Go green and save "green" with rain barrels

Barrels of Money

by Debra Karplus

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You may have noticed a barrel in your neighbor's yard that looked like it was attached to a downspout at the end of a gutter. Did you wonder what it was and why it was sitting there? That rain barrel is part of a system specifically designed to use rain water with the intention of helping the environment and saving money on household water bills. As a kid, you may have tried to collect rain water in a container to re-use the water. That's the same principle as today's rain barrels that are gaining popularity in many communities.

There are numerous benefits to installing one or more rain barrels on your property. "By using rain barrels, you are benefitting the environment by reducing sewer runoff, helping your garden and landscape thrive, and reducing your water bill and stress on our water supply," states a University of Illinois Cooperative Extension horticulture educator. Those very desirable arguments for using a rain barrel leave few reasons not to own one!

Rain barrels are affordable and easy to purchase, and there is essentially a one-time nominal cost to install them.

A typical rain barrel holds about 50 gallons of water. The barrel and the necessary extensions are the purchases required; they can be obtained together for about $110 or separately. The barrels sell for about $80 to $100, depending on if you want a plain one or a fancier variety. Wood rain barrels can be beautiful but expect to pay over $200 for one. Plastic barrels cost considerably less (sometimes $50) but are far less durable, so go with the metal type or wood if you want to splurge. Metal barrels are usually green colored, but some are brown or terra cotta. Many folks opt to paint them themselves using spray paint in a color that matches the exterior of their house or decorate them in some other way. Be creative!

The rain barrel extension kits sells for about $15. Instructions for installation are relatively simple to follow. Barrels and kits are available in many large discount stores, home improvement centers, or online. They often cost less online, but don't forget that you will be paying for shipping and handling of a fairly large, heavy item (sometimes as much as about 120 pounds). Do your research online first, search prices, and read customer product reviews.

You can also make your own rain barrel for a fraction of the cost. If you have any industry or factories in your community, you might be able to obtain a barrel that they are discarding. Look online and watch video clips to learn how to make a rain barrel from scratch.

Minimal time is needed to keep your rain barrel properly functioning.

Maintenance for your rain barrel is essentially non-existent. If you live in an area where temperatures get below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you will have only a few minor tasks as the seasons change. As you would with your outdoor garden hose spigot, you want to avoid the destruction that comes from freezing water that expands. Each autumn, you will need to disconnect extensions from the barrel and store for the winter. In the spring, after the last frost, re-install the connections. It's that simple!

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Saving natural resources and preventing sewer run-off while saving your dollars is a win-win deal.

Take a look at your monthly water bill. Scrutinize how much of that bill is for outdoor water usage. If you generously use water outdoors for the lawn, the garden, for washing the car or for filling the kids' wading pool, a water barrel can replace your outdoor hose and quickly and noticeably save you money. Note that some cities impose a moratorium on outdoor water usage, only allowing it on certain days. Households have received hefty fines for breaking this law.

Some municipalities have started encouraging homeowners to install rain barrels and have been offering a cash rebate incentive for those who do. One Midwestern community offers a one-time $25 cash rebate for each rain barrel installed on a property. Cities are motivated to offer this reward because rain barrels help prevent city sewers from being overworked from heavy rains.

There are numerous websites that provide information about how rain barrels work, where to purchase them, or how to make them. Visit your local home improvement center and see what they look like. Talk to neighbors who have installed a rain barrel and get advice on the most suitable rain barrel system. A rain barrel may be one of the best things your household can do to be respectful of the environment and go green, while helping you to keep more "green" in your wallet.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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