Rain barrels enjoying upswell in popularity

Renee Tomell

More valuable than oil, water is making a big splash in the conservation movement, with rain barrels enjoying a surge in popularity.

“We’ve sold over 1,000 within the last year and a half — it’s unbelievable,” said Brook McDonald, president and CEO of The Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit land and watershed protection organization based in Naperville, Ill. “The people get it. People understand not only is it healthier for the plants, it saves them money and it’s good for the environment. It’s free, clean and life supporting.”

Instead of trying to get rid of water, he said people are “embracing it as a very valuable natural resource and treating water with some respect.”

He said chlorine, fluoride and other additives in municipal water supplies, as well as common minerals in well water, may be good for people, but not necessarily for plants.

“My plants (now) are a lot healthier — from petunias to potatoes — they just like rainwater better,” McDonald said.

For people concerned the barrels may help breed mosquitos, he said the fine screen on top solves two problems.

“They keep debris out of the rain barrel like leaves and sticks that wash in, and keep mosquitos out,” he said.

Single or multiple barrels can be attached to a home’s gutters. He said the barrels have two valves, including an overflow valve on top, adding that some people stack one barrel atop another, connected by a hose.

At home, McDonald has a hose running from his barrel to a rain garden, an area specially designed to absorb rainwater and reduce stormwater runoff.

“Every time it rains, it automatically adds water to my water garden,” he said. “If I didn’t have a rain garden, I would take it over to a tree or shrub or drain it out (into) the yard. As long as you have some hose, you can engineer it the way you want. (With) a soaker hose hooked to it, even when it’s not raining, water in the barrel can constantly drip into your garden.”

His wife, Adona, recently painted their rain barrel with flowers and a butterfly and a cheerful invitation to “Let It Rain.”

Rain gathering 101

During the summer, an estimated 40 percent of household water is used in the yard, while a quarter inch of rain falling on the average home would yield more than 200 gallons. Using the rain that falls on your property and not allowing it to run off will help recharge the water supply. It also reduces the undesirable impact of rainwater running off hard surfaces, allowing fewer pesticides and fertilizers into rivers and streams. It also hinders soil erosion.

• It is a good idea to put your barrel up on a platform (concrete blocks or deck boards). The added height increases water pressure and allows you to put a bucket under the spigot to bring water to your indoor plants. Stands are available for $10.

• Measure and cut the downspout. (Keep the cutoff piece for reattachment in the winter). Use two elbows or a flexible spout attachment to direct water to the top of the barrel.

• Diverters are available that can easily switch the downspout from filling the barrel to normal operation once the barrel is full.

• Another helpful Web site is at

Geneva Republican