Buying a rain barrel can’t be complex, can it? It is just a barrel after all!
In some instances, sure, you might be able to grab any of the barrels stocked at your local big box store and be perfectly satisfied. Most of the time though, you will benefit by putting in some extra care and consideration into the barrel you choose and the features it comes with, no matter how simple your use case is.
It’s important to know what you’re going to do with your rainwater ahead of time as it will be helpful in identifying the factors that are most important to you. Are you going to be using this rainwater in your garden? Or are you planning on supplementing your household water source with rainwater? Once you know what you intend to do with your rain barrel, you’ll want to consider each of these factors carefully to know what will fulfill your needs best:
- Capacity: How much water you need to collect
- Material: Some barrels are made of plastic, while others are made of wood or metal.
- Durability: Look for a barrel that is made of sturdy and weather-resistant material.
- Size and Shape: Consider the size and shape of the barrel to make sure it will fit in the area where you plan to place it.
- Drainage: Look for a barrel with a good drainage system, including an overflow valve to prevent water from overflowing.
- Accessibility: Make sure the barrel has an easy way to access the water, such as a spigot or pump.
By considering these factors, you will be able to choose a rain barrel that is perfect for your needs and ensure that it meets all your requirements. In this guide, I will go through each of these factors in detail to help you understand what will be most important to you and help you find the perfect barrel.
One of the primary things to consider is the capacity of a rain barrel. Barrel capacity can range from as little as 50 gallons to over 200 gallons. The capacity you will need though will depend on the amount of water you can collect which comes down to the size of your roof. If you have a large roof area, you will need a larger barrel to collect the amount of water you need. To know how much rainwater you can expect, use our rainwater roof calculator to get an estimate.
When planning the capacity of your rain barrel system, it’s also important to know you can combine multiple barrels into one system. This can be done by connecting multiple barrels using a linking kit so water can flow from one barrel to another. This can be useful if you have a large roof area or multiple downspouts on your house. It’s also a great way to increase water storage in a small space or to allow you to “scale up” incrementally or adjust the total capacity of your system as necessary.
The material your rain barrel is made of is also a critically important factor to consider as it can have serious implications based on your use case. Especially if your use case includes drinking the water. The most common materials used for rain barrels are plastic, wood, and metal. Each material has its own unique benefits and drawbacks.
Plastic rain barrels are the most popular and affordable option. They are lightweight, easy to install, and resistant to rust and corrosion. They also come in a variety of colors and styles, making it easy to find one that will fit in with your home’s aesthetic. However, plastic barrels can crack or fade over time, and they may not be as durable as other materials.
Wooden rain barrels are a more traditional option and can add a rustic charm to your garden. They are usually made of cedar or other rot-resistant wood, which means they can last for many years. They are also well insulated, which can help keep the water cool during hot summer months. However, wooden barrels can be heavy and difficult to move, and they may require more maintenance to ensure they last. Additionally, They may not be suitable for areas with heavy rainfall or high humidity.
Metal rain barrels, such as those made of galvanized steel, are also a popular option. They are durable, long-lasting, and resistant to rust and corrosion. They are also well-insulated, which can help keep the water cool. However, metal barrels can be heavy and difficult to move, and they may conduct heat, which can cause the water to become too warm during hot summer months. Additionally, They may not be suitable for areas with heavy rainfall or high humidity.
None of these materials is the right option for every situation. They each come with their own benefits and challenges and the right option will be heavily dependent on where you live and how you’ll store them.
If you’re going to spend money on a rain barrel, you are definitely going to want to consider durability (no one like’s buying something twice that they don’t have to!). You want a barrel that will last for many years, even in harsh weather conditions.
Plastic rain barrels are generally less durable than other materials and can crack or fade over time, especially if exposed to intense sunlight or extreme temperatures. Wooden rain barrels are generally more durable than plastic barrels but may require more maintenance and are prone to rot in geographic locations with heavy rainfall or high humidity. Metal rain barrels, such as those made of galvanized steel, are considered the most durable option. They are resistant to rust and corrosion and can withstand harsh weather conditions and extreme temperatures.
The durability of the barrel will also depend on the conditions it will be exposed to. Rain barrels are often exposed to various weather conditions including heavy rainfall, high winds, extreme temperatures, and UV rays. These weather conditions can cause issues for rain barrels, depending on the material they are made of. For example:
- heavy rainfall can cause wooden barrels to rot
- Extreme temperatures can cause plastic barrels to become brittle and crack
- Metal barrels may rust in damp environments
It’s important to consider the typical weather conditions in your area when choosing a rain barrel to ensure that it can withstand them.
The shape of the barrel could also matter more than you might think. Rain barrels come in a variety of shapes including cylindrical, rectangular, or even shaped like a traditional oak barrel. Cylindrical barrels are the most common and are easy to install but may not fit well in tight spaces and aren’t quite as economical in their shape. Rectangular barrels are a good option if you have limited space and are looking for a more modern look. Oak barrel-shaped barrels are more decorative and can add a rustic charm to your garden but, of the three options, are the least utilitarian.
Another important aspect to consider when buying a rain barrel is the height of the barrel. Rain barrels are usually around 40 inches tall, but if you have limited space you might want to consider a shorter barrel. It’s also important to consider the location of the barrel. It’s going to need to be close to your downspouts so that collecting the rainwater is relatively simple. But what does the area around your downspout look like? Is the ground flat? Will the barrels be accessible for maintenance? The location will likely dictate the size and shape of barrels that is best for you (unless you’re getting that decorative oak barrel for the aesthetic value it brings to your yard).
Unfortunately, we can’t control when the rain comes and how much falls (shocking) but this can present a problem that you need to be prepared for:
What if you collect more rain than you have the capacity to store?
Drainage, and what to do with excess collected water, should be considered when planning a rain barrel system. You’re going to need a system to handle overflow safely so that the water doesn’t start to spill over your gutters or, even worse, the overflow doesn’t end up damaging your house or foundation. A good drainage system includes an overflow valve to prevent water from overflowing, which can cause damage to your home and foundation.
Last, but not least, is accessibility. If you plan to use the collected water and you don’t have an automated system set up for distribution, then you’re going to really need to think about how you’re going to access and possibly transport the water to where you want to use it. For example, if you’re planning to put the barrels directly on the ground, then a spigot that is located on the bottom of the barrel is going to be really hard to access. Accessibility is a concern for maintenance to, if your barrels are placed in a really tight spot. You’ll want to put them somewhere you can get to them easily if you need to fix something.
Relatedly, you’ll also want to think about the obstacles along the way to where you want to use the water. An often underlooked aspect of harvesting rainwater is that rain barrels don’t really produce a lot of pressure by themselves. If you need to transport the water up a hill to wherever you plan to use the water, you’re going to have a hard time without a pump. Of course, you can always work to increase the pressure of your rain barrel but I highly recommend a pump.