Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Rain Barrels

Just like last week, this week's post has to do with conservation. It's not just good for the environment — it can save you money, too! This time we're going to 

Use rain barrels to collect water for garden irrigation.

Last summer we bought (but, pathetically, didn't actually use) three rain barrels from the Great American Rain Barrel Company. The City of Newburyport has a partnership with them to offer residents a subsidy for rain barrels, and the result is that we get them for about 60 percent of what they would otherwise cost. They are really great quality, and come with a net and lid to keep mosquitoes at bay, plus a tap to access the water for use in the garden. They are also available in green and grey, but we chose brown:

Kirk put the barrels up on cinder blocks (which you may recognize from our maple sugaring fire pit) so that we have some space to fill a watering can. 

Each barrel has a screen held in place by a lid:

The lid has a lip and several drainage holes to siphon the rain into the barrel. I hear tell that fancy people cover the top with polished stones. 

Fancy people also use downspouts on their gutters:

As you can see, you are just not that fancy. This gutter never had a downspout from the time we moved in — just a hole. Turns out that all the rain goes into the barrel just as well without the downspout, so we'll probably just let it come cascading down. Other barrels will use a diverter to aim the water from the downspout, but this one doesn't really need it.

Originally we thought we would just attach the hose to the tap, but there is not enough pressure for that. Instead, we'll need to fill a watering can to use our free water in the garden:

I actually enjoy watering plants with the can, so this isn't that big of a deal for me. If we were even fancier, we would shell out the cash for a solar-powered pump and use the hose. But since we're trying to save money, the watering can will be just fine.

Time for the math. This time I'm going to use some rough estimates, which I can adjust after getting some real water bills for pre- and post-rain barrel comparisons. We only get them quarterly, though, so it's going to be a long wait for hard data. In the meantime, let's assume that half of our water usage during the growing season is devoted to the garden — that's about half the year, so we'll say that 1/4 of our annual water usage if garden irrigation that will be replaced by free water from the rain barrels. Our average quarterly water bill is about $240, which we will divide by 3 to get a monthly water bill of $80. Assuming a 25% savings over the course of the year by using our rain barrel water in the garden, that knocks $20 per month off of our water bill. 

There are a lot of assumptions here, but I can adjust them for reality later. In the meantime, I'm happy to throw $20 extra dollars per month into our savings.

Savings per month: $20


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