We take water for granted as we turn on the faucet and it pours out. We fail to notice that due to global warming and intensive farming, water has become the most precious commodity on earth. Even more, in the coming decades water will become more precious than gold. Collecting rainwater can be a viable solution for assuring the water needs for you and your family. And with the recent discussions regarding whether or not to allow the use of rain water, collecting rainwater has become a hot topic.
Although it sounds plain stupid, in some states rain is not free for the taking! There are laws restricting property owners from collecting rainwater sent by God, water that falls on their homes and land. This is why is better to check your local regulation and building codes before starting a rain harvesting project.
Why should you consider collecting rainwater?
- It’s a free resource and it makes good sense to take advantage of it. It can be used in many applications without the need to purify it.
- It’s ideal for gardening. Installing a barrel and collecting rainwater requires no rocket science or noticeable effort. The roof and the gutters will do most of the job for you. You can use it to water your garden as it is free of chemicals and it helps dissolve minerals and salts, carrying them into the ground.
- It saves you money. You will save money on your water bill if you use rainwater for all the chores that doesn’t require potable water. Use it for washing, for watering the garden and for flushing.
- You will save valuable water. Collecting rainwater helps us conserve ground water as we use it less and we learn to compromise. At the alarming rate the world population is growing, we should all save water.
- You have an emergency water backup. You can use the water from your storage tanks in case of a crisis. It will cost you nothing and you can save your drinkable water supplies.
- It can be used for many other purposes to save drinking water. There is no need to bathe, wash dishes, cook or water the garden with drinkable water if you are collecting rainwater.
There are also some disadvantages of collecting rainwater that need to be mentioned:
- Lack of rain. In some areas of the country we can experience very few days of rain and rainfall is very hard to predict. You can imagine that rain harvesting works better in areas that have plenty of rainfall.
- Collecting rainwater can be expensive. Depending on the system you want to build and the equipment required, it may cost anywhere between $500 and $5000. It could be cheaper having a well drilled.
- Every water collecting system requires maintenance. The tanks have to be kept clear of algae and pests (mosquitoes, bugs). Cold weather will crack the pipes and valves. Leaves will clog gutters. It’s difficult to predict from the start all the maintenance work required, but you will deal with it first hand, when the time comes. As with everything, practice makes perfect.
- Roofing caution will be needed. The material of your roof can transfer harmful chemicals into the water you are collecting. It has insects, bird droppings, dirt and other materials that can infect your water supply. This is why the first flush will not be collected and sometimes you have to clean your roof.
- Landscaping nightmare. If you go for large water tanks with pumps and piping your house will look like a factory. It will not be a pretty sight and it will be hard to hide the rainwater collecting system. Not to mention that if you live in a gated community, you have to comply with the home association rules and they might not like the idea. One thing is certain, is better to hide your rainwater harvesting installation because you can’t know how laws will change. Out of sight, out of mind.
What do you need to get started?
A basic system for collecting rainwater includes the following:
- Roof – it helps directs the rain to the gutters
- Gutters – The rain water will flow into the gutters and run through the pipe system towards the water tank
- First flush – The first few moments of rain are polluted as it washes your roof. This water is separated and directed away from the storage tank. Only clean water is collected.
- Screen – This is needed to remove leaves and debris from the pouring water.
- Storage – The tank for collecting rainwater, it can vary in size and capacity based on your needs. It should be dark in color to prevent algae forming and screened to prevent pests from entering your water.
- Purifying water – You must perform various actions to keep the water bacteria-free.
With a good system for collecting rainwater with better than average working conditions you can expect to capture about 0.5 gallons per square foot of roof surface.
Here is a formula helping you to calculate how much rain water can you gather:
Catchment area (roof area) x Rainfall (inch) x 0.5 = potential rainwater gallons collected
How much water should I collect?
The answer depends from family to family. Some reports suggest that a family of four will use 6,000 gallons of water a month to meet their demands. The more the better! Water is the last thing you want to go short on, especially when you need it.
Collecting Rainwater – Storage Options
Plastic water tanks
These are by far the most popular options for collecting rainwater and the material used in their fabrication is High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and you have to check if they are designed for potable water. Go for the ones made of food-grade polyethylene as they are treated with plastic softeners and UV stabilizers. This way the containers will not crack if exposed to freezing temperatures or if they are left in the sun for too long. Another thing you have to check out when going for plastic tanks is the toxicity levels. Watch out for BPA and phthalates as these chemicals interfere with human hormones and may harm the reproductive systems of humans.
When it comes to installing the plastic tanks, always watch out for rocks, you have to remove them otherwise the tank will be damaged by its own weight. Compress the soil and add a layer of sand to help smooth the bumps created by the tank when it shifts the soil under its own weight. A good plastic tank should last for at least 15 years.
