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What Are the Benefits of Rain Barrels and Cisterns?

One of the biggest causes of stormwater runoff is the lack of a method to contain large volumes of water on-site during a rain event. Storage vessels, like rain barrels and cisterns, make up a unique category of green building technology that can help solve that problem. 

Let’s explore more about what rain barrels and cisterns are, and what benefits they bring to your home and surrounding environment. 

What Are Rain Barrels and Cisterns? 

There are two main types of rainwater storage vessels: rain barrels and cisterns. While they’re each located near your home and serve the same purpose of collecting rainwater, they hold varying amounts of water. 


  • Rain barrels usually hold smaller quantities totaling up to 55 gallons. 
  • Cisterns are usually a bit bigger and are capable of holding up to 20,000 gallons. Because of their large size, cisterns are generally placed underground. 

Neither of these are novel concepts. Before the advent of running water, most homes had cisterns to collect rainwater. In fact, renovating turn-of-the-century buildings almost always includes removing a cistern right behind the house, which, perhaps, is a practice we need to reevaluate. 

4 Benefits of Rain Barrels and Cisterns

And now, of course, to what these rain barrels can do for you and your environment! Below are four of the main benefits of rain barrels and cisterns. 

1. Water Collection Reduces Pollution and Erosion from Runoff

When it comes to protecting the environment within your community, the biggest benefit rain barrels and cisterns bring is reducing rainwater runoff. Runoff is a huge problem in urban and suburban areas alike, polluting waterways with fertilizers, pesticides, and other contaminants. Runoff can also cause storm drain blockages and floods that erode critical plant and animal habitats. 

2. Rain Barrels & Cisterns Save You Money

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), garden and lawn watering accounts for 40% of residential water use during the summer — and all that usage can definitely take a toll on your utility bills! But, thanks to a handy rain barrel or cistern, you could save thousands of gallons of water, and therefore hundreds of dollars. 

3. They're Healthier for Your Plants

Rainwater was once considered essential for harvest, and lately we’ve been seeing a gratifying, renewed interest in this type of self-sustainability. Water collected in rain barrels and cisterns can be used for irrigation, reducing the amount of chemical-infused tap water needed to water both indoor and outdoor plants. 

It’s important to note that water collected from asphalt-shingle roofs shouldn’t be used for edible gardens. There are trace quantities of heavy metals in asphalt shingles, which could build up over time in the soil and be absorbed into your food. If you want to use the roof runoff for more than ornamental irrigation, a metal roof would be a better choice. 

4. Rain Barrels & Cisterns Conserve Water

Amidst hot summer days, having excess water on hand is definitely a bonus. Rain barrels and cisterns help you conserve water, so you have enough to use even in the driest parts of the year. 

Being in Michigan, we have the unique benefit of being surrounded by various freshwater lakes, so we don’t necessarily need to worry about periods of drought or water restrictions. But for other regions of the country, rain barrels and cisterns are helpful in maintaining the resources you need, without relying too much on limited community resources. 

If you’re interested in implementing rain barrels, cisterns, or other green building solutions within your custom home or remodel, talk to our team at Meadowlark Design+Build. For years, we’ve focused on developing homes sustainably, with the health of both you and your surrounding environment in mind. From zero-energy and passive homes, to green home additions, our experts are happy to guide you from start to finish.

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