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

Getting Started


Rain Barrel Uses


Collected runoff can be used for:

  • Potted plants
  • Lawns
  • Gardens

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

Registration has filled for the 2024 giveaway

GreenFest Giveaway

The registration has filled! The County will be giving away 40 rain barrels at GreenFest (April 13, 2024)! In order to receive a rain barrel, residents need to take an online training and sign up online for a barrel.

The online signup will open April 3rd, 2024 and be open until all barrels have been assigned.

Alpha Ridge Landfill Giveaway

There will also be rain barrel giveaways held on certain Saturdays from April through July at the gazebo at the Alpha Ridge Landfill. Sign up is online, after taking the online training. Pickup is based on time slots, and approximately 80 rain barrels will be given out through this program.

Please note: you must be a Howard County resident to receive a free rain barrel. Limit one per household.

rain barrel

Stay Connected!

Sign up for the County Executive's weekly newsletter and stay up to date on everything Howard County.

Zip Code