Rain Barrels: A Simple Way to Save Water and Money

Rainwater falls in a rainwater barrel.
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Before you step in the shower, do your laundry or wash your car, you might want to consider how you can save money by saving water.

Sure, some people put bricks in toilet tanks and use other unorthodox techniques to save water and money. But there’s another way to reduce the amount of water you pay for: Catch the free stuff using rain barrels.

If you’re tired of water bills that seem to get larger and larger, you might be ready to install a rain barrel outside your house. Plus, in some areas, you can actually get paid to install rain barrels, in addition to the savings you’ll see on your water bill.

Curious about how to use all this season’s rain and snow to your advantage? Here’s a look at how rain barrels work, and the potential savings.

How Rain Barrels Help You Save Money

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average family spends $1,000 annually, or about $100 monthly, on water usage. But the most significant water use culprit might surprise you — the areas outside your house.

Outdoor water use accounts for an average of 30% to 60% of water bills, so it’s easy to see how rain barrels can help you save.

Rain barrels allow you to collect and store water from your gutters and roof. While you won’t want to drink it, you can use the collected water in your garden or wash your car or exterior home surfaces.

How Much Can You Save Using Rain Barrels?

Rain barrels are a great way to conserve water and obtain free water for your plants, but how much money can you save with them?

A lot.

Rain barrels are an ideal way to limit or eliminate the need to pay for outdoor water. Instead, you can repurpose the rainwater collected in the barrels.

The best part? You can save an average of $30 to $60 each month. Over 10 years, homeowners with rain barrels stand to save between $3,600 and $7,200. It’s a win-win for your wallet and the environment.

Could Rain Barrels Work for You?

But before you jump to set up rain barrels on your property, you need to check your state’s rules and regulations for rain collecting. It’s legal in every state, but there might be specific recommendations, requirements or incentives depending on where you live.

After you check the rules for your location, it’s time to calculate how much you could save. You might be surprised how much rain and snow your city receives every year.

For example, New York City receives more than 44 inches of precipitation per year, while Chicago gets more than 33 inches and Washington, D.C. sees about 39 inches.

“Just 1/4 inch of rainfall on a typical roof will fill a rain barrel,” reports the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “A modest amount of rainfall can supply much or all of your outdoor watering needs — a full rain barrel will water a 200-square-foot garden.”

But what does that mean for rain barrel owners? It takes about 0.3 inches of rain to fill a 55-gallon rain barrel. In Chicago, you could fill up to 110 barrels each year.

Save Even More With Rebates From Your City or State

Before you take the plunge and buy a barrel, check with your local water district to see if you’re eligible for a rainwater harvesting rebate. Many municipalities offer financial incentives for participating in these programs.

In San Diego, you can receive up to $400 in rebates for using rain barrels on your property. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offers $75 rebates.

Those living in Albuquerque earn Rainwater Harvesting rebates based on the amount of rain they can store. Residents receive $25 for 50 to 149 gallons and up to $150 for barrels that can hold 1,500 gallons or more.

Where to Get a Rain Barrel

Some cities offer rain barrels at reduced prices, so the first step is to check with yours.

You can also find them at Walmart and hardware stores starting around $100, or get out your tools and build your own rain barrel.

Your roof size determines the number of rain barrels you need and can help you decide how many to purchase. Once you have the barrels, it’s time to install them and enjoy your monthly savings.

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Freelancer Taylor Millam-Samuel contributed to this report.