Don’t let gutter concerns stop you from getting rain barrels

Leslie Wooten (left), a graduate student intern at Clemson Extension, explains how to set up a rain barrel to people who purchased barrels at last year’s sale.

The rain barrel is such a simple solution for so many problems, from controlling moisture around and under homes to easing runoff pollution and providing a source of free water for irrigation.

And for the third year, Clemson Extension’s Ashley Cooper Stormwater Education Consortium is making buying a rain barrel even more affordable. This month, the consortium is offering American-made Ivy brand rain barrels, which normally retail for $149 each, for $69.

Preorders must be made by May 24 at Pick-ups are set for May 28-30 at various local locations (see accompanying list).

Besides expense, what often stops people from getting rain barrels are concerns about gutters, either the lack of having them or retrofitting existing ones for barrels.

“A common misconception when people are considering installing a rain barrel is that they have to have gutters. Although gutters are ideal, they may not be necessary,” says Kim Counts Morganello, a water resources agent with Clemson Extension’s Carolina Clear.

“If you have existing gutters and downspout, the downspout can be cut using a hacksaw. ... This will not damage your gutters or downspout, it will only shorten the length of your downspout,” says Morganello, adding that homeowners will need to reattach the elbow or purchase one if they don’t already have one.

An installation video, which lasts less than six minutes, details the entire process, including the gutter retrofit and can be viewed at

But what if someone doesn’t have gutters to start with?

One solution, of course, is to install gutters.

“One possibility is to install gutters on just one section of the roof, maybe on a front porch or overhang over a side door? Less than 100 square foot of roof area is needed to fill a 50-gallon rain barrel during a 1-inch rainfall,” says Morganello.

But even more passive strategies can work.

“I always recommend people observe what happens when it rains around their home. Grab an umbrella and take a walk around your home to see where water runs off your roof, such as the corner of your house where two eaves meet,” she says.

“If you notice a steady stream of water flowing off a concentrated section of your roof, this is a good place to place a rain barrel. You can direct water with a rain chain, or just place the rain barrel in the location where it will intercept the water before it hits the ground.”

Another solution, she adds, is to install a rainwater diverter, which typically come in 10-foot lengths and cost less than $15. Diverters are commonly placed over doorways or walkways on homes. They can be installed easily at a slight angel to direct water in a certain direction, such as toward a rain barrel.

Roofs remain an overlooked resources for free water in South Carolina.

Morganello says that during a storm with an inch of rain, more than a half gallon (precisely .623 gallons) flows off of every square foot of roof surface. In other words, a 1,000-square-foot roof sheds 600 gallons of water during a 1-inch rainfall.

With the Lowcountry’s annual average rainfall at about 50 inches a year, that 1,000-square-foot roof can yield more than 30,000 gallons of water.

Those who want to capture even more of it can do so by installing one of a growing number of cisterns and other rainwater collection systems. A gutter system would be needed.

A couple of other considerations, Morganello noted, are that barrels need to have screens (the Ivy barrels come with screens) to prevent mosquitoes and debris from entering the barrel. Also, the barrels need to be elevated, as least slightly, to get gravity to push the water out of the barrel.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.