Rain Barrels

Thanh -- November 20th, 2009

Rain BarrelDo you know how much rain water can be collected off a 800 sq. ft. roof top during a 1-inch rainfall event? Answer: 500 gallons! And Harrisonburg receives an average of 36-inches per year which means the 800 sq. ft. rooftop has the potential to collect 18,000 gallons of water per year!

Rain barrels are one way you can collect rain water for use to water your plants (indoor and outdoor), conserve municipal water (and your well if you’re on one), reduce stormwater runoff and reduce flooding potential downstream, and save money.

Soaker Hose in Garden hooked up to a rain barrel. Gravity fed.

Soaker Hose in Garden hooked up to a rain barrel. Gravity fed.

There will be a rain barrel workshop hosted at Eastern Mennonite University on Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 6:30pm.  Four EMU students in Dr. Doug Neufeld’s Campus Environmental Audit Course have partnered with the City of Harrisonburg to host a “Build Your Own Rain Barrel” workshop. The workshop fee (and rain barrel to take home) is $40 . Workshop participants must  register by Friday, November 27, 2009.

Visit www.cleanstream.org for registration information (click link on the right of the homepage) and more information about local water quality. Click here to see my collection of rain barrel photos.

If you have a rain barrel already, how do you use the water?

9 Responses to “Rain Barrels”

  1. I have a rain barrel (that was created at the last workshop). I didn’t use a drop of tap water all spring/summer to water the vegetable garden. I was amazed at how fast it fills up when it rains.

    One thing I’m unsure of: do I drain it over the winter? Any change of causing damage to the barrel if the water freezes?

  2. Emmy says:

    I would love to do this but there is no place to put one at my apartment. Someday I will make one though!

  3. Renee says:

    I’m definitely considering one for the garden I’m planning to start in the spring. My yard has the right shape (slight downhill slope to the back) to use the gravity soaker hose method Thanh did.

    The garden in the photos looks almost exactly like I want mine to look – size, shape, type of plants. I know a lot of local people garden, maybe we can get a garden-how-to guest-blogger one of these weeks?

  4. Renee says:

    Brent, I don’t know about rain barrels and freezing specifically, but in most situations where there’s potential for damage, the most important thing is to drain it enough to leave room for the water to expand as it freezes so it doesn’t bust through any seams or attachments. Probably a good idea to open the faucet regularly!

  5. Thanh says:

    Brent, at my house my husband takes down the rain barrels every year around this time. He empties them and stores then upside-down or under or deck. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t bother. That’s only because I personally know a few people who have never taken down their rain barrel, and its been 2-5 years that they’ve had them. One of those people have never even emptied or clean their barrels out. I would recommend emptying and washing the barrels out at least once a year, only because sediment collects at the bottom and I’d like to wash that out. I think that there is some truth in the barrels lasting longer if you store them in the winter, but I think that’s years and years longer. The barrel you have is pretty heavy duty plastic. Also, I’ve read on blogs that a lot of people keep beta fish/gold fish in the rain barrels to eat the mosquitoes (they opt not to use the screen on top), and the fish survive in the barrel through the winters – I assume there’s enough water in the barrel that it doesn’t freeze the fish. Short answer, either way. Just my two cents.

  6. Thanh says:

    With my gardens (we had two garden beds this year), we couldn’t collect enough water with the two barrels we have (we had to use municipal/tap water a few times in the summer). We got two more barrels, but we haven’t hooked them up yet in the backyard.

    The soaker hose method is great. I think I read somewhere that soaker hoses longer than 50 ft long are ineffective (the pressure decreases), so we’re about maxed out with our soaker hose capacity with the two garden beds. We’re going to build a third garden bed, or try lasagna gardening for next year, so with the third “bed” will need another barrel and soaker hose for it.

    I even use the rain barrel water to fill watering cans and water our indoor plants and even bring water in a water bottle to water my plants at my (work) office. I’ve used the rain barrel water to rinse my hands when working outside (not perfectly clean hands, but I do it when I’m staying outside to do more yard work).

    As far as having a good impact on our streams and reducing downstream flooding, do remember to empty your full rain barrels on non-rainy days a day or so before the forecast is calling for rain. Then when it rains in a few days the barrels will fill back up. That way all the rain water isn’t flowing into the streams all at one time. Too much water flowing in the streams cause not just flooding, but also erosion of our streambanks, which too much of can have damaging effects on stream habitats and ecosystem.

  7. Thanh says:

    This is related to gardening too and I thought readers would be interested:

    “New Community Project is putting on another Mini-Greenhouse workshop!
    Sunday December 6th, from 1-4pm
    Harrisonburg, VA

    Learn how to build a simple and inexpensive greenhouse for your backyard. This will extend your growing season for local produce, make a great place to start your plants early in the spring and offer a green vibrant reprieve from the winter blues.

    $10 suggested donation

    If interested please contact;
    Beth Schermerhorn bethrosmalls [at] gmail.com

    We have 12 spots available so please let us know ASAP if you would like to attend!”

  8. eso says:

    I’ve always thought that must be huge amounts of bad bacteria and stuff growing in rain barrels.

    If you have a barrel that replaces part of the down-spout like in the picture, and you take the barrel down for the winter, you should replace the original down-spout or get some of that black tubing from Home Depot. You need to get the rain runoff away from your foundation so you don’t damage it.

  9. John Marr says:

    Actually the barrel in the picture has a diverter installed on the down-spout. The diverter can open and shut to allow water to either flow towards the barrel or continue it’s original path through the down-spout. No need to worry about the water pooling at the foundation.


    As far as bacteria, although I haven’t heard anything about bacteria and rain barrels I definitely don’t drink from mine. However, I’ve never noticed any weird smells or growths in any of them either. I just take them down once a year and clean them.

    I have heard of people experiencing problems with algae growth or mosquitos, but never bacteria. There are a wide range of solutions for the algae and mosquito problems. For example, dark colored barrels tend to limit algae growth. If that doesn’t work you can add a small amount of bleach to the barrel. http://www.ehow.com/how_5571450_prevent-algea-rain-barrels.html

    Mosquitos can be stopped by simply screening the top of the barrel.

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