How to get Started Collecting Rainwater- Step by Step

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Collecting rainwater is a great idea, even for a small homestead hooked up to the public supply. It can provide a source of water in case of emergency, cut down on water bills or even support the homestead completely.

Step 1: Determine your need.

Collecting a little rain to water the lawn is different than collecting enough to support an entire homestead.

For small water needs, such as watering plants or maybe rinsing dirt off the car, a gutter directed into a 55-gallon rain barrel may suffice.

For household water needs, the rainwater collection system will need a rainwater diverter and other components to harvest, and store a significant amount of water. How much water that will need to be stored is dependent upon your household needs and area rainfall.

A 1,000sq' roof could possibly collect 560 gallons of water per inch of rain. If your location gets 40 inches of rain a year, that's 22,400 gallons of water.

Step 2: Set up a collection system.

One of the more common methods of collecting rainwater is from a roof. Houses usually have gutter systems in place, making this an even easier set-up. Gutter systems can be installed relatively cheap(if you DIY) on barns, sheds or garages.

Some other methods I've seen include using a tarp laid in a shallow dug-out on the ground, to direct water into a tank. We built our own "mini" rainwater collection system, as a way of supplying us with water where we hadn't built/plumbed yet. The structure is portable(that's why we didn't put the tank underneath, so it could be moved) and it can be repurposed for firewood or other uses once we're finished with it. Please excuse the mess, this picture was taken before cleanup/final leveling.

You can read more about how/why we built our collection system this way, here!

Step 3: Picking a Tank

Again, this depends on how large of a system you need. The tank pictured here is 550 gallon tank. It just fit in the back of our truck. Please note, we're not done strapping it down, here. This truck has an 8' bed. Since it was an awkward fit, we were able to fit the rest of the supplies (wood, gutters, blocks, etc) underneath it. Which meant we only made one trip!

We found the best deal for our tank from our local Tractor Supply. Here's a link to the exact tank! This was the only place in our area that sold tanks and it happened to be the only one they had in stock. My backup plan was an online store called Plastic-Mart. I may still use them once we install a large rainwater collection system.

A black or green tank is usually preferred, but this is all the store had at the time, so we'll make it work.

Step 4: Setting it all Up

If you're using a larger tank, it's a good idea to go ahead and install a spout of some sort. A spout for a garden hose, plumbing, a valve, whatever fits your situation. You don't want to collect an entire tank of water, only to find out you have no way to easily get it out. Depending on your type of tank, you may need to drill a hole in the top(we did) to plumb the pipe in. You can buy a drill bit to cut out a perfect hole, or just trace it and cut with a knife like we did.

Amazon and Lowe's sells a flexible pipe made to attach to the gutter, but we just used PVC pipe. It was cheaper and more durable. Keep in mind, you will need to rig something up to keep the PVC pipe fitting from falling off of the gutter. We just screwed it to the wood frame, since this is intended to be a portable project.

There's a few options for keeping basic debris(like leaves) out. One option could be a downspout diverter.This flushes leaves and debris out, only allowing water to enter the tank. Please note that we didn't use a downspout diverter on this project. Instead, we opted for a screen over the end of the pipe. Again, this was intended to be a portable project, so we just opted for the easier, lighter option.

That's it! That's a basic rainwater collection system. Gutter pipe, downspout diverter, pipe to tank. There's much more that can be added on, but for a basic setup, this is it.

Step 5: Add-Ons

There's much debate on how much filtration is needed in a household rainwater collection system. Some people choose to go for a simple sediment filter, while others choose to go for an advanced bacteria and sediment filtration system with added chlorine. These are the same filters that are typically used on households.

A collection tank can have a pump and a pressure tank added to it, but those are all optional. This will work strictly off of gravity. Tanks can also be daisy-chained together to collect even more water. Some people choose to use a sediment tank, but there's much debate over this.

Common Questions

Will my rainwater tank freeze?

It will take weeks of extreme temperatures to freeze a large tank solid. Water carries thermal mass, so it takes time for tanks to freeze. It's not likely that a 5,000 gallon tank will freeze solid from a month of 30 degree temperatures.

What about mosquitoes?

If water is covered and intake holes have screens, mosquitoes aren't much to worry about.

Will my tank grow algae?

Yes. That's why a black or green tank is recommended. Algae needs light and a dark colored tank helps cut out light, therefore preventing algae. This is also why some people opt for chlorine tabs.

Can I just paint a white tank?

I've personally never tried it, but while doing my research I stumbled across a few people that have tried this without success.

Do you have a rainwater collection system? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

As of 9/5/20 I am not affiliated with Tractor Supply Company or Plastic-Mart.

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