Maintaining Your Rain Barrel This Winter

As we come into cooler, winter months, it’s time to start thinking about any additional maintenance that needs to be done with the rain water harvesting systems you may have!

What is a rain barrel?

A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from your roof  through a drain (gutter) system for future use such as watering lawns and gardens. Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes, but a 55 gallon container is the most common size. Rain barrels can be added to any building with gutters and downspouts. You can construct a rain garden yourself, or purchase one already made- but they all serve the same purpose: to collect rainwater and decrease the amount of stormwater runoff that leaves your property. Using rain barrels is one way to decrease your household’s impact on local waterways and to become a good steward of the local watershed.

Why use rain barrels?

The average rainfall of one inch within a 24-hour period can produce more than 700 gallons of water that runs off the roof of a typical house. Much of this water runs from gutters onto surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground. These are called impervious surfaces and include concrete, asphalt, and compacted soil. Even commonly used sod has a very low infiltration rate and can be a major cause of increased runoff. As it flows, runoff collects and transports soil, pet waste, salt, pesticides, fertilizer, oil and grease, litter and other pollutants. This water drains directly into nearby creeks, streams and rivers, without receiving treatment at sewage plants. Polluted stormwater contaminates local waterways. It can harm plants, fish and wildlife, while degrading the quality of water.

How to maintain your rain barrel?

Rain barrels need regular maintenance, similar to other features of your property. It is especially important to remember to drain water before every storm and to remove debris and sediment from your barrel regularly.

Do…

Check the entire system (gutters, debris filter, pipe, spittings, spigot, etc) to ensure the barrel is functioning properly.

Place gutter guards and/or screens on top of roof downspouts and on top of the barrel to prevent leaves and sediment from entering the rain barrel.

Remove leaves and other debris from the screen at the top of the barrel, the overflow pipe, and the roof gutters.

Regularly use water in your barrel between rain events to make sure there is room to collect rainwater during the next storm. Drain your rain barrel before the winter season!

If your rain barrel has a filter screen, make sure it does not have holes and securely fastened to keep mosquitoes out.

Unless your rain barrel is made out of a material specifically designed for freezing temperatures, disconnect it during the winter to avoid damage. Around thanksgiving, disconnect the rain barrel from your downspouts, empty and wash the barrel, and store it upside down. Re-connect your rain barrel to the downspouts around April Fool’s Day.

Open the rain barrel spigot if you are going to be away from your home for a long time during the holidays- make sure it will drain away from your foundation.

Clean the barrel using a non toxic substance such as vinegar to remove residue or algae.

If you find mosquitoes in your rain barrel, you may add a quarter dunk monthly depending on the size of your rain barrel.

DONT…

X Don’t leave rain in your rain barrel for long periods of time.

X Don’t drink the water in your rain barrel or use the water inside your home or for your pets. This water should be used as non-potable water.

X Don’t let kids play in or around rain barrels.

X Don’t forget to re connect your rain barrel after the winter season.

X Don’t spray the water directly on vegetables or plants, as it may contain bacteria from the roof.

X Don’t let the barrel foundation become unstable or tip over.

Who is responsible for this maintenance?

As the property owner, YOU are responsible for all maintenance of your rain barrels.

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Why is it important to maintain your rain barrel?

An unmaintained rain barrel may lead to problems including:

  • Overflow flooding and erosion near the foundation
  • Become clogged and not allow rainwater to pass into or out of the barrel
  • Become a breeding place for insects
  • Cause ice dams in the winter if not disconnected

By maintaining your rain barrel, you are doing your part to conserve rainwater and protect your local streams. You can prolong the life of your rain barrel and save money on maintenance costs by regularly maintaining and inspecting the rain barrel to ensure everything is running smoothly!

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