Home rainwater harvesting

As bizarre as it seems, even in rainy Ireland, a country crammed with lakes and streams, we can often run foul of water shortages. We have an antiquated water system that is as expensive to run as it is wasteful with vast amounts of drinking water wasted in leaks and in unnecessary domestic use, a symptom of poor planning and poor adaptation to a changing climate. Not too long ago we had water shut-downs in midwinter as the freezing weather damaged pipes and the reservoirs were not replenished in the snowy months ad many householders ran their taps all night to keep their pipes from freezing. But we also allow ourselves to waste a resource that we actually have immediate access to (sometimes a little too much access to…) that will save us plenty of money when water meters are finally put out around the country.

Now, many people, both urban and rural collect and use rainwater for a variety of purposes. From a simple barrel and bucket to complex storage and filtration systems, some use rain to water the garden, feed their greenhouses, wash their cars flush their loos and even for drinking water. It all depends on how much time or money you’d like to spend…

First on the list is a simple barrel. My parents always used a barrel and bucket, but a tap can be fitted in a plastic barrel in literally a couple of minutes. The barrel should ideally be opaque and lidded because light will cause the local microbial and insect wildlife to flourish in the water. We had everything but fish living in ours. The trick here is to use gravity (another natural resource that goes unnoticed for much of our lives) to give the water some pressure. Most people put the barrel up on bricks, at least a couple of feet high, if not more, but I’ve seen the same done with stacked pallets. This will allow you to water your garden at a reasonable pressure. If you look here you’ll see how to make the simplest system.
If you wanted a larger supply you can start adding extra barrels at different points around the house. This can be very useful to do specific jobs; I’ve seen raised barrels near bathroom windows feeding toilet cisterns that have had their mains supply turned off. The mains can be switched back on during dry spells. In Ireland and other temperate countries rain can flush our loos for most or all of the year. It can also feed greenhouse and poly-tunnel irrigation, be switched on and off to irrigate veg gardens and the like.

Next week I’ll look at some of the more advanced systems. They can take a little longer to set up, but once in they take very little maintenance and have so many uses that they can revolutionise how you use your water, saving a fortune in charges and giving a significant green benefit to the environment.