According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, lawn and garden watering makes up nearly 40 percent of total household water use during the summer.
“One way to reduce outdoor water usage and conserve water is to collect rainwater,” said Jennifer Fishburn, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater. A typical one-half-inch rainfall will fill a 55-gallon barrel. It is estimated that a 55-gallon rain barrel can save about 1,300 gallons of water during the summer.”
Rain barrels can reduce the use of drinking water for outdoor purposes, reduce the amount of storm water that enters ponds, streams and sewage systems, and reduce off-site flooding, Fishburn added.
“Rainwater is a favorable source of water for plants as it doesn’t contain chlorine or salts,” Fishburn said.
Water collected in rain barrels should not be used for drinking water for humans or animals, though. Because of the possible risk of contamination, Fishburn said there are conflicting reports on whether rainwater collected from roofs is safe for vegetable crops.
The roof is the most common area to use for rainwater collection, Fishburn said, and rainwater can be collected from most roof systems except for those made of tar and gravel, old asbestos shingles or treated cedar shakes.
Modify downspouts to feed into rain barrels. If the building doesn’t have gutters, place the barrel directly under an area of the roof that sheds a lot of water, she said. Elevate the rain barrel by placing it on cinder blocks or a level platform. This allows clearance for connecting a hose or filling a watering can, and provides extra water pressure.
Make sure the platform or blocks are level. When full, a 50-gallon barrel can weigh more than 400 pounds. Keep children and animals away from rain barrels.
To use the water in the rain barrel, Fishburn recommended attaching a garden hose or soaker hose to the spigot, or drain water into a bucket or watering can.
Barrels need minimal maintenance – periodically clean screens, make sure all parts are tight fitting, and inspect for cracks. Light-colored barrels are more prone to cracking and algae growth. In late fall, drain and rinse barrels and store them upside down with the spigot valve open.”
Find the Best Rain Barrel
Look for a good-quality, dark-colored plastic barrel with tight-fitting parts, screens over any open areas and an overflow. Metal spigots last longer than plastic. Openings more than 1/16-inch wide are entry points for mosquitoes.
If using a pattern to make your own rain barrel, use a food-grade barrel that has never held any harsh chemicals.