Summer Inspiration: Why Summer is the Best Time to Install a Rainwater Collection System

Summer is upon us and depending on where you live, rain may be the last thing on your mind. In the arid western United States, skies can be dry from May to October with only the occasional off-season storm.

In the rest of the country, however, rain falls much more regularly throughout the year, with summer storms recharging rain barrels at intervals – perfect for irrigating during the short “droughts” between rains.

USA Climate Precipitation Graph

The red line on the right shows precipitation in the arid west (San Francisco, to be exact!), with the green band showing the more even distribution of precipitation throughout the USA on average. The graph on the left shows those soaring summer temps!

 

Ice Cold LemonadeBut regardless of where you live, this article makes the case that summer is your absolute best bet for seeing your rainwater harvesting project through to completion.

Just imagine pitching your shovel at the end of a warm summer evening, drawing up a glass of cold lemonade (or brewed beverage of choice!), and admiring a rainwater catchment system that’s ready for the rainy season…. and every cell in your body exclaiming: Ahhhhhhh that feels good!

Knowing you’re protecting the environment, getting prepared for emergencies, increasing self-sufficiency and resilience in your garden, providing the highest quality water possible for your plants, and saving money on your water/sewer bill are all part of the equation; but finishing a well-thought-out summer project just plain feels great. With long days to think, plan, and play in the garden, now is your chance.

 

Why is summer the best time to build a rainwater catchment system?

 

1. You’ve got time to plan

It doesn’t need to be complicated, but some folks like to do a careful job sizing and siting a rain collection system. Find the perfect spot, figure out how much water is available from your rooftop, think through your layout, and order your materials! We surveyed our customers this year, and found that most spend 30 – 90 minutes on our website customizing their BlueBarrel System, so it’s best to get a head start. Summer days are long, and many of us have lighter work and school schedules during the summer holidays.

2. You’ve got dry ground to build on

Even though this project is all about rain, the truth is, nobody wants to be rained on while

Summer Garden Work

Summer’s the time for garden projects!

they’re working. Installing a BlueBarrel System is an intermediate-level DIY project. If you have any leveling to do, you’ll want dry ground to work with.

3. You’re all set and ready for fall’s first catch (in the west)… or the next summer storm (for the rest)!

At the solstice, summer can feel like a long lazy road stretched out in front of us. But as June turns over to July, suddenly August is near and it’s almost time to resume the busy autumn bustle. Once those fall rains return, you’ve lost your chance to harvest autumn’s first rainfall. Remember that cold lemonade (or brewed beverage of choice)? It’ll taste better in the summer after you’ve triumphed over this incredibly worthy project.

3. You won’t have to wait in line

Many folks contact us right around the time of the first autumn rain hoping to make the best of the year’s capture. The truth is by that time, once you figure your sizing, siting, budget, and path forward, you’ve missed the first set of storms. Then you have to find some dry days to install the system when everybody in the rainwater world is scrambling. If you’re opting for a professional installation, you might find yourself in line as many hopeful rainwater harvesters compete for winter’s dry days. Summer’s slower pace offers a much more spacious experience for rainwater-harvesters-to-be.

So why wait? Here are a few simple steps to get you going. Click the image to get started…. and remember that cold glass of lemonade awaits you!

Plan your rain barrel system

Rainwater vs. Greywater

Rainwater and greywater are two terms we’re hearing more often amongst the eco-conscious—especially when it comes to do-it-yourself (DIY) water conservation for the home and garden.

Rainwater collection and greywater reuse are wonderful ways to nourish a garden while making the most out of every last drop of water. But it’s important to understand that rainwater and greywater are not the same. Their applications are complimentary, but they are different.

The difference between rainwater and greywater

Rainwater is fresh precipitation straight from the sky. Completely free of salts, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and minerals; it’s naturally pure, and the cleanest water our hydrologic cycle offers. Of course to get that water into rainwater tanks, most of us collect from the roof, which means there’s some accumulation of organic matter. But by all accounts, this water (organic cooties and all) is universally appreciated by a thirsty garden. In fact, rainwater is the absolute best water for your plants. To your plants, those cooties are fertilizer!

Greywater is once-used household water, discharged from washing machines, showers, tubs, and bathroom sinks. This can also be a great source of irrigation water if the household uses greywater-safe products. You’ll notice kitchen sinks aren’t on the greywater list. By most standards, kitchen sink discharge is considered blackwater because of the bacterial load (think raw meat!), so in sum, you can think of greywater as “everything but the kitchen sink” (and of course the toilet).

