During times of drought or disconnect with local water supplies, having an alternate supply of water is essential. Most disaster preparedness experts recommend families reserve 1 gallon of drinking water per person and pet per day. ( See additional details about disaster preparedness at “Storms and Power Outages”.)
The average disruption time during emergencies is about 3 to 7 days. For a family of four with two dogs, this translates into 42 gallons of reserve drinking water. In other words, a lot of plastic and glass jugs lying around.
Most people just don’t have room to store that many extra jugs so they don’t keep enough emergency water on hand. Catching rainwater for drinking is one way to solve this problem. Finding space for one large 50-gallon container outside is much easier than 50 small ones inside. One catchment system is also easier to access, clean and maintain. You can also use the water for routine irrigation in the yard and garden to cut down on water bills.
I recently made a simple rainwater catchment system in six simple steps that required nothing but a trip to the local hardware store and about two hours. Here’s what I did:
Step #1 – Sighting
Identify a flat and level location in the yard suitable for a large garbage can. Ideally, this should be under a downspout, a leaking gutter or near a downspout on the wettest side of the house. At my house, rain almost always comes from the northeast. I identified a leaky gutter over a level spot on that side of the house.
Step #2 – Shopping
Hardware store run. Here’s the shopping list:
- Large 30- to 50-gallon commercial-grade plastic garbage can with a lid
- Brass hose spigot (3/4-inch fits most garden hoses)
- Brass washer for hose spigot (also 3/4-inch)
- Rubber washer to fit between brass spigot and brass washer
- Tube of silicon sealant
- Roll of replacement screen material
- Eight concrete blocks
Step #3 – Assembly
Now it’s time to put the system together. On a dry, sunny day, start by drilling a hole into the container about 6 inches from the bottom. A regular household drill with a large bit will work. Next fit the spigot into the hole so that the handle faces out. On the inside of the container, run a single bead of silicon sealant around the edge of the cut out opening. Fit the rubber washer over the spigot’s threads until it is flush with the container’s side and making contact with the silicon. Run another bead of silicon around the spigot threads and thread the brass washer onto the spigot. This will secure the spigot to the container and prevent leaks. Set the container in the sun and let it air dry 4 to 6 hours.
Step #4 – Placement
Next create a stable, waterproof platform for the container that is high enough to place a 3- or 5-gallon bottle under. Arrange four of the concrete blocks into a square in the catchment location. Stack the remaining four blocks on top of them. Place the container so that is sits firmly on the blocks. Back fill around the blocks with dirt as needed to stabilize. Cut 4 sheets of screen material large enough to cover the top with excess drape. Place the sheets of screen over the container’s opening and attach to the sides of the container with clothespins. When not catching water, cover the opening and screens with the can’s lid.
Step #5 – Drinking
In most urban and suburban locations, common air quality and roofing materials (asphalt shingle) make filtering and boiling necessary before drinking. In many locations, rainwater contains pollutants, plant parts, insect parts, algae, bacteria and soil that need to be removed. Fill a 3 or 5 gallon container (such as a refillable blue jug found in office water coolers) with catchment water. Run it through a filter pitcher (like a Brita). Then boil for 3 to 5 minutes. The water is ready to drink.
Step #6 – Maintenance
Every few days, check to make sure that the screen is in place and securely fastened. Drain the container and wash out any built up residue with a household bleach. Rinse the container well. Be sure to check the spigot for any clogs and remove any items that may be blocking it. Replace the screens and set up for catchment.
Having a rainwater catchment system on hand provides an easy to maintain alternate water supply that could be lifesaving during an emergency. A 50-gallon container will provide enough drinking water for a family of four with two pets for a week.
The other plus of a rainwater catchment system is that the water can be used for lawns and plants during non-emergency periods. By attaching a drip hose to the spigot, watering the landscaping with rainwater, especially in drier areas, has the added bonus of relieving demand on already strained municipal supplies. It just doesn’t make sense to use drinking water on the lawn anyway.