There are many ways to prepare for a disaster. But for most of us, preparing for an emergency or natural disaster involves preparing drinking water for when the municipal water source becomes unreliable and survival food buckets for when food shortages strike our grocery stores.
What if we told you that you didn’t need to buy hundreds of water bottles or draw countless gallons of water from the tap? What if, instead, we told you there is a way to use rainwater collection to fill your water storage containers for free?
Keep reading to learn more about the history of rainwater collection and modern rainwater collection systems. The rainwater you collect now could mean the difference if sh*t hits the fan (SHTF) later on.
Download our free emergency preparedness checklist and learn how a rainwater collection system can help you survive during a power outage or other emergency.
Rainwater collection, also known as rainwater harvesting, is accumulating, storing, and reusing natural rain precipitation that falls from the sky during storms. Humans have collected rainwater since antiquity.
Back then, rainwater cisterns were necessary, especially in arid environments like the Middle East and Ancient Rome. In ancient civilizations, rainwater cisterns were common in most homes. Survival Community cisterns were also very common and could store upwards of 11,000,000 gallons of water!
Since then, water collection systems have greatly improved. Simply put, a rainwater collection system involves just a few essential parts. First, rainwater harvesting requires a catchment surface. Nowadays, this is the roof of your house. This inlet is typically covered with a screen to filter out debris and keep out insects.
The next necessity in the process is storage containers or rain collection barrels to hold the freshly harvested water. Collection tanks should be made of BPA-free and non-transparent material. The reason is that if sunlight is not blocked, algae may form and ruin your water supply.
Then, to transport and use the collected rainwater, the collection system uses an outlet, such as a spigot, pipes, and hoses to move the water and use it for various important tasks.
Besides the initial costs of installing a rainwater collection system, there are few drawbacks to collecting rainwater. Instead, collecting rainwater mostly only offers benefits that improve your already self-reliant nature.
People collect rainwater for all sorts of reasons, the major one being that collecting rainwater gives you a free water source. Free water and lower monthly water bills are hard to beat, but it’s not the only benefit of rain collection.
After a good storm and your rain collection barrels are all filled up, it’s time to put your freshly harvested rainwater to use. You may also choose to save it for later and move it into
water storage containers. Whatever the case, there are three main categories where collected rainwater can be utilized.
One of the simplest ways to use harvested rainwater is to connect a hose directly to the rain catcher and use the water to irrigate your property. For example, you can hand water your lawn or the fruits and vegetables in your garden. You may even consider hooking your rainwater collection system to your sprinkler system.
Collected rainwater can be an essential source of non-potable water. When enough rainwater is harvested, it can replace the tap water you’re used to using for non-potable usages. For example, you can use rainwater for indoor, non-potable fixtures, such as toilets and clothes washes.
You can also use the rainwater to wash your vehicles, refill your pool or hot tub, top off your fountains or fish ponds, bathe your pets, or wash off your driveway and sidewalks.
Harvested rainwater does not only have to be used for non-potable uses. You can also filter and treat your collected rainwater with water purification tablets to make the water potable and safe to drink. Once you have treated the water, it can also be used to prepare and cook food.
In addition, when rainwater is appropriately filtered and treated, you can prep the water for long-term water storage. Then, if SHTF, and the municipal water source in your area becomes unreliable, you will still be able to survive.
Before you start designing a DIY rainwater harvesting system, it’s important to make sure that collecting rainwater in your area is legal.
By and large, rain collection is a legal activity. The federal government does not have any laws that restrict harvesting rainwater. In addition, most individual states allow their residents to collect rainwater freely. Some states, such as Rhode Island, Virginia, and Texas, even encourage residents to harvest rainwater by offering tax credits or exemptions on equipment purchased and utilized for harvesting rainwater.
However, it wasn’t always that way. In some Western states, there are restrictions on collecting rainwater. These restrictions are the result of old legislation that made collecting rainwater illegal. Back then, “prior appropriation” or “first come, first serve” water laws stated that all precipitation belonged to the existing water-rights owners of the local area.
