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Rain Barrel 101

Rain barrels are an ancient innovation but they should be part of every modern Prepper’s strategy. Using one seems pretty simple, right? Well, yes. But, not exactly. There are some things you should know to use your rain barrel safely, and there are some modern ideas in the marketplace that may give a significant boost to the utility of the rain barrel.

A rain barrel is a 55-gallon drum that is used to collect and store rainwater from runoff areas, like your roof. Rain barrels usually sit right under a downspout and have a screen grate on top to keep out debris and insects. This is a diagram of the Spruce Creek Rainsaver:

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Because rainwater is “soft” water, there’s no chlorine, lime or calcium – perfect for watering plants. But what about for drinking? If it came off of your roof the water has been exposed to chemicals, dirt, dead insects, bird droppings and leaf mold – it isn’t safe to drink without going through the same filtering and boiling or chemical purification process you’d go through with any other suspect water source. However, water from rain barrels can be collected and used for washing clothes, bathing and watering plants.

Obviously, the first consideration for a rain barrel is that it is watertight. Second, it must not let in any light – translucent barrels encourage the growth of algae. Then, you need to determine the right size barrel for your roof – check out this cool calculator at Save the Rain. You also don’t want to store more water than you can use – water stagnates and becomes unpleasant pretty fast. You can build your own barrel or buy one for about $100 – $250. The Family Handyman blog has good instructions for a double barrel system.

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Place your rain barrel under a downspout – and level the spot with sand, a cement tile, bricks or cinder blocks if necessary. Be sure the lid is tight enough or weighted enough to keep out curious small children and animals.

Rain barrels need just a little maintenance on a regular basis, especially if you live in a climate where the water in the barrel could freeze (and damage the barrel). No matter where you are, check the barrel, the diverter and screen regularly for debris. If your climate gets freezing temperatures, drain your barrel and store it upside down for the winter.

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