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Q: How much water comes off an average roof during a rainstorm?
A: The average roof size for those of us in the United States is 989 sq. ft. On that size roof, with a 1” rainfall, a household can collect roughly 560 gallons of rainwater. Columbus, Ohio (where the Rain Brothers live) averages 37” of precipitation per year, which equates to over 20,000 gallons of water going down a resident’s downspouts every year!
Q: Based on those calculations, how do I know how much rainwater I should collect and what kind of system I should use?
A: This is always a difficult question to answer. In our experience, there has been a very direct correlation between how often someone spends outside tending plants and gardening to how big of a system they need. Those who garden more (even if the garden is small) tend to use more water, while those who occasionally go outside and tend the plants generally need only one barrel. If you fit the former category, you may want to consider investing in a larger-scale rainwater system (either one of our above-ground tanks or our underground cistern tanks). If you fit the latter category, our recommendation is to start with one 55- or 60-gallon rain barrel and see how you like using it before investing in multiple rain barrels. And remember, more can always be added -- and if you link other barrels to your existing barrel, those other barrels will be cheaper (see “Link Barrels” on the Rain Barrels page of Our Products).
Q: What is a cistern?
A: Historically, cisterns are underground structures that hold large capacities of rainwater. Cisterns have been in use for millennia, and, up until about 100 years ago, were installed almost universally in homes throughout the United States. In fact, in older parts of Columbus (i.e., German Village, Victorian Village, the near eastside and near westside) brick cisterns are buried underground on virtually every property. We specialize in cistern restoration and can help you locate your cistern, if you have one. Rain Brothers also installs new polyethylene and concrete underground cistern tanks for a more concealed rainwater harvesting system.
Q: What is the benefit of collecting rainwater in an underground tank rather than, say, a rain barrel or an above-ground rain tank?
A: Underground rainwater collection is beneficial for a number of reasons -- especially for all of us in the colder regions of the U.S. The primary benefit is that rainwater can be used year-round (if one has uses for the water year-round) with an underground cistern since water is stored below the frost line. Additionally, though, underground storage removes the rainwater from sunlight, thereby slowing (and eventually eliminating) the growth of algae and some most bacteria. Finally, there is the benefit of being able to utilize ground space and conceal rainwater harvesting when the system is below ground.
Q: Do you usually recommend installation of below-ground cisterns over above-ground rainwater storage?
A: This depends on several factors. First, if you are wanting to use rainwater for household applications (i.e., flushing toilets, laundry, etc.), then we certainly recommend underground storage to prevent having to winterize the system. However, if the designed application is strictly for irrigation (especially if it is for non-pressurized irrigation), we almost always recommend above-ground systems since they are: 1) more cost-effective; 2) generally easier to maintain; and 3) generally do not require a pump or power source for their use.
Q: What do I do with the water once it has been collected?
A: The most common application for harvested rainwater is irrigation. Rainwater not only saves money by reducing/eliminating the demand for city/well water for irrigation, but it is also much better for plants than treated, chlorinated tap water or neutralized well water. Stories abound of landscapers and nurseries who have made the switch to rainwater for their irrigation and who found that they not only started saving money, but that they also used one-half to one-third the amount of water they once used to irrigate since plants reacted much better to rainwater than to treated tap water.
Aside from irrigation, though, rainwater -- if filtered and treated by a trained and licensed professional and inspected by local public health officials -- can be made potable and used for drinking and in-home applications. In fact, once debris filtration with potable-grade containment has been established, and once the rainwater has been pumped through a series of sediment and ultraviolet filtrations, the by-product is a water that can be more safe and pure than well and city water.
Q: How do I use my rain barrel or tank to water my garden?
A: All our rain barrels and rainwater tanks come equipped with a hose-ready valve/spigot that is equipped to receive a standard garden hose. However, while attaching a garden hose to the rain barrel/tank is tempting, it is not always practical. The thing to remember is that all rainwater catchment systems (unless they come with pumps) are gravity-fed, so the water pressure is lower than standard faucet pressure. To use a garden hose with an above-ground rain system, then, requires the water level to always be higher than the point at which you hold the hose (for most people, the hose is held at waist level when watering).
BUT, there are more effective and easier ways to use rainwater. Specifically, consider hooking up a drip hose or a drip irrigation set-up from your catchment container. Drip hoses can be placed right next to your plants and can be left attached to the rain barrel/tank spigot. When the weather starts to dry out and your plants need water, you can simply open the spigot and allow the drip line to water for you. Because drip hoses have small perforations and only allow a very small amount of water to go through the line at a time, they water much more efficiently than garden hoses or watering cans. And, because the water supply is consistent, water penetrates directly to the roots for an effective plant watering. In fact, drip line watering is so effective that those giant pumpkin growers (you know, the ones who grow 800 lbs. pumpkins) use them exclusively to water.
PLEASE pay attention to the pressure requirements when purchasing drip lines, though. Some drip hoses, as well as most soaker hoses, require around 30 PSI operating pressure. Rain barrel/tank users will want drip lines that operate at 10 PSI or less (such as our drip irrigation set-ups that were designed for gravity-fed systems).
Q: How can I increase the pressure or flow out of my rainwater system without using a pump?
A: The trick is elevation -- the higher you elevate your rainwater tanks/barrels, the more pressure you will get. AND, if you elevate your barrel as high as our water towers, you’ll get excellent pressure! However, if elevation is not an option, water pumps can be used to increase water pressure. Contact us for help in choosing the right pump for your application.
Q: What are your repurposed rain barrels made of (or, for all you English majors out there, “Of what are your barrels made”)?
A: In an effort to live into a consistent conservation ethic, we use recycled food-grade, high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic drums for every standard rain barrel we make. By doing so, not only are we able to keep the costs lower for our beautiful customers, but we are also saving these barrels from the landfill.
For our manufactured rain barrels and tanks, HDPE is used.
Q: What are the dimensions of your rain barrels?
A: Our recycled rain barrels have a capacity of 55-gallons. The barrels themselves are 3 feet high and 2 feet in diameter.
Our RainStation rain barrels hold 60-gallons, and measure 29" in diameter at the top (tapered down to 24" diameter at the bottom) and are 3 feet high.
Q: I want to buy a repurposed barrel, but I don’t like the colors. Can I paint these barrels?
A: Yes. Plastic is a very difficult surface to paint since it is so smooth. Fortunately, though, there are paints on the market that are specially designed for plastic surfaces. We recommend using Krylon plastics spray paint or Rustoleum plastics spray paint. Unfortunately, as of yet, these plastics paints are not available in brush-on applications.