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Down here in Texas we don’t see a lot of rainfall, so something with this large of a footprint would be utterly ridiculous to maintain, but other parts of the world might be a different story. The idea is to save that rainwater and find other uses for it.

Systems like this range from the pretty simple to the absurd. Our big questions:  Does anybody do this, and how well does it work for you? Collecting rainwater from the gutter into a bucket with a spigot could be a spiffy way to get some clean water — or a fast way to gather some watered-down bird poop in a big tub. We’re not sure one way or the other.

Is this a gift from the environment or just another way to add a clunky collector to the side of the house? Let us know in comments.

Rainwater Collection [Fiskars]
Street Pricing [Google Products]


41 Responses to Hot or Not? Rainwater Collection System

  1. Kurt Schwind says:

    HOT. I live in the midwest, and we get more than our fair share of water (especially last year when we had flooding), but the summer months get kind of lean and I have a garden. Why not use the spring rain for summer watering?

  2. Greg Smtih says:

    HOT. Why spray treated water meant for drinking on your lawn.

  3. tscheez says:

    Hot, looks better than some rigged up system for collecting the water.

  4. jonno says:

    I had a rain barrel system at my house. Truth be told, I found it kind of useless although I really, really wanted it to be awesome. Here’s why it didn’t work:

    1) A barrel only holds so much water, so it can only store a few days’ worth of garden water before it goes dry.
    2) When do you most need garden water? The dry season. When does it not rain? The dry season.
    3) When it’s full and you intend to water, the pressure is low so you can’t use a hose or sprinkler. You mostly end up lugging watering cans, which sucks after about the fourth trip. If you could mount it high up, on the roof maybe, it would be much more practical. But then how would you get the rain into the barrels?

    The midwest might be a better fit for these, since you get summer storms that could fill up your barrels in an afternoon, thus giving you several convenient refills during the dry season. But I live in Oregon, where it rains all the time November-May but hardly at all during the summer. So I had these big, ugly rain barrels taking up space and overflowing for seven months of the year but could only use to water the garden one time in early summer. After that, I had to use the hose every time I needed to water because the barrels weren’t going to fill up until autumn.

    Rain barrels are a great idea in theory but don’t really deliver in practice unless you have room for a lot of them and a way to pressurize the watering system.

  5. scubasteve says:

    Not Hot. At all.

    Water, where I live, is cheap. And there’s a reason for that.

    In northern Virginia, I believe that we pay about $10 for every 1,000 gallons we consume. I dont believe there are many jurisdictions that deviate wildly from that.

    The larger of these cisterns holds about 50 gallons. The street pricing link shows that the cheapest 50 gallon class product you can buy costs roughly $150.

    Since I pay a penny per gallon for my municipal water, each full cistern would save me $.50

    Assuming I can fully cycle the tank 30 times a year, it would take me 10 years at a 0% discount rate to recoup my cost for the product.

    That said, I don’t have a 0% discount rate, and neither does anyone else, making the cost far higher. Not to mention the increased cost for me to deal with a low pressure spigot that the thing has, extra hoses, maintenance, etc.

    “But you are saving the environment by using it!”

    Not really. Remember the cheap municipal water? There really is a reason for that. And that reason is because water isn’t scarce. Its abundant. Unbelievably so.

  6. David Bryan says:

    Saying that rainwater collection doesn’t make as much sense where you don’t get much rain doesn’t make much sense to me. That ain’t no big footprint item. A big footprint item would be several above-ground cisterns, which people have sometimes where there’s not much rain. When you get a lot of rain, rain isn’t necessarily as valuable to you, but when you don’t get much, you want to make the most of it. Greg Etc. there has a good point as well– chlorinated water isn’t that great to use for irrigation. Brad Lancaster here in Tucson has several books out on rainwater harvesting– google his name and you can find all kinds of information. And my daddy always kept a rainbarrel out for clean water to use for all sorts of things around the house.

