Howard County residents can help reduce stormwater runoff, which will prevent or reduce erosion on our yards, open spaces, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Rain barrels are a great tool to reduce stormwater pollution and conserve treated tap water. Once installed, rain barrels collect and store runoff from roof downspouts. This water can then be reused for lawns and gardens, reducing the use of potable water.
Rain Barrel Uses
Collected runoff can be used for:
- Potted plants
Harvested water is non-potable and should not be used for drinking, swimming pools, fishponds or bird baths.
Installation & Maintenance
Install the barrel at your downspout closest to an area that needs water.
- Ensure that overflow doesn’t run into the foundation of your house.
- Empty barrel when another storm approaches (or allow a constant slight trickle flow).
- Secure the barrel so children and animals cannot topple it; secure hose on barrel so children do not drink from it.
Actions when using a rain barrel
- Secure barrel by placing it on a stable, level base (e.g., about 15“ high, to provide a small head of pressure)
- Use mosquito dunks(“donuts”) in barrel to eliminate mosquito breeding; or use mesh screening (or landscape cloth) to cover barrel
Prepare the barrel for winter
- Store barrel upside down, inside or outside, and reattach your downspout.
- Alternatively, open all spigots and hoses, so water will not accumulate, and leave in place over winter.
- Clean barrel annually or semi-annually, as needed:
- Flush with tap water using nozzle on hose. OR
- Use 1/4 cup bleach (or 1 cup vinegar) in 2 gallons of water; rinse well.
Why should I install a rain barrel?
- Easy to install and to use
- Rainwater is great for gardens, houseplants, and many other household chores
- It provides a source of water during droughts and periods of water restrictions
- It reduces stress on the municipal storm and sanitary sewers
- Prevents rain water from becoming pollution that harms our rivers
How much water can be collected from my roof?
- The rain barrel holds 55 gallons of water
- Rule of thumb is that a 1000 square foot roof provides approximately:
- 600 gallons in a 1” of rain
- 300 gallons in a ½” of rain
- 150 gallons in a ¼” of rain
- A moderate rainstorm is about a 1/8” of rain, so most of the water can be collected in the barrel
Are there applications where I shouldn’t use the rain barrel’s water?
- This water is not potable, and should not be used for human or animal consumption
Where should I put my rain barrel?
- The rain barrel should be on a level, solid surface near a downspout
- A full rain barrel weighs around 400 lbs
- Place pavers, bricks, or cinderblocks below the barrel to raise it and improve water pressure in the hose
Can I use a diverter instead of cutting the downspout?
- Yes, a diverter can be used instead of cutting the downspout
What do I do if I no longer want my rain barrel?
- Bring the rain barrel back to the Alpha Ridge Landfill – leave it at the gazebo and let the County know you’ve left it there
How do I clean my rain barrel?
- You can pressure wash (or use a hose) to rinse out the barrel
- A diluted bleach solution, or soap and water will also work
Should I take down the rain barrel in the winter?
- You can either remove the rain barrel and store it indoors, or turn it upside down for the winter
- If you opt to keep it in place during the winter, leave the bottom spigot open so that water drains out
I have young kids and/or pets. What precautions should I take with my rain barrel to keep everyone safe?
- Select a flat, solid surface so the rain barrel remains stable
- You can tie it down with stakes if there is a chance that a child/pet could topple it
- Make sure kids and pets don’t drink water from the barrel
Rain Barrel Giveaways
2023 Rain Barrel Online Training is now closed and the wait list has filled! The 2024 giveaways will open in March 2024.
In lieu of in-person demonstrations, an online training is available to Howard County residents. Once all training material is complete, residents can pick up a free rain barrel (limit one per household). Rain barrel pickups will be held on certain Saturdays from April-July at the gazebo at the Alpha Ridge Landfill.