Have you ever watched rainwater pour down your gutters and wished you could capture and reuse it? Well, you can. Installing a water catchment system – which directs rainwater from the gutters on your roof into a rain barrel or a cistern below – is a sure-fire way to conserve water, reduce run-off, and save money on your water bill.
Think about it: an inch of rainfall on a 1,000-square-foot house produces about 600 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water you could use to irrigate your yard, wash your car, or even give your dog a bath, especially if El Niño results in multiple storms this year.
So how does a water catchment system work?
If you’re using a rain barrel, it’s placed beneath your gutter’s downspout, close to your plants, and on a raised, level landscaped surface, so that any overflow soaks into the soil rather than running off.
The downspout is trimmed to accommodate the height of the rain barrel, and a gutter elbow extension directs the water into the barrel. The barrel has a screened top, to keep debris and mosquitoes out. When you’re ready to use the water, you can attach a hose to the barrel’s spigot at the bottom and – presto! – irrigate your plants with a gentle flow. You can also attach the spigot to drip systems.
Rain barrels can hold 50 gallons or water or more, while cisterns can hold 500 to 10,000 gallons. Clearly, cisterns take up a lot more space, and they can be placed above or below ground. The system for collecting the rainwater is essentially the same, but you might need to install a pump to get the water out of a cistern below the ground.
Underground pre-fabricated cisterns are made of cement, fiberglass, or plastic, while above-ground tanks are made of steel or fiberglass.
There are some restrictions in how you can use the water you collect in these systems. First, drinking it is no-no. Second, don’t use it to irrigate fruits or vegetables, unless you have a special filtering or treatment system to make the water potable. Other than that, apply the captured water to non-potable uses as you see fit!
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