Rain Barrels

Install a rain barrel to increase resilience to climate change and conserve water!

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In urban settings, rain barrels are used to collect rain and conserve water. Although rain water is sometimes overlooked as a freshwater resource, the collection of runoff can increase the resiliency of a property while conserving water for various uses.

The water collected can be reused for watering gardens, lawns, indoor plants, setting up bird baths as well as washing your car and other outdoor cleaning. In some cases, the water has been used for passive solar hot water heating and cooling systems! 

Collecting rainwater reduces household and outdoor water usage while also redirecting water that would otherwise runoff into storm sewers. Installation of a rain barrel can help to combat localized flooding which will continue to be a challenge as a result of climate change. In Saint John, climate models suggest a change in precipitation trends resulting in more rain days and  less snowy days. Overall, larger quantities of precipitation are expected by 2100. With these predictions in mind, a rain barrel can be effective to reduce potential for flooding and build climate resilience. 

Installing a rain barrel also encourages sustainable conservation habits. Most rain barrels are a minimum volume of 220 L which can fill in approximately 15 minutes. This estimation will depend on the size of the roof, rainfall intensity and size of the rain barrel. Observing the quantity of water being collected in a single rainfall event can provide awareness around water resources and develop conscious conservation attitudes!

Have fun with your rain barrel! In Newfoundland, Northeast Avalon ACAP (NAACAP) have promoted a DIY Rain Barrel that can be decorated with your own design. This can be a family event and will add unique character to your backyard. 

D.I.Y. Simple Rain Barrel (30 minutes – 2 hours)

1. Choose a container to use as your barrel. This could be a plastic garbage can, recycled plastic drums or any other large container you have on hand. Some restaurants and businesses will use plastic drums for shipping vegetable oil or soaps, and may be willing to donate or sell their leftover drums. If using a recycled drum, ensure that the material that was stored previously will not harm the environment. If you will be using the rain barrel to water vegetables, make sure that it is graded as food safe. After acquiring the desired container or barrel, all that’s needed are the parts and tools:

ACAP Saint John rain garden and rain barrel demonstration.

ACAP Saint John rain garden and rain barrel demonstration.

Tools

  • Drill (plus bits to make holes for spigot and downspout/mesh)

  • Caulking gun

  • Scissors/box-cutter 

  • Wrench

Parts

  • Spigot ($5 – 15)

  • Washer (inner rubber, washer optional) ($0.25 – 1)

  • Waterproof caulking/waterproof glue ($10 - $20)

  • Nut (to spigot specifications)($0.25 – 3)

  • Downspout attachment/Very fine mesh or landscaping fabric ($10 – 20)

  • Optional hose attachment for spigot ($5 - $15)

2. Drill a hole on the side of the barrel near the bottom such that the spigot fits snugly.

3. Place the washer onto the back of the spigot, apply caulking to the washer, and insert the back of the spigot into the hole with the caulk facing the barrel.

4. Some rain barrels attach directly to the gutter spout of a home, others simply collect water from rainfall, and some use a combination of the two.

a. Direct gutter spout attachment – Cut a hole on the top of the barrel at the opposite end from where the spigot was placed. The downspout attachment should fit snugly into the hole (much easier with a circle shaped downspout attachment). Now caulk around where the attachment meets the barrel for a waterproof seal.

b. Mesh over holes – Cut large holes into the top of the barrel such that it has a suitable area to collect water. Next cut out the very fine mesh or landscaping fabric with the intention of adhering them tightly to the underside of the hole that was cut. This creates a barrier for unwanted pests, such as mosquitoes. Alternatively, if the barrel or plastic garbage being used has a removable lid, simply drape a swath of mesh/fabric over the mouth of the container and close the lid over it.

     c. Combination – Some variations of rain barrel employ both methods of collection, placing their mesh/fabric top barrel under (but not attached to) the gutter spout.

5. Place a small platform or concrete blocks at the desired rain barrel location, giving it enough height to comfortably place a watering can underneath the spigot. Place and enjoy your new rain barrel! If using the direct attachment method, make sure to adjust the current gutter spout to work with the height of the rain barrel. If desired, a hose attachment may be placed on the watering end of the spigot.

6. If in an area with a considerable amount of rain or low barrel usage, an overflow system can be constructed to manage excess water. It may be as simple as cutting a hole in the side of the barrel near the top and adhering mesh/fabric on the inside of the hole.

Photo: JLPC / Wikimedia Commons

Photo: JLPC / Wikimedia Commons

Maintenance

Maintenance of the rain barrel itself is simple and hassle free:

  • Remove any leaves or debris that might accumulate along the water collection area. For rain barrels with a mesh covered top, this is easy to spot. However, for barrels connected directly to a gutter spout, cleaning the leaf trap located in the gutter may be necessary.

  • After extended periods of usage is recommended to empty the barrel and clean the inside with your preferred choice of mild soap. Remember to be careful with the soap that is used: heavy-duty soaps with harsh chemicals or antibacterial soaps may harm plants, soil and the environment.

  • If a large amount algal growth is present inside the barrel, a diluted mixture of about ¼cup of bleach per 1 liter of water can be used. Remember to effectively rinse the rain barrel before continued use.

  • If the rain barrel begins to crack, sealing the hole with caulking or epoxy may be an option. Remember to make sure that the product used is waterproof.

Preparing a Rain Barrel for Winter

Due to the freezing and expansion of water, leaving a rain barrel out during the winter can result in cracks. To prevent this, one may simply drain the barrel and store it inside. For those opting to keep the barrel outside, a few additional steps may be necessary:

  • Disconnect the spigot and leave the valve open.

  • Disconnect the downspout attachment, then reattach the previous gutter downspout.

  • Turn the barrel upside-down to prevent any water from collecting inside.

  • Place the barrel in a protected area or tie to a tree.

Sources:

Green Building Alliance. (2016). Rain Barrels and Rainwater Tanks. Online: https://www.go-gba.org/resources/green-building-methods/rain-barrels/

The Ecology Center. (2019). Water. Online: https://www.theecologycenter.org/water/

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