 

How do I irrigate with rainwater vs. greywater?

Rainwater/Greywater Oasis

This Santa Rosa home uses rainwater for the drip-irrigated edibles, while greywater serves the fruit trees and medicinals around the perimeter.

 

Because rainwater is relatively clean, it can be stored safely for long periods of time and released at the gardener’s discretion. Particulates are filtered out on the way into the tanks, cisterns, or barrels, so the water doesn’t contain anything chunky that might lead to growth or clogs.

Many people use stored rainwtaer to hand-water potted plants (which are particularly sensitive to salt and chemical buildup from other water sources); or to irrigate garden beds—even edibles!—through a simple gravity-fed drip irrigation line.

Greywater, on the other hand, is not recommended for storage and is best distributed directly onto the landscape (released a couple of inches below the soil’s surface). Complex greywater systems may be designed with surge tanks to gain a little more control over distribution rate, but an automatic pump is used to keep that water cycling out at least every 24 hours—lest it become blackwater!

The Laundry-to-Landscape (or L2L) setup is one of the more popular systems for DIY greywater gardeners, and in many areas can be done without a permit. Laundry discharge is diverted through a pipe that leads out of your house and directly into a series of mulch basins in your garden.

Because greywater contains lint and suds, it is not recommended for potted plants or for drip irrigation lines (that’s what rainwater is for!). That said, it’s a wonderful water source for less sensitive perennial plantings, shrubs, vines and trees—even fruit trees. In sum, greywater is great for plants that can handle the irregular flood-load of water that comes when you do laundry, and that won’t suffer from the stuff in the water.

What about showers and sinks? Whereas laundry discharge can be intercepted without cutting into any potable plumbing lines, sinks and showers are a different story. Many people collect greywater from sink and shower drains but these systems require a permit in most jurisdictions, and often require the help of a professional.

 

 

How can I incorporate rainwater AND greywater in my garden?

First of all, if you’re asking that question, you’re awesome. Bravo!

You can and should incorporate both rainwater and greywater into your eco-paradise. In fact, they are ideal in tandem (see the photo example above).

Since rainwater and greywater have different properties and are suited to different kinds of plants and irrigation strategies, you can maximize your efficiency by using both—but we recommend you think of them as two separate systems.

For example:

Imagine an edible garden served by hyper-efficient drip irrigation, surrounded by a gorgeous border of perennials, medicinals, pollinator attractors, flowering vines, and fruit trees. Potted plants bring life to the inside of the home. (Perhaps this sounds like YOUR garden!)

Now add a series of rain barrels (ahem, a BlueBarrel System!) to service your drip irrigation line clog-free (yes, rainwater is suitable for edibles!), and for hand-watering those sensitive potted plants.

Next, redirect your laundry discharge (a.k.a. greywater) around the border of your garden where you have all those wonderful shrubs and perennials that will handle the flood-load. The greywater gets a push from your washer’s pump, so it can make it around the border.

 

 

THE “GREY” AREA: shower warmup water

If I dare mix metaphors (and colors), it’s worth mentioning that shower warmup water (i.e. the potable bounty that us water-geeks collect in buckets while we wait for our showers to warm up…) is in a category on its own.

Many think of shower warmup as greywater, and it certainly is greywater once it hits the drain. But if we intercept it in a clean container, this is actually potable water with many potential reuses. I personally use my shower warmup to flush the toilet, only because it’s right there.

But shower warmup water can be stored along with your rainwater, and we’ve had quite a few BlueBarrelers do just that. Shower warmup water can be directed out the bathroom window through a hose that connects directly to a vent on your BlueBarrel System; or you can use a funnel to pour this extra water in by hand.

 

In conclusion…

You should do rainwater, and you should do greywater, but you probably shouldn’t combine them into one system… unless you REALLY know what you’re doing. But then again, if you recognize that the ideal uses for rainwater and greywater are so compatible, you may still achieve your best and most sustainable design by employing the two systems side by side.

 

 

HOW TO:

Check out the DIY resources for rainwater at:

And for greywater:

 

 

Meet BlueBarrel on Video!

BlueBarrel is a resource for do-it-yourself rainwater catchment. This video introduces you to the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ and the environmental benefits of capturing rainwater on your site. We offer all of the tools and resources you need to build your own rainwater catchment system.

Check out our 2-minute video – and share with your friends to spread the word about BlueBarrel!