Steel water tanks
These tanks are more resistant than plastic tanks, but they are also more expensive. They can tolerate heat and changing weather conditions better than plastic and have a larger life spam. The most common material used for these tanks is corrugated steel and are usually sold with a plastic liner to prevent rust. When it comes to toxicity, the problem is posed by the plastic lining or coating. You have to check if the liner is certified for drinking water if you use this option for collecting rainwater, look for the ANSI/NSF 61 certification. If you have a stainless steel tank, no additional coating will be needed so it should be safe for storing your water.
The installation of the steel water tank is no different than the one for plastic tanks, it all depends if the tank is assembled at the site or if it shipped ready to go. In any case you need a level surface to place the tank, you compress the soil and you add a layer of sand to cushion the tank. The rocks could still pose a problem so is better to remove them from the site. The lifespan of a steel tank is at least 20 years and with regular maintenance it can go up to 40 years.
Wooden water tanks
These tanks are usually made of pine, cedar or cypress, wrapped with steel cables and lined with food-grade plastic. The most preferred wood for building water tanks is western red cedar. It’s resistant to decay, termites, UV radiation, moisture, pressure and changing weather conditions. Regarding toxicity, all cedar water tanks are designed so that no wood preserver or anti-fungus is applied, but it’s still better to check with your supplier, especially for the plastic liner that is added to the inside of the tank. The tanks are disassembled for shipping and are designed for easy transportation and setup. You will have to assemble it at the site. It requires a firm foundation to relief the stress put on the wooden beams by water weight.
They can be tower mounted for better water pressure, but you might want to avoid that, unless you want for everyone to know you’re collecting rainwater. When it comes to collecting rainwater, cedar water tanks are more expensive compared to plastic tanks but they have a higher lifespan, of about 30 years. If they are equipped with a plastic liner, consider changing it after 10-15 years.
Concrete block cistern
If you have skills working with concrete blocks, you can make this a DIY project and build your own 3000 gallon concrete cistern for about $1500. Reinforced concrete can prove a viable solution when it comes to collecting rainwater due to its durability and it will also help neutralize water acidity. A well-made concrete tank should last for at least 3-4 decades. The materials used for constructing the cistern will consist of blocks, cement that complies with NSF/ANSI standard 61, water and fine sand. Use 0.5 inch reinforced steel rebar for the pad.
For toxicity levels, you have to pay attention to the high amounts of soluble alkalis, it will make the rainwater too alkaline with a pH level of 10. The water pH level will drop as you use the water and replace it with fresh rainwater, it shouldn’t become a problem. After constructing the concrete cistern you will need to build a roof to keep the animals and insects from contaminating your rainwater.
The best option for collecting rainwater are probably these cisterns since they are invisible to the prying eye. Most neighbors won’t ever know you are collecting rainwater. The tanks can be buried anywhere and are not affected by weather conditions. You can hide the collecting piping underground and there is no special procedure to connect your rain harvesting system to the underground tank. The material used for manufacturing these tanks is concrete or linear polyethylene with a rugged ribbed design to withstand the pressure and the weight of the soil. Regarding the toxicity, you have to check with the supplier to make sure is safe. Do regular water testing to detect bacteria, pesticides or heavy metals that could have contaminated your water.
When it comes to installing it, it can prove to be a little tricky as it will require a lot of digging; you have to pay attention not digging up one of the utility companies’ lines. It is important to get it installed by a professional and licensed contractor to be sure it was installed correctly. This will not void the warranty and you can be sure the tank will not rupture. Here prices vary from manufacturer to manufacture. Think about how much you spend as it will not be cheap to replace the tank after a few years. The life of the tank depends on the warranty period offered by the manufacturer and the quality of material used in the tank. Plastic ones will last for about 20 years, while concrete ones will have a 50 year lifespan.
This is the cheapest water storage option of them all and it can be homemade. The barrels can also be bought from the store and are made of plastic, metal or oak. You need to know the history of the barrel, you wouldn’t want to collect rainwater in a barrel that previously held chemicals. This is a good solution for collecting rainwater, but it provides limited quantities of water, used usually for garden watering. The installation for collecting rainwater is not complicated as you only need a firm foundation to avoid the barrel from tilting on the sides when filled with water. In some cases you will need to modify the downspout to redirect the flow of water to your barrels.
The lifespan is different from one barrel to the other and it depends on the quality of the material used for manufacturing it. Wood and plastic barrels can last for 10 years while metal drums can last for 5 years before they rust. They can last longer if you take good care of them and empty the barrels during winter.
Good luck collecting rainwater and Good Bless!
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