The Rain Barrel is Offline

BWCA by Nicole

We’ve vacationed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area many times and I’ve always left there feeling at peace and one with nature. Usually, as we head further south, towards home, I’m jostled back into the present by the thought of how the changing climate will impact these pristine waters. I realize that despite the BWCA’s seemingly unending water, it is not an unlimited resource. In fact, the Earth’s water supply is rapidly becoming a vanishing resource. As concerned citizens, we must conserve water since it is necessary for all living things to be sustained. We can all do our part by recycling the raindrops.

We recycle with a seasonal rain barrel. We collect the rainwater that falls onto our Illinois rooftop and down our gutter system in a 55 gallon rain barrel from spring to late fall. Each fall, at the first sign of a hard freeze, we close down our rain barrel to eliminate problems associated with freezing water. Some northern rain harvesters contend that taking the rain barrel offline in the winter is unnecessary if the spigot is left open and the water completely drains from the rain barrel, as well as the hoses. I am more comfortable disconnecting the rain barrel during the winter, knowing I won’t have to fret about whether the rain barrel has survived winter’s harshness well enough to weather a spring downpour without producing a flood around my foundation.

It’s a simple process to close down the rain barrel for the winter:

  1. Prior to the first hard freeze, disconnect the flexible downspout so that it is no longer configured to flow into the rain barrel.
  2. Return downspout system to its original configuration by placing the flexible downspout connector into the previously removed downspout section of the aluminum gutter.
  3. Direct the downspout’s flow away from building’s foundation.
  4. Drain the water from the rain barrel and hoses.
  5. Remove and store the screens and hoses.
  6. Turn the rain barrel upside down or cover the top to prevent water accumulation, which can lead the rain barrel to freeze and crack.
  7. After the spring thaw, return the rain barrel to its online configuration by reversing the aforementioned steps.

Flexible Connector

Rain Collection

Barrel Drained

Rain Barrel Offline

Rain Barrel in Winter Position

Covered for the Winter

Spring brings a lot of rain in the Midwest. Sometimes it brings flooding, too. Flooding is the result of an increase of impervious surfaces covering the ground. With fewer places for rain to be absorbed, it rapidly makes its way into our local watershed and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The reduction of stormwater runoff into any watershed correlates to less pollution and sedimentation down its waterway path. As one might suspect, the runoff problem is only getting worse as climate change creates torrential rain deluges followed by longer periods of drought. Lack of rain requires everyone to conserve our water resources more vigilantly since rain is the origin of all our freshwater resources. Rain barrel use is one way we can reduce our dependence on municipal water supplies and sewage treatment centers, while lowering our household water bills. Rain recycling also provides a source of chemically free water for gardening. If your’re not convinced yet of the merits of a rain barrel, consider Benjamin Franklin’s insight about our vanishing resource…” When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” Trust me, if you depend on a well for water and you’ve had to have the well drilled deeper to increase your household water pressure, you know first hand the cost of water!

For the converts, below you will find so valuable information regarding procurement and installation of your very own raindrop recycling system or rain barrel.

Where to find or how to make rain barrels

  • Rain barrel are readily available at most home improvement and gardening stores. Starting prices for a basic rain barrel is about$70. Lowes, Menards, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware all carry rain barrels as part of their store and online inventory.
  • Another great source for rain barrels is your local forest preserve district. Many Forest preserve Districts offer rain barrel sales in the spring.
  • From Illinois’ Governor, Pat Quinn: a Where to Buy Rain Barrels web page.
  • For DIYers, Garden Goddess, Rebecca Chesin, has created a straightforward rain barrel construction guide on her web siteThe Rain Barrel Project.
  • HGTV also has step by step directions for rain barrel construction.
  • Tom Butzler from Penn State Cooperative Extension has a great online video on How to Make Cheap Eco-friendly Rain Barrels.

Rain barrel installation

  • Step by step rain barrel installation instructions can be found on the blog, Rain Barrel Guide.
  •  A video, as well as written instructions for How to Install Rain Water Collection system is available from This Old House.

More rain barrel information

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1 Comment

  1. Great post thank you. I’ve been using rain water barrels out of used olive drums, and they are fantastic. Very cheap to get a hold of and hold about 200 litres, along with a rubber sealed lid. We had a downpour last night and I got one completely filled just from one half of a backyard shed. Thanks again and be well.


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