Spring and summer are rapidly approaching and we all know what that means – lush green lawns, sweet-smelling flowering planters, and overflowing backyard gardens. Along with all these warm weather favorites come dramatically increased water bills and usage, as all that green requires a constant flow of our most precious resource to thrive. And while most of us have access to the city water we need for drinking, flushing, and gardening, there is one easy way you can cut your water bill down quite a bit while potentially saving thousands of gallons of fresh water this season: by catching the water you need from the sky, free of charge.
Depending on where you live you may or may not be able to catch enough water to provide for all your watering needs, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. After all, with just small upfront investment and a small amount of labor you could be saving yourself money and water year after year! Who wouldn’t like saving money and the environment with such a simple tip? Certainly not you! So with that in mind, let’s talk about collecting rainwater and how to install various types of water catchment devices at your home.
Did you know that up until very recently harvesting rainwater was illegal in a few states, including Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah? Yep – it was illegal to put buckets out on your yard and prevent the water from landing (and thus flowing) naturally in the earth. The reasons as to why vary from state to state, but generally it was because of water-rights issues still in play from long ago. Thankfully residents have started standing up for their right to install water collection devices at their homes, and the laws have softened up, especially for small-scale systems. Most everyone now can collect rainfall for their own use around their property.
A typical rainy day may not seem to bring too much rain, but just 1 inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof with a harvesting system in place can collect 600 gallons of water. That’s 600 free gallons of precious water! To figure out how much water you can collect off your roof from just a single inch of rain, multiply the square footage of your roof x 0.6 and voila – that’s how many gallons you can save for future use. But just where will you store all that water?
Water Catchment Options
Rain Barrels – Rain barrels are generally available at most home supply stores or many stores online, and are the cheapest way to store and save the water you collect. From $50 and up (depending on how fancy they are), rain barrels are made of plastic or wood and have an opening at the top for your gutter downspouts to be aimed at or attached to and they usually have a spigot at the bottom which you can attach a hose to. Install a few of these at the bottom of each of your gutters over a weekend and the next rainy day could provide hundreds of gallons of free water.
Cisterns – Cisterns are much bigger than rain barrels and can be stored above ground or buried in the ground. Designed to hold thousands of gallons of water, cisterns are popular with people choosing to live off-grid or in desert locations where it rarely rains. One major rain storm in the desert may have to provide all the water a person like that may need for 6 months, so they need to be sure to collect as much of it as possible. For the typical homeowner, a small cistern could be buried in the backyard and collect enough rainwater for all gardening and lawn care needs. Cisterns are usually made from plastic, fiberglass, concrete or metal.
No matter how you choose to store your harvested water, you need to get it off the roof and into the containers. This can be done via normal household gutters and downspouts, elaborate, professionally-installed hoses, or attractive metal “rain chains”, which gently guide water off the house and roof and into storage. Most people just use the existing gutters on their home, as I did when I lived in New Mexico.
None of the equipment for collecting rainwater has to be too expensive and a system can be put in place in just a few hours. You could easily save hundreds of dollars each year on your water bill by installing a small rainwater catchment system at your home all while doing your part to protect Earth. So what are you waiting for? Summer is right around the corner!
So, do you have a rain water collection system? What do you use it for?
PS: Don’t forget to check out the new “Share Your Voice” section on the PET homepage.
In developing countries, this method of water collection is far more commonplace than here in the US. People there can’t afford to water their lawns and flush their toilets with piped water. 🙂
Very true. Because of this it is used a lot more wisely. Water is a commodity and people treat it that way.
Wow very interesting! I’ll definitely have to look into this. Our water bill isn’t too too high, around $75 every 3 months.
If you start tracking your usage day to day you might surprise yourself to see where you could use less.
The is the best alternative to saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your water bill that I’ve come across so far. I didn’t know that harvesting rainwater was illegal in some states, and that the law was recently overturned.
I’m wondering if most homeowners are aware of this strategy for saving money on their water bills.
Like anything else, I think one has to educate themselves. Without that effort people can’t make progress or positive change.
I’m so glad water is included in my rent 😀 but something to consider when I get a house next year
It was incredibly rewarding to watch my cisterns get filled up after each rainstorm and then be able to water my garden to my heart’s content. Give it a shot if you can, it’s worth the effort!
I would love to have rain barrels. Of course I probably need to get gutters first (you might be amazed at the number of houses in Central Texas that don’t have gutters).
(BTW, in answer to your question just below the submit button) yes, I am human. However, when we lived in Taiwan I was an alien–and had an official ID to prove it!)
lol. That is awesome. You are such a jokester.
The lack of gutters due to lack of rains? Some parts of Texas are quite dry aren’t they? You would think more conservation of water would be in place because of this.
We do have a rain barrel that we use to water the garden, but I often wonder if I’ll ever recoup my costs. It cost $60 to buy, and while it fills up quickly, I can only get ONE barrel of water from each rain fall. During the gardening months I probably average 1 barrel a week… or 16 barrels for the summer. But how much would that amount of water cost?? and how long will my $60 barrel last?
Like David said, I think you have to think beyond cost here. It is also about being green and conserving water use.
What you could do is set up another barrel. That way you can collect twice as much each week.
This seems like a really cool idea but our roof is tiny as we live in a townhouse 🙁 We also don’t have gutters so it would be more than just the cost of the rain barrels. Maybe after I see how high my water bill is this summer at our new townhouse I will reconsider.
Even if you can’t collect water you can monitor your usage and find ways that you can conserve.
Julie, you would have to figure out what your water costs from the city are and then do the math. But even more than saving some bucks, by collecting rainwater and using it for watering instead of using fresh drinking water you are helping conserve water and protect the planet, a win-win for all.
That’s quite popular here. The rain water is used to water kitchen gardens, flower gardens and lawns. My neighbour catches the rain water for his “outdoor aquariums”.
Very cool. Sounds like your city is pretty progressive.
There are tons of ways to save on water costs, and these are good ones.
Additional ones include household-related tasks such as using a low-flow showerhead, taking a shorter shower, repair leaky faucets, etc.
Agreed. There are numerous ways you can reduce your day to day usage. We like to use our fish tank water to water our house plants.
That’s a neat idea. What happens when the barrel fills up? Does it just overflow all over the place or is there a backup of some sort?
It will just overflow or drain out. Ideally you would want another barrel so that you can save the water from being wasted.
Living in the desert of Phoenix, water usage and waste is a hot topic. We replaced our entire back yard lawn with fake grass in 2007. We save $30-50/mo easily on our water bill and we no longer have to mow and it always looks great. We recouped the cost of the installation in 2.5 years so everything now is pure savings.
Interesting. Fake grass. That is an option I guess. I would worry about the impact on eco systems though. Lawns are full of life.
I don’t have a law where I live either although I can see the perks to having one.
Cool post. I’ve always wondered how to do this. We’re in the umpteenth year of a long-term drought — got our first decent rain in months just a couple of weeks ago. Drought or no, though, it’s always frosted my proverbial cookies to have to pour treated city water on the ground. It seems so wasteful, especially after having lived in a house where the landscaping was served by untreated irrigation water.
In my present home, I have desert landscaping front and back. Grass lawns can run up the water bill higher than the electric bill…which is saying something in a place that routinely gets 118-degree days in the summer.
Glad to hear you have designed your yard in a way that is water friendly.