These days rain barrels are very easy to acquire. Most garden and landscape stores stock them in a wide variety of colors, sizes and shapes. They typically start at about 55 gallons and go up to several hundred gallons. A typical 55-gallon barrel is about 18 inches wide and four feet tall and made of high-density polyethylene, but they can also be clay, wood, glass or metal.
Gone are the days of plain, brown or green food-grade barrels. Like the one in this picture built by Santa Fe’s own RainVessels (www.rainvesselsusa.com), they can be custom designed to fit almost any home style.
Pre-made barrels come equipped with a faucet at the bottom and a screen on the top to keep out critters and debris. It is also good practice to have an overflow spigot near the top of the barrel. It can be as simple as another hose spigot — anything to allow the barrel to drain. In the city of Santa Fe, rain barrels equipped with overflow spigots and screens qualify for a rebate (www.santafenm.gov/water_conservation).
Your plants appreciate rainwater more than municipal or well water because it does not have the chlorine of city water or the minerals (i.e., salts) of typical well water. Rain barrels allow rainwater to be directed away from the house, walls and foundation, thereby reducing the possibility of water damage to the house. Lastly, rainwater is free and will always be free so rain barrels allow you to use a healthy resource indefinitely and without cost once they are installed.
Small barrels provide an easy way to get started and can easily be installed by one or two people. An empty, small rain barrel will typically weigh about 30 to 40 pounds. You may want to consider hiring a rainwater professional to install larger barrels.
Rain barrels are a great way to start catching the rain. They are easy to install, readily available, and allow us to make good use of nature’s bounty.
Doug Pushard, founder of the website www.HarvestH2o.com, has designed and installed residential rainwater systems for over a decade. He is a member of the Santa Fe Water Conservation Committee, a lifetime member of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, and an EPA WaterSense Partner. He can be reached at doug@HarvestH2o.com.