Raindrops Keep Falling On My Roof

by Dave on August 22, 2009

By Eric Wahl, RLA, ASLA

As I mentioned is a previous article, an easy way to conserve water is by using a rainwater collection device, such as an underground cistern or a rain barrel. The sizes and types of cisterns and barrels are many, and right now, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is offering a discount on single family home-sized rain barrels to the residents of Delaware. More information can be found here: http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/News/Pages/DNRECOffersRainBarrelsatDiscountPricetoDelawareResidents.aspx.

This is a great way to start turning a ‘green’ page on your lifestyle at home. The rain barrel can be connected to your gutter/downspout system, and can easily be hidden from view by the use of plantings, trellises, etc. Did you know that 1 inch of rain on a 1,000 square-foot roof equals 623 gallons of collected water! Because of this, rain barrels and cisterns should have some sort of overflow device that will direct any excess water away from the home. In addition, make sure the area where you place your rain barrel is stable; water weighs about 62 pounds per cubic foot, that’s a little over 8 pounds per gallon.

Maintenance of your rain barrel is also important. If your gutters and downspouts are not screened or cleaned on a regular schedule, debris such as leaves can put a kink in the works. It is also a good idea to have a screen or filter at the inlet of your rain barrel; this will make regular maintenance much easier. In addition, over time sediment can accumulate at the bottom of your barrel, so a yearly inspection and possible cleaning is recommended. Most of these rain barrels work by the means of gravity; meaning the spigot is at the bottom of the barrel and the pressure of gravity forces the water out. If needed, a submersible pump can be added (similar to pumps in water gardens and small fountains) and used to help with the water pressure. However, make sure any outlets you use are protected by a Ground-Fault Circuit Protector (GFCI). And let’s not forget about the bug factor. Any water that is stagnant is a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. Your rain barrel should have a tight fitting lid and any air vents should have a bug screen. Remember, this collected rain water is non-potable, that is to say it is not safe for drinking or food preparation and should be used for landscaping purposes only (or other similar uses such as washing the car or rinsing off decks).

I would also like to take a minute and
talk about alternative types of water collection devices and conservation. Your rain water conservation device doesn’t necessarily have to be a rain barrel or underground tank; it can also be a decorative feature in your landscape. For instance, take a look at the sustainable wetland garden built at the Ambler College of Temple University.

Here, rainwater is collected from the roof and diverted into a fountain within a wetland garden by the use of aerial aqueducts. The water is re-circulated using a solar powered pump so that in times of no rain, water is still flowing through the system. When too much water runoff is in the system, an overflow allows water to enter the wetland garden. Not only is this an innovative way to capture rain water and use it in the landscape, but it’s also a beautiful addition to the garden.

“This garden designed and built in 1998 by third year students of the design/build studio demonstrates several principles of sustainable design. Recycled glass paving stones, use of solar energy and biological filtration of roof and campus storm water runoff are some of the features. The wood pergola was a central feature of Temple’s award-winning entry in the 1997 Philadelphia Flower Show.” For more information see their website at: http://www.ambler.temple.edu/arboretum/index.htm.

Start saving those raindrops and help conserve our most precious resource. Rain barrels can be the start of your green building efforts and is an easy and affordable solution to water conservation. Remember, even small gestures positively impact the environment. And everyone have a safe and awesome July 4th weekend!

Eric Wahl is a landscape architect with Element Design Group in Lewes.

This column first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, July 2, 2009.

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