Rainwater Harvesting Systems – Rain Barrels And More

Just the other day I wrote about our self sufficient philosophy and how water plays an important part in it. This article is going to very comprehensively give you the kick up the bum you need to start saving rainwater by using at the very minimum rain barrels if not a proper rainwater harvesting system.

If you are reading this because you want to learn how to install a rainwater harvesting system or are wondering where to buy them then I will explain it all. One thing I will say before we get started is that if you want to start collecting rainwater then don’t be like other people who state such things.


Sorry to shout 🙂 but all too often people talk and never act. I will be providing links to the lowest priced ways to harvest rainwater and if you are serious about it then buy one today. Not tomorrow, not the next day but now. This will then motivate you to get on with whatever amendments you need to do for when it arrives.

If you simply want a water butt or rain barrel to collect a few hundred lites of rainwater then there is basically no work involved. For large rainwater harvesting systems then there may be much more involved but you will keep putting it off unless you have an incentive. Buy one today and in a week you will be harvesting rainwater to supply your house with free water.

Okay, US visitors click here for a massive range of rainwater collections from Amazon, and UK visitors click here. There are lots of rainwater collection systems to choose from on both sites.

Rainwater Harvesting Products

There is a massive range of rainwater harvesting products available so you can collect rainwater whatever amount of exterior space you have. We will start off small and work our way up.

Water butts, or rainwater barrels or rain barrels, whatever you call them personally are usually small enough to site just next to the down pipe. We shall look at those first as there is absolutely no reason why everyone should not have at least a rain barrel to collect a little of the otherwise wasted gift from the heavens.

Rain Barrels – Rainwater Barrels

achla rainwater barrel

Here we have a fairly basic rain barrel although it does the job of collecting rain very well. We have a filter for the top and a great tap and hose at the bottom. Simple but very effective. There are lots of other similar and cheaper rainwater barrels available so be sure to have a look.

Even something like this can make a vast difference to the amount of water you use over the course of a year and every house should have one.

pretty rain barrel

For the more design conscious amongst us, or if you are unable to hide the rain barrel then consider a terracotta rain barrel. Still not overly expensive they come with a tap and are simple to install.

For anyone who has resisted buying a simple rain barrel because they don’t know how to install it then nothing could be simpler.

Installing basic rain barrels like these is simply a matter of placing it wherever you wish and running the down pipe from the gutter to it. The easiest way is to place it directly below where the down pipe is at present and simply cut of the pipe so it runs in to the rainwater barrel instead of the drain. Buy one today and you will be getting free water in a few days.

Rainwater Tanks

I am now going to discuss rainwater tanks. These are much more what we should all be looking to install. You can buy above ground rainwater tanks or below ground rainwater tanks. They may seem like a large cost but in reality they are not. If you install large rain harvesting systems then you can go off the mains and be self sufficient in water.

We don’t have to buy our water for 8 or 9 months of the year and we live in barren Spain. Many US states and certainly the whole of the UK can go off the mains completely and only pay sewage rates. You will get your money back in about a year or two at the most and then you will make massive savings on water every year for ever.

First the proof that I am not just writing a sales page.

rainwater pipe rainwater harvesting rain collection systems

We are off the mains so all our water is delivered by a tractor. We get 7000 litres (gallons?) delivered about two or three times a year and that’s it. It is dry here and we grow a ton of vegetables but it is enough.

Our system is not pretty but it is far away from the house as we have lots of land and it needs to be easily accessible by a tractor. Our rain harvesting system is the following.

We have the large 3000 litre tanks for water deliveries.

As you can see from the image I ran our down pipes in through the wall of our living room. Why? Because the house came with a large water cistern next to the original building. We knocked this stone cistern down to almost ground level and built up wall on what was a compound for animals and put a roof on. It is now a half finished living room.

The tank is under the floor and holds about 4000-5000 litres of water. When it gets full we pump the water up to our top tanks. This is done with a simple DC pump and a car battery. This is also how we pump our water from the top tanks down and in to the house.

