The Pros of Rainwater Harvesting

rain2For centuries, people have collected rainwater for drinking, washing and irrigation purposes. With the advent of municipal water treatment, rainwater collection became less popular in urbanized centers, though water storage cisterns can still be found in old farmhouses across Canada. But recently, rainwater harvesting has experienced an increase in popularity in countries around the globe as a result of droughts, water shortages and the rising costs of drinking water and storm water infrastructure. Canada, too, is experiencing an increase in rainwater harvesting for lawn and garden irrigation, and many municipalities have begun to offer rebates for rain barrels. But larger, more sophisticated systems that capture, store, treat and redirect greater quantities of rainwater for other uses are still relatively new.

Rainwater harvesting systems use rainwater collected from the roof and should not be confused with systems that recycle treated wastewater or greywater (water from baths, showers and laundry). Rainwater that has touched the ground is generally not collected, as it can be contaminated with leaked automobile fluids, road salt, pet droppings, pesticides, fertilizers and dirt.

Some municipal planning codes now permit the use of non-potable (not safe to drink) water for toilet flushing and subsurface irrigation, while others permit the use of rainwater for laundry washing. Codes and bylaws will set out requirements for the appropriate materials to be used, sizing, supports, protection and marking, as well as the steps needed to ensure that non-potable water does not mix with potable (drinkable) water from the municipality or your well. Before installing a rainwater harvesting system, it is important to check with your municipality first to ensure the design and installation of your system will be in compliance with local regulations.

Depending on what you wish to use your rainwater for, your system can range from very small and simple to large and complex, with the cost varying accordingly. A general rule of thumb is that your system will cost $1/liter so that smaller 2,000 liter systems will cost around $2,000.

rain1The first step will be to determine the quantity of water you will need for your intended purposes, the size of your roof catchment area and the amount of rainfall your area typically receives in a year. Based on this information, a rainwater harvesting system designer can work with you to determine how much rain you can realistically collect, how big of a cistern you will need and what you can use this water for. Cisterns have come a long way from the