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Rain barrel: A simple way to collect, save water

May 6th, 2011 | Category: Skills

by Stephanie Ashton

Rain barrel technology couldn’t be any simpler, yet the results are astounding. Offering a happy triple-whammy of water conservation, a savings in your water bill, and a reduction in the storm water runoff that causes erosion and carries pollutants to our waterways, crafting a barrel takes little effort and little upkeep. Because barrels are generally installed beneath a downspout, rainwater collection isn’t recommended for those with roofs treated with chemicals such as moss strips or zinc strips; homes with asphalt roofs should also proceed with caution, as the toxic compounds used for those roofs can contaminate the collected rainwater. Additionally, it is mandatory that your collection container be of food-grade quality.

With a food-grade barrel and a few simple fixtures from the hardware store, it takes only a drill for the appropriate holes. A side hole will serve as the overflow spout – or can, alternately, be linked to a second rain barrel – so it’s important to consider the placement of your barrel and whether its surroundings can accommodate or absorb excess water. (For an outline of materials and instructions, visit the City of Bellingham’s water conservation web page for a PDF instruction manual and materials guide; web address is listed under Resources.)

Rain barrels should be situated atop cement blocks, to allow a large enough space between the bottom spout and ground to fill a watering can or for your garden hose to attach without disrupting the water flow. Barrel systems can also be constructed to lie on their sides within a support structure – but as each gallon of water weighs eight pounds, and with most barrels containing 55 gallons, the method of installation you choose comes squarely down to safety. A safe recommendation is  to have rain barrels securely bolted to a standing structure.

The final step – hooking your barrel up to its collection source – requires a bit of skill, but should not seem daunting: downspouts should be sawed off above the height of the barrel, with the elbow portion of the spout re-attached to route the water into the barrel. It is important to note that mosquitoes can present a problem around the intake hole of barrels; their presence can be easily discouraged by placing a mesh screen over the intake hole, or by adding a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the rainwater.

The pay-off for collecting rainwater is satisfying, whether you’re conservation-minded or utility bill-motivated. By taking advantage of our spring showers now, you’ll no doubt ensure a lush lawn and garden throughout the summer months.


The City of Bellingham offers ready-made rain barrels for $25. To purchase one, e-mail waterconservation@cob.org or phone the Public Works Department at (360) 778-7700.
Instructions on rain barrel construction and installation can be found at: http://www.cob.org/services/environment/conservation
The following suppliers carry food-grade barrels for purchase:
• Whatcom Farmer’s Co-op, Bellingham – 3500 Meridian St., (360) 734-4010
• Ferndale – 1720 LaBounty Rd., (360) 380-0578
• Hardware Sales – 2034 James St., Bellingham, (360) 734-6140
• Trans-Ocean Products – 350 W. Orchard Dr., Bellingham, (360) 671-6886
Other resources are available on the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association website (http://www.arcsa.org), Rainwater Catchment for Dry Lands (http://www.harvestingrainwater.com) and the EPA’s Water Sense website (http://www.epa.gov/watersense).

Stephanie Ashton lives in Bellingham. She enjoys studying up on the wealth of local food and sustainability issues.

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4 Comments to “Rain barrel: A simple way to collect, save water”

  1. Paige Flores says:

    nowadays, we are seeing some water shortage and water conservation is even more necessary”*”

  2. water conservation should be done because we are already having some water shortage these days’`:

  3. Maria H says:

    I was super happy to see this DIY. Someone told me that the state wasn’t going to allow city folk to store water……..what?!…..I don’t think they can do that. I’ll be doing that to deter costs of growing my garden and such.
    Thank you for this post.

  4. claud says:

    This more of a question than a comment, but most roof tops are made of composite that may contain toxins. So what is a safe way to collect water?

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