Using rain barrels around your home

Updated September 11, 2023

March 22nd marks World Water Day, an internationally recognized landmark that highlights the importance of freshwater management. A key element of this pertains to conservation. North Americans use the most water per capita in the world. The average Canadian uses around 251 litres of water per day.

But, with ever-increasing pressure to be aware of the resources we consume, how can homeowners reduce their water consumption without impacting their quality of life? Here’s everything you need to know about rain barrels.

A rain barrel outside a house

Basics of water conservation

For those of us living in milder climates, water conservation can at times feel a laborious and futile endeavour, especially during winter months. But many people simply aren’t aware of just how much water they use on a daily basis. In fact, a Canadian survey showed that participants underestimated their water consumption by 4-5 times.

Flushing toilets, running dishwashers and using washing machines all use a considerable amount of water that’s never even seen. And this doesn’t even include water that’s used for drinking, cooking or cleaning.

However, these factors only scratch the surface of consumption. Consider the amount of water that it takes to produce the everyday items present in your life: a single computer chip, for example (such as that found in every mobile phone or laptop) requires 37 litres to make. A pair of jeans requires 6,800 litres; a car requires 151,000 litres.

We all know that 75% of the surface of the Earth is covered by water, but did you know that only 1% of this water is available for us to use? Curtailing water consumption is an effective means of ensuring community reservoirs don’t drop to critical levels. But using less water is easier said than done, especially if you’re not willing to compromise your quality of life.

What is a rain barrel?

What a rain barrel is and what it looks like

A rain barrel is a simple device that can easily be made at home. Essentially, it’s a container that attaches to your downspouts to collect rain water that would otherwise be wasted. Here’s how it works:

When rain falls onto your roof, it’s channelled towards your gutters and downspouts. Usually, this water is redirected away from the property to prevent it from seeping through to your foundation. By connecting a rain barrel to your downspouts, you can retain this water for later landscaping use, thus saving water that would otherwise come from the municipal supply.

The amount of water that falls during even moderate rainfall may surprise you. For example, one inch of rain on a 2,000 square foot roof yields around 4,500 litres. That’s enough to fill the average rain barrel in minutes.

Most rain barrels are around 50-80 gallons, meaning that owners of a typical home could save 4,900 litres of water during the peak summer months. However, it is possible to take conservation even further. There are reports of some homeowners who eschew their municipal water supply altogether in favour of rainwater, though we would advise caution in this regard for two reasons.

Firstly, without treatment or filtering, rain water is not as safe to consume as water that comes from a tap. It’s also slightly more acidic. As such, rain water should be reserved for landscaping use only. And secondly, while collecting small amounts of rainwater for personal use on your lawn is unlikely to result in ramifications, it is possible that you may run into legal issues.

How do I install a rain barrel?

Before you install a rain barrel at your property, it’s worth considering your options. Manufactured rain barrels that come ready to use with a spigot cost from $100 for a basic unit to almost $400 for an ornamental unit. Or, you can make your own rain barrel for around $30 by following the steps listed below.

  • Collect your supplies. For this project, you’ll need:
    • A plastic trashcan with a lid. (This will be your barrel.)
    • A length of downspout piping (approx. 1-2 feet).
    • Two ‘elbow joints’; plastic pipe of the same type and diameter as your downspouts, but with a 90-degree bend.
    • A spigot with a 1″ thread.
    • A 2″ piece of threaded plastic pipe (1″ in diameter).
    • A 1″ washer.
    • Waterproof silicone sealant.
    • Waterproof tape.
    • A drill with a 1″ drill bit.
    • A hacksaw.
    • A utility knife (or Stanley knife).
  • First, drill a hole in the side of the barrel around two inches from the base.

  • Wrap sealing tape around the thread on the spigot and twist it into the hole you just made.

  • On the inside of the barrel, place the washer over the thread of the spigot, then screw the 2″ pipe to the spigot to secure it place.

  • Seal the opening using silicone sealant on both the inside and outside of the barrel. Leave to dry for around 3 hours.

Once you’ve reached this stage, the installation process becomes virtually identical for both manufactured and home-made barrels. First, place the barrel next to your home’s downspout, then connect the two elbow joints to your spare length of downspout. Hold the pipe in place and draw an outline on the lid of your barrel. While you’re at it, mark your home’s vertical downspout- you’ll need to cut this using your hacksaw.

Once you’ve done that, use the utility knife to cut a hole in the lid of your barrel. Then, simply connect the section of downspout from your house to the rain barrel.

If you’d like to follow a video, Home Depot has put together a great resource on how to make a rain barrel. Make sure to follow the additional installation tips we outline below as they are not covered in this video.

