My mother was a rain catcher. During the wet summer months, she always had a rain barrel under the trough made where two slopes of the roof met. She captured the downpour to water the house plants and vegetable garden. My sisters and I loved to wash our hair with the rainwater because it gave it a softness not matched even by today’s hair conditioners.
We didn’t realize back then that we were being green. Collecting rainwater was the natural thing to do, and rightly so. Humans have collected, stored and used rainwater for thousands of years, mostly out of necessity. Now, in the 21st century when many areas of the U.S. and the world are facing a water crisis, rainwater harvesting, as it’s now known, is making a comeback. Rainwater and snowmelt are the primary sources for all fresh water on the planet.
Whether you live in Detroit or Dallas, Seattle or Savannah, collecting rainwater makes good sense—even here in Florida where the average annual rainfall is 54 inches. Plants and turf grass grow so fast they need more than the 8-9 inches of rain we usually get on the Gulf Coast in high summer.
Rainwater harvesting systems can range from a simple barrel at the bottom of a downspout to multiple tanks with pumps and controls. Stored water can be used to irrigate lawns, shrubs and gardens and to wash cars. Rainwater is especially good to use for irrigation. The pH is slightly acid to almost neutral, so plants love it. And, it doesn’t have dissolved minerals from the soil or chemicals from water treatment plants. Rainwater is relatively clean as it falls; it becomes contaminated when it hits the roof or ground. That’s why it’s a good practice to eliminate, or flush, the first few gallons of rainfall that is collected from the roof. Plus, you should regularly inspect and clean your roof, gutters and storage container. Rainwater should be treated or purified to make it safe to drink.
Collecting rain in a 50-60 gallon barrel for watering a small garden or flower bed is a great way to get started. Home Depot carries several barrels for home use, with prices ranging from $90 to $139. If you live in an area where rain comes down as snow in the winter, you may want to consider getting a collapsible barrel that you can store easily.
Learn more about rain barrel basics
Get motivated — the great benefits of being a rain catcher