  7. jeff says:

    HOT. I wouldn’t buy one but have a free source of plastic 55 gallon barrels. Put it up on a couple landscape blocks for some elevation and run the hose to the garden. Open the tap and let it trickle in there. Easy.

  8. Adrian says:

    Jeff, you live anywhere near Boston? I’d love some free barrells!

  9. jeff says:

    Sorry, Minnesota. If you know any farmers outside the city a bit, they usually have a number of barrels that their herbicide comes in. Just make sure you clean them out really well or the first few barrels might not help your plants grow.

  10. BJN says:

    Rain collection is illegal in Utah. Rainfall is property of the State. Sux.

  11. Zathrus says:

    As BJN says, in many states in the Mountain West US it’s illegal — you do not own the water that falls on your own property. Not even the stuff that falls on your roof. Water management is a serious issue there.

    As for scubasteve — enjoy it while it lasts. We used to have tons of rain and plentiful water here in Georgia. Historically Atlanta, GA got more rainfall (in inches) than Portland, OR or Seattle, WA. But now we’ve had several years of drought, to the point where our main lake reservoirs were down to the critical point and outdoor watering was completely banned (and it wasn’t clear that even outdoor pools would be allowed water). That’s what a couple decades of massive growth plus climate change will do to you.

    Haven’t gone for the rain barrel bit myself yet, but it’s something we keep considering. I know it won’t water my lawn (not that I do anyway), but it would be nice for my wife’s tomatoes and pepper plants in the summer. And soaker hoses don’t need all that much water pressure anyway.

  12. Justin says:

    Just like any other process, you won’t realize a substantial benefit unless it is designed and implemented well. The system shown in the picture above is too close to the ground to produce much head, but the narrow-ness of the reservoir is indicative of the designer somewhat addressing this issue. I would imagine that this being used well would require that estimate the rainfall and consider the size of your room, based on those figures, you could determine how much water you could be expected to gain from the system. Leaving a large amount of water in a barrel can rather quickly result in rancid mess, so I would guess that it would be a good idea to have a planned use for it. Zathrus’ wife’s tomatoes and pepper plants sound like a great application to me.

  13. PeterP says:

    Yeah, Atlanta is finding out the hard way that you cannot grow infinitely without investing in infrastructure, like, say, reservoirs. I think if I built a house here now I would seriously consider installing a large underground storage tank to catch all of the rainwater from the roof.

  14. John E. says:

    @scubasteve – I am in NOVA too. Apparently you don’t get out of the house much because every summer of late, we have been under water restrictions due to drought.

    This is just one example of a news item I found with a quick google search:

    ABC 7 News – Fairfax City Imposes Water Restriction

    * Regional Officials Urge Water Conservation
    * Water Shortage in Loudoun County

    Fairfax City is joining other northern Virginia jurisdictions by imposing voluntary water restrictions, prompted by “very low levels of water” in the city’s reservoirs.

    The restrictions apply to all Fairfax City residents, but not to Fairfax County residents.

    The following actions are prohibited:
    -Watering lawns and shrubs
    -Washing automobiles
    -Using water-demanding amenities such as ornamental ponds or pools
    -Wasting domestic or household water through misuse or plumbing leaks The city also asks residents to conserve water by taking shorter showers and using the dishwasher or washing machine only with a full load.

  15. Ray says:

    Just a thought to mull around. If you are under water restrictions in your community, and served by a reservoir. Isn’t harvesting rain that would runoff your land into the streams/reservoir just as bad for your community/the environment as watering your lawn with water from your tap?

    Just a thought.

  16. KMR says:

    Guess, I’ll never live in Utah… illegal to collect the rain water that falls on my own roof, nuts. Are you allowed to breathe the air in your house?

  17. thevince says:

    I live in a suburb of Toronto, Canada. The regional government (York Region) started a program of water conservation and so they sold us similar rain-barrels for really cheap (i.e. subsidized).

    My experience is hit and miss. Like @jonno says, depending on how you mounted the barrel you don’t get enough water pressure to use a sprinkler. I use it to either water the lawn during dry weeks of the summer, and also to water the plants on my porch. For the latter I had to lug water (the 5 gallon bucket from HomeDepot) from the yard to the front. Not fun.

