When I decided to stop straining my sewer system and the local river I looked into rain barrels. The chlorine and fluoride in my municipality water are hard on plants. I wanted healthy water for my garden and as a bonus I would save on my water bill. I found these 4 criteria important to me when choosing the perfect rain barrel for my home.
1) will contain a fair amount of water and is expandable later on
2) can withstand -20 degrees F (-28 C)
3) will attach with ease to the downspout with an enclosed system
4) is esthetically pleasing
To get the most water runoff from your roof, calculate your roof area to figure out how many barrels you may want. Watering the garden is not the only purpose for a rain barrel. The water collected can be used to wash the car, the dog, or to fill the pool. It was surprising to me to find that 1000 sq ft roof = 623 gal water in a 1” rain shower. Commercial rain barrels often have designated places to attach diverters and/or hoses for another rain barrel connection. Do it yourselfers can always drill more holes and purchase appropriate connectors.
Winterization will play a factor in choice. If you live where temperatures fall below freezing you will disconnect your rain barrel from the downspout. Wooden barrels may remain outside but emptied, cleaned and placed upside-down if they have an open top. Terracotta should be emptied and placed indoors where the moisture will not enter the clay or it may crack with low winter temperatures. Metal barrels will corrode with time but temperature will not change much. Tougher plastic rain barrels can be emptied, cleaned and stored in place upside-down. Other lighter plastics may need some protection from the weather. If you have protected storage space available you may want to use that for any barrel to extend longevity.
An easy way for a rain barrel to collect water from a downspout is to cut the downspout short enough so when the barrel is placed under it the water flows into an opening in the top. Some have an overflow system to set up so when the barrel is full the excess water will be directed away from your foundation; some do not and water will splash where you may not want it. Another way collect the water from your downspout is to cut the downspout, insert a diverter and continue the downspout below the diverter for the excess water after the barrel is full. This method is a closed system and will help prevent leaves from entering and mosquitoes from laying eggs, etc. It is a nice clean system.
There are many different materials and styles to choose from. Depending on your skill level and how you want your finished project to look you will have to shop around the internet, hardware stores, big box stores, your local environmental organizations and even ice cream parlors (food grade empty barrels) or soda companies. They will have any number of containers available for your criteria.
The old wooden rain barrel has a rustic look, with care will last for many years and is priced at $350+. There are companies that will refit them from an old whisky barrel into rain barrels with the necessary holes and fittings. Expansion would be homemade.
Pros: weather tolerance
Cons: may be difficult to keep clean, price
A terracotta rain barrel has a more contemporary look. They are priced $450+. They are also heavy. If used in a cold climate it would have to be disconnected and protected from the winter weather.
Pros: appearance, capacity
Cons: weather intolerance, cleaning, price
A stainless steel rain barrel is thoroughly modern. They have a capacity of 12-58 gallons, are easy to clean and must be disconnected and protected in below freezing weather. Prices run from $600-$2000
Cons: weather intolerance, price
Galvanized metal barrels have membrane liners and have a very utilitarian look and can be heavy and unwieldy.
Pros: very inexpensive, weather tolerant
Recycled food grade plastic barrels are refitted with holes in the top for your downspout to empty into and a spigot at the bottom for a hose or watering can. They come in many shapes, colors and sizes and there are many videos online if you can do it yourself. Some are stenciled or beautifully painted and can be very fun and attractive.
Pros: weather tolerance, very inexpensive
Cons: cleaning difficulty, all design and setup is ‘do it yourself’
There are several plastic rain barrels made by commercial companies with some of the holes already drilled, complete with spigots, and perhaps a diverter and hoses for the downspout. Many price points and styles.
Pros: weather tolerance, cleaning, easy setup
Cons: I have had one for 2 months and so far so good.
This page will show you the details of My Choice and how we put it all together.