A few years ago where I live in Houston, Texas, we experienced a severe summer drought. Trees were wilting and dying right before our eyes (this was just awful to watch). Our communities began water rationing. And (of course) water prices went up. After that summer, I got more interested in how to recycle rainwater. I started to notice the number of rain barrels and other rainwater collection devices my neighbors were installing. I started to wonder if I could save money on my water bill and help save the planet too. As it turns out, my hunch was correct!

What is a rain barrel and how is it used?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that a "rain barrel" is:

A mosquito-proof container used to collect and store rainwater that would otherwise wind up in storm drains and streams. The rain collected provides free “soft water” to homeowners—containing no chlorine, lime, or calcium-that can be used to water gardens and houseplants, or for car and window washing.

A single rain barrel can store up to 55 gallons of rainwater towards periods of drought.

Setting up your rainwater collection system

In most cases it won't be free to start collecting rainwater—there will be an initial investment. For most people, that investment will range from $35 – $100.

Here are three options to get set up:

  • Find freebies!: You could get lucky and find a free rainwater barrel (or other type of collection system) on Freecycle, Listia, or Craig's List—it certainly doesn't hurt to take a look!
  • Make your own: If you’re crafty you could consider constructing your own rainwater collection system (check out this EPA post to learn more). Most DIY rain barrels can be constructed for less than $100. For a really simple and cheap system, just place a covered barrel (55 gallon capacity is ideal) beneath your house drain spout to collect the roof runoff.
  • Buy a premade system: For most people, buying a premade rainwater collection system will end up being most prudent and most cost efficient. Many city governments now offer rain barrels for homeowner purchase at wholesale prices (our city does).

Weighing costs versus savings

For most people, setting up a rain barrel will come with an initial investment. After that, water bill savings will vary from month to month depending on a) where you live, b) what storm patterns are like, c) how many rain barrels you set up.

1. How much rain water (on average) can be saved per month?

According to the (EPA), depending on where you live, the average roof can collect up to 500 gallons of water for every one inch of water during each storm. That's a lot of rainwater going to waste!

Let's say your area generates 20 very intense storms per year (this is conservative for where I live). Averaged over a 12 month period, that works out to 500 gal x 20 storms = 10,000 gallons per year (an average of 833 gallons per month).

2. What about water bill savings in peak months?

The EPA estimates the average homeowner can save 1,300 gallons of water during the summer season alone. This works out to a savings of approximately $35 per month for each summer month, when rainfall tends to be at its peak.

3. What about water bill savings in non-peak months?

This will vary based on where you live (where I live, summer storm activity is much greater than in the other months of the year).

But you can count on some level of water bill savings monthly (at least $5 – $10 per month)—so long as you do not live in a climate that gets so cold you must put your rain barrel into storage for a few months per year.

3 Water bill savings scenarios

So your estimated annual water bill savings will vary by how long it takes to work off your initial investment and storm activity in your area and how many rain barrels you install.

Based on these variables, three potential savings scenarios may unfold.

Example 1: Your initial investment is $0 because you found a free rain barrel on Craig's List—score!

  • $35 (average water bill savings during a peak month) x 3 (number of peak months) = $105
  • $5 (minimum average savings during a non-peak month) x 9 months = $45
  • Annual savings potential: $150 – initial cost $0 = TOTAL SAVINGS $150

Example 2: Your initial investment is $35 through your city's local rain barrel program.

  • $35 x 3 months = $105
  • $5 x 9 months = $45
  • Annual savings potential: $150 – initial cost $35 = TOTAL SAVINGS $115

Example 3: Your initial investment is $100 for a rain barrel system bought at retail value.

  • $35 x 3 months = $105
  • $5 x 9 months = $45
  • Annual savings potential: $150 – initial cost $100 = TOTAL SAVINGS $50

 

How to Save Money on Your Water Bill by Recycling Rainwater