Every day, homeowners make smart choices to help conserve water. Harvesting rainwater is a simple, proactive way to create a surplus of water with a minimum of effort. Generally speaking, one inch of rain on a 1,000 square-foot roof will result in up to 600 gallons of water for harvesters. This rainwater can be used in a variety of ways: for lawn and garden maintenance; to supply domestic needs such as toilet flushing, washing machines, and hot tubs; even to serve as drinking and bathing water. No matter what your needs, rainwater collection can be a benefit to you and your family.
Depending on how you plan to use rainwater, there are two methods of landscape design for rainwater harvesting. The easiest method, which collects water for landscape and gardening use, uses a simple rain barrel. These barrels, with leaf screens and spouts for water distribution, are sold in 55 to 75 gallon sizes, but inventive homeowners can also make their own out of wood, metal, plastic or fiberglass. These tanks have spouts to retrieve water harvests and screens, which may also be placed over downspouts or gutters, to filter debris and run-off. Once barrels or cisterns are placed beneath downspouts, gutters or Rain Chains, gravity will take care of the rest! (To prevent mosquito breeding and algae growth, rain barrels must stay covered and out of direct sunlight.)
If you plan to use rainwater for drinking, bathing, or washing, landscape design will be more complex. You will need to install a pressurized system to move rainwater from the storage tank into the house, and because rainwater is naturally acidic, it must be neutralized with limestone before entering a system of copper pipes. Other materials matter too: roofs should be smooth and non-toxic, like slate, concrete or unpainted galvanized metal, and storage tanks must be lined with a PVC liner to keep zinc from leaching into the water supply. Gutters and downspouts cannot be made with lead solder or lead-based paint, and in addition to leaf screens they must incorporate ‘roof washers’, more specialized filters that are placed in the lines themselves. In many cases, cisterns are buried to preserve water quality, but additional filtration and purification systems, such as chlorine or UV lights, are usually necessary. In some industrialized area with poor air quality, rain may never be safe to drink. Be sure to have your water professionally evaluated for quality and check with local officials for regulations on rainwater systems for indoor use.
Whether you live in a drought-affected area or want to enjoy independence from municipal water supplies, rainwater harvesting is natural solution for your water needs. With careful planning, you too can harness the power of nature in your own backyard.