Rain Barrel Care and Maintenance

Tips to increase the longevity of rain barrels

Buying and Installing your rain barrel

When purchasing a rain barrel, make sure it is made of quality, food-grade material that is meant to hold water. Other types of water containers cannot be counted on to withstand the water pressure.Also, be sure to set up the rain barrels on leveled blocks, so as to provide a safe spot for draining underneath, and a sturdy base to prevent tipping over. And always keep your rain barrels covered toprevent children or pets from falling in, and to keep mosquitoes and larvae from reproducing.Cover the downspout and drainage spots with netting or wire mesh to prevent mosquitoes and debris from getting in your water, or make a tight seal between downspout and barrel.And position your freeze-proof rain barrel so that the overflow valve is facing away from your home’s foundation.

Maintenance

Periodic checks throughout the season should be done to make sure screens are cleaned out, hoses are well attached, and there are no leaks.Sediment and debris removal should be done periodically – monthly, yearly, etc, depending on your particular situation.

Simple maintenance of your rainwater harvesting system can prevent big problems. I recommend cleaning your gutters at least once a year – more often if you have trees. However, this cleaning can become unnecessary if you install some sort of gutter guards, to prevent debris from entering the gutters.Also, make sure your gutters are tilted toward the downspouts; and fix low spots or sagging areas along the gutter line. It is prudent to check for leaks at least once a year, and consider cleaning the rain barrel every year or so. Check and clear downspout elbows, rain barrel screening, and overflow connections to prevent little clogs from becoming big clogs. Caulk any gutter, down-spout, barrel, and overflow leaks and holes.Make sure any rain barrel openings are securely screened or sealed to prevent mosquitoes from entering. Additionally, consider using anti-mosquito tablets.And, if your overflow is routed to a surface infiltration/percolation area, monitor the overflow area during heavy rainfalls. If necessary consider re-grading the soil to make sure water drains away from structures and does not flow onto pavement, sidewalks, or neighboring properties.
Rain barrels operate pretty much trouble free. However, periodic checks throughout the season will ensure success – hoses can be inadvertently moved out of place during regular yard maintenance, loosening attachments. Check that lids and hoses are properly placed and attached, that hardware is functioning properly, that no yard pests have found an entrance into the barrels, and that water is being dispersed in expected locations. 

General Care

My best advice is to only use your rain barrel water on your lawn or garden! Never even consider it for drinking or cooking! For those of you who might want to purchase a transparent water barrel – so you can see the level of water in the barrel at all times – you may want to clean it periodically to get rid of algae buildup. However,algae will not harm your lawn or garden. You may want to clean your roof and gutters at least once a year to minimize debris in your stored rain water. But I don’t venture to the roof of my 2-story home for that task, but I do have gutter guards to prevent most debris from entering the gutters. If you treat your roof with come special chemicals to get rid of pests, consider unhooking your rain barrel for two weeks to be sure of keeping your wateruncontaminated – even for your garden and lawn. Some people suggest draining your rain water barrel on a regular basis to avoid a mosquito breeding ground; ideally less than every 10 days, as that’s how long it takes for mosquitoes to breed. However, I feel that’s way overboard, and defeats the purpose of harvesting the rain water! You can use a larvae tablet in your plastic rain barrel as a precautionary measure. These chemicals will not harm your lawn or garden. 

Management of Heavy Rain Storms

Rain barrels fill very quickly in a heavy storm. Connect a 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inch hose to the barrels overflow port and direct the water at least 6 feet away from the building foundation. I’ve connected my overflow hoses to a soaker irrigation system throughout my yard. That way the water is directed to those areas that need the most water. However, if you don’t utilize a system that re-directs overflow water to “special needs” areas, then consider emptying your rain barrel slowly – to allow for maximum percolation – before any significant rain event. 

Winterizing rain barrels

For northern climates, every fall, most of the literature suggests that you disconnect your downspouts prior to the first hard freeze, and return the downspout systems to their