Rain Barrel Harvesting (Photo by Sunset Magazine)
Rain Barrel Harvesting (Photo by Sunset Magazine)

I’ve been researching some ways to “green” up an existing home, in case we end up purchasing a “fixer-upper”. Some of these ideas are less inexpensive, like losing the lawn and planting drought-tolerant plants in a semi-arid region, others are more expensive like installing solar panels and running a portion of your household energy off of it, then reselling the excess to your utility company (a sweet deal!). But an idea I researched a while back, and the recent rain storm made me recall this idea, is rain collection in arid and semi-arid areas. Indulging my continued curiosity, I further investigated this idea through Sunset Magazine, I love the photos in this mag. They had some inspiring, and unusual, ideas for collecting rain. However, before I begin describing some methods, let me explain a few laws about rain water collection that I didn’t know existed:

  • Colorado: If you live in Colorado, the rain that falls from the sky is not yours to keep! Did you know that? Because many of their streams feed into rivers that deliver water to other states, all rain water is supposed to end up in the streams. So rain water harvesting (I like this word) in this state is out for now. (source: Wikipedia)
  • Utah and Washington: You may harvest rain water only if you own the rights to your ground water. So if you are using well water, you may then collect your rain water. I’ve read on other sites that this law is not enforced, so you could probably get away with collecting it on the down low. (source: Wikipedia)
  • New Mexico: In contrast to neighboring Colorado, some areas require rain water collection on new dwellings. What a terrific idea! Most likely, this is due to their desert-like region. (source: Wikipedia)
  • Arizona: Due to their desert topography, homeowners can receive a tax credit for capturing and recycling rainwater. (source: Sunset Magazine)

Other states and regions may have laws regulating stagnant water and collection techniques, so if you’re unsure, you may want to check with your city.

Now on to some rain water collection methods (all require containment or lids to avoid open, stagnant water):

  • Rain (whiskey) barrel collection: With a little work, and a gutter system, you position your rain or whiskey barrel at a point where your gutters drain, usually at a corner of your house or structure. Affixing a hose or pipe from your gutter to the rain barrel, the rain collects into the barrel. They can hold about 50-60 gallons. A spiget towards the bottom of the barrel makes it easy to use the rain water.
  • Rain Chain: This is a beautiful way to collect rain. The rain drips down from small bowl to small bowl, then eventually ends up in a catchment of some kind. It can fall into a creek or rock covered area of your lawn. Beneath the rock area would be a tank that holds the water until you need to use it.
  • Cistern: Using a gutter system, cisterns can hold hundreds to thousands of gallons of rain water. It’s a more complex system, but if you have a huge yard or garden, this might be a feasible option.

Here are a few links I came across that describe in detail how to build a rain water harvesting system (and sell the supplies you would need to start this process!):

How many of you reuse your rain water? How do you collect it? Have you thought about installing a system recently? What if you live in an apartment, can you find a way to use rain water to water your house plants?


  1. Never tried this before, but you keep giving me the itch to go build a tiny house back in Wisconsin!

    I’m really surprised that it’s illegal in Colorado to collect rainwater, would have never guessed that.
    .-= Ryan @ Planting DollarsĀ“s last blog ..Why Ideas are Like Sperm =-.

  2. @Ryan – I’m glad this is inspiring you! However, I would say enjoy your time in Hawaii, you’re still so young! And as for CO, it surprised me as well. Very strange laws.

  3. I’ve always thought about this, but never knew other people actually did it. I’m seriously thinking about giving it a try. “Rain Water Harvesting” sounds like a great bullet point for a resume šŸ™‚

    Speaking from someone who has lived in Colorado and Arizona, I see both sides of the Colorado rules. Phoenix would be awful dry(er) without the runoff from the Rocky Mountains.

    • @Search Engine Viking – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Good luck to you if you try it and I’d love to hear your experiences if you do! Thanks for visiting.

  4. @Debra – I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the article. I would think you could probably set this up on a motor home too. As long as you have a way to collect the water that runs off the roof, you could collect in into a barrel. I would love to hear if this would work! Thanks for visiting!

  5. @Ryan @ Planting Dollars

    Water rights are a sensitive and sometimes overlooked issue. Can’t see why they’d be concerned about homeowners (% of total relatively small), but here’s an unrelated (but illustrative) example.

    Say you dig a well 10ft deep. Happily providing water to your family, your neighbor comes along and installs a well 20ft deep. The groundwater has a conical effect and gets drawn to the deeper well – now you have no water!
    .-= FinEngrĀ“s last blog ..Maximizing Value, The Opposite of Earn More Spend Less =-.

    • @FinEngr – That’s a good point! I don’t use well water, so I would never of thought of this. Thanks for the comment!

  6. LHV:

    I’m a big proponent of water conservation. While rainwater harvesting is a great idea, it generally is used for landscaped vegetation. So if you have a home garden then it could be a great project, but if its collected for water-intensive, invasive plant species…maybe not so much.

    Australia has a big market for industry (along with solar water heaters). Have fun with the research!
    .-= FinEngrĀ“s last blog ..Maximizing Value, The Opposite of Earn More Spend Less =-.

  7. @Little House

    Most wouldn’t. It’s primarily a developing world problem. You have communities getting support from organizations to build a well water system, and they can end up taking water supplies away from neighboring villages.

    Mechanical & Hydraulic tools can go a lot deeper than a shovel and sweat šŸ˜‰
    .-= FinEngrĀ“s last blog ..Maximizing Value, The Opposite of Earn More Spend Less =-.

  8. I always find ideas like this interesting considering I have been doing this all my life. I am from a developing country and we are required by building code to have catchment systems for water storage. At a time when we are experiencing drought and public water supply is under strict schedule, this stored water comes in handy. Of course this means that the catchment is required to be a cisten or metal/plastic storage container able to hold thousands of gallons. We do have natural springs, but reply heavy on simple rainfall.

    • @Leslie – thanks for mentioning that some countries require this. I know that some islands, such as Bermuda, do as well. I can see where catching them in cisterns would make sense.

  9. I live in dry, semi-arid Eastern Colorado. Recently, the water laws in Colorado have been changed to reflect the reality that many people in rural areas deal with: we are on wells, rather than a municipal water delivery system. In the case of people who subsist on well-water and cannot be served by municipal water, we ARE allowed to collect rainwater in barrels for personal use. The amount of water we collect is minimal in comparison to the water collected by municipalities like Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins (where the populace uses water leased from farmers, deep wells and the many reservoirs built over the last 100 years). In addition, studies showed that the water that lands on our roofs (rather than the roof of the average city-dweller)never makes it to a river or an aquifer. Rather, it is absorbed by plants. I have several rain barrels attached to our downspouts and collect as much rain as I can for our vegetable garden, rather than exclusively use the hard, mineral and salt-laden water from our well. Since I garden in raised beds (thanks the the hard-packed clay soil out here), using rainwater is preferrable, since it keeps the salts the well-water contains out of the soil in the beds, or at least those salts don’t accumulate as quickly as they would if I used well-water exclusively. And don’t get me started on our convoluted, idiotic water laws and the draconian way in which they are enforced. The one way to truly anger a Coloradoan (particularly one that lives in an agricultural area affected by the current drought) is to show them pictures of swimming pools and lush green golf courses in the Arizona desert.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.