There’s never been a better time to stay at home and work on your summer garden. And what if we told you there was a DIY addition you could tackle right now that would save you money and make your outdoor space more eco-friendly?
It’s true—and this amazing solution is called a rain barrel. We spoke with gardening experts from all over the country to learn more about rain barrels, and why every gardening enthusiast should have one. Here’s what we found out.
What is a rain barrel?
A rain barrel is exactly what it sounds like: a large drum barrel that catches rain. That water can be reused in outdoor projects, such as irrigating the lawn or garden, washing home exteriors, and even rinsing off your car. Some people make their own, but more often they’ll just purchase a plastic container such as a garbage can and modify it.
And while catching rain may sound slow and tedious, most people don’t just put a barrel in their yard and hope for the best. Instead, they’ll position their rain barrels to catch the most water possible—say, under a roof or gutter drain.
“A rain barrel is a great solution for collecting rainwater directly from the gutters that would otherwise be wasted or lost into the ground,” says Holly Maguireof Simple Lawn Solutions.
Many gardeners prefer using rainwater to irrigate their plants.
“Some plants actually prefer rainwater [to] groundwater due to the fact that groundwater can be harder and contain more minerals,” Maguire says.
But, she warns that collected rainwater shouldn’t be used for drinking, and gardeners should be cautious when using it on edible plants and veggies.
“A drawback of the rainwater is that it flows off your roof, so it’s possible for it to pick up anything from your roof on the way down,” Maguire says.
But for all your flowers, lawn, and other outdoor water needs, rain barrels are a great solution—and they come with a few other perks as well.
Rain barrels protect the environment
These nifty barrels don’t just allow you to conserve water and reuse what might otherwise be wasted. They also help protect nearby lakes and reservoirs from contamination, since rain runoff absorbs chemicals used in gardening and then goes into the storm drains, which lead to bodies of water.
“Rain barrels have become a common sight around Lake Champlain in Vermont,” says David Parsons, president and owner of Re/Max North Professionals. “Stormwater runoff has a significant negative impact on our treasured lake and other watersheds, so catching it can help mitigate this problem.”
Rain barrels save you money
In addition to helping with water conservation and preserving natural resources, rain barrels will also save you quite a bit of money.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, roughly 30% of which goes toward outdoor uses. Of that, more than half is used for watering lawns and gardens. By capturing some of that unused rainwater, you can both lower your monthly bills and minimize your water consumption, so that’s a win-win.
How to build your own rain barrel
Before getting started designing your perfect rain barrel, you’ll want to check with your local municipality or HOA to make sure it’s allowed. While many places do allow rain barrels (and some even encourage it), it’s a good idea to check before committing yourself.
With that out of the way, you’ll be ready to start designing the best rain barrel for your needs.
“Any design will work,” says Seth Samuelson, co-owner of the SeCa Hose Holder.
Most rain barrel systems involve the same elements, he observes: a storage tank, a valve system (at the bottom), an overflow pipe (at the top), and some sort of hatch on top with a screened grate to filter any large particles.
The biggest differentiator will be your budget, although most barrels can be built for less than $100, and some can even be done for just $15. That being said, we like this easy and affordable midrange model from ManMade DIY.
When it comes to tips for your build, Samuelson recommends using a table or other sturdy surface below your barrel.
“My best tip is to also build a sturdy table to elevate the tank,” he says. “This is important because you’ll be able to have ample room below to access the faucet more easily.”
The bottom line
Whether you’re an avid gardener or even just a fanatic about keeping your car clean, there are plenty of ways to put your captured rainwater to good use.
“Anybody that has a garden, lawn, or uses water for cleaning and household chores can benefit from a rain barrel,” says Maguire. “Because of the potential of conservation and positive impact on the environment, it’s really a no-brainer. Everyone should have one.”
Larissa Runkle is a writer living on the road. She specializes in finance, real estate, and branded content creation.