A Primer to Rainwater Harvesting

rain water barrel

Rainwater harvesting is used for a wide range of activities, including watering plants and landscaping, fire protection, watering livestock, and even washing your car. Harvesting systems come in a variety of sizes and complexity, and help conserve the precious commodity of water in locations around the world.

What is Rainwater Harvesting?

The simple answer is that rainwater harvesting is exactly what it sounds like. You collect rainwater through a specific harvesting or collection system for use at a later time.

The art of rainwater harvesting, though not necessarily referred to as such, dates back to Ancient Rome when wealthier households were designed with atriums that housed impluvium, which were shallow pools sunk into the floor. The purpose of these pools was to collect rainwater in order to augment the city’s water supply.

In the U.S., the rainwater is typically harvested from the roof of buildings and stored in tanks designed for this specific purpose. You’re more likely to find rainwater harvesting in U.S. states that have less rainfall or are in a state of drought as this helps to supplement water use throughout dryer seasons. That said, it’s certainly not unheard of in more moderate regions, too.

Benefits of Harvesting Rainwater

Today’s systems may not be quite as artful as those in Ancient Rome, but they offer many of the same benefits. Some of the benefits are environmental in nature, while others actually help to conserve resources and keep costs down. These are a few of the highlights to consider if you’re interested in rainwater harvesting.

Conserve Financial Resources

Centralized water systems used in many cities throughout the U.S. are costly to maintain and keep clean. Collecting and using rainwater helps to relieve some of the burden on city resources and taxpayer dollars that often supplement these expenses. In turn, it can help lower your water bills from month to month. The more rainwater you harvest and utilize, the more money you may save.

People who have private wells can also reduce their dependence on electricity for things related to powering water pumps by using rainwater for things like:

Flushing Toilets

Washing Cars

Washing Dishes


Watering Lawns

The total savings available depends on the size and scale of your rainwater system along with your willingness to use the rainwater consistently.

Reduces Stormwater System Overload

Stormwater drainage is a consistent problem in countless cities throughout the U.S. Limiting the amount of water flowing into the storm drainage systems greatly reduces the likelihood of flash flooding during storms.

The more households in an area that participate in the harvesting of rainwater, the less the burden on drainage systems there is.

Potential Fire Protection

In extremely dry areas, harvested rainwater can be instrumental in helping to protect homes and property from fires.


Whether your garden is filled with vegetables, fruits, flowers, greenery, or some combination of all, it needs water in order to keep growing. Rainwater is often used to keep gardens growing throughout the season, but when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, harvested rainwater provides additional options, rather than relying on local water supplies that are already stretched thin in areas where rainfall has been limited.

Planetary Benefit

Rainwater collection is more sustainable than other solutions for collecting and using water. It’s water that nature has provided without the addition of chemical cleaners. Water is one of the most precious resources on the planet, and rainwater collection and harvesting helps to conserve that resource for future generations.

Methods of Rainwater Collection

While the Ancient Romans had their systems, most U.S. households are wary of having so much of their homes exposed to the elements throughout the year. Fortunately, we have methods of collecting and storing rainwater that do not require impluvium, like the methods discussed below.

Rain Barrels

This is the simplest system of rainwater collection by far. It’s also one of the most economic. The drawback to this system is a relatively small capacity, though it is possible to link multiple rain barrels together creating a larger storage capacity along with fewer opportunities for lost opportunities to collect valuable rainwater.

This method involves the installation of a barrel (you can purchase commercial rain barrels or recycle a barrel for this purpose) at a gutter downspout. The water flows directly into the barrel until the barrel is full.

If you have tandem rain barrels, the water will continue to flow into the other barrels until all barrels are full.

At this point, the excess rain water will overflow.

The benefit of rain barrels is that they are inexpensive to install and simple to use. That’s one reason why they are among the most commonly used rainwater collection methods used today.

Dry Systems

Much like the rain barrel, the dry system collects rainwater. This system is much larger, though, and is called a dry system because the pipe that allows rainwater to flow into the barrel dries after each storm.

This is the ideal choice for areas that have infrequent rainfall, but tend to have fairly substantial amounts when it does occur. It can be an inexpensive option to install and implement. The one downside is that the large storage container must be located next to your home.

Wet Systems

This system involves collecting rainwater underground. It allows you to send water from multiple downspouts into underground collection pipes that spill into the tank, which can be stored anywhere on your property. The benefit of this is that it allows for a great deal of water storage. It is, though, one of the most costly and complex of the methods discussed to install.

Rainwater harvesting offers many benefits to homeowners, bill payers, communities, and the planet. Anyone interested in leading a more eco-friendly lifestyle would do well to consider doing this on your property.

Sustainable living is a lifestyle choice that involves several baby steps along the way. This is one more planet-friendly change you can make that will help reduce your carbon footprint one rain barrel at a time.

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