More installation tips

It’s a good idea to set your rain barrel on a cinder block. Not only will this level the ground beneath, but it will allow easier access to your spigot. Experts also recommend inserting an overflow pipe at the top of your rain barrel that connects to a runoff. This way, if your barrel overflows in heavy rain, you won’t face any issues with water seeping into your foundation.

It’s also a good idea to locate your rain barrel on high ground, as this will make it possible to connect a hose to your rain barrel if you so choose. Finally, select a black barrel to avoid mould, algae and mosquitos from populating your water. For the same reason, it’s important to always keep the lid on your rain barrel, as this prevents both sunlight and insects from getting in.

6 tips for conserving water

Conserving water helps to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions associated with treating and distributing water. Cleaning grey water (waste water from sinks, showers, washing machines, etc.) also releases chemicals into the biosphere. So, here are 6 ways you can use less water.

  1. Change your diet

    Did you know that a vegetarian diet shrinks overall water consumption by around 30%? Just like your clothing and electronics, the amount of water required to produce meat products may come as a surprise. Beef is the principal offender; one pound requires almost 7,000 litres of water. One pound of pork requires 2,180 litres, and a pound of chicken requires 1,770 litres. For those who’d rather not eliminate meat from their diet altogether, simply cutting down to 2 portions of meat per week can have a significant effect on your overall footprint.
  2. Fill that load

    While hand-washing dishes may seem like the more virtuous choice, you can save significant amounts of water by using your dishwasher. Just make sure to fill it completely before each cycle, thus reducing the total number of cycles. The same logic applies to your washing machine. For those willing to invest in energy and water efficiency, consider replacing your appliances. For example, a new, energy-star rated dishwasher uses one third as much water as a 20-year-old unit.
  3. Flush with less

    To save water with each flush of your commode, try this popular cheat. Fill a couple of plastic water bottles with sand or small stones, then top them off with water. Place them inside the lid of your toilet, away from any of the operating mechanisms. The bottles will displace the water that sits in the tank, thus reducing the amount of water used for each flush. This simple trick can save around 35 litres of water every day.
  4. Fit aerators to your faucets

    Aerators are small devices that fit inside your faucet or shower head. They restrict the flow of water by delivering a mixture of water and air. Not only do they save water, but they can also increase the pressure of your water supply and create a stream of ‘softer’ water that’s less likely to splash.
  5. Re-use grey water

    As mentioned above, grey refers to ‘clean’ waste water, or any water that’s not contaminated with human waste. Try recycling your cooking water by waiting for it to cool and then spreading it on your plants. You can also use a bucket to collect the water while you wait for your shower to warm up. Those seeking more of an impact can look into more comprehensive grey water recycling systems. These systems take water directly from the source of waste (your dishwasher, for example) and channel it to a holding tank through a network of pipes. As such, most require professional installation.
  6. Fix leaks

    Whether it’s pipes, taps or showerheads, fixing a leak is a quick and easy way to conserve water. A leaking tap can waste as much as 19 litres of water per day; that’s over 7,500 litres every year.

Aside from conserving water, rain barrels can be an effective emergency measure. In case of drought or forest fires, a supplementary store of water is always useful. For more comprehensive protection from a variety of perils, it’s also worth considering the coverage offered by your home insurance.

Square One offers comprehensive (all-risk) policies- this represents the highest level of protection available in Canada today. To learn more about the coverages available in your area, call 1.855.331.6933 and one of our licensed insurance agents will be happy to assist you. Or, get a quote online in just 5 minutes.

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Commonly asked questions

What cities need a rain barrel the most?

As you might expect, rain barrels are most effective in dry, arid climates. Residents of cities in parts of Alberta, BC, or Saskatchewan that experience little year-round precipitation, or those that frequently experience reservoir shortages may benefit from installing a rain barrel to reduce the strain placed upon their municipal water supply.

What size rain barrel do I need?

This depends on two key factors: the amount of rain in your area; and your usage needs. The average lawn requires between 37-475 litres of water per 1,000 square feet. Collecting all of the rainfall from a roof of the same size will provide 2,250 litres for an inch of rain, but remember to divide this amount by the number of downspouts on your home when calculating your requirements.

If I get a rain barrel, do I need a rain barrel diverter?

A rain barrel diverter is a clever device that channels water into your rain barrel when it’s empty, then returns the flow to the normal destination of the downspout once the barrel is full. While it’s possible to avoid the expense by installing an overflow pipe at the top of your rain barrel, this solution is often more aesthetically pleasing.

Where can I buy a rain barrel?

Rain barrels are available from most hardware stores. Try Home Depot or Lowes, or simply make your own rain barrel by following the instructions found in this article.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home Improvement resource centre for tips and inspiration for your next big home improvement project. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.


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