Since Earth Day was this past weekend, conservation has been on our minds, especially water conservation. As they say, April showers bring May flowers – but what else can April showers bring? Well, if you’re using a rain barrel in your yard, quite a lot. We decided to investigate how rain barrels work and their role in water conservation.

Let it rain

What Is a Rain Barrel?

A rain barrel is an aboveground storage tank that collects rainwater from rooftop gutter downspouts. The water on the roof would otherwise be lost to runoff and routed to storm drains, streams, or other bodies of water, allowing the homeowners to use the runoff water for non-potable water needs (translation: anything you use water for that’s not drinking, like watering your lawn. As the water runs along your roof, it can collect pollutants or bacteria, so you definitely want to avoid drinking this stuff).

How Does A Rain Barrel Work?

In general, a rain barrel is pretty simple: set it up, and wait for it to rain!

Okay, we’ll go into a little more detail than that. Homeowners place the rain barrel underneath a rooftop gutter downspout, so water runs directly from the roof down the spout, landing in the rain barrel. Pro tip: Placing a screen on top of the rain barrel will catch any leaves or twigs that flow down from the roof, plus it’ll help deter mosquitos.

The rain barrel is set up on a platform a little above the ground so that water flows more easily. Some owners opt to add a spigot attachment to the bottom of the rain barrel that makes it easy to hook up a hose directly to the rain barrel.

What Can I Use My Rain Barrel For?

Like we mentioned before, you can use water from your rain barrel for anything that doesn’t involve you drinking the rainwater. The most popular uses of rain barrel water involve watering your lawn or flower garden, mostly because those are the highest contributors to water costs in a household. You can also use recycled rainwater to water a vegetable garden, but experts recommend keeping the flow of rainwater close to the ground so it avoids contact with anything you’ll eventually eat (plus, you should always wash your homegrown veggies thoroughly before eating them).

Other potential uses of rain barrel water: washing your car and pets (admit it, Fido doesn’t get as many baths as he should), washing the outside of your home’s windows, hosing down the driveway, and generally impressing the neighborhood with your eco-friendly lifestyle.


Now, some cities and states have regulations surrounding rain barrels, so make sure you know what’s allowed and what’s not in your area. If for some reason your city doesn’t allow rain barrels, at least you know that your glass drinking bottle is a surefire way to be environmentally conscious.

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