Rainwater restrictions are present in some states because it is thought that collecting rainwater will negatively affect the earth's natural hydrological process. However, very little research has shown that to be true—especially considering that the collected rainwater eventually returns to the earth after it is used for irrigation or other purposes.
Before you jump down the rabbit hole and begin purchasing equipment and installing a rainwater collection system, we recommend you consider the following items.
When it comes to collecting rainwater, not all roofs are considered equal. In fact, there are some roofing materials that are much better off for collecting rainwater than others.
The best roofs for collecting rainwater are made of terracotta, concrete tiles, factory-coated enameled steel, glazed slate, or zinc-coated galvanized metal.
When it comes to roofing materials, you want to avoid asphalt and fiberglass shingles. These materials are coated in antifungal chemicals. Chemicals and other toxins can also be found in cedar shingles, Bitumen and composite roofing.
The best gutters for rainwater collection are coated aluminum or vinyl. Galvanized steel gutters are good as well, but only if you plan to use your rainwater for non-potable usages.
For rainwater collection, you want to avoid gutters that are constructed with copper or lead materials.
Ideally, your rain gutters will be 5 inches wide and installed with a minimum 1/16” slope per foot.
Selecting the correct sized tank for your rainwater collection system is vital. If you go too small, you will fill up too quickly and not collect all the potential rainfall. And if you go too big, then you run the risk of investing too much money and physical space to a collection system that is only operating at half capacity, or less.
So for tank size, let’s dive into the details a bit more.
The short answer to this question is—it depends. So as you can probably guess, the long answer is a bit more nuanced.
Figuring out what size water tank is best for you depends on two important things: the intended usage of the collected rainwater, and your local climate.
Like we talked about above, there are many different ways to use your harvested rainwater. If you plan to use the rainwater for simple tasks, like irrigating the garden and periodically washing the car or your pets, then smaller-sized water tanks will be sufficient.
However, if you plan to use the collected rainwater to replace the tap water you would ordinarily use for drinking and household tasks, then you should select larger-sized water tanks.
The local climate where you live will also impact what size water tank is best for you. In areas where there is frequent rainfall, such as the Pacific Northwest, small to medium-sized water tanks are sufficient, because more frequent rainfall will refill the smaller tanks and keep them full.
On the other hand, if you live in an area that typically only gets rain precipitation for a handful of months out of the year during the rainy season, then we recommend larger rain collection barrels; because if the rain is infrequent, it’s best to take advantage and collect as much as possible in order to last a long time.
Nowadays, we take advantage of the roofs of our homes to collect rainfall. Then, our rain gutters and drains direct the fallen rain into our rain collection barrels. For that reason, it’s important to consider the surface area of your roof when calculating how much rainwater it will collect and when selecting the correct size water tank.
To put it simply, a storm that drums one inch of rainfall does not mean you will only collect one inch of water in your collection barrels. You will actually collect a lot more than you think! But let’s walk through a hypothetical example to explain this in detail.
From this example, you can see that collecting rainwater adds up extremely fast. In this example, if you only had a small, 55-gallon tank, you would be pretty disappointed by how much rainwater you would miss out on after your tank was overfilled. It would be much better to have a larger, 600-gallon water tank (or larger) to take full advantage of the storm’s rainfall.
For more details about the rainwater collection potential in your neighborhood, we recommend that you visit the U.S. Climate Atlas.
Harvesting rainwater is a fantastic strategy for preparing you and your family for impending water shortages. On average, a home’s roof collects 600 gallons of water per one inch of rainfall. If you invest some time and money in a rainwater collection system today, you will have hundreds, if not thousands of gallons of harvested rainwater at your disposal when SHTF and the municipal water system is no longer reliable.
For more information about emergency preparedness, and whether you should bug out vs. bug in, or how much food to store in case of natural disaster, please visit our website. Our Practical Prepper Blog is a massive source of helpful information. And as always, if you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our product experts, visit our website.