Using nature's water

Reduce Your Water Bill with Rain Barrels

by Shaunna Privratsky


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Do You Use Rain Barrels?

Like many people, you may have planted a garden, hoping to put a dent in your food bill and put more natural and delicious food on your table. That is, until you open your water bill and cringe at the total. Before you throw in the garden towel, consider setting up some rain barrels. It is an easy and extremely affordable way to harness Mother Nature's bounty, and much more beneficial to your garden as well. There are several ways to save on your initial investment of materials needed. Here are some tips and tricks on adding rain barrels to your home and garden.

First, check with your local city ordinances to make sure there are no laws against installing rain barrels. Believe it or not, some communities prohibit the harnessing of natural rainfall. An easy way to determine this is by checking your cities website, contacting the Public Works department, or just calling the number on your water bill. They should be able to answer any questions.

My local water department was extremely helpful and encouraging in my quest to lower my bill. They recommended a couple of classes that explained how to set up rain barrels and even make your own. The only problem was the classes cost $80 per person, plus $50 in materials. I knew I could do better. Here's what I learned.

Home improvement stores sell official rain barrels, but they cost anywhere from $30 on clearance to $80 for the deluxe model complete with a faucet to hook up a hose. I didn't want to go that fancy or expensive, so I searched for an even cheaper alternative.

Check local hardware and home improvement stores for large, 32-gallon garbage pails with lids. I started with three for only $9 each at Lowes. The lids are important in keeping out curious squirrels, birds, and bugs like mosquitoes. This also keeps the water clean and free of debris.

I studied the downspouts on my house and garage. We have a total of four. I determined where the barrels would sit and figured out the various ways I would have to convert the downspouts so they would go into the rain barrels.

If your downspouts are straight, simply measure where it would hit your barrel and use a hacksaw to carefully cut it to the right length. If it has a hinge, it makes it easier to lift the lid and get the water out. Another alternative is having a small slit or hole in the lid for the water to flow into, but keep everything else out.

Another way to direct the downspout into the barrel is to change the direction by using a curved piece. They cost very little, around $3. Again, you cut the downspout to the desired length and attach the curved piece to the end, directing the stream of water to the barrel.

A third way is adding a flexible plastic section to your downspout. This way you can have two or more barrels in the same location and just move the end when one gets full. This is also great for when no rain falls for an extended period.

When placing your rain barrels, it is important to tilt it slightly away from your house, so that when it is full it will overflow onto the lawn instead of against your house, which could cause extensive water damage.

I found that placing large rocks or bricks around the base of the barrel keeps it in place even when it's empty and prevents it from tipping over if the rain flow is torrential. I softened the look by planting pretty lilies all around, which also makes it easier to mow around. I keep an old ice-cream bucket in each barrel to scoop out the water.

Appearance is another consideration of adding rain barrels to your landscape. At first, I was hesitant to add a rain barrel to the front of our house, fearing what the neighbors might think. Some communities might even have bylaws prohibiting any additions to the landscape. Then I realized I was missing out on half of the rainwater from our roof.

We have a very tall evergreen shrub on the corner of our house, conveniently right where the downspout empties into the front yard. At first, I looked for a pail the exact color of our siding which is light tan, but realized that basic black was better. With the tree as camouflage, the barrel is hidden in the shadow. I also added one more to the back of the garage, bringing my total up to five rain barrels. In three years, I haven't had to water the garden or my extensive flower pots with the hose.

So if you would like to reduce your water bill without sacrificing your garden, try rain barrels. By using these tips and learning from my experiences, you can have natural rainwater for your plants without draining your budget.


Shaunna Privratsky is an expert in personal finance. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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