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Irrigation by Rain Gutter Downspouts: Rainwater Harvesting

Water Conservation - An Efficient Rainwater Collection Technique for Flower Bed and Garden Irrigation

© 2009 by Kelly R. Smith

Photo of Kelly R. Smith

A garden and flower bed irrigation tube from a rain gutter downspout

A garden and flower bed irrigation tube from a rain gutter downspout

This article was updated on 07/15/21.

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Do you have rain gutters mounted on your roof’s fascia board? Chances are that the answer is a resounding "yes." The purpose of them is to stop rain from falling on your head as you rush from the house. That’s why the number one place you’ll find them located is over the walk up to your front entry door. At least that's the most common scenario on homes like mine that are configured that way.

But the main problem with gutters is that they’re misused all too often, usually as a result of claims from an over-aggressive rain gutter salesman (and aren't they all?). In any event, we know that gutters make life more comfortable, even though they necessitate periodic cleaning. Gutter guards help, but even they have limitations. This article will have a look at the benefits of gutter downspouts and how you can use them to irrigate your lawn, flower bed or garden.

Using a Rain Barrel

This rain water harvesting technique use is becoming more popular as a green use of natural, renewable resources and scores points on the LEED certification. The city I live in encourages this by periodically holding sales at a local park.

The image above shows a typical installation for a residential rain barrel, as I did it at our home. The link will take you to detailed installation instructions. Alternatively, read on to learn about protecting your house foundation using your gutter downspouts without a barrel.

How the Use of Gutter Downspouts can Protect the Home’s Foundation

The purpose of a rain gutter is to collect rainwater meandering down the roof’s shingles and then guide it to your gutter downspout which funnels the water down to ground level. It’s not necessary to install gutters on all edges of your roof, in fact, in most cases it amounts to overkill.

Why? Because you want the rainwater to flow from the roof at an even distribution pattern. In this way the ground at all edges of your slab or foundation receive an equal soaking. This minimizes the chance of your slab or foundation straining and cracking from a saturated spot here, and dry, desiccated ground there.

A Roof Gutter and Downspout
A roof gutter and downspout
Task number one is to choose the areas where a rain gutter would benefit you yet not jeopardizing your slab or foundation. Once you’ve got the rain water accumulated in your gutter downspout, what can you do with it? Chances are you have a flower bed or vegetable garden close by; why not send the rain water there? Here's a bonus -- plants prefer the pH of rainwater over tap water, so save money and increase your harvest.

In all cases, it's a good idea to install gutter guards or screens to exclude debris and minimize the chore of gutter cleaning.

Install your Irrigation System

Your local home improvement store (Home Depot or Lowes) sell downspout gutter elbows. Or do it the easy way and have deliver it to your doorstep. It's specially engineered to slide onto the base portion of the downspout. You can use this tubing to channel rain water away from your home’s perimeter in order to avoid super-saturating any one area in particular. If you've got a basement, this can be particularly troublesome.

At the far end of the elbow, fashion a piece of Plexiglas so that it will barely fit snugly into the end of your elbow. Next, drill a hole in the Plexiglas the size of a soaker hose and insert it in an inch or so. Seal it in using silicone caulk. Finally, bury your soaker hose in your vegetable garden or flower bed. The rainwater flowing from the roof will now benefit your garden!

Whenever you install any gutter downspout, keep the following guidelines in mind. Secure it to the base portion of your rain gutter using either aluminum pop rivets or hex head self-tapping screws. Attach some kind of a mesh strainer at the opening to keep large objects from clogging it up. Finally, use a high quality silicone caulk to seal all the connections. Check them every time you clean your gutters out.

The Alternative of Garden Irrigation

You might decide not to take advantage of the flower bed watering configuration described above. If so, you still have a need to divert rainwater from your slab. As mentioned above, excessive water gathering in any single spot is bad news for the slab’s strength and general health.

Home improvement stores sell water diverters manufactured from concrete. You set one on the ground under your downspout and this will channel rainwater away from your home. In some cases, it makes more sense to install a French drain.

As you can see, the lowly gutter downspout is beneficial to the health of the slab or foundation and can also serve as a huge asset in keeping your garden or flower bed properly irrigated.

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About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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