University of Illinois Extension

Rain Barrel Savings

The drought of 2012 took a great toll not only on the plants in the garden, but also on the gardener’s wallet, said Candice Miller, University of Illinois horticulturist.

“It was a tough choice for some gardeners of which plants to water and which to let survive on their own,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, if a gardener did decide that watering was absolutely essential, then they likely saw the result of that in an increased water bill the next month.

“This year, putting in a rain barrel or multiple rain barrels could be an excellent way to alleviate this rise in the water bill.”

Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles that are all available in the garden center or from catalogs. All are basically the same setup, consisting of a container to hold the water, a point for water from the downspout to be directed into, and a spigot to allow for water to be removed. Connectors and diverters may also be included.

“These barrels can also range greatly in price”, said Miller, “from as low as $50, up to more than $150 dollars.”

The more economical option is to simply make your own rain barrel. For about $20 in supplies, one can make a rain barrel using a trash can or recycled plastic barrel, a spigot, washers, nuts, sealant, landscape fabric, and some basic tools. All these items can be purchased at the local hardware store.

“One can find various versions of assembly instructions for rain barrels online”, said Miller. “Essentially you are going to drill a hole near the base of the trash can in which to insert the spigot, using the sealant to ensure a good water tight seal. The nut is then inserted onto the threads of the spigot from the inside of the barrel, ensuring that the spigot is fit tightly. A hole is cut in the top of the barrel’s lid to allow for water from the downspout to enter. Landscape fabric can also be placed underneath the lid to prevent mosquitoes from entering and laying eggs.

Miller added that she recently spoke with a gardener who participated in Extension’s rain barrel workshop last summer and has since put in five rain barrels surrounding his house.

“This gardener was able to reduce his water bill significantly by utilizing these barrels and has plans to put in more,” said Miller. “The small amount of work put forth to make a simple rain barrel can really pay off in the long run.”