Eco Brief: Rainwater Harvesting

January 28, 2016

There are many ways to begin rainwater harvesting at home, including underground storage cisterns, stream-damming and fog nets, but for this Eco Brief installment, we will be talking about small, above-ground rainwater harvesting systems to be used primarily for gardening.

rain barrelIf you live somewhere that frequently experiences drought, collecting water in the rainy season can be a great way to overcome restrictions when the rain stops. If not, it’s still smart to save on your water bill.

The two most feasible ways for most homeowners to collect rainwater are downspouts and free-standing catchment areas. If you have a gutter system you need a downspout diverter to divert rainwater into the barrel, a grate to keep out debris and sturdy barrel with a spigot. Be sure you can fit a hose or bucket under the spigot by elevating the barrel and remember to place your barrel on solid, level ground that can drain properly if the it fills up.

If you would prefer, or if it works better with your home, there are also small-scale rainwater harvesting catchment systems like the Rain Saucer. These are easy-to-assemble funnels that feed into buckets. One great aspect of this system is that it can be scaled up easily with a larger storage tank or more tank-and-saucer sets.

Rainwater harvesting can also be a creative, DIY family project. Find or create a large funnel, and place it securely above a simple metal grate filter and a tank with a spigot. You could do this a hundred different ways, using anything from a recycled oil drum to a rain barrel you buy online, with a catchment area of anything from a tarp to a tilted piece of sheet metal. Whichever form of storage you choose, make sure you clean the inside so chemicals don’t ruin your garden or greenhouse.

rain garden

Larger-scale and underground water collection, percolation and pumping systems are another way to reduce dependence on the water grid. These are more expensive and require professional installation, but they are worth a look, especially if you live in a place with extreme seasonal change in weather.

To find out how many gallons you could be collecting with a rainwater harvesting system, estimate your catchment area (roof area) and your annual or monthly rainfall, then plug those numbers in here.

Finally, it should be noted that while some states encourage rainwater collection, others ban it. More on the legal specifics of rainwater collection here.

-Aidan Kelly

Photo Credit: Flickr/blhphotography, Flickr/Center for Neighborhood Technology, Flickr/regan76

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