Before you step in the shower, do your laundry or wash your car, think about 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.
One woman’s rain barrels have helped her saved more than $2,000 in five years.
And 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
Setting up rain barrels allows 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 to wash your car or exterior home surfaces.
Karen van der Hoop and her husband live in Richmond, British Columbia. They’ve been using rain barrels since signing up for the City of Richmond Rain Barrel Program in 2011 and buying one barrel for $20. (Full disclosure: She’s the mother of The Penny Hoarder’s senior editor.)
“We use the water to fill watering cans and hand water tomato and bean plants, rhubarb and zucchini, as well as new plantings,” she said.
“We also connect a hose to [another barrel] to slowly water a dogwood tree.”
She also volunteered to join her city’s water meter installation program. Since her city’s standard water rate is based on a four-person household, van der Hoop and her husband “were sure we would pay less than the flat rate.”
The programs paid off.
“We saw a reduction in our water meter charges, and loved that we were using a natural resource wisely,” van der Hoop said.
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?
Over the past five years, van der Hoop has saved the equivalent of $2,037.83 using her rain barrels.
Every year, she saved hundreds of dollars over the flat rate for water. In 2011, she saved 485.31 Canadian dollars (about US$366.37), and that success inspired her to buy a second rain barrel and connect the two, later adding a third and fourth.
In 2012, she saved a whopping CA$677.39 (about US$511.37). In 2013 and 2014, she saved CA$599.35 (about US$452.22) and CA$532.38 (about US$401.69), respectively.
While she didn’t have final numbers for 2015 yet, by October 2015, van der Hoop had already saved CA$444.73 (about US$306.18).
Could Rain Barrels Work for You?
Richmond is a suburb of famously rainy Vancouver, which receives an annual average of 46 inches of precipitation.
But you might be surprised how much rain and snow your city receives every year.
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.”
The cost of water varies by region and usage, but the average cost of water in the U.S. is $2 per 1,000 gallons, according to the EPA.
Save Even More With Rebates From Your City or State
Check with your local water district to see if you’re eligible for a rainwater harvesting rebate. Many municipalities even 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 and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offers $75 rebates.
City of Los Angeles residents can receive $100 rebates for using water barrels.
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 $70, or get out your tools and build your own rain barrel.
But before you get too excited about installing your rain barrels, be sure to check local rules and regulations — water catchment is illegal in some areas.
Your Turn: Have you used a rain barrel? How much money did it help you save?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.