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Some of the rainwater tanks around CERES Community Environment Park, in Melbourne, Australia.

A rainwater tank (sometimes called rain barrels, in North America or a water butt in the UK) is a water tank which is used to collect and store rain water runoff, typically from rooftops via rain gutters. Rainwater tanks are devices for collecting and maintaining harvested rain.

Rainwater tanks are installed to make use of rain water for later use, reduce mains water use for economic or environmental reasons, and aid self-sufficiency. Stored water may be used for watering gardens, agriculture, flushing toilets, in washing machines, washing cars, and also for drinking, especially when other water supplies are unavailable, expensive, or of poor quality, and that adequate care is taken that the water is not contaminated or the water is adequately filtered.

In ground rainwater tanks can also be used for retention of stormwater for release at a later time. In arid climates, rain barrels are often used to store water during the rainy season for use during dryer periods.

Rainwater tanks may have a high (perceived) initial cost. However, many homes use small scale rain barrels to harvest minute quantities of water for landscaping/gardening applications rather than as a potable water surrogate. These small rain barrels, often recycled from food storage and transport barrels or, in some cases, whiskey and wine aging barrels, are often inexpensive. There are also many low cost designs that use locally available materials and village level technologies for applications in Developing Countries where there are limited alternatives for potable drinking water.[1] While most are properly engineered to screen out mosquitoes, the lack of proper filtering or closed loop systems may create breeding grounds for larvae. With tanks used for drinking water, the user runs a health risk if maintenance is not carried out.[2]

Contamination and maintenance Edit

If rainwater is used for drinking, it is often filtered first. Filtration (such as reverse osmosis or ultrafiltration) may remove pathogens, while rain water is pure it may become contaminated during collection or by collection of particulate matter in the air as it falls.[3] While rain water does not contain chlorine, contamination from airborne pollutants, which settles onto rooftops, may be a risk in urban or industrial areas. Many water suppliers and health authorities, such as the New South Wales Department of Health, do not advise using rainwater for drinking when there is an alternative mains water supply available. However, reports of illness associated with rainwater tanks are relatively infrequent, and public health studies in South Australia (the Australian state with the highest rainwater usage rate) have not identified a correlation. Rainwater is generally considered fit to drink if it smells, tastes and looks fine[4]; However some pathogens, chemical contamination and sub-micrometre suspended metal may produce neither smell, taste and not be visible to the eye.

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Certain paints and roofing materials may cause contamination. In particular, a Melbourne Water publication advises that lead-based paints never be used. Tar-based coatings are also not recommended, as they affect the taste of the water. Zinc can also be a source of contamination in some paints, as well as galvanized iron[5] or zincalume roofs, particularly when new, should not collect water for potable use. Roofs painted with acrylic paints may have detergents and other chemicals dissolve in the runoff. Runoff from fibrous cement roofs should be discarded for an entire winter, due to leaching of lime. Chemically treated timbers and lead flashing should not be used in roof catchments. Likewise, rainwater should not be collected from parts of the roof incorporating flues from wood burners. Overflows or discharge pipes from roof-mounted appliances such as air-conditioners or hot-water systems should not have their discharge feed into a rainwater tank.

Maintenance includes checking roofs and rain gutters for vegetation and debris, maintaining screens around the tank, and occasionally desludging (removing sediment by draining and cleaning the tank of algae and other contaminants).

Rainwater tanks which are not properly sealed (secured at the top) may act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.[6]

Tanks Edit

File:Rainwater tanks 01 pengo.jpg

Rainwater tanks may be constructed from materials such as plastic (polyethylene), concrete, galvanized steel, as well as fibreglass and stainless steel which are rust and chemical-resistant. Tanks are usually installed above ground, and are usually opaque to prevent the exposure of stored water to sunlight, to decrease algal blooms.[3]

Tanks may be covered and have screen inlets to exclude insects, debris, animals and bird droppings. Almost all steel tanks currently produced for household rainwater collection come with a plastic inner lining to increase the life of the tank, prevent leaks and protect the water quality.

Apart from rooftops, tanks may also be set up to collect rainwater from concrete patios, driveways and other impervious surfaces.

Sizes typically range in capacity from around 400 to 100,000 litres (100 to 25,000 US gallons). Smaller tanks, such as the plastic 208-liter (55-gallon barrel are also used in some cases. Modern modular systems which are scalable, like the 51 gallon (193 litre) Rainwater HOG module[7] and the 500 litre (133 gallon) Stradco Aquabarrel can be used to decentralize the rainwater catchment by storing smaller volumes at each downspout. Larger tanks are commonly used where there is no access to a centralised water supply. Companies such as Solar Survival Architecture recommend a 300 gallon (1135 litre) tank for a house supporting 2 people (if compost toilets are placed) and if your region receives 762 mm of precipitation a year. If it receives less (between 254 mm and 762mm), 2 or 3 of these 300 gallon tanks can be placed (so that more rain can be gathered at times when it does rain). Also affecting tank size is predicted rainfall and rainfall variability; the higher prices for larger tanks; intended use of rainwater and typical consumption for these uses; the area of roof draining into the tank; security of supply desired.

