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Collecting rainwater has numerous benefits for your landscape, your budget and the environment. Rainwater provides a free way to hydrate your lawn and garden. Using rainwater instead of city water also conserves energy. Preventing runoff protects surface water from contamination from fertilizers, sediments and pesticides.

It’s easy to install a rain barrel to collect water from your roof. But what if you don’t have gutters? There are several methods of harvesting rainwater without gutters. Some of them don’t even require a roof.

Basic Components of a Rainwater Collection System

You need the following elements to harvest rainwater:

  • Catchment surface – This is the first point of contact that the rain will hit. The larger the catchment area is, the more rainwater you can collect in a specific period. A steeper slope increases the speed of runoff and prevents the potential for contamination of sedentary water.
  • Conveyance method – You’ll need some type of funnel to direct the runoff appropriately.
  • Container – A container that’s large enough for the average volume of rainfall lets you capture and store the water. A closed or covered container that’s attached to your conveyance system prevents contamination and evaporation.
  • Water access – You’ll need a siphon, spigot or other method of accessing the water that you harvest.

Use a Tarp

Tarps are flexible, affordable and easy to set up for rainwater collection. The tarp can be spread out to create an ample collection surface. But it should be draped so that all of the runoff flows to one narrow opening.

If you have enough well-spaced trees in your yard, connect each corner of the tarp to a trunk or branch with rope. Allow the center of the tarp to sag. Poke a hole in the center of the bowl shape, and place your container below it. A disadvantage to tying the tarp to trees, however, is that it will collect debris such as leaves and bird dung.

Alternatively, you could use wooden posts or tent poles to support the tarp. Use two long poles and two short ones. Attach each corner of the tarp to a pole. If the poles are not installed permanently in the ground, you may need to use rope and tent stakes to stabilize the structure. Create a dip on the low edge of the tarp, and place your container at that spot.

The Butterfly System

The butterfly method of rainwater harvesting is more stable than a tarp, but it requires a little more skill. The idea is to create a V shape using two flat surfaces. You could bend a large piece of metal or attach two plywood boards together.

You’ll need to install one end of the structure at a higher level than the other end so that the water flows freely. Place your collection container at the lowest point. Make sure that the seam in the center of the V is completely sealed to prevent leakage. A simple way to do this is to cover the boards with a tarp.

The Umbrella Method

This approach doesn’t use an actual umbrella. But it does allow you to create a standalone catchment device for your rain barrel.

You’ll build or buy a structure that looks a bit like an upside-down umbrella. In essence, it’s an enormous funnel. Attach the bottom of the funnel to a drainpipe, and connect it to the container.

One disadvantage of this method is that it can be quite top-heavy. If you use a large rain barrel, everything should stay in place when the barrel is full. But it’s a good idea to stabilize the system so that it doesn’t topple over in the wind.

Create a Rain Garden

If you want to collect rainwater for your garden, you could simply design your landscaping appropriately. Establishing a rain garden in a low spot encourages the rain to flow to a specific area.

The easiest way to do this is to watch where the water naturally pools on your property and build your garden there. If you need to reroute the drainage, consider digging channels or installing a French drain to reroute the runoff to a specific location.

Plant water-loving species in the garden to soak up the moisture. You could also dig out a pond or other serene water feature.

Rain gardens are beneficial for the environment because they divert runoff appropriately. The water that the plants don’t use is filtered by the roots and soil before it reaches waterways. It reduces drainage and flooding problems and replenishes the supply of groundwater. Furthermore, rain gardens provide a habitat and nourishment for wildlife.

Use Your Roof

Even if you don’t have gutters, your roof directs the flow of water in some capacity. The next time it rains, spend some time observing the drip patterns from the edge of the roof. Notice where the rainfall cascades plentifully. This usually happens where the roof comes together in a valley.

You can place a bucket below each water chute. Ensure that the opening of the bucket is wide enough to capture the flow.

Another option is to install diverters with drainage pipes to these catchment areas on your roof. You can find diverters at a home improvement store and install them yourself. They are pieces of metal flashing that redirect water as it flows from the roof.

Use Diverters Wisely

You can place diverters in any location that has a lot of runoff when it rains. Many people place them over garden areas to shield their flowers from heavy rainfall. If you already do this, connect a drainpipe to the diverter to make full use of the precipitation. You can also place diverters on fences or under the eaves of a storage bin or shed.

You don’t need gutters to collect rainfall. However, they can help. Your roof is likely the largest catchment area that’s available for harvesting rainwater. Installing gutters may be the most efficient way to collect rainfall. Doing this will also protect your foundation and siding. It can also prevent potential moisture problems and minimize the need for roof repairs.