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Rain barrels are low-tech devices that collect rainwater for use in gardening, landscaping and for other home water needs. They're an inexpensive way to reuse water and cut monthly bills at the same time.

How to install a rain barrel

Rain barrels are highly adaptable and can be crafted to fit the specific needs of most homes or office buildings. A standard rain barrel merely collects water from your roof in a 50-85 gallon tank for lawn and garden use. More complex models can be used to supply non-potable water for uses like flushing toilets.

You don't need to buy an expensive rain barrel made for the purpose: any 50-80 gallon drum will do, so long as it's clean, leak-proof, and non-corrosive. Check local nonprofits, gardening co-ops, or watershed groups in your area for details; in some places, you can even buy used drums for as little as $5 from local businesses.

The following websites provide detailed instructions on how to make a rain barrel system (either from scratch or with a made-to-order barrel):

Find it! Rain barrels

If you're not into DIY, consider buying a pre-made rain barrel system:

Before you buy

Certain roofing materials make rainwater collection more challenging since some chemicals and finishes applied to shingles can contaminate storm water. In particular, watch out for asbestos, tar, gravel, lead flashing, and treated cedar shakes.[1] Copper roofing, copper-coated asphalt shingles, and zinc-coated steel can also cause problems. Water filtration is strongly recommended if you're collecting water for drinking, and may be necessary for gardening purposes, as well. To determine definitively what's in your water, have your rain water tested. Note: It's reasonably safe to collect water from roofs constructed of aluminum, clay tiles, and slate. Green roof owners can also rest easy since the plant matter acts like a built-in water filtration device.

Installing rain barrels help you go green because...

  • They allow you to recycle water, thereby cutting down on use of fresh, potable water.
  • They reduce the amount of water entering your local community's sewage system, and act as a buffer against contaminated run-off during heavy storms.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American household consumes about 90 gallons of fresh drinking water each day.[2] Buildings, including commercial, residential, and educational, also use a significant portion of this fixed resource—they consume approximately 20 percent of the total water drawn from fresh sources every day. Reducing the amount used in buildings alone by a mere 10 percent would save over 2 trillion gallons of fresh water annually.[3] Rain barrels are one way to cut total water consumption.

Rain barrels also help prevent local sewers from being contaminated. During periods of heavy rain, many communities' stormwater systems become overloaded, causing sewers to spill over into local lakes, streams, and rivers. This run-off is often contaminated and can cause serious community health problems. Rain barrels help capture excess water before it runs into sewers.

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