether you do it for its cost-saving aspect, as a self-watering technique, as a way to irrigate an irregularly graded backyard or as a functional work of art, rainwater collection is a simple way to make the most out of your property’s natural resources, while spending very little of your resources—time and money.

But, is rainwater collection for you? After reading this guide, you might find the answer is – quite possibly.

Rainwater collection opportunities

Rain barrel for rainwater collection

Rain barrel for rainwater collection. Image credit – Center for Neighborhood Technology (Flickr).

For gardeners over the age of 35, the southern U.S. currently boasts 28% of its gardeners employing rainwater collection techniques compared to other regions (although one might expect this trend to increase in the West, as well, if our current drought conditions continue). According to FIX, installing a rain barrel for rainwater collection can help save up to 1,300 gallons of water during the summer.

Wondering how much rain water you could be collecting from roof runoff alone? Check out the United States Geological Survey (USGS) rainfall calculator, which can estimate rainfall in areas from a couple square feet to several square miles.

First, collect your thoughts

As with just about anything these days, there are plenty of ready-to-go rain barrel options already on the market. After choosing one of those, all you’d need to do is install it (which we cover below). Now for those DIY-types, here are some tips below on not only how to make your own rain barrel, but also properly install it.   First though, let’s cover the two main methods of rainwater harvesting, active and passive.

Are you active or passive

There are two main methods of rain collection harvesting: active and passive.

According to the Tucson Botanical Gardens;

  • Active systems integrate a storage container into the system to catch rainwater runoff for later use on the property.
  • Passive systems, on the other hand, “use earthworks to control surface water flow and use the soil as the storage container. The passive system requires planning and observation of the natural water movement on the land but requires no gutters or storage containers.”

Keep in mind that using one form of collection does not negate the other; passive and active methods of rainwater collection are often used in tandem to utilize the most rainwater possible.  Here is more information on both.

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Simple active rainwater collection systems

If you have a roof and gutters, you’ve already accomplished a major step towards rainwater harvesting. Houses with gutters generally divert the rainwater falling on the roof to one main location. Place a large barrel or a 55-gallon drum underneath the main downspout to capture and store rainwater.

Make sure the container you choose has an external pipe and a valve so you can connect a hose to water your plants as well as shut off the water coming from the barrel. Also, remember to keep your gutters free of twigs and leaves so the gutters can continue to direct the flow of water to the downspout.

Lastly, make the system even more efficient by placing the rainwater collection container on a raised platform so as to receive the added benefit of gravity. By elevating the barrel, gravity helps maintain the pressure in the hose so you can irrigate plants further from the collection and storage point.


Simple passive rainwater collection systems

To implement a simple passive harvesting system, get ready to bust out the shovel. In a simple system, rainwater is put to immediate use and consists of a catchment area (the roof) and a means of distribution (gravity).

Rainwater flows from the roof but instead of collecting in barrels via gutters, rainwater falls from the roof into a dug swale. The swale then channels the rainwater towards a holding area where the landscape plants or the vegetable garden utilize the diverted water.

An added benefit of passive systems is erosion control. By keeping more water on-site, less water and soil flush out into the street during storm events.

Rainwater collection project install

No matter which rainwater collection system you choose, you’ll need to modify the path of your existing gutter system. Image Credit – Roger Mommaerts (Flickr).

Make it rain (or at least make the rain barrel)

We’re not able to help with making it rain but we are able to help you make a rain barrel. Several years ago Blogger Christine Hennessey and her husband Nathan set out to build their own rain barrel – and they documented the process online. The Hennesseys distil the process down into 8 steps

  1. Step 1 – Procure the barrel
  2. Step 2 – Procure the pieces
  3. Step 3 – Make the gaskets
  4. Step 4 – Drill a hole in the bottom of the barrel
  5. Step 5 – Screw on the faucet
  6. Step 6 – Get in the barrel (just trust us here)
  7. Step 7 – Install mosquito screen
  8. Step 8 – Elevate

Using picture and first hand experience, the Hennesseys outline how to make a rain barrel.  DIY site Instructables also offers step-by-step instructions on how to build your own rain barrel (for just $15).

Installing your rain barrel

Ok – so you have either purchased or made your own rain barrel.  Now its time to install this water-saving wonder! FIX put together this handy infographic – 7 Steps To Installing A Rain Barrel.

Eco Landscaping: Installing a Rain Barrel

A collection of tips

Better Homes And Gardens offers the following installation location hint – Set your rain barrel up on a platform to help give more pressure if you connect it to a hose. It also makes it easier to fill up watering cans.

When it comes to knowing when to water your landscaping, FIX offers these tips.

  • Instead of watering on a schedule, look for signs that plants need water – drooping leaves are a good indicator – before turning on the tap.
  • Consider a drip irrigation system (a series of narrow hoses with small holes that deliver water right to the roots of the plants), which uses up to 50 percent less water than traditional hoses and sprinklers.

Rainwater collection is a simple concept that saves money and natural resources.  The above tips should make implementing rainwater collection at your home simple too.

Feature image courtesy of Roger Mommaerts (Flickr)

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Chase Ezell

Chase has served in various public relations, communications and sustainability roles. He is a former managing editor for Earth911.com.

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