    Also, here in the great white North, I have to pack it in for the winter. That means dumping the contents on my lawn, flip the barrel upside-down for storage (frozen water means the barrel will be cracked and useless next season) and run a hose from the shortened down-sprout so the melt water from snow (or the occasional rain in the winter) will drain away from the house.

    Yeah and I second the point about having a plan to use the collected water. If you leave it in the barrel for long, algae and crud starts to grow in your water and that water will not be so good for your plants anymore.

  18. Bill says:

    Agree on the no-rain-when-you-need-to-water-most syndrome. If it rained regularly but not quite often enough, the barrels might work. But obviously you can’t get a month’s worth of irrigation out of these things.

    But I was thinking about getting one to collect soft water for our wick-type humidifiers, which scale up quickly on our extremely hard city water.

  19. paganwonder says:

    A LARGE underground cistern and pump would work well. Just don’t get caught installing it in Colorado. Water is VERY valuable where it is scarce.

  20. kif says:

    There is talk of coming legislation that would allow these in Colorado and I say FINALLY! Western water law is based in stupidity, even western states fight between themselves. It only makes lawyers richer. And yes, there are law firms that base their practice on water. I can understand the need to secure the rights to irrigation resources, but the notion that small amounts of rain carry property rights for someone is plain dumb. Especially when you consider that you are releasing it back anyway, not hording it forever. Am I a law breaker when I get caught in the rain and ring my shirt out in the sink?

    Anyone who has moved to a western state has no doubt experienced the “I was here first, and I am always more entitled than you” mentality. “And, by the way, I am veeery greedy!”

    By that logic, shouldn’t we be paying Indians for water?

  21. ScaryFast says:

    My mom and stepfather own a campground and a retirement mobile home park up here in Canada. Many of the mobile home owners have had water barrels behind their homes as far back as I can remember. Some of them have large white tanks out back that both down pipes feed into. It’s not your typical mobile home park with run down ancient hulks, most of the lots are landscaped with gardens and stuff throughout which is what the water is used for.

    I noticed this past summer that my stepfather added a huge white tank behind his garage. He uses this water on the roads in the park to keep the dust down. My mom might use it to water her outdoor plants but I’m not sure.

  22. gumball says:

    Can’t collect rain water in Utah but you can collect wives

  23. Manny says:

    Never put much thought into a rain water collection system. Being from Vancouver B.C. , we live in an actual rainforest here so it doesn’t make sense to me why someone would use that here. I guess this product would be hot in only certain towns/cities where applicable. Don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate this planets #1 resource and and do my little part in saving it even though it falls on my head 250 – 300 days a year.

  24. Brau says:

    Not. 1. Could never hold enough water to be truly useful to a gardener unless it were the size of a house. 2. No water pressure. 3. Only full when I need it the least. 4. Becomes a tank full of mosquitos within weeks. 5. Tap at bottom plugs up with debris.

  25. bidwell says:

    More Hot than Not. I live in an area that didn’t really plan for increased growth when it came to their reservoirs. So when we have any drought it’s pretty severe. Well, I also live not too far from Mt. Olive. They offer used 55 gallon pickle barrels for $5 a barrel. That plus around $10 in hardware and I have my own homemade rain barrels. I basically bought some spigots, washers, marine cement and some of that inch and half tubing used for sump pumps (for the overflow). I already had some leftover screen material (you want to keep the mosquitoes out). The barrels fill up fast. After you have the water, you’ll want to get one of those soak hoses and take the pin hole washer out of it.
    The not hot part…. well right now, it’s not so hot outside…. So having to go drain them in the winter is a pain. If I were building a place, I’d definitely would put in an underground cistern.

  26. Jay Pyatt says:

    If you are paying for something that you can build yourself, you are on the wrong site. I used an old trash can (35 gallon plastic type) and about $2 worth of PVC, I even had an overflow tube. I then put some screen mesh over a hole in the lid of the can, this kept out the crap and bugs. I cut off my downspout and put the can right there. I would say that you should try it just to see if it will work for you. We used it for about 3 years until we moved.

