Rain barrels are becoming more and more popular. The increased interest can be ecological (saving resources) or economical (saving money). Cathy insists that the rainwater we collect is better for the garden than our tap water, yet another reason. Since we were forced to connect to our municipal sewer system, my interest is economical.
While the evidence that rain water is better than tap may be anecdotal, rainwater has been shown to contain traces of elements that your garden needs. A study conducted in 2004 at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota concluded the following- "While it is impossible to make many definitive conclusions on the nature of rainwater throughout the United States, we discovered that rainwater usually contains chloride, nitrate, and sulfate anions, whereas phosphate and nitrite anions were less prevalent. Chloride concentrations correlate with proximity to oceans, which are rich in salt."
There are many products available commercially for collecting rainwater. The prices for these products range to several hundred dollars. Since they are all basically the same, a container and some sort of attachment to your home's gutter system, the selection process if you want to purchase one of these products comes down to cost and aesthetics.
If you choose to undertake your own rain barrel construction project, the task can be easily accomplished for under $50.00. The largest cost will be the barrel itself. They can be purchased new or recycled for around $20 to $30. The second most expensive part can be the diverter that attaches to your downspout if you choose to use one.
The project is reasonably simple so it can be performed by those with rudimentary skills and with tools usually in any workshop- a drill with a spade bit are the most complicated tools necessary. There are many sites on the internet that have detailed instructions for building your own rainwater collection system, so we won't go into details here. Search on rain barrels and you will find a design that suits your skill level. Some companies offer complete kits as well as individual components. Beyond the barrel and the diverter, most of the other components can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Our only caution is that water weighs 8.3 lbs (3.76 kg) per gallon. A full barrel can weigh over 400 lbs! You will want to be sure that what the barrel sits on will withstand that much weight. It should also sit high enough to place your favorite watering can underneath it.
A more recent development is that cities are starting to regulate rain barrels, ostensibly as a public health issue. Improperly constructed systems that are open to the environment can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The plans and sources listed below do not have this problem.
Here are some sources for rain barrels and accessories-
How to sites-
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