simple illustration for rainwater collection

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Rainwater harvesting is a logical step for many homesteaders and urbanites, especially as we move away from the strictly capitalistic industrial complex and towards do-it-yourself tasks … sharing, self-employment and innovation.

Whether you want to use rainwater as a total water solution or just to bring your water bills down and reduce your reliance on municipal water, it’s actually not so hard to install a rainwater harvesting system, with a few simple components.

How it works

If you think collecting rainwater is a matter of simply keeping a rain barrel open on your front porch, you’re almost right. In Austin, Texas, for instance, residents only see about 32 inches of rain on average each year. That’s really not enough to support a household. So the idea, rather, is to use your roof to funnel all of the rain into your water supply.

As the rain goes down your roof and into the gutter, it drains into a barrel, tank or other water supply system … rather than onto the ground. Rainwater isn’t always fit to drink without purification, but with a simple filter to keep debris out, it’s more than enough to make use of to a flush toilet or to use for watering your lawn. The latter is becoming quite popular given the fact many cities are now placing strict regulations on when and how often you can water your lawn.

Rain Water Harveseting Barrel Labeled image via Paul MichaelCollection systems range from incredibly complex multi-barrel, full-house systems that go to flushing toilets, showering and to sinks, to simple set-ups that pour rainwater directly into barrels for storage.

The benefits of rainwater harvesting

If you live in a desert climate like New Mexico, you’ve probably given up on keeping a lush, green lawn without spending hundreds a month on your water bill. Rainwater harvesting can change all of that though, allowing you to keep a well-hydrated, well-maintained lawn. In California, you can even earn tax incentives for supplementing your municipal water source with rainwater you have harvested. If more money in your pocket isn’t enough to convince you of the usefulness of rainwater, then nothing is.

Setting up a simple system

As a basic idea of the kind of rainwater harvesting systems you can set up with little money and just a bit of elbow grease, this quick how-to will walk you through collecting rainwater for use in your toilet.

Here’s what you need:

  • 50-100 gallon rain barrel
  • Rain gutters
  • 1″-3″ thick rubber tubing
  • Check valve
  • Screen for filtering (an old screen door will do fine)
  • Rubber washers
  • Sealant (rubber caulking, hot glue or even duct tape — whatever you have available)

Rain Barrel to Toilet Diagram via Paul Michael

1. Drill a hole around the bottom of the barrel just big enough for your check valve to make sure the water can only go in one direction. Use sealant to keep in place and attach your tubing to the valve.

2. Position your barrel outside at a level above your toilet. You can build a shelf or put it on top of an old table you don’t use anymore.

3. Attach the screen to the top of the barrel with duct tape, hot glue or some other sealant and position your gutters as such to lead water from your roof gutters to the barrel.

4. From there it’s simply a matter of connecting your tubing to your toilet, typically by drilling through the outer wall.

It’s really as simple as that. You can look for diagrams online for clearer instructions, but this is the basic idea.

You might not need to use rainwater for your toilet. You might have something else in mind for your rainwater, such as watering the lawn, your flowers or even washing the car. This DIY project should show you just how simple it is to create your own rainwater harvesting system for any household need.

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Matt Herndon is a father who loves spending as much time as possible with his wife and three kids. When he’s not rushing from his son’s football games to his daughter’s riding lessons or his other daughter’s volleyball games, he’s slowly whittling away at his honey-do list.

Some images with permission by Paul Michael. To read and see more about his installation, it is linked to above (http://www.phoenixsailingcharters.com/rainwater.htm).