One thing worse than wasting a precious natural resource is paying for the privilege to do so. Watering your garden can be a large chunk of your water bill. Why pay for water when it falls freely from the sky? You can’t always count on the rain to keep your garden watered, so when it does rain, catch that precious water in a rain barrel to use when there is a dry spell.
Rain barrels aren’t a new green fad; they’ve been used for centuries, but as we become more environmentally conscious many homeowners are going back to this old-fashioned technology. An eco-friendly rain barrel can catch stormwater that runs off your roof, providing a free water supply for irrigation purposes. Rain water is naturally soft, without the chlorine and other chemicals found in municipal water supplies, and has few minerals. Ask anyone who has used rain water to wash their hair; they will tell you how soft and shiny the result is!
You can buy attractive wooden rain barrels with an old-fashioned appearance, or plastic rain barrels that aren’t as pretty but get the job done. Manufactured rain barrels will come with faucet fittings to allow you to hook up a garden hose so you can direct the water wherever you choose. Placed under a downspout, a rain barrel will fill up quickly in a heavy rain. On one rainy day, enough water can run off of your roof to fill several bathtubs!
If you’re truly eco-friendly, though, you will make your own rain barrel. This project is a great way to recycle food-grade plastic barrels. Be sure to use food-grade barrels, so toxic chemicals don’t leach out of the plastic into your free water supply. You’ll need to add your own faucet fittings which you can get at a hardware store, or salvage some from old plumbing. Place a mesh screen over the top of the barrel to keep out debris and insects (you don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes). The rain barrel should have a lid that fits snugly to keep small critters and children from falling in and drowning.
Rain barrels provide free water for your lawn and garden, but you might find other uses for your naturally soft water also. Besides washing hair, you may decide to fill up the bathtub, or wash the laundry, dishes, dog, or car. Granted, it may be a bit inconvenient to carry water inside the house, but think of the money and natural resources you are saving by your efforts. Your garden will benefit from the lack of chlorine in the water (chlorine can harm beneficial organisms in the soil), and the water will be warmer than outdoor tap water, which will also make your plants happy.
By capturing rain that runs off your roof, you are also helping to keep our lakes, streams, and rivers cleaner. Much of the pollution in our drinking water supply comes from storm water that rushes into streams and rivers, carrying lawn chemicals along with it. There are many other benefits to replacing your tap water with rain water:
• The low mineral content will keep your hair softer and won’t leave white spots on your dishes and automobile.
• Your sink and tub will stay cleaner because you won’t get so much mineral build-up.
• Since rain water is naturally soft you’ll need less detergent when washing dishes and laundry.
• Your dog will appreciate the warmer temperature of rainwater, instead of being washed with the frigid water from your garden hose, and his coat will be so soft and shiny!
• Fill the kiddy pool with water from your rain barrel; the kids won’t have to wait for the sun to warm it up, and they’ll have relatively toxin-free water to splash in.
• Capturing rainwater that runs off your roof will keep water from pooling around your foundation, causing erosion and damage.
• Use your rainwater to water your indoor plants and seedlings.
• In places where no plumbing is available, or if your municipal water supply is temporarily interrupted, you’ll have a ready supply of water.
One thing you probably won’t want to do with your free water supply is drink it or cook with it. Depending upon how much pollution is in your area, the raindrops will capture these chemicals as they fall, and the leaves on top of your roof will add tannin to the water and make it taste bad. If you are thirsty for some clean, fresh rainwater, you should wait until it has rained a few minutes and cleansed the air, then put a clean bowl out in the yard to catch the rain.