Rain barrels collect and store rooftop runoff, providing a free source of non-potable water to use in a variety of household applications (see References 1). A typical rain barrel consists of a 55-gallon plastic drum, a spigot for draining, an overflow outlet and hose, and a screen to keep out leaves and insects.
During the summer, outdoor chores, such as watering lawns and gardens, account for 40 percent of household water use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (see References 1). Installing a rain barrel typically saves approximately 1,300 gallons of water during the summer months, according to the EPA.
The EPA's WaterSense program estimates that it takes about 1.5 kilowatts of electricity to deliver 1,000 gallons of water to households from the public water supply (see References 2, page 1). That energy pumps, filters, treats and distributes the water that comes out of your kitchen faucet, showerhead and garden hose. Water supply and treatment accounts for about 4 percent of the power generated by the United States each year, according to 2002 Electric Power Research Institute Report (see References 3, page 25). Once installed, rain barrels provide a zero energy source of non-potable water to use for everything from watering flowers to washing cars and windows (see References 1).
Stormwater runoff can quickly transform into runoff pollution, carrying everything from motor oil to nutrients found in fertilizers into rivers, lakes and coastal waters (see References 4). When hooked up to a residential gutter downspout, a typical rain barrel can contain up to 55 gallons of storm water. Homeowners can substantially reduce the effect of stormwater drainage by directing rain barrel overflow into a garden or dry well.
The soft water supplied by rain barrels is free of calcium, chlorine and lime, making it perfect for watering flowers and lawns, washing cars and windows and even flushing toilets (see References 1). There is continuing debate over whether or not it is safe to use water from a rain barrel on edible plants, so use caution. Rain barrels contain untreated, non-potable water, unsafe as drinking water.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Rain Barrels
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Methodology and Assumptions for Estimating WaterSense Annual Accomplishments
- U.S. Department of Energy: Report to Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Stormwater Outreach Materials and Reference Guide
David Anderson has been writing about the environment and green living since 2007. He currently serves as a writer for Green Alliance, based in Portsmouth, N.H., and also writes a blog covering clean energy and presidential politics. Anderson holds an M.A. in political science from the University of New Hampshire, where he studied nonprofit management and environmental policy and law.
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images