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Save Money By Saving Rainwater

You think that's rain you feel on your shoulders? Nope. That's actually money falling right from the sky. Here's how to catch it.

It's been a rainy, rainy June on the east coast. Sun has peeked out for maybe an hour here and there, but otherwise it's been gray, dismal, and all around not summery. It's a drag, no question about it! But despair no more -- there happens to be one exception to this depressingly soggy month. For those residing in the wet areas, you can save actually money by saving your water. You think that's rain you feel on your shoulders? Nope. That's actually cash money falling right from the sky. And for the sake of making lemonade out of June's lemons -- I invite you to save money this rainy month by collecting your rainwater, for drier days to come. Start by creating a simple rain barrel.

The following is an excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit by Stephen & Rebekah Hren. It has been formatted for the Web.

Rain Barrel
Renter friendly.
Project Time: Afternoon.
Cost: $20–100.
Energy Saved: Low. Catching rainwater preserves the mechanical energy of the falling water created by solar distillation and releases it later when plants need it.
Ease of Use: Easy.
Maintenance Level: Low to medium. An occasional cleaning may be required, and some spring and fall maintenance is likely in colder areas.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic. Plumbing: Basic.
Materials: 55-gallon food-grade barrel or premanufactured rain barrel, 45-degree turn that matches existing gutter, self-tapping metal screws, extra length of downspout, two wood posts at least 4 × 4 × 8, scrap 1 × material, nails OR 6–8 cement blocks (8 × 16). If modifying regular barrel: 3/4-inch PVC bulkhead fitting or other 3/4-inch fitting with gasket, 3/4-inch hose bibb (sillcock), fiberglass or metal window screen.
Tools: Wood saw, hack saw, drill, drill bits, level, ladder.

The barrel. Rain barrels are often sold at garden shops and agricultural supply stores. Typically they are 55–80 gallons and made of solid black polypropylene plastic that will hold up well for 20–25 years. Some enlightened municipalities sell discounted barrels or hold rain-barrel-building workshops.

Modifying a regular barrel. All that distinguish a rain barrel from a food-grade barrel are a perforated, screened top to let in water but keep out mosquitoes, a hose bibb (also known as a sillcock or wall hydrant) about a quarter of the way up from the bottom of the barrel that a hose can be attached to, and an overflow spout at the top.

Suitable food-grade barrels are not hard to find for free; just make sure the one you use didn't ever contain anything caustic. Large food producers are often willing to part with extras to whoever bothers to ask. Locally, we know of folks who have been given barrels by a Coca-Cola bottler, a pickle company, and a salad dressing maker. It's worth spending a little bit of time on the phone asking around if you're otherwise going to have to pay retail for a rain barrel, especially if you want more than one, because modifying a food barrel is relatively easy. There are also Web sites like www.freecycle.org where you can find useful materials for free in many parts of the country. Look for a waste or scrap exchange in your area!

For the faucet we like to avoid threading our own fittings, which takes a specialized tap tool. Instead, you can use what is sometimes referred to as a "bulkhead fitting" to make the watertight connection through the tank. These can be hard to find in home improvement stores but are readily available and inexpensive over the Internet. Browsing through the plumbing aisles you might find an even better fitting to use, for example, water heater pans include a nearly perfect fitting that can be unscrewed, with a gasket already attached.

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