Pros and Cons of Owning a Rain Barrel on the Homestead

Rain barrels: your homestead’s new best friend

Hey y’all! So you’re thinking about adding a rain barrel to your homestead, huh? Well, sit tight because we’re about to dive deep into everything you need to know about these water-saving wonders. From the good to the bad, and even the downright handy, we’re covering it all. So grab a cup of sweet tea, and let’s get started on the pros and cons of owning a rain barrel.

Pros and cons of owning a rain barrel: A rain barrel surrounded by plants
Photo by Ruslan Khmelevsky

What’s the deal with rain barrels?

First things first, what exactly is a rain barrel? Picture a big ol’ container that’s designed to catch and store rainwater. These barrels are usually made from plastic, wood, or metal and can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The water you collect can be used for a whole bunch of things like watering your plants and even your livestock. Sounds simple enough, right?

How does it work?

Rain barrels are usually hooked up to your roof’s gutter system. When it rains, water flows down your roof, into the gutters, and then into the barrel. Some folks get fancy and add a downspout diverter, which helps direct the water into the barrel more efficiently. And voila! You’ve got yourself a barrel full of rainwater.

Why you might want a rain barrel

Alright, let’s talk about why you’d want to jump on the rain barrel bandwagon.

Save that money, honey

One of the biggest perks of having a rain barrel is the potential for cost savings. Think about it: you’re collecting free water from the sky. That means you can cut down on your water bill because you’re not using as much tap water for things like watering your garden or washing your car. Plus, rainwater is free from all those chemicals you find in tap water, so you might even save on soil treatments.

Do it for the planet

If you’re into sustainable living (and let’s be honest, who isn’t these days?), rain barrels are a win-win. They help you conserve water and reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that ends up in our rivers and streams. Less runoff means less pollution and less strain on our water treatment facilities. So not only are you saving money, but you’re also doing your part to save the planet.

Gardener's Supply Company 65 Gallon Rainwater Collection Urn
Gardener’s Supply Company 65 Gallon Rainwater Collection Urn

Happy plants, happy life

If you’ve got a green thumb, your plants are going to love you for using a rain barrel. Rainwater is naturally slightly acidic, which is just how many plants like it. You might even notice that your garden starts to look healthier and more vibrant using rainwater.

Be prepared

You know what they say: hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Having a rain barrel gives you a backup water supply in case of emergencies like droughts or water restrictions (which happens a lot in my area). It’s always good to have a Plan B, especially when it comes to something as essential as water.

The not-so-great stuff

Now, I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but there are a few things you should consider before you go all-in on a rain barrel.

Upfront costs

While rain barrels can save you money in the long run, they’re not exactly cheap upfront. Depending on the size and material, a good rain barrel can set you back a couple hundred bucks. And don’t forget about any additional equipment like downspout diverters or filters, which can add to the initial cost.

Limited capacity

Rain barrels come in different sizes, but even the big ones can fill up pretty quickly during a heavy downpour. If you’ve got a large garden or a bunch of animals that need water, one barrel might not be enough. You might need to invest in multiple barrels or look into other water storage solutions.


Like anything worth having, rain barrels require some upkeep. You’ll need to clean it out every so often to prevent things like algae growth and mosquito breeding. And let’s be real, nobody wants to deal with that.

Water quality

While rainwater is great for a lot of things, it’s not always suitable for drinking or cooking without proper treatment. Depending on where you live and what your roof is made of, the water you collect could contain pollutants or other contaminants. So, if you’re thinking about using rainwater as a drinking water source, you’ll need to take some extra precautions.

Picking the perfect barrel

Choosing a rain barrel is kind of like dating: you’ve got to find the one that’s right for you. Here are some things to consider when you’re shopping around.

Size matters

The size of your rain barrel will depend on how much water you plan to use. If you’ve got a small garden and just a few plants, a smaller barrel might do the trick. But if you’ve got a large garden or livestock, you’ll probably need a bigger barrel or even multiple barrels.

Material options

Rain barrels come in a variety of materials, each with its own pros and cons:

  • Plastic barrels are lightweight and usually the cheapest option, but they’re not always the most durable. Plus, you may worry about microplastics ending up in the water.
  • Wooden barrels look great and can last a long time if they’re well-maintained, but they can be on the pricier side. Plus, if you have a problem with carpenter ants in your area, your barrel may not last more than a few months.
  • Metal barrels are super durable but can rust over time if they’re not properly cared for.
Good Ideas RW50-OAK Rain Wizard Rain Barrel
Good Ideas RW50-OAK Rain Wizard Rain Barrel

Extra features

Some rain barrels come with extra features like spigots, overflow valves, and even built-in planters on top. While these features can be nice to have, they can also add to the cost of the barrel. So think about what features are most important to you and whether they’re worth the extra expense.

Setting it up

Once you’ve picked out your rain barrel, the next step is to set it up. Here’s how to do it right.

Location, location, location

The first thing you’ll need to do is pick a spot for your barrel. It should be close to a downspout and near the area where you’ll be using the water. Also, make sure the ground is level to prevent any tipping or spilling.

Get connected

Next, you’ll need to connect your barrel to the downspout. This usually involves cutting the downspout and attaching a diverter to direct the water into the barrel. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you might want to call in a pro.

Overflow plan

One thing many people overlook is what to do when the barrel gets full. Most rain barrels have an overflow valve, but you’ll need to direct that water away from your home’s foundation to prevent any water damage. This can be as simple as attaching a hose or pipe to the valve and directing it into your yard or garden. Or, another barrel!

Keep it clean

Once your rain barrel is set up, don’t forget about maintenance. Here are some tips to keep your barrel in tip-top shape.

Regular cleanings

At least once a year, you’ll need to empty your barrel and give it a good cleaning. This involves scrubbing the inside of the barrel with a mixture of vinegar and water to remove any algae or mineral deposits. You’ll also want to check for any cracks or leaks and repair them as needed.

Winter prep

If you live in an area where temperatures drop below freezing, you’ll need to winterize your barrel to prevent any damage. This usually means draining all the water and storing the barrel upside down or in a garage or shed.

How to use your rainwater

So you’ve got a barrel full of rainwater, now what? Here are some ways to put that water to good use.

Watering your garden

Rainwater is great for watering your plants and garden. You can use a watering can or even hook up a soaker hose to the spigot on your barrel for easy watering.

Washing your car or outdoor furniture

Why use tap water when you’ve got a barrel full of free water? Rainwater is great for washing your car, outdoor furniture, or even your pets.

Filling your pond or birdbath

If you’ve got a pond or birdbath, you can use rainwater to keep it filled. Just make sure to treat the water first if you’ve got fish or other aquatic life.

Emergency water supply

In case of a water shortage or other emergency, it’s always good to have a backup water supply. Just remember that you’ll need to treat the water before using it for drinking or cooking.

Wrapping it up

Alright folks, that’s the lowdown on the pros and cons of owning a rain barrel. They’re a great addition to any homestead, offering a sustainable and cost-effective way to manage your water needs. Whether you’re looking to save money, live more sustainably, or just be more prepared for emergencies, a rain barrel is a solid investment. So go ahead, take the plunge and add a rain barrel to your homestead. You won’t regret it. Happy homesteading!