When it rains, water runs off of your roof, into your gutters and eventually into the storm drain system. Once it stops raining, that water is no longer available.  What a waste.

Why not capture the rain and put it to good use? Rain barrels are a convenient and inexpensive way of storing rainwater so that it can be used to water your plants or lawn all the summer. Stored water is especially valuable during a drought.   Rainwater is also lukewarm and free of chlorine, lime or calcium, so it’s better for plants than tap water.

Rain barrels benefit the environment as well. They keep excess water out of the drainage system and prevent water from eaves troughs from washing over driveways and into the ground, carrying pollutants such as pet waste, automotive fluids and fertilizer into the water system.

Modern rain barrels are easy to use and are sold in many styles, sizes and prices at garden centres, hardware stores and big box stores. Some are made to look pretty while others…well, not so much.  Some are made of recycled materials.  A few have flat sides so they can sit flush against a wall, others have built-in storage for hoses, etc.  There are collapsible versions that are easy to transport and take up less space when stored for winter.

Before installing a rain barrel, decide how many you need to catch the majority of runoff from your roof.  The standard rule is that one inch of rainfall on a 1,000 square-foot roof results in 623 gallons of runoff.  The average rainfall in the GTA is 2.8 inches a month between April and September.

Depending on the size of your roof, that’s a substantial amount of H2O– and it’s free!  You may want one rain barrel for each downspout, or you may want to connect more than one together so that the second one catches the overflow from the first.

A common complaint from gardeners is the unsightliness of a large plastic barrel.  Well, here’s a chance to get creative.  Paint it.  Surround it with potted plants or a small picket fence.   One homeowner placed a rain barrel in a vacant doghouse.

But be sure to install your rain barrel on a strong, level surface—the average one can weigh 1,200 pounds full.  It’s also a good idea to elevate it high enough that a standard watering can can be filled from the drainage tap.