If you're aiming to live a more sustainable lifestyle, you need to be harvesting your own rainwater. It's one of the easiest steps you can take, and many basic rainwater catchment systems can be setup yourself, in just a couple of hours on a weekend. Just be sure to check your local state regulations, and ensure there are no restrictions on collecting rainwater for private use. In addition to giving you a renewable resource you can use to save money on your monthly water bill, having a rainwater catchment system ensures you've always got a store of water on hand, no matter what happens to the central water supply. And better yet, it'll refill itself each time it rains. Personally, I like that rainwater is free from the chemicals that tap water is subject to. It's not being pushed through a complex filtration and treatment process, so what you're drinking isn't loaded with chlorine, fluoride and other minerals. Plus when compared to underground water sources, rainwater has a much lower "hardness" level, and hasn't absorbed any salts or minerals from the ground. And it just tastes better. We've had tanks ever since I was a kid, and I'm an avid rainwater supporter. If you're wanting to start collecting it yourself, there's three main systems you can use.
Rain BarrelsThe simplest method is one you can do-it-yourself, and isn't overly complex. Just stick a large barrel underneath one of the gutter downspouts in your home. When the rain starts, your roof will funnel the water through your homes gutters and into the downspout, sending water right into the barrel. I'd recommend positioning the barrel on a platform at least two-feet off the ground to make it easy to turn the tap and draw the water you collect into a bucket or watering can. Oh, and get a filter for the top, to keep leaves, twigs, dirt and any other particles out of your water system. You can expect a rain barrel to store anywhere from 50 to 100 gallons (it depends on the size you buy), and there will be options available at most hardware stores. Rain barrels also take up very little space, and can be an ideal solution if you've not got much space around your home. The downside is they will usually overflow with every rain, meaning you'll miss the chance to store a larger amount of water. Now I'd also recommend filtering any rainwater you collect before you drink it, just in case, and if you're particularly worried about bacteria boiling it for 3 minutes will be enough to kill any pathogens present.
"Dry" SystemThis rainwater collection system is simply a bigger version of the rain barrel setup, involving a far bigger storage tank. It's dubbed a dry system as the collection pipe "drys" after each rain, by emptying directly into the tank. These are the most common rainwater collection systems, because they're relatively inexpensive to get installed, and can store a huge amount of water (depending of course on the size of the tank you buy). If you live in an area with infrequent rainfall, this is a great choice, but beware the bigger the tank the more room they require to be installed, as they are normally positioned right next to your house, they can also be an inconvenience.
"Wet" SystemWet rainwater systems are by far the most effective, as they connect to the master underground drainpipes, enabling rainwater to be collected from every gutter in your home. Unfortunately, they're also the most expensive to install. To work well, the downspouts and all of the underground pipe systems need to have water-tight connections and the inlet on your tank needs to be positioned below the lowest gutter on your house, so gravity can feed the rainwater into the tank. Some homes aren't able to use these systems, just because of the layout of their property. Not when you're installing any rain collection system, there are a few important things to note.
- For rain barrel and dry systems, you'll need to find a position for your tank that's as close as possible to your downspouts. Otherwise you're going to have to build a flying network of PVC pipes to enable rainwater to run into the tank, which is both unsightly and a hazard for people to walk into, and runs the risk that the next big storm will destroy it completely.
- If you're building your own do-it-yourself system, don't forget to install an overflow valve. This is a simply device that allows any excess water being collected to drain when your tank has filled. Connect it to any nearby storm water drains so you can send the unwanted water away from your house. The last thing you want is an overflowing rainwater tank to back up your gutters and send a ton of water into the roof of your home during the next storm.
- On a similar line, if you're improvising your own system, never use any material for your tank that is clear or translucent. When sunlight gets into your stored water it promotes algae growth, and in just a few short weeks, the water you've managed to collect will turn a delightful shade of green in your tank. Ensure you use the right materials for your tank from the outset, otherwise you'll have to treat all of the rainwater you harvest with chlorine bleach before it will be usable.
- This also includes the water level indicators that are sold with many do-it-yourself kits. Being clear pipe, even though they usually come with a drainage valve to let the water out, the moisture that collects inside is enough to send the pipe green with algae.
- Finally, don't forget the importance of a first-flush diverter. This is a nifty addition to your rainwater collection system, especially if you live in an area with infrequent rainfall, because it diverts the first bit of water collected when it starts raining. The first runoff from your roof contains the highest amount of dust and other contaminants, and is not what you want collecting in your tank. Trust me, you don't want to be drinking dirty water.