Collecting rainwater may be something we associate with farming practices or large scale water recycling operations, but as more people look for viable eco friendly ways to reduce water costs, rainwater collection has become more popular for homeowners and businesses. Rainwater collection is the practice of collecting rain, usually from roof runoff or from a non-permissible surface. Systems can be as simple as rain collection barrels or as involved as cysteines that can collect rainwater to supply an entire household’s water demand. Rainwater collection can be a simple way for homeowners to reduce their water costs and become more self-sufficient.
There are many benefits of collected rainwater. Rainwater is relatively clean, it is free, and helps you conserve water that you’d otherwise be buying. Collecting rainwater may also help with drainage, if you have areas of your property that have poor drainage when it rains, having a collection system may help mitigate flooding or oversaturation of water to the yard.
Rainwater for irrigation is also a common practice. Collected rainwater can be beneficial as an irrigation source because it contains minerals that city municipal water does not; it also does not have the chlorine that city water does. Rainwater systems can be directly integrated into an irrigation system to make it easy to water plants with collected water. Rainwater systems are also a great backup to city or well water in case of emergencies.
There are many non-potable uses for rainwater. Rainwater can be used to wash cars, clean outdoor areas/powerwashing, filling your swimming pool/ponds or fountains, and use non-potable appliances such as toilets or washing machines. At the farm we use our freshwater fish ponds as natural rainwater collection systems. When it rains, the water level in the pond increases. This replaces the water lost from evaporation and other external sources, meaning that we have to fill the ponds with city water less often. We can then either leave this extra water in the pond or use it for irrigating the lawn or our planting beds. We also have a Berkey water filter which is able to filter rainwater into potable water. Having this filter ensures that if there was ever an emergency or need to leave the municipal water system, water from the ponds could be converted into drinking water. The Berkey is a smaller tabletop filter that is a great option if you want the ability to convert rainwater to potable water without installing a system that is directly tied to your rainwater catchment system. Depending on the system you use, rainwater can also be directed to your home’s non-potable systems, which can help significantly reduce your water costs.
There are different rainwater collection systems to consider. One of the most basic systems is using a rainwater barrel; this method is easy to install and maintain, you simply install the barrel below the downspout of your gutters. This system is smaller which can be a benefit for smaller spaces, but it is at a disadvantage in terms of capacity, holding only about fifty to one hundred gallons. The larger systems are either a dry or wet tank system. The dry system will be located next to your home and follows the same concept as the barrel system- the water flows directly from the gutter to the storage tank. The wet system uses the gutter systems and underground collection pipes to collect rainwater from all possible sources; this means that much more rainwater can be collected and that it is especially beneficial for areas that experience snowfalls. The wet system is the most expensive option, but it offers the most possible rainwater collection, thus making it the best option for those homeowners that wish to rely heavily on rainwater for their home’s water demand. All rainwater collection systems work slightly differently, using gravity/indirect gravity or direct/indirect pumping. Depending on the capacity of the system, filtration necessary, what the water is being used for, and how it is connected to the home, the price of the system will vary.
There are many important things to consider before deciding what rainwater catchment system is best for you! At the farm, we are located in a region with limited annual precipitation, so for our needs, having a retaining pond system allows us to benefit from the very intermittent rain we receive.
What to Consider when Choosing a Water Catchment System:
- How much annual precipitation does your region receive. An easy way to calculate the amount of rainwater that you could possibly collect is as follows: for every one inch of rainwater and one thousand square feet of impermeable surfaces (areas able to collect rainwater/or lead to rainwater collection) roughly 620 gallons of water are generated. From this equation you can see if you have a larger yard, having a barrel system would fill up relatively quickly. Scale is important to consider especially if you want to use rainwater for numerous household capacities.
- How much space you have to dedicate to a system. Depending on the amount of space you have on your property, different systems/styles may suit your needs better than others. For example, if you have a narrow space next to your home, a slimline tank is more narrow than cylinder water tanks. There are also systems that are almost completely underground, eliminating space used on the property surface.
- How much maintenance/ setup are you willing to do. The larger and more involved the system, the greater maintenance and cost it is going to need. Simple barrel systems can be set up in a matter of hours, whereas larger tank systems may need underground plumbing, large areas dug out for underground systems, and parts/filters to be replaced routinely.
Collecting rainwater can be a great way to reduce water costs, reduce environmental impact, and prepare for emergencies. Rainwater catchment systems can be complicated at first, but starting with a smaller system may help you better understand your water needs and the larger system that would work best for you!