What is a Rain Barrel?

Ken Black
Ken Black
A wooden barrel can be used to collect rainwater.
A wooden barrel can be used to collect rainwater.

A rain barrel is a barrel or other type of container used to collect rainwater for later use. In modern times, the most common use of a rain barrel is for simple garden irrigation around a home. Rain is often collected from the roof of the home and channeled to the barrel. Once there, it can then be used for a number of different purposes.

A rain barrel is a good way to promote conservation and environmental efficiency. Rather than allowing rainwater to be channeled into a sewer system, a rain barrel keeps it near the place where it fell. This allows the owner of the rain barrel have a ready supply of water when needed for practical use.

In some geographic areas, a rain barrel may not be capable of providing enough water simply because there is not enough rainfall in any given year. These situations are unique but do occur. It only takes a quarter of an inch of rain from the average-sized roof to completely fill a rain barrel.

Rain barrels can be made of a number of different materials. Traditionally, they have come as wood, specially treated to ensure they hold water well. In more recent times, composite barrels made of materials such as vinyl and other types of plastics have become popular.

Most rain barrels have a spout near the bottom. A hose can be connected to the spout, which works like any other valve connected to the city water supply around the home. The hose is forced fed through gravity, which provides adequate water pressure via the rainwater pushing down from inside the barrel.

Rainwater is highly regarded for its usefulness in the garden. Unlike irrigating with city water, which may contain sediments harmful to the plants, rainwater comes in a very natural state. While some may be concerned about the effect of acid rain on plants, this threat has largely been neutralized in many areas around the world, making rainwater a perfectly safe alternative for vegetation.

There are some warnings that should be observed when taking water from a rain barrel. Once the water sits in the barrel for nearly any length of time, it can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. These will not affect plants, but can affect humans and pets. Therefore, water from a rain barrel should never be used for drinking, no matter how tempted one may be.

For those who live in colder climates, it is recommended to empty the barrel and put it in a warmer, inside location before freezing temperatures hit. The freeze and thaw cycles could crack the barrel or cause it to become deformed. This can happen whether the barrel is wood or plastic.

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    • A wooden barrel can be used to collect rainwater.
      A wooden barrel can be used to collect rainwater.