The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Rainbarrels are making a come back.

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

We often hear how old things are new again. Some are resurrected with new names. Pedal pushers are now capris. Some things should stay as old things - leisure suits, pet rocks, and streaking to name a few. One old thing is making a well-deserved comeback. The idea of harvesting the rain has been around for centuries, but in our area has been largely ignored. High water bills and drought periods have encouraged more people to use rainbarrels as a simple way to capture the rain that flows off the roof and would usually run into the storm sewer.

You may be surprised at how much water is running off your roof. Consider one inch of rain over 1,000 square feet of area yields 623 gallons. Rainfall at the rate of 1 inch per hour will yield about 10 gallons per minute per 1,000 square feet. It doesn't take long to fill a few barrels of free unsoftened water containing none of the chorine or fluoride commonly found in city water. The kind of water plants love.

Also diverting water from storm sewers helps to keep pollutants out of our streams, rivers, and lakes. Much of our urban environment is covered in impervious roofs, parking lots, and streets so water rushes into storm sewers, carrying any pollutants such as trash or oil with it. Many storm sewers run directly into rivers or streams.

Rainbarrels are generally 25 to 55 gallon plastic barrels to collect water from downspouts. They can be different sizes, shapes, and designs. Rainbarrels can be purchased or homemade from recycled food grade plastic barrels. Let me know if you have a local source for these. I haven't found any. Heavy duty garbage containers could also be used. I spray paint them green so they aren't as noticeable or have the kids paint flowers on them.

Rainbarrels require little maintenance. The biggest concern is mosquitoes that can breed in any water standing for more than a couple days. Cover the rain barrel with a very fine screen and use the water on a regular basis. For uncovered rainbarrels mosquito dunks containing the bacterial agent Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis or Bti can be floated in the water to kill the young larva.

Rainbarrels should be covered or have cross braces to prevent children or animals from accidentally falling in. Water from rain barrels should not be used for drinking water

To create enough water pressure so the water runs out the spigot, be sure to elevate the barrel on bricks or concrete blocks. The higher the barrel - the more water pressure. I have seen pumps for sale that pump the water out of the barrel for long distance watering. I have a 25 gallon rain barrel that doesn't have a spigot and I just dip my watering can in to fill it.

For the third year now we have had grey tree frogs breeding in our rainbarrel. I have to stop using the water once the tadpoles arrive, but it's so much fun watching them grow.

As we wish for rain, be ready to collect it. Here are a few websites you may find helpful. Websites are listed as a service and listing does not imply endorsement.

http://www.rainbarrelsandmore.com/

http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/rainbarrels.htm

http://www.cleanairgardening.com/

http://rainbarrelguide.com/

http://sarasota.extension.ufl.edu/Hort/Pubs/Rainbarrel.htm

http://www.ne-design.net/

Or stop by our office for a brochure on how to assemble your own rain barrel.

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