Author Topic: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?  (Read 2656 times)

ManyMountains

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Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« on: September 11, 2017, 12:08:52 AM »
Are rain barrels a wise use of money for Californians, specifically the most populous places like SoCal and the Bay Area)? A 55 gallon barrel costs $100. For us, 1 ccf (750 gallons) of water costs something ridiculous like $4. So that barrel would have to be filled up 13+ times to equal one ccf. At $4 per ccf, we would have to fill it up 325 times to break even. That's a long time for most anybody.

However, it's particularly unappealing in places that have the rain, even though this is where it would be most useful. Why? Well, take us for example. In most parts of California, it doesn't rain between May and October. It rains off and on for the rest of the winter/spring, usually frequently enough that we wouldn't have to water any plants during those months. So for several months we have sufficient rain that we wouldn't need the rain barrel, and yet we don't have rain when the plants are most wanting for precip and therefore the barrel would sit empty. Therefore, the barrel would only be useful maybe a few times a year.

I realize there are environmental reasons for using rain barrels. We are super conservative with water, using 2-5 ccf per month with a family of four, a huge property with lots of veggie plants and young fruit trees. We divert a lot of our grey water to the trees and native plants.

The background is that we own our home in the Bay Area and are re-doing our landscaping. The lawn has been removed and in it's place are ten fruit trees, tons of gardening area, and native plants. We worked with a local husband&wife team who advise on plan these transitions, though we are doing the work ourselves. They seemed really keen on rain barrels. It wasn't until I did the math and thought about how many times a rain barrel would actually be useful, that I started doubted the advice. The math is less worse if we get a giant water storage unit that can hold 800-2000 gallons.

I bring up this question in hope to hear other thoughts on the matter, like when and where rain barrels work best. And why we might still consider them. What am I missing?  Thanks!

nereo

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2017, 06:09:09 AM »
Are rain barrels a wise use of money for Californians, specifically the most populous places like SoCal and the Bay Area)? A 55 gallon barrel costs $100.
[snip]
What am I missing?  Thanks!
You say you are already super conservative with water, and that you have a huge property with lots of veggie plants and young trees.
In short, if you have municipal water there economics on rain barrels don't work out as long as there aren't drought restrictions placed on that muni-water.  You will never recoup the cost of multiple barrels bought new for $100 each.
The only time it would 'save' you is during a drought when muni-water becomes severely restricted. Your savings would come from not losing your fruit-bearing trees.  We've previously had water restrictions - I wouldn't be surprised if it goes further next time.  Of course a single 55gal barrel won't keep your trees alive for long, but multiple barrels could conceivably stretch your water supply enough to keep them alive through the dry season.

Along that same line of thinking, rain barrels can be useful during emergencies when you lose utilities (e.g. earthquake).  As long as you have some treatment pills or a backpacking water filter those barrels can serve as your emergency drinking water for you and your family.

Is it worth it?  Personal call. Having treatable water on hand is among the hardest of things to stockpile in your emergency kit (and it still wouldn't be portable if you had to evacuate). Maybe the expense can be justified if it saves your trees during the next drought... but 55gal won't last long through a hot and dry season.

Syonyk

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2017, 07:55:55 AM »
This is one of those things where you have to decide how much you value water storage - you're right that it doesn't make much financial sense with grid water. Even with a decent well it's still iffy.

I'm planning on putting in some large scale water collection and storage (10k gallons?), but I also have occasional local firefighting needs that require a lot of water (beyond what my well can source, as I've found out) and I value the independence from the well also.

We don't get much rain here so I'm looking at seasonal storage amounts - store the fall and spring rains and then use them during the summer.

Uturn

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2017, 07:56:39 AM »
I bought 2 55gl liquor barrels off ebay for $15 each.  They are blue plastic, so no too pretty, but they work wonderfully.  If the blue barrels in your backyard is too ugly, you can build a wooden box around them. 

Greystache

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2017, 08:09:47 AM »
I live in SoCal too and I have also concluded that a rain barrel does not make much sense unless it is free.  I have been seriously thinking about capturing the water from the shower drain to use for landscape watering.  Unfortunately, there is not a cheap and easy way to do it with our house. If I ever build a new home I think I would try to incorprate it into the plan.

GuitarStv

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2017, 08:10:49 AM »
We got our 55 gallon rain barrel for 10$.  Around here the cities will buy large quantities of rain barrels and then sell them to homeowners at cost (it's an attempt to reduce the strain on the drainage system during/after big storms).  Check around for similar programs where you live.

Another Reader

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2017, 08:14:11 AM »
Rain barrels make no sense here, even with the ridiculous water prices.  Maybe if you were growing cacti and succulents, but not for trees and bushes.  Even low water use plants need more water than you can store.