I ran the down pipe through the wall and straight in to the below ground water cistern. I then built a fake wall so that the pipes are not seen. So, we have experience with both above ground rainwater harvesting systems and below ground rainwater harvesting systems.

It really is very simple to do. I will give some basic instructions on how to install rain harvesting systems later but for now let’s return to looking at larger rain harvesting tanks.

Rainwater Collection Systems

Large rainwater tanks.

A large rainwater tank means that you can be totally independent from the mains and save a lot of money. They really are a small investment when you think how much it costs to be on mains water. Large, above ground rainwater harvesting systems like these are so simple to install. You just run your down pipe from the gutter straight in and they even have built in pumps.

large rainwater barrel

These tanks are ideal for anyone that has the room and they don’t actually take up as much space as you might think. A diameter of five feet is all the space they take up. Systems like this are extremely easy to install yourself or a few hours of a plumbers time. Many people use them for extra water storage for the garden which is great but why not supply your whole household? A few simple filters can mean that you can supply all the water needs for your home with a rainwater harvesting system. You can buy special filters to make the water potable or simply buy drinking water, as many people do anyway.

Using Rainwater To Flush Toilets

Some people do not want to have the whole house connected to rainwater harvesting systems and simply want to run the toilet from rain barrels or a larger rainwater storing system. Whether you want to run the whole house or a single appliance or a toilet on rainwater the principles are the same.

First you will need a simple pump. A submersible pump or not, it makes little difference. Look at all these pumps on Amazon. They go from $40 upwards so it is not a big spend. This pump will be sited in the rain barrel or the larger rainwater harvesting system or near to them if they are not submersible.

A simple length of plastic pipe then goes from the pump in to the water in the case of external pumps. You then simply run a piece of pipe to wherever the water supply is. Either direct to the main stop cock for total household supply or to the pipe where the individual toilet is.Then you will simply have to put a simple connection first to stop the mains water supplying the toilet. After that you will connect the pipe from the rainwater system to the water pipe leading to the toilet or appliance.

It is very simple. If you went to any plumbers merchant they will tell you exactly what you need if you just take a piece of the pipe running from the pump or better yet simply take the pump (they are cheaper on Amazon than at most stores) and tell them what you want to do.

Alternatively you can simply buy the pump and the rainwater collection system and call a plumber. It really is about an hours work so won’t cost too much to employ a plumber.

And in conclusion….

I really do hope that this has inspired you to at least ensure that you buy a rain barrel if not a complete rainwater harvesting system. They will drastically cut how much you pay for water and if you want you could go off the mains completely.

We are, and for all apart from the Summer months we run our house on water collected from our roofs. It is a simple system to set up and if we can do it in Spain then anyone can.

If you have any questions then please let me know, but buy at least a rain barrel today. Stop putting it off.

For a more self sufficient future

15 Responses to “Rainwater Harvesting Systems – Rain Barrels And More”

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  1. Jef says:

    We live in a small suburb near Minneapolis,MN and our rain barrel system works perfect for our flower gardens. I installed it last year after the numerous watering restrictions imposed by our city. I’ve even helped a few of the neighbors set theirs up. They are becoming quite popular around here.
    We enjoy your site very much.

    • Jef,

      Thanks. It really does make a difference doesn’t it. That’s great that you are helping others out as well with rain barrels.

      Urban Self Sufficiency,

      Good point. You do see them all over allotments. It’s a shame that new build estates don’t have some kind of coomunal water harvesting system as standard, it would make a big difference.

  2. Allotments in the U.K are covered in rainwater barrels, why not for household gardens as well?

  3. Chris says:

    I have only recently discovered this website and these rain collection systems and more, and im completely blown away by how we can really be self sufficient like that.

    Im getting one of those water system for sure : )

  4. Chris Hecker says:

    Thank you for the interesting article. That is fantastic that you are getting all your water from a rain barrel. Look forward to exploring more of your blog.

