If you’re one of the millions living in a drought-stricken area this summer, you’re in for a doozy. The lakes are low, the sprinklers are off (or at least, they should be), and water restrictions are disrupting our casual regard for that precious liquid we call water. We are more aware than ever that we should be taking a more responsible look at how we turn on the tap, run the sprinklers, and even channel the little rain that falls on our yards and rooftops. And so I ask, “What should we be doing, now and in the future, to best use and conserve water?”
Enter the water butt.
While doing some research about rain barrels, I was amused to Replace that our good neighbors across the pond (ie. the United Kingdom) describe them as “water butts.” Now I don’t know why they call them water butts, and I’m not going down that road to the obvious one-liners. But with a very dry summer on fast approach, in barrels or butts, it’s a good time to consider ways to collect every precious raindrop that may fall our way.
Water butts are actually quite common in the UK, and like barrels, they collect rain from rooftops for future use. But once you have a butt-load (sorry) of water, or your barrel is full…what are you supposed to do with it? Let’s use the UK as an example we all can follow.
The United Kingdom can be a rainy place, but they are also used to drought
on a regular basis. That’s why, for centuries, the Brits have made it a regular practice to capture and use rainwater. By using their heads and their butts (sorry, again), they are able to channel rainwater for variety of different things, many for which we often use fresh tap water, in fact. It’s this blatant disregard for clean tap water, and the precious rain falling around us, that may soon send us up a dry river without a paddle. And so, using those Limies as our example, I give you…
Five uses for your rain water!
- Drink It
I hate to be Captain Obvious, but one of the most important roles water plays is giving us life. However, before you drink it, you’ll want to filter and treat it first
. After all, most of that water is coming straight off your roof, which has who-knows-how-much dirt, pollution, and whatever-it-is-that-birds-leave-behind on it. But fear not, for once the water has been treated, it’ll be safe to drink. Boiling
, chemical treatment
, and water filters
are all good methods for making your water drinkable. And you can keep on living.
- Cook With It
This is pretty much the same as #1, except this relates to preparing food instead of straight-up drinking it. The same principles apply here. Even though you’re cooking your food, you’ll want to make sure you treat and filter rainwater before use. See the previous option for methods in making your water clean.
- Water Your Plants
If you have a garden – flowers, vegetables…weeds – use the contents of your rain barrel to water them. Don’t waste precious potable water on plants that don’t care if it’s filtered or not. Since rain barrel water can become pretty dirty from just sitting there, be sure to avoid watering the tops of your vegetables. This prevents contaminating the edible, above ground portion of the veggie that’s hard to clean. This is especially true for leafy greens. And, as always, make sure you wash your vegetables thoroughly with clean water before eating them.
- Wash Cars and Windows
Because rain water is free of calcium, chlorine, and lime, water from your rain barrel is a great option for washing your car. Since it’s soft water, it won’t hurt your car’s paint or damage windows. And, you’ll be saving some of that precious tap water for more practical uses, like drinking.
- Flush the Toilet
This might not work as well in areas where rain doesn’t fill up your large rain barrel every week, but in places like Seattle, using your rain barrel to flush your toilet
can save a ton on water. Actually, it can save closer to 9 tons of water, per person, per year. And that is when you use high efficiency, low-flow toilets. As it turns out, there are a number of places in Seattle already using this tactic. So if you live in a rainy state, this could be a unique alternative to literally flushing away your good, clean water and can also cut back on your water expenses
If those ideas don’t suit your fancy, you can always do what I did as a kid; collect pollywogs and keep them in your water barrel. Of course, you’ll soon have a large infestation of toads to deal with (see my future blog about all-natural garden pest control).
The drought has had a positive impact on how we value and conserve water. If we do more like our English cousins and put tap water where our mouth is, and rainwater where our butt is (last one, I promise), we can help make sure there will be plenty of the precious liquid to go around. No buts about it, rain barrels can be a real life, and water, saver.
What other things do you use your rain water for? Let us know in comments!
Mosquitoes will lay their eggs in stagnant water. If you have an aquarium air pump and bubbler stone, you can aerate the water and repel the mosquitoes without needing oil or soap. Also, aerated water may help you grow better vegetables (haven’t tried it, but seems likely). Might lose a bit more water to evaporation.
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I have several rain barrels. Over several years I have had 2 different kinds. The easiest, most convenient are recycled pickle barrels with removable screens and caps. Whatever type one purchases, if you intend to drink or use the water for cooking or watering edible plants, be sure to get food grade containers. Just a suggestion. p.s. the pickle taste goes away after using it a few times, or Clorox works well too.
I have several barrels. They are covered. The rail enters through a screen (a 6" kitchen screen type strainer) – it filters out the chunks and keeps those pesky bugs out! (around here beside mosquitoes there’s wasps that also like the water :/
Never had a problem (yet)
that is what I have learned also about Asphalt shingled roofs so I keep my rain barrel water for gardening and toilet flushing. the only method I know that can get rid of those toxins would be Distillation
Hey Jude (I bet you never hear that ever…),
Mosquitoes could become a problem. I have heard liquid dish soap or vegetable oil can put a stop to it. The soap and oil leave a residue on top that hinder the mosquitoes’ ambitions of laying eggs. The problem with that is then you have dish soap or vegetable oil on top of your water. Another method that doesn’t involve dumping things into your water would be to cover the top of your barrel with window screen material. If it keeps them out of your house, it’ll keep them out of your barrel. I hope that helps!
What about mosquitoes?
For the 1st use, should we boil the water even we have water filter treatment. I thinks it’s more safe for drinking.
We put a large piece of screen over the top of our rain barrels secured with a bungy cord to keep out mosquitos and also keep our kitty from falling in if she should jump up on it! It works like a charm.
RE: Catching rain water.
Make a CLEAN CATCH in large buckets. Then the shingles residue will not be a problem. If I do this, I will still boil the rain water. I would also consider putting the recommended drops of Clorox in the water to kill any germs etc.IT MAY BE OVER KILL but I personally prefer to be safe. The quanity may be smaller but the arsinic.
Why do you not sell water barrels that the lid could be removed to catch rain water in case of an emergency???
In some states collecting rain water is illegal, and in others it is restricted. Be sure to check state, county and city regulations.
I have researched rain water barrels for a long time. I have discovered that it is recommended you not drink the water coming off a asphalt shingled roof because no filter can remove the arsnic and other toxic chemicals from the run off.Do you have any comments about this potential problem?