Drip by drip, drop by drop, water is getting more expensive. It’s tempting to wonder, sometimes, why we are paying so much for something that regularly falls out of the sky for free.

Not that purification, pumps and infrastructure aren’t hugely important. But aren’t there ways to use all that water that simply hits your house anyway? Yes, and so we turn to the humble rain barrel.

“Catching rain water for your garden is fun,” says Bob Burgess, principal of Gulf Islands Rainwater Connection Ltd. on Thetis Island, B.C.

“And it gives you the best possible water for your garden.”


A simple, low-tech device can fill up 10 to 15 times in a typical Canadian year.

The water’s not drinkable, but it’s cheaper — and cleaner — for lawns, gardens and plants than the more expensive treated water that gushes from your hose or sprinkler.

And if you feel like investing in a more complex system, rain water can also be used indoors.

“The building code — now — allows it to be used for toilets without purification,” Burgess says.

“That’s a nice way to save money — and water — 12 months a year.”

That requires a tank, underground in most of Canada, where it can be protected from freezing.

“The underground tanks are more expensive. You’re probably spending $2,000 on the tank, and another $1,000 on the pump. By and large, you’re looking at more like $4,000 to $5,000. And that depends on how easy it is. If it’s a brand new house, it would be really easy.”

Potable water systems are available, converting rain into drinking water. But they run in the $25,000 to $35,000 cost range — far more than most Canadians would ever be willing to spend. But there’s an easier, cheaper side to this. Just the simple act of putting a rain barrel under your downspout heightens awareness of water conservation, making it easier to find other effective, every-day ways of cutting consumption.

“That’s exactly the idea of the rain barrel, is that it gets people interested,” Burgess says. “Here’s a line: It’s raining, it’s pouring, the wise man is storing.”

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