7 Ways to Collect Rainwater – Actionable Tips

Last Update - May 2020

Rainwater collection is a new trend in the Western world but in most cultures, it’s one of the oldest ways for water collection and storage. While it used to be popular in the Western world too, people had stopped doing this after municipal water filtration and distribution systems become advanced enough. However, today it’s on the uptick and and increasing number of people are starting to collect rainwater again.

Why is that?

What is the purpose of collecting rainwater?

Many of us are so used to having a near-endless supply of drinkable and affordable water at all times that we forgot it’s actually considered a precious commodity and an integral resource throughout the world (1). Some people in the U.S. are getting reminded of that fact by the recent and rapidly increasing droughts (2), however. This has led to an increase in looking for ways to create private stores of water. Hence the reason many of us are getting interested in rainwater harvesting systems.

Collecting the rainwater that falls on your property or even just on your home’s roof has many possible benefits:

  • A good rainwater harvesting system can turn that water into a great water source for all the needs of your household – gardening, hot water heating systems, kitchen and bathroom water appliances, showers, even drinking water with the right water filters.
  • Collecting and using rainwater can save your household a lot of money. Around 40% of the U.S. household water consumption goes to domestic irrigation, for example. That’s a huge expenditure that a simple rainwater harvesting system can easily make up for as irrigation water doesn’t need too much (or any) filtration. If you add to that the fact that you can also use rainwater for your household’s domestic needs, a good harvesting system can save you a lot of money over time.
  • Collecting your rainwater also prevents flooding and erosion. That’s because there’s less stormwater to manage as a good rainwater roof harvesting system will usually manage to collect ~80% of the annual water that falls.
  • There is less water contamination. Most good rainwater collection systems include filters for reducing the contaminants in your rainwater. So, even if you’re only using it for gardening, you’ll still be reducing the water contamination.
  • Rainwater is usually a good source of soft water. If you’ve been having problems with hard water, installing a rainwater harvesting system for your home can solve that problem as well as most rainwater is soft.

What are the best ways to collect rainwater?

There are many different ways to collect rainwater, each with their pros and cons. Which you choose will depend entirely on your needs – do you need to collect rainwater only for your garden or lawn or do you want it for your home? The layout of your home/building and property also matters.

Here are the best overall ways to collect rainwater and what they are good for specifically:

1- An intricate rainwater harvesting system.

Rainwater harvesting system explained

Also called rainwater “catchment” or “collection” systems, these are usually the best way to collect rainwater in most situations. These rainwater harvesting systems are professionally made and installed and they include large water tanks that can range between 50 and 10,000 gallons. They are also equipped with comprehensive filtration and pumping systems, and they can be used for anything from garden irrigation to hot water heating supply, bathroom water, or even drinking water.

There are many different rainwater harvesting systems to choose from depending on your budget, needs, and your property’s characteristics. Some such systems will rely entirely on gravity to collect and distribute the rainwater, while others will need to utilize multiple pumps to do so. As a result, some are more expensive and harder to install while others are much simpler. We’ve covered rainwater harvesting systems in more detail here.

2- Rainwater barrels

rain-barrel to collect water for plants

A much simpler and budget-friendly DIY alternative of gravity-operated rainwater harvested systems, rainwater barrels are a good way to collect rainwater for your garden or lawn. All you need is one or more clean 50-gallon barrels to place under your roof’s drainpipes. You can place some crude filters between the drainpipe and the barrel’s opening, as well as some debris filters on the upper end of the pipe on the roof. After that, just put a spigot near the bottom of the barrel and voilà – you have a nice water supply for your garden. If you want, you can also connect a second barrel to the first via the communicating vessels principle.

3- Rainwater tarp

If you don’t want to use your home’s roof or if you need extra water-collection surface, you can collect rainwater via a “tarp trap” on a small hill or ground elevation nearby. All you need to do is find a spot that’s higher than where you want to collect the water and dig a shallow (10-20 inches) hole at the top of the hill. The “hole” can be of any shape but it’s usually best of it’s rectangular. Make sure it has walls made of dit from all sides and then just place a tarp of the same size over the hole. Essentially, you just made a shallow tarp pool to collect rainwater. Secure the tarp in place with stones or other weights and connect a PVC pipe to the end of the tarp to drain the collected rainwater through. The pipe can lead to any barrel, cistern, water tank, or another container you want.

4- A plastic-lined pond

The reverse of the tarp trap is a pond in your yard that you can funnel the water from your roof or property via gutters or pipes. You can dig your pond as deep as you want and you can cover the plastic liner with flat river rocks to make it look good. Such a pond can serve as a nice decoration as well as a good flood-prevention tool.

5- A rainwater garden

Probably the simplest thing you can do make a rainwater garden in your yard. You can do that by just digging channels throughout your yard to guide the rainwater to your garden which should ideally be at the lowest part of your yard. If your property doesn’t have a natural elevation, some extra digging can make up for that. With just a little effort, your rainwater garden will be set up in such a way that it will need little to no extra irrigation and it will help manage the rainwater that falls on your whole property.

6- Green roofs

If you don’t want to collect rainwater for your home or your garden but you also want to prevent floods in your property and/or do something nice for your home’s roof, consider making a “green roof.”
Green roofs are essentially a garden/lawn on top of your house. What you need to do is waterproof your roof (and reinforce it if it can’t take the extra weight) and cover it with a liner. Then, install plant and soil beds on top of the liner. Focus on plants that require little to no care other than the occasional rainfall. You’ll still need gutters and drainage systems for the runoff water.
This method has several benefits:

  1. It takes care of a lot of the rainwater that will fall on your property.
  2. It provides extra insulation for your home.
  3. It makes your house much more beautiful and unique.
  4. It gives you a garden that you otherwise might not have had enough space on your property for.

7- Use a Collector

If you want to keep it simple and still get the most out of the rain, simply put out some collectors to collect the water. This can be anything you have lying around, like a child’s inflatable pool, large buckets, basins, pots and what have you. Once they fill up with water, use them within a short time. If you want to keep them for longer, you’ll have to find ways to cover up the collector so instects like mosquitoes don’t get into them and breed.

What to Use Rainwater For

Now that you’ve collected rainwater, what are you going to use it for? There are many ways you can use your rainwater – from drinking to watering your plants and washing the car.

Rainwater is typically used in ways where filtration isn’t important. This includes watering the grass, washing the car, washing the dogs and so on. However, if you want ot use rainwater in the home, for drinking, cooking, doing the laundry and showering, ensure that the water has been appropriately treated to make it safe for use.

To learn about installing a rainwater harvesting system at home, go here.

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