This post is by our guest blogger and resident homesteader, Alicia Owen
Springtime in Indiana is here! Birds are chirping up a storm, the days are growing longer, and wildflowers abound. Spring rainfalls can yield great blooms, but soggy yards become a common nuisance this time of year. To help your squishy yard, we’re going to talk about the benefits of installing rain barrels to store all those spring showers.
If you are not familiar with rain barrels, they really are as simple as they sound. They are barrels that collect rainwater through an attachment to a downspout. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the benefits of having rain barrels, sourcing them, and caring for them.
Benefits of Rain Barrels
Rain catching can save you money, save your lawn, and save the environment. Here are some of the many uses and benefits of installing rain barrels:
-Collect water to use on your grass, garden plants, shrubs, etc.
-Reduce stormwater runoff, which also helps with flood prevention
Free water is excellent and all, but you might be wondering, “are they really worth it?” A brand-new, 55-gallon rain barrel starts in the $80 range. Consider that outdoor water usage is said to account for 30% of a household’s total use. Think of your average water bill (let’s use the average monthly water bill in Indiana at $40) and how much you water plants outside. Let’s say you usually only have to water your outdoor plants between June and September. These four months could save you $160 on water utility costs, making enough to cover the cost of two 55 gallon rain barrels.
You might also be surprised by how quickly a rain barrel can fill up. According to the website, rainbarrelman.com, “A half-inch of rain collected from just a 200 sq. ft. (10 ft. x 20 ft.) section of roof will fill a 60-gallon rain barrel in one day.” If you’re considering more than one barrel, here is a great way to calculate how much rainwater you can expect to collect from your own house: If it rains 1 inch in one day, a 1000 sq. ft. roof will yield 600 gallons of water. To calculate how much water your roof will produce, multiply the square footage of your roof by 600 and divide by 1000. Considering some of the “gully washers” we get this time of year, that’s a lot of water pretty darn fast!
Stormwater runoff, as previously mentioned, can lead to a lot of short and long-term problems. With nothing to soak into, this runoff can quickly cause flooding in cities covered in sidewalks and other non-porous surfaces. Excess rainwater can also cause erosion over time, especially on hillsides. Stormwater runoff picks up all kinds of unsavory substances along its route from your roof to the drain, such as oil, fertilizers, pesticides, trash, and other chemicals. These can eventually pollute our waterways with contaminants.
Finally, using rain barrels to catch these gallons and gallons of water over a year can help with drainage issues in your yard. Most often, soggy spots in our yards occur from gutter rainwater backing up or pooling, especially if the ground is already saturated from heavy rain. Implementing rain barrels can help partially alleviate these issues. This can also lead to healthier plants and better drainage in lawns since they will no longer be water-logged.
Where to Get Rain Barrels & How to Care for Them
Sourcing the Materials and Installing the Rain Barrels
Another great thing about installing rain barrels is that they can fit into just about anyone’s budget. If you’re looking for an inexpensive set-up, you can try to find some free barrels and re-purpose them. Handily, many businesses are said to offer ones for free, including car washes, car dealerships, food processing plants, and animal supply outlets. Look in your local paper or take to the internet for local results.
Of course, you can always just buy a rain barrel made explicitly for collecting runoff too. You can find purpose-built barrels at many stores nowadays, including Walmart, Home Depot, and Tractor Supply (or make a DIY Rain Barrel). Local organizations, like Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District sell them as well. Most will come with everything you need to set them up, but be sure to check into this before purchasing. You should also consider investing in a diverter, which funnels the water back to your downspout instead of leaking next to the foundation of your house. This video shows one set-up you could try. Here are some other aspects to consider when choosing the right rain barrel for you:
-Make sure it’s child, pet, and wildlife-proof
-Ensure that your rain barrel has an overflow valve
-Look for a mesh screen filter to keep residue away. (e.g., mosquitoes, natural debris such as leaves)
-Check to see if the barrel is linkable to other barrels
-Choose durable materials and sustainable materials if you can
Rain Barrel Care
Taking care of your rain barrel and keeping it and the water inside clean is easy with just a few household items you probably already have. A mixture of vinegar and water will suffice in occasional cleanings and first-use preparation.
It is also recommended to treat your water before using it for irrigation, especially on produce plants. Chemicals from roofing material and bacteria from birds, squirrels, and other animals can get washed into your barrel. It is also highly recommended to clean your gutters thoroughly before setting up your rain barrel (and keeping them maintained after) to help keep your entire system cleaner and from any parts of it getting backed up.
Rain Gardens as an Addition or Alternative
If you have some real trouble spots in your lawn that always seem to be collecting water, rain barrels alone might not be enough to solve your problem. In tandem with water collectors at downspouts, consider adding a rain garden to your landscape design. Rain gardens are planted in small depressions in yards where stormwater runoff tends to collect. You will be amazed by how unsightly, puddle-prone areas can be turned into attractive greenscapes!
Greenscape Geeks knows the benefits of installing rain barrels. So much so, that they will be sponsoring Rain on Main this year.
This is a fun community event in Carmel, Indiana to promote water quality and conservation awareness. Local artists transform 65-gallon rain barrels into works of art, displaying them downtown in the Arts & Design District for all to admire. In addition to being judged by a panel for the chance to win cash prizes, the public can also vote for their favorite on Facebook. You can find more information on the event and check out the barrels from years past on the Rain on Main website.
What are some of your rain barrel set-ups? Leave pictures or comments on our Facebook page!
Greenscape Geeks is a central Indiana landscape architecture and landscape design, construction, and lawn maintenance company, serving Indianapolis (including Meridian Kessler, Herron Morton, Williams Creek, and Irvington), Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, and Zionsville.