What is a Rainwater Barrel?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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A rainwater barrel, often simply referred to as a rain barrel, is a vessel used for collecting and reusing rainwater. The collection of rainwater is a centuries-old practice, but it has seen resurgence in recent years as acts of conservation become more and more widespread. A rainwater barrel can be part of a sophisticated collection system or can be as simple as a large trash can. A rainwater barrel is positioned directly beneath a downspout on a home’s gutter system so that runoff water is collected directly into the vessel.

By using a rainwater barrel, homeowners can collect water for plants, lawns, and gardens, which is a practice that has many benefits. For starters, it reuses a precious resource. In summer months, many parts of the United States and other countries with drier climates experience periods of drought. By collecting rainwater for reuse, this natural resource can be used to keep gardens and lawns healthy during a time when water restrictions may be in place by the local municipality. By this same token, reusing rainwater is absolutely free after the initial investment of the collection barrel. Plants and other vegetation also prefer natural rainwater to chemically treated water delivered by municipal water treatment plants.


As rainwater collection grows in popularity, many companies are springing up as retailers of rainwater barrels and rainwater collection systems. There are advantages to professional systems, including the sophistication of a system that includes a pump for easier delivery after collection and the fact that these systems are often more aesthetically pleasing. However, professional systems can be expensive to purchase and install. For seriously budget-compromised households, a 50 gallon (189.27 liter) trash can with a lid can be used, but retrieval can be a bit more complicated. A nice middle ground is to purchase a rainwater barrel and set it up yourself.

Rainwater barrels can be purchased separately from entire systems and range in size, construction, appearance and price. If you live an area with heavy annual rainfalls, you might consider purchasing a larger volume barrel to collect more of the rainfall. However, in places with dry, arid climates, it may only be necessary to have a 30 to 50 gallon (113.36 to 189.27 liter) barrel. If installing a rainwater barrel on your own, consider the method of delivery from the barrel to the lawn, garden, or other areas. You can install a bib similar to the hose bib on your house near the bottom of the vessel and let gravity do the work or you can simply elect to fill a watering can directly from the barrel and carry the water wherever you need it.

Whichever method and style of rainwater barrel you choose, collecting rainwater is a terrific way to help reduce your own carbon footprint. Surprisingly, some municipalities may have laws and restrictions regarding the collection of rainwater. Most do not, but there are a few, and so it is best to check with your local government before investing a great deal of time or money in a rainwater collection system if you have any doubts about local law. Remember that collected rainwater is great for plants, but is unsuitable for drinking.



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