  27. Shopmonger says:

    Way Hot……
    This is where we all start being mroe green. We use the water so it does not have to come from treatment plants that use caustic chemicals to clean water work drinking. I know that not all water treatment is bad for enviornemnt but this was is as clean as it can be…..expecially if you use bins from recycled plastic …. or even better recycled rum barrels

  28. Pencilneck says:

    room temp… I can get free barrels, not a problem. I work at a car dealer and the detail dept gets some chemicals in 55gal barrels that are not reused. A good rinse and I’ve got a free plastic barrel. I’ve made a couple of them for my house at the beginning of winter and let it takes very litttle rain to fill them up, much less than I ever expected.

    However, once you have a full rain barrel, unless you have it way uphill or a pump, you are going to be doing a lot of manual transporting of the water. There is not much water pressure. It cost me less than $20 per barrel for bits and pieces, but with the cost of water being next to nothing, it isn’t about cost, but rather a project to see what I could do and then improve upon. Now if you had something like a 500 gal tank buried in your yard with a pump, then you got something special. Duel plumbing in the house, toilets flush on rain water… who knows… or if you could filter the crap out if. A lot of water does come down the gutters…..

    Long and short, making a rain barrel is done for the making it, not for any real benefits of having it.

  29. austin says:

    Hot . . . I’m in Iowa, lots of towns in our area charge for sewer – calculated by how much water you use and that rate (and water too) is expected to go up with new federal mandates for waste treatment. So irrigation has a hidden cost. At our old house we were fortunate to have a working cistern with a hand pump and I had my barrel set up to refill the cistern. Yes hauling watering cans around can be a pain – just think of the added benefit of exercise. I WOULD NOT pay what these places are asking for a simple rain barrel. I made my own for less than $30. I got the barrel from a local car wash, and used tank fittings found at the local farm & home store. I then made my own lid with a screen to filter out debris and keep the mosquitos out – This is an EASY diy project. There are lots of considerations for placement – avoiding the gutters that are always filling up with leaves, and hiding the barrel behind a fence or deck. The only manufactured part I could ever imagine buying is one of the diverter/overflow contraptions that fit on the downspout. It’s can be really hard to handle overflow when you get a serious downpour, and having all that water next to the foundation is obviously not a great thing.

  30. Big Dave says:

    I have two 50 gallon rain barrels specifically designed for this. They sit two feet off the ground on landscape bricks, so I get reasonable enough pressure for short hose runs. These barrels were sold by the county extension office at 50% off retail. They are set up to gather rain from the downspouts from my roof gutters. In a good rain, they fill up very, very quickly. In a slow rain they just fill up quickly.
    They are covered, so skeeters don’t breed. Also, they are hardy enough to not crack in our freezing winters, so I don’t have to drain them. (10 degrees Fahrenheit today) I’ve had them twelve years now and would not give them up for anything. If the extension office offers them again, I will buy two more, so I have one on each corner of my home. They are dark green and pretty much blend in with the evergreen trees and disappear.
    I do NOT believe in watering lawns. I chose hardy grass and let it acclimate to the area over the years. It takes patience, but eventually you have a yard that looks OK in any season. I DO water the things we eat, like berry bushes, fruit trees, vegetables, etc. And, I will admit that, occasionally, in a drought, I will water the irises and peonies I love so much.

  31. MikeP says:

    It only takes 1 inch of rain fall on a 1000 sq ft roof to produce roughly 550 gallon of water. I don’t know what part of Texas you live in, but in Austin, we get enough of rain to fill several of these barrels.

    And there are several reasons to harvest rain, storing for drought conditions, offset water usage for those that live in areas that water is not cheap, prevent water pollution by slowing the runoff into storm sewers that carry pesticides and what not into the water table, etc.