Water supply augmentationEdit

In some cities, installation of rainwater tanks may be mandatory, or may help a new building be approved. For example, in Victoria, Australia new houses which have rainwater tank connected to all flush toilets are given an additional 1-star of the required 5-star House Energy Rating. Some governments subsidise purchases of rainwater tanks or provide rebates in areas where they are considered an important means of water supply augmentation.[8]

Rainwater to supplement drinking water supplies may be seen as an alternative to other water supply options, such as recycling or seawater desalination. Tanks are often perceived to have environmental costs that are comparatively lower than other water supply augmentation options.

Rainwater collection can be made compatible with centralised water supply by tapping it using an electropump.

Widespread use of rain barrels also changes the amount of rainwater reaching the ground in a particular area and draining into streams. Depending on the climate, this either helps prevent erosion, sedimentation, and/or pollution, and can reduce the strain on stormwater drainage systems; or it could cause rivers to dry up and ponds to stagnate if the water is diverted to a different watershed. If collected water is used in the same watershed in which it is collected, rainwater collection actually can stabilize flow in rivers and provide more regular and filtered groundwater transfer into ponds.

Colorado lawEdit

In the State of Colorado, USA, the installation of rainwater collection barrels is subject to the Constitution of the State of Colorado, state statutes and case law [9]. This is a consequence of the system of water rights in the state; the movement and holding of rainwater is inextricably linked with ownership of water rights and is enshrined in the constitution of the State of Colorado. The use of water in Colorado and other western states is governed by what is known as the prior appropriation doctrine. This system of water allocation controls who uses how much water, the types of uses allowed, and when those waters can be used. This is often referred to as the priority system or "first in time, first in right." Since all water arriving in Colorado has been allocated to "senior water right holders" since the 1850s, rainwater prevented from running downstream may not be available to its rightful owner.

Calculating rainwater collectionEdit

Rainwater collection from roofs can be calculated using the following formulas:

  • 1 inch of rain on a Template:Convert/sqft roof yields 623 gallons of water; or
  • 1 cubic foot equals (12 inch by 12-inch (300 mm) by 12-inch (300 mm) cube) equals 7.48 gallons; or
  • 1 millimeter of rain on a 1 square meter surface yields 1 litre of water.

Internal rainwater tankEdit

Rainwater tanks or drums may be used inside a house to provide thermal mass for a trombe wall (or water wall). Rainwater HOG modular tanks invented by Sally Dominguezto fit within building structure were used in the Modabode House of the Future floor and on the foyer wall of the Department of Sustainability building in Anglesea, Victoria, harnessing the high r value of the stored rainwater to add effective thermal mass to the enclosed spaces.[10]

Specially designed rainwater tanks can also be embedded in or under the concrete slab of a building (stab tank).

A house in Cape Schanck Victoria, Australia uses an internal rainwater tank to provide cooling to the living room in summer. During winter the tank is drained and wrapped in an insulating jacket. The tank also provides structural support to the roof, and excess water is used for domestic use including drinking.[11][12]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Camilli, Luis (2000) Rainwater Harvesting: constructing a cistern and gutter system using village technologies and materials [Maji Safi Rainwater Harvesting Manual|]
  2. "Rainwater, Fact Sheet". Your Home Technical Manual. Retrieved on 2007-02-17.
  3. 3.0 3.1 TWDB; Chris Brown Consulting, Jan Gerston Consulting, Stephen Colley/Architecture, Dr. Hari J. Krishna, P.E., Contract Manager (2005). The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, Texas Water Development Board. p. 88 pages, 
  4. "Buying guide: Rainwater tanks". CHOICE magazine. Retrieved on 2007-02-10.
  5. M.I. Magyar; V.G. Mitchell, A.R. Ladson, C. Diaper (2008). "Lead and other heavy metals: common contaminants of rainwater tanks in Melbourne" (pdf). Water Down Under 2008 (CSIRO): 415,  "Aluminium and cadmium can be an impurity in zinc galvanised iron roofs (Gromaire et al., 2001, Van Metre and Mahler, 2003) and therefore found in collected tank rainwater. Indeed, in Study 2, the tank with high concentration of Cd collected water from a galvanised iron roof."
  6. The Sunday Age. November 25, 2007. "These flies! Will mozzies be next?". Stephen Cauchi quoting Luke Simpkin, Museum Victoria.
  7. [1]
  8. "Energy efficiency for Victoria, action plan" (pdf). Archived from the original on 2006-09-17. Retrieved on 2007-05-22.
  9. "Water harvesting in Colorado" (pdf). Archived from the original on 2004-07-23. Retrieved on 2007-08-30.
  10. [2]
  11. materialicious » Blog Archive » cape schanck house, paul morgan architects
  12. - The Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA), architecture, architects, design, australia

External links Edit

Building water barrels and tanksEdit

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