Gray water could make sense if permitted.  The systems are expensive, and I question the safety of modern laundry and dish detergents for plants and animals.  I would not want that water near food plants.

affordablehousing

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2017, 10:29:34 AM »
Same boat. I think it only makes sense if you gang up 8-10 barrels, and get them for free on Craigslist. Keep an eye out as they come up.

Catbert

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2017, 10:57:24 AM »
Check with your local water district.  I know of some in So Cal that have a rebate program.  I think in my city you can get up to 6 free if you get particular barrels for a specific vendor and jump through some hoops.

ManyMountains

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2017, 01:57:22 PM »
Thanks for all the responses. I just checked and we are not eligible for a rebate on rain barrels, though it looks like most counties in the Bay Area are. For example:

https://www.bluebarrelsystems.com/rebates/

Our fruit trees should only need watering for another year or two. Our vegetable garden needs to be watered, but we are able to divert a lot of our cleanest grey water to this purpose. That, combined with soaker hoses and mulch covering means we are not losing a lot. We are also experimenting with hugelkultur. I'll keep checking craigslist for old barrels, but I only see demand increasing for these.

Similar in vain to this conversation - we looked into getting a high-efficiency water-saving laundry machine and it would take decades to break even based off of water and energy savings compared to our existing machine. It seems that if anything, we should research grey water diversion to water non-edible plants. This would be cheaper and have a much more direct result in saving / re-using water.

nereo

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2017, 02:04:39 PM »
...
Similar in vain to this conversation - we looked into getting a high-efficiency water-saving laundry machine and it would take decades to break even based off of water and energy savings compared to our existing machine...

Sometimes the best reasons to do something isn't the most economical one.  Not commenting on washing machines per se here...

birdie55

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2017, 02:36:20 PM »
As a vegetable gardener in CA, I installed 3 rain barrels a few years ago.  I tapped into my downspout and connected the 3 barrels together. 

They fill over the winter and I use them in the spring when I plant my vegetable garden.  The water only lasts a few weeks since (as you mentioned) we only get rain during winter months.  An inch of rain filled all 3 barrels, so they can fill in one big rainstorm.  Then I have to divert the overage to deep water a tree. 

I figure it might pay off over years....maybe not....mostly it's my way of trying to help and also be a little more self contained. 

Uturn

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2017, 03:03:20 PM »
I never could find a good ROI on retrofitting water catchment.  I installed my rain barrels after I noticed that my grass is greener and grows faster with rain water vs city water.  So I figured that plants don't really like whatever the city puts in the water.  I use the rain barrels to water my veggies and herbs. 

Now if I were ever to build a house from scratch, I would seriously look into building in water catchment off the gutters and a/c.  Without doing research, I would assume it is cheaper to build that in vs a retrofit. 

one piece at a time

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2017, 03:43:28 PM »
You might be able to simply divert your roof water directly on to your garden. The water will then be stored in the soil. If you're doing this make sure you use a valve so that roof-water can go back to the stormwater system in the event of a long wet spell.

Another benefit of large tanks is that they can accept carted/trucked water eg from somebody else's well, dam or river. This means that the truck can unload the water quickly (ie cheaply) and then you can keep your trees alive with a slower dripping of water.

Sun Hat

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2017, 07:51:34 PM »
Have you looked for larger barrels? I got a 250 gallon barrel this spring and it's been great. It originally contained something food-safe - either a beverage concentrate or perhaps soap, then was power washed and sold on. I've seen similar ones for sale on the local equivalent of craigslist, but I happened to get mine from a company that sells re-purposed containers. I bought mine for $175 CAD ($130 USD ish).

While task-made rain barrels aren't worth the cost, my gigantic barrel (which comes in a metal frame) is great for collecting water in the wet spring to use on my vegetable beds when it's dry in July-August. 250 Gal (1000L) waters my extensive garden about 2-3 times. It'll take ages to recoup the cost of the barrel, but I'm happy to reduce demand on the system.

NorCal

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2017, 08:01:36 PM »
My dad lives in the East Bay and does save money with rain barrels in an unconventional way.

Somewhere in Contra Costa is a local government spot that will fill up rain barrels with non-potable water for free.  You do have to bring the barrels to them, and certify that you won't use it as potable water.  It's mostly designed for businesses, but it's completely open to everyone.

I don't know the details, but I imagine an internet search could point you in the right direction.

Pizzabrewer

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Re: Rain Barrels - a bad investment in California?
« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2017, 08:38:28 PM »
$100 for a 55 gallon drum?  Jeez.  I can get them for free.  Maybe there's a side hustle here, I could sell them for far less than $100 and be very happy....