Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Rainwater harvesting is an ancient practice that is more important than ever. As many parts of our country experience historic drought and groundwater depletion, capturing the water that falls from the sky is a wise and necessary decision.
A full rain barrel can supply enough water for a 200-square-foot garden. You can also use rainwater for your livestock and inside your home. However, successful and sustainable rainwater harvesting is more than just sticking a barrel outside and waiting for it to fill up.
Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when harvesting rainwater with a do-it-yourself system.
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1. Not Checking Rainwater Harvesting Regulations In Your Area.
Although rainwater harvesting is legal in the U.S., the rules on how you collect the water, how much you can harvest, and how you use it vary by state.
Some state restrictions are based on outdated prior appropriation laws that were implemented for settlers in the 19th century. Other states regulate rainwater harvesting based on the idea that it may disrupt the hydrologic cycle.
However, studies, including this one published by the Scientific World Journal reveal that the amount of rainwater collected for gardening and household purposes would be returned to the ground, having little effect on the water cycle.
Before you begin rainwater harvesting, be sure to check your local does and regulations. This article published by the World Water Reserve offers current state-by-state information.
2. Not Using A Container That is Suitable for Water Collection.
Not every bucket or barrel is safe for rainwater harvesting.
Barrels that once contained poisonous materials can leach dangerous chemicals into the water. Other non-opaque containers can promote the growth of algae. Dark-colored containers and dark-colored food-grade barrels are the ideal choices.
3. Not Installing an Efficient Way to Remove Water From Your Containers.
Many beginning rainwater harvesters are happy to see a full barrel after a downpour, only to realize that they have to take the water out by the cup or bucket full.
While this method will work, it is hardly efficient over the long term. Instead, it’s a good idea to attach a spigot or use a small pump to access the water.
4. Not Covering Your Container With a Screen.
A wire mesh screen covering is essential for the top of your rain barrel. Not only will it keep dirt, leaves, and other debris from getting into the barrel, but a fine mesh will prohibit mosquitoes from entering and breeding in the water.
Be sure to secure your screen to prevent it from blowing away or being displaced by the pressure of the falling water.
5. Forgetting to Clean Your Gutters.
Placing barrels under your downspouts is a convenient way to harvest rainwater. However, you are sabotaging your efforts if you neglect to clean out your gutters.
Gutters that are full of leaves and other debris will not allow the rainwater to flow freely into your collection container. Additionally, the water that does flow down into your barrel will be much dirtier than it would be otherwise.
6. Not Rinsing Off Your Roof.
Another way to collect cleaner water is to allow the rain to rinse off your roof first, especially after a dry spell. Waiting about 10 minutes before collecting rainwater will prevent dirt, debris, and animal feces from entering your collection barrels.
You also can install a diverter to prevent the first rush of rainwater that hits your roof from entering the container.
Also, keep in mind that not all roof materials are suitable for rain collection. Asphalt shingles are considered to be unsafe, while steel sheets, concrete tiles, fire-glazed tiles, clay tiles, and cement tiles are certified for rainwater collection.
7. Not Allowing for Run-off or Run-over.
During a moderate storm, a rainfall of about 1/8-inch per hour is typical. That amount means that water flowing off a 500 square foot roof can fill a 50-gallon barrel in about an hour.
To take advantage of a heavier or longer rainstorm, you may want to connect another barrel (or two) to your primary container. Another idea is to install a run-off hose to divert overflow water from the barrel away from your home.
8. Not Purifying Water Before Drinking.
A basic system that collects water via roof downspouts is ideal for watering plants, but you’ll need to purify the rainwater before drinking or cooking with it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should bring water to a rolling boil for at least a minute and then let it cool to room temperature. If you are at high altitudes, increase the time to at least three minutes. Adding a pinch of salt to each quart of boiled water may improve its taste.
9. Thinking Stored Rainwater “Goes Bad.”
Although water does absorb gases from the air, it does not deteriorate or go stale on its own. Stored rainwater is still safe for outdoor use, and it still needs to be purified for drinking purposes.
10. Thinking You Need An Expensive Collection System.
As a general rule, the more ways you want to use the rainwater, the more complex a system you need to have. However, don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t build your own inexpensive, simple rainwater harvesting system.
In addition to your water container, some of the other materials you’ll need include:
- Wood or a pallet to use as a platform.
- Garden hose spigot and hardware.
- Fine mesh screen.
- Gutters, downspouts, and elbows.
- Caulk or sealant.
There are many articles and videos online to help you get started. Here are two we recommend for beginners.
- This informative article from Mother Earth News gives clear DIY steps.
- This no-nonsense video shows how to capture rainwater using recycled, upcycled, and repurposed materials.
Although even setting up a DIY rainwater harvesting system might take some initial cash outlay, you can think about the money you will save on your water bill. And, even more importantly, as our nation and our world face a water crisis, you will be playing a role in water conservation.
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