Why You Need a Rain Barrel
When Aaron Pratt began selling his handmade rain barrels on eBay in 2001, he was the only one doing it. Today, there are almost 400 different rain barrels for sale on the site. They're also available at your local discount store or natural grocery.
Rainwater harvesting is particularly useful for gardeners because it saves money on water bills and, some argue, leads to healthier plants than watering with chlorinated or treated water. But "rainwater harvesting has ecological benefits far beyond gardening," says Chris Anderson of Eden on Earth, an ecological design-based landscaping company in northern Arizona.
"Rainwater harvesting moderates rainfall in both wet and dry regions, slowing it down and making it more useful," he says. "In arid Arizona, where I live, it dramatically reduces the pressure on a marginal water supply."
Harvesting rainwater has become more important even in nondesert areas. The city of Chicago, for instance, has offered incentives for residents to install rain barrels for more than a decade, because it reduces the volume of storm water that must be treated before it enters Lake Michigan, Anderson says. Currently, Chicago residents can get a $40 rebate toward the purchase of a rain barrel.
Rebate or not, here are five reasons you need a rain barrel of your own:
1. Save money. Use rainwater to water indoor houseplants or thirsty vegetables such as tomato plants, and cut back on your water bill.
2. Employ area watering. Rain barrels are great for watering a specific location near the rain barrel such as a flowerbed or landscaped area, Pratt says. There's no need to install an irrigation system or lug garden hoses around the yard.
3. Save your basement. If you have a leaky basement or crawl space, rain barrels can be used to capture and redirect the rainwater to keep it out of those underground spaces.
4. Be prepared for water bans. During droughts or local watering bans, when your neighbors can't water their plants or wash their cars, the water you've collected in your rain barrel is free for you to use.
5. Easy to use. Rain barrels can be freestanding or attached to the downspout of your home's gutters, and Pratt says both types are easy to install and use.
Shopping tip: Anderson recommends looking for a model that has an overflow; two outlets (one at the very bottom and one higher, so the water stays cleaner); a screened top to protect the water from sunlight; and a removable lid so it's easier to clean.
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