  5. Boy they sure have some cute rainbarrels now. I like that one with wheels. You’ve got me fired up about living off-grid, mr dirty boots. I am going to start working on our own rainwater collection system…. we pay about $60 a month for water here in kansas.

  6. Rain barrels are really so useful and make a great weekend project. If you are handy you can just get a food-grade barrel with a few simple parts and put one together rather quickly. Otherwise there are now many available for homeowners in many different designs and sizes.

  7. Jen says:

    This is great and packed with useful info.

    We thought about a rain water harvesting system when we moved into our home in California but there just isn’t enough rain.

    So we put in an Aqua2use graywater system. It is connected to our washing machine, then filters the water, and finally send it out to our outdoor drip irrigation. And it was installed by our plumber in a matter of a few hours.
    If we were in Arizona we would have received the 25% tax rebate…

    We felt like a couple of giddy children the first time we ran a load of laundry and watched our plants get watered!

    We did a lot of research before choosing the system but an article like this one would have been wonderful. So you should do one about gray water!

  8. Apple Ament says:

    I’m very interested in implementing one of these systems. I have a question for you though: You say you get 7000 litres of water delivered two or three times a year. I live in a temperate rain-forest, so I’d really like to run completely off rainwater – no deliveries. I’m not sure how big a barrel I’d need to do this though. It doesn’t rain constantly though of course, so I would need to store it up for the dry spells. I’m not sure though how much water we use, and because we are charged a flat rate where I live I have no idea how to find out. My best idea was to go by what your household uses. So how much do you actually use, say, per week?
    Thanks for this amazing blog. This looks much more do-able than I thought it would be!
    ~ Apple Ament

    • Apple to give you an example. At the height of summer here in spain it took a month between having a water delivery so we used 6000 litres in a month. That is for showers, laundry, but mainly watering fruit trees and vegetables every day.

      That was with no rain here at all so in the rain forest I am sure that if you can collect from the roof you would not even need that much storage capacity. Hope that helps.

  9. Robert Dunn says:

    Dear Sir / Madam,

    We have invented a new Australian designed and patented Water saving device called the redwater diverter
    You can view a demo of how it works at http://www.redwater.com.au
    It doesn’t need any electricity as it works on simple mains water pressure

    It diverts good potable water which is currently wasted as we wait for hot water to arrive at our taps , basins or shower heads

    This has been worked out at between 15000 to 20000 litres PER YEAR PER HOUSEHOLD
    Even more in larger homes with extended families

    Just think of the dam water which would be saved each and every year
    No other costs could compare to saving as much water as this every year

    It simply fits into our current pipe work and then a flexible hose can divert the good potable cool water to

    A Rainwater Tank
    A Garden bed
    A Sprinkler in the garden
    A Swimming Pool to stop up evaporated water
    A Drinking container for animals

    Or to any where you like

    If you think that this product is worthy of some of your valuable time I would be only too happy to discuss the matter further


    Robert Dunn

    0423 944903

  10. Maria Millen says:

    Hi, we are in Spain too..in Aragon. Can you tell me where you bought your rainwater tanks?



    • Hi Maria,

      Just the local builders merchant. They didn’t hold the large tanks in stock but they didn’t take long to be delivered. I bet you’re wishing for some rain over there too!

  11. Maria Millen says:

    Yes it has been very dry..unprecedented heat wave. Would appreciate if you could email me Mrs. with name of local builders merchant plz. . We are having probs locating water butts of any size except at astonishing prices…law of supply and demand I am guessing. We are planning to do the freezer to fridge conversion, thanks for your info on this. We have a ‘natural spring’ on the land, which dried in late May but is expected to flow again in October (sic). We need to store as much water rain/spring to plant and irrigate. There was no cisterna on land and we may have to build one against a terrace and back fill to avoid evaporation. A lot to do and we are just starting out….such a challenge! But exciting..

    warmest regards and grateful thanks for all the useful information on your blog, which we are using