    Water is expensive to clean both in terms of money and energy cost and chemical and waste pollution. Water may be cheap in your area, but that could be because the cost is being charged to you on the backend through taxes that pay for government subsidies. And, recent history shows that droughts are becoming more common and they are expected to become more widespread. Fresh water is a premium on this planet no matter what you may think. Water may be cheap for you now, but that will not always be the case.

    Also those of you who live in the Northwest might be aware of how runoff has detrimentally affected the Puget Sound. By harvesting rain water and releasing it slowly, the ground has time to soak it up and not become overly saturated causing runoff to carry pesticides and fertilizers into your drinking water or contaminating wildlife eco-systems

    If done right and designed for what you are using it for, and by that I mean you actually put more thought in it than slapping a barrel under your down spout, you can get a lot of use out of rain harvesting.

  32. russ says:

    So if rainfall is property of the state of Utah does this mean they pay for any hail damage you may get? Do they shovel the snow off of your driveway? What about flooding? I don’t see how any court can support such a law termed as coming from an “Act of God”. Of course the courts do funny things these days.

  33. Sunil Mehta says:

    Rainwater systems can make sense in Texas. Texas A&M has published a study just where in Texas it makes sense to have a rainwater system (where the cost of the system will be paid for by saved water). For example, generally east of Austin a rainwater system will pay for itself. Of course, with Austin raising the price of water dramatically, I bet that’ll change. Worth checking out Aggie research before you make a decision.

  34. paganwonder says:

    Back to western water law- many states sold water rights decades ago, so the ‘rain’ that falls on your roof is claimed by someone downstream, therefore, you may not retain or impede the water’s progress downstream.

  35. Aussie says:

    Right idea, a bit small though. The smallest tank we do is 75 Gallons up to 7500 Gallons. Around here, it’s considered a good idea to put in a pair.

  36. tj says:

    As a geologist of the midwest, I know better than most just how dire a water crisis we may be facing in the next 2 decades. The Ogallala Aquifer is drying up and the way recharge works, if you let it run of into the gutter, it will be hurting the natural recharge because the gutters and storm sewers cart water off into what accounts to holding ponds and bayus. The majority of these bodies of water will end up contributing somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% – 30% (if they are on a falt zone, have a porous rock substrate, and have cloudy or overcast weather. Generally our reservours in the midwest have evaporation rates pushing on and past 90% during the warm months. So collect that rain and pour it into the ground for your plants where only around 30% will be volatalized by evapotransperation and the rest will start its long journey to the aquifer.

  37. tj says:

    ps, if your in New Mexico or one of its surrounding states, you might want to check your water laws. Their a little strict for ancient legal reasons. If your in Texas however, your generally safe.

  38. jeff says:

    @tj – I was thinking the same thing about watering the plants. It eventually gets to the same place so I have no clue why the western states care so much. Besides, it would be a minuscule amount of the total rainfall that would be delayed in barrels. A handful of home owners won’t disrupt the water flow that much.

  39. darels says:

    Our farm in Missouri has plenty of rain in the winter and early spring, but pretty much dries up after June (not so much last year, but the 3 before were brutal).
    I bought a 550 gallon tank from Tractor Supply, mounted it on a heavy-duty trailer I already had. Ran a length of gutter and downspout along one side of the barn roof, draining into the tank. I found a deal on a 1500 gallon tank, set it on the ground at the other end of the barn, fed from the same gutter and another downspout.
    Starting in July, I haul the (now full) tank on the trailer across the valley to the uphill side of my new orchard. A battery-operated water timer and low-flow emitters have helped the new little trees survive; they probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
    Every 3 or 4 weeks, I haul the empty tank back, and fill it from the big tank. By the time I’m out of water, it’s usually about time for the fall rains to start.
    The water table is deep and dropping up there, and our well is pretty old, so we’re thinking when we move up full-time we’ll get some larger tanks to supplement the well water. There’s actually plenty of rain, it just falls so seasonably that you have to have a way to store a lot.

  40. page says:

    I am looking for a rainwater catchment systems designer in Seattle. I have 3 barrels which aren’t much use —need re-design.

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