Water butt in garden

Action: Set up a butt for rainwater harvesting

Harvesting rainwater saves resources and makes your garden more resilient

This action is to set up a water collection system in your garden or yard ready for the coming gardening season. If you already have one in place, why not have a think about how it can be expanded or improved using our ideas below.

Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is the process of collecting and storing rainwater. Garden water butts are a popular and inexpensive method of doing this. Learn how to save water in the garden and reduce your utility bill with a water butt.

After your water butt has collected water, you use it by opening a tap at the bottom and filling a container, or by attaching a hose. You can water your plants, irrigate your lawn, fill up your pond, wash your windows or wash your car whilst conserving mains water!

This “independent” water supply can be especially useful during hosepipe bans or when there are regional water restrictions, which seem to happen more often each year. Even during a drought you have a backup water source, which can be quite substantial if you link several water butts together.

Why is this important?

Even in countries where a continual supply of clean water is currently taken for granted, systems are under strain. Not just our infrastructure, but supplies too; aquifers and reservoirs get very low each summer and our water tables (the natural level of underground water) are being reduced. This impacts on our eco-systems to the detriment of plants and wildlife, as well as threatening our own water security.

How to start

You will need to purchase a water butt and some accessories such as a drainpipe diverter, pipes and a tap. However, you will often find that water butts are being given away or sold very cheaply on FaceBook Marketplace, Freecycle and the like, so check those out before you pay unnecessarily for new equipment.

Your water butt needs to be placed near the downpipe of a roof gutter. An attachment is fitted to your downpipe to divert rainwater into your water butt; this attachment is called a downpipe diverter or rainwater diverter. Many diverters contain a filter so leaves and debris in your downpipe do not contaminate the harvested water.

Water butts are typically made of plastic as this provides a light and water tight container. Some old fashioned water butts are made of wood. A large selection of shapes, colours and capacities are available. The most common water butts are a plastic cylinder of 100 – 200 litres capacity (larger ones can be up to 300 litres) in green or black with a tap at the base. Decorative water butts are also available in various designs too. Or check this out – a cascade of water butts that also includes planters (very smart, although a little bit pricey!)

Helping the environment

Widespread rainwater harvesting can improve the environment in several ways:

  • potential to massively reduce the demands on our water infrastructure
  • reduce your water bill in areas where you are charged by the cubic metre
  • reduced utility company water pumping and treatment saves energy and chemicals
  • reduce the potential for a rainstorm overwhelming your soakaways
  • rainwater is more suited to plants than tap water as it contains nitrates and is rich in organic matter
  • rainwater is free of chemicals and salts
  • you can grow plants that need wetter conditions, knowing you can maintain them even in a summer drought
  • educate your children as to why the butt is there, increasing environmental and resource awareness
Connected water butts

Tips for growing your rainwater harvesting system

  • look at a stackable system to increase capacity (see the link above)
  • connect water butts side by side with simple piping, as in this picture (click for larger image)
  • link your water butt to irrigation pipes for your vegetable bed
  • in wet periods, fill other containers, from the butt, for later garden use
  • investigate more sophisticated options such as grey water toilet flushing

Take action

Setting up a water butt for your garden is a cheap way to conserve our most valuable natural resource and save money, and is easy to do with basic equipment from your local garden centre.

And, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up to our bulletin “Take Action” using the form below, and thank you for your support.

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