Rain Barrels: Your Questions Answered

Two brown colored rain barrels.
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With April showers come May flowers, and rain barrels can help keep your gardens blooming and our local streams and rivers clean! Looking to install a rain barrel at home? Here are some frequently asked questions answered by our Restoration and Herring Run Nursery staff.

Q: What are rain barrels? 

A: Rain barrels are containers that collect rainwater from your roof downspouts. They come in a variety of shapes in sizes, and typically hold 50-60 gallons of water. Harvesting rainwater in this way allows for it to be used for non-potable purposes later on. Any rainwater that exceeds the capacity of your rain barrel is directed back to the downspout, so there is no need to worry about rain barrels overflowing. Containers that are larger than rain barrels are called cisterns.

A rain barrel with rain from a downspout flowing into it.

Q: Why are rain barrels a good investment?

A: Rain barrels help reduce stormwater runoff that overwhelms our degraded pipes and contributes to sewage overflows. Depending on your topography, it may also reduce runoff to your neighbor’s property (which they are sure to appreciate). Lastly, it benefits your bank account because it provides a free water source that can be used for household maintenance in place of city drinking water. Here are just a few ways you can use harvested rainwater around the house:

  • Irrigate your garden
  • Wash your car
  • Cleaning outdoor furniture
  • Refill bird baths and fish ponds

A woman pictured next to two white rain barrels.

Q: Where can I buy a rain barrel? How can I build one at home?

A: You can buy a rain barrel at Herring Run Nursery. We sell 55-gallon DIY barrel kits for $65 and pre-assembled barrels for $85. Check out this video on our Facebook page to see how you can build one at home!  Kits Include: 

  • Barrell (food grade only!) 
  • Drain assembly 
  • Rubber hose gasket
  • Flex tube 
  • Diverter 
  • Cap
  • Self-tapping screws (2)

 

Here’s the tools you’ll need:

  • Power Drill
  • ⅞ inch paddle bit 
  • 1-inch hole saw bit
  • 1” inch pipe threader
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Razor blade/ box cutter
  • Round metal file or coarse sandpaper
  • 2” hole saw bit, OR awl and tin snips (to make hole in downspout for diverter)
  • Level

If you are interested in capturing as much water as possible, you may want to consider linking multiple barrels together to increase your storage capacity.  When linking barrels, you would need all of the same parts and tools except additional diverters, caps, and self-tapping screws.

Q: How do I maintain a rain barrel?

A: There are different types of rain barrel setups that require slightly different maintenance regimens. The maintenance described here refers to the rain barrels we sell at Herring Run Nursery, which are fully enclosed systems as pictured above.

The benefit of an enclosed system is it prevents mosquitoes from entering and laying eggs in the standing water. There are a variety of tactics to prevent mosquitoes in other rain barrel systems too by using tools like screens and natural insecticide. 

As Needed

  • Regularly clean your gutters to prevent debris and sediment build-up in your barrel.
  • Utilize your harvested water within a week or so after it rains so it’s not standing for too long and enabling algae growth. A small amount of algae isn’t bad and can actually provide a fertilizer boost for your garden, but too much can stink up and stain your barrel. Having a darker barrel or painting your barrel a darker color can also prevent algae by blocking UV light.
  • If you’re travelling for an extended period, remember to open the spigot of your barrel slightly so it can drain slowly if it rains.
  • Every once in a while check out your rain barrel in a storm to make sure it’s functioning like it should.

Seasonally

  • Rain barrels should be disconnected from your downspout before the first freeze each year, and then reconnected in the spring. This ensures that no water enters your barrel and then expands when it freezes, causing your barrel to crack.
  • When you disconnect your barrel for the winter, this is a great time to give it a cleaning. Spray water inside your barrel with a garden hose and use a non-toxic substance like vinegar to flush out any algae stains or residue inside.     

 

Pictured: Rain barrel painted by Rev. Jim Muratore at St. Luke’s Church on the Avenue. Photo credit: John Marra.

Q: I think rain barrels are kind of ugly. What can I do about that?

A: Rain barrels come in all different shapes and colors. The types we sell at Herring Run Nursery are typically blue or white barrels, and there are many creative ways to spruce them up!

Painting your barrel using stencils or your imagination is a great family-friendly activity, and it can also prevent algae growth by blocking UV light. If your rain barrel catches your neighbors’ attention, maybe they’ll consider investing in one too! That’s the kind of trend we want to catch on for the benefit of our local streams and rivers. 

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