A few months ago, I got a free rain barrel & kit from the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management after attending a short workshop.
I attended mainly because we were having drainage issues & standing water on the side of our house. I really didn’t want to install a french drain system or do any digging at all. Generic Internet research led me to rain gardens though, like most Internet solutions, the steps seemed *way* too involved for what was basically planting plants & increasing soil depth.
Either way, I went to the workshop and figured that a rain barrel would just be a nice bonus.
I had heard of rain barrels before. But I thought they took forever to fill up and were more of a potential nuisance than a truly useful tool.
But at the workshop, they shared the rain collection formula:
[Collection Area Square Footage] * 0.6 = # Gallons from 1 inch of rainfall.
That is a LOT of water.
And water is valuable. Living in Atlanta, we pay higher water rates than any other major US city. I am all for the water program. In a world in climate crisis, Atlanta must get our water & sewer system in shape not only to preserve our rivers but also to prepare for the projected millions more people that will move here over the coming decades. But for my personal budget…Atlanta water is crazy expensive.
So having free water for yard use sounded like an excellent win all around.*
*The City provides barrels to help take load off the sewer system during big rain events. Subsidized rain barrels are a whole lot cheaper than building bigger and bigger culverts.
Setting up the Rain Barrel
I honestly had no idea that much rain falls on our roof. The capture area would be around 500 square feet. But I still couldn’t believe the calculations until I set the barrel up.
The setup was incredibly easy. We got a kit (originally from Rain Barrel Depot) with a drill bit, faucet, pipe attachment, and gutter attachment.
We drilled two holes in the rain barrel. At the base, we attached the faucet according to instructions. When I got home, a made a level spot next to the gutter downspout that drains 1/3rd of our roof.
I placed 4 cinder blocks for an elevated base to make the faucet accessible for a bucket / watering can.
Then, I used the provided bit to drill a hole in the gutter down downspout a couple inches above the top of the rain barrel. I put the water capture piece inside the gutter, and ran the provided bendable pipe to the rain barrel.
Pretty straightforward. Rain hits the roof. Gutter routs it to the downspout. The little rubber piece catches most of the water and pipes it into the barrel. If the barrel is full, then you can turn the capture piece upside down, and water will flow out the downspout again.
And yes, the rain barrel gets full quickly. The day after setup, we got a 1/2 inch of rain.
And…the rain barrel was almost full.
What I Like
Free water. Sure, you can’t use it in the kitchen or for drinking. But all our baby trees (we’ve recently planted a Northern Red Oak, an American Elm, a Peach Tree, and a Ginkgo) all love water. That’s in addition to any newly planted, grass, clover, gardens and flowers. Also…young kids need plenty of mud to play in. Since the water is truly free, it’s much, much better on the monthly bill.
Backup water. Our water has gone out before due to power issues, pump issues, local water leaks, etc. It’s been surprisingly reassuring to always have 55 gallons of backup water. In a pinch, we can always tote it inside to flush toilets. Or, in a worse case, boil it for cleaning / drinking (e.g., when Hurricane Irma closed those grocery stores or when Snowpocalypse closed all the roads).
Better Drainage. The rain barrel completely solved our standing water issues. Instead of flowing out and standing for hours, that part of the yard can handle rain events much better.
Birds. Due to mosquito-threats & maintenance, we’ve never gotten a bird bath, even though we have a very active feeder in our yard. Some water pools up at the top of the barrel that I have to keep wiped off. However, before wiping it off, the birds make use of it to wash down their sunflower seed meals. It’s fun to watch and adds a bit to the habitat.
Expandable. The rain barrel system is simple to go as big or as small as you want. It made it easy to get started, though now we are looking at more to capture water from the rest of our roof.
Simple Maintenance. So far, maintenance means keeping our gutter clean (which needs to be done anyway). Resetting the downspout capture device occasionally to release any leaves and such. Keeping the top wiped off occasionally for mosquito prevention. And running the water down to the bottom to slosh it around and pour out any roof gravel or green algae. It stays much cleaner than I’d expected, and maintenance has been really simple.
What I Don’t Like
So. Much. Water. Again, I had no idea how much water that you could capture with a rain barrel. And 55 Gallons of water is a lot of water to use up on the yard. It’s a good problem to have, but certainly unexpected.
No Hose Pressure. This one is a bit ridiculous, because, you know, basic laws of physics. But you can’t attach a hose and expect any pressure at all. In fact, even if you want it to flow, you’ll need to arrange for a 1 to 8 slope for any trickle at all. I know some people plan out elegant drip irrigation with their rain barrel, but that is a bigger project than said, given the geography of the yard.
If you live in an area where you are allowed to use a rain barrel (e.g., not in the US Southwest), I highly recommend it. It’s not a huge investment, but I found it to be way more worthwhile than I had ever expected.
Worthwhile investment that wildly exceeded my expectations. Saves a lot of money on water & landscaping.