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How to Collect Rainwater

Have you ever collected rainwater? Once upon a time, this old-fashioned practice was something to do if you were a homesteader.

But now, harvesting rain can lower your bill, even if there are no signs of clean water problems where you live.

Join us as we explore the benefits of collecting rainwater and how to get it done.

Let’s dive in!

A rainwater collection container in a garden
Harvesting rain can help reduce your water bill

What Are the Benefits of Collecting Rainwater?

Collecting rainwater is beneficial for all living beings. For example, plants love rainwater because it’s free of chemicals that come out of municipal pipes. As do backyard animals like birds, bees, and squirrels. And the land around your home can benefit from less storm erosion.

Harvesting rainwater can also help protect the environment. When rain falls onto cars, streets, dog poop, and garbage, it picks up pollution and eventually reaches our lakes and streams. If we all could collect rain before it hits the ground, we’d probably save a lot of lives.

And if that seems too hippy-dippy for you, just remember, you can save money collecting rainwater. You can reduce your water bill by ditching automatic sprinklers for a cleverly designed collection system. 

What Can You Use Collected Rainwater For?

Fire protection, car washing, and irrigation are great ways to utilize rainwater. Since you’ll be collecting rain in your yard or land, you can easily use it for gardening. You can even bring it inside for your houseplants.

Flushing toilets is another excellent use of rainwater. Did you know almost 30% of our household water goes into the toilet? Although having a water bucket next to your bowl may seem weird, there’s no harm in trying it. Especially if living a more eco-friendly life is your thing.

Purified rainwater can also be used safely for laundry, bathing, and cooking. Purification typically involves filtering, boiling, or adding chlorine. Just be sure to do your research for each potable usage.

Otherwise, stick to keeping rainwater for your plants and local wildlife. 

Pro Tip: No rainwater? No problem! Go to these 7 Places to Fill Your RV Fresh Water Tank.

How Do You Collect Rainwater? 

Collecting rainwater can be done in several ways. Although they differ in design and effectiveness, each follows the same principle of guiding water into a holding place.

#1 Rainwater Barrels 

Barrels are the most common items used to collect rainwater. You can buy them prefabricated with lids, spigots, and diverters. Or you can fancy up any large, well-sealed barrel. 

Most rainwater barrels hold 40 to 60 gallons of water. But you can use any size that suits your home and drainpipe. Place the barrel on a base about six to eight inches above the ground. The water from your rooftop runs down the pipe and into the barrel.

One problem with rainwater barrels is debris can get in, so drain filters are a good idea. Mesh window screening also works well. But the good news is you can use a barrel just about anywhere. Even without a drainpipe, if you’re clever.

#2 Plastic-lined Pond 

A pond in your backyard can serve multiple purposes. To collect rainwater, you only need to dig a hole in the soil and cover it with a pond liner. Most of these large sheets of PVC plastic are textured, which helps beneficial microbes. You can make the hole as big or small as you want as long as it’s near your gutters or water pipes.

Hardware stores sell preformed ponds, which take less time to install. But since they’re more expensive, you may want to go with a pond liner and weigh it down with pretty rocks.

#3 Rainwater Tarp

Tarps offer some clever and thrifty ways to collect rainwater. The first method works by laying a tarp on the ground over a small dugout where you place a bucket. Gravity works to form a pool of water where the hole is.

The second way to use tarps is to elevate all four corners with T-Posts or sturdy sticks. You’ve got a natural funnel system if you set two posts further apart than the two nearest to your collection bucket. If you have a place to hang your tarp, you can use prefab options that filter nicely into the center.

We found a portable kit that’s easy to set up at your campsite: Hilico Rainwater Harvesting System.

#4 Household Items

If you’re not ready to go all out with a rainwater collection system, start with what you have around the house. Anything that can hold water inside your home can be used to collect rain. Try mop buckets, five-gallon pails, pots, or trash cans. Get creative!

The key to this method is to use the rainwater right away. Stagnant water is a mosquito’s paradise. They’ll lay their eggs in the tiniest of pools and hatch before you know it. So as long as you use the water within two days, you’ll be fine.

#5 Rainwater Features 

If you’re excited about collecting rainwater and have an eye for design, you can go next level with a rainwater feature. Many landscape designers offer ways to beautify your backyard and collect water simultaneously.

One example is a waterfall with underground storage units. Other designs might include a rain chain or set of troughs to carry water directly into your plants.

Rainwater collection system
Only drink purified rainwater to avoid coming in contact with parasites and other germs found in nature.

Is Drinking Collected Rainwater Safe? 

The answer to this question is a little complicated. If you find yourself stranded in the forest, knowing how to collect rainwater can save your life. But for most of our day-to-day living, rainwater should be treated before drinking it.

Rainwater may contain germs from birds or rat poop. It can host parasites. Trace amounts of lead and asbestos can also find their way in from your roofing material. The good news is that treating rainwater is relatively easy. Your best bet is to filter, boil, and drop some water treatment tablets in it.

But then there’s the bigger, more global problem of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). This is an umbrella term for the toxic chemicals and microplastics that have entered our rainwater. Even though traces can be found in all water sources, your odds of avoiding them are better with bottled or tap water.

Keep in mind Living Off the Grid Isn’t Easy, But There Are Big Benefits.

Make Use of Rainy Days

Although it may not be ideal for drinking, plenty of other options exist for using collected rainwater. You can reduce your water bills by rerouting it to your garden. Or help ward off soil erosion and flooding. With proper treatment and filtration, rainwater can be used for almost anything.

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