Installing Rain Barrels, Rain Chains, And Underground Cisterns.


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In January’s Sunset Magazine there was a short article about installing rain chains, rain barrels and cisterns in order to collect rain water, and I was really interested in it because I was planning on doing at least 2 of them this Spring. Little did I know I had the biggest project of the three finished – there is an underground 1,500 gallon cistern already in place and collecting water!

The way my house is designed, it is like a wedge – the entire front is 1.5 stories high with huge south facing celestory windows to allow for solar passive heating, while the back of the house is 1 story tall with fewer windows. Here is a picture of the front:

And here is a picture of the back:

The big roof slants from the front to the back, where there are gutters to collect any and all rain or snow melt. The gutter splits in the middle, with one half going down to the left corner and the other half going to the right corner. On the left corner, the water is fed into a downspout that goes straight into the ground and into the 1,500 gallon cistern, which has a top that I can access from ground level:

There is a pump I will insert in the top to pull the water up and into a hose, which can then be used to water our garden, flowers, or even wash my car. On the other corner, where the water is currently just draining into the ground like most spouts do, I plan on adding a rain barrel that will drip irrigate the plants in our walkway by gravity alone with no pump necessary. I am even thinking of putting a rain chain on this corner of the house instead of the downspout to give the birds somewhere to drink from as the water goes down to the barrel. New Mexico is not known for it’s massive amounts of rain, so collecting as much of it as possible from the sky to use for watering our plants is essential to being able to grow things in this environment. There are a few states and counties that have water catchment laws where you cannot catch the rain as it belongs to everyone and is needed for the acequia’s, (community operated waterways) but where I live we can do so, so I will!

What about you guys? Have you implemented any water catchment projects on your home to both conserve water and save money at the same time? If so, let us know what you did in the comments!

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  1. I’ve got five 60 gallon barrels and one 165 gallon tank that I brought with me from Colorado. Just had new gutters put on last year with appropriately placed downspouts. The smaller ones fill up in MINUTES when it rains. I envy you your in-ground tank!!!

  2. I had made a rain catchment system on my cabin in Alaska, and then when I put in a couch had to temporarily disconnect it. I put a bucket under the lowest corner of the roof and all of a sudden it worked even better than before, with the water just going right in the bucket. So much for my fancy system with tubes. Used it for dog water and watering the garden and washing of all sorts. If it rained a lot we hauled it to a 150 gallon trough for storage.

  3. It’s illegal because of old time water rights laws involving acequias, farmers, etc.. Colorado is the state with the most of these laws I believe.

  4. I am pleasantly surprised to learn that there are homes with cisterns in the continental U.S. Cisterns are standard where I’m from, the U.S. Virgin Islands. They come in really handy after hurricanes when there’s no electricity and, often, no running water. It helps to be able to open up the cistern and pull up buckets full of water. I just wish more homes in the states were built like this.

    We do plan on getting some rain buckets so the water the spouts do catch won’t go to waste. But I’m also surprised to learn that some places outlaw water catchment. That seems absolutely ridiculous to me. It seems like they’re saying it makes more sense to let the rainwater, which is falling on your home anyway, go to waste instead of putting it to use.

  5. I can’t wait to get our rain barrels set up. We’ve delayed putting them in because the shingles and gutters need to be adjusted in the back yard. The previous owner must not have noticed that the gutters are barely attatched anymore (only by a few hangers and screws!) and the shingles go almost clear over the gutters, so when it rains, the water completely bypasses the gutters and pounds down on my garden. My carpentar husband plans to fix this once the weather breaks, so that we can install at least 2 or more barrels.

  6. I’m researching cisterns. What type of cistern did you put in? Type of plastic? Supplier?

    I like the lid arrangement you show since I’m planning to put mine under the detached garage floor and/or concrete driveway. It will mostly be used for yard and garden water and refilling my 3000 gallon backyard pond. I’d like to throw a switch to run a small, low pressure submersible pump to use the water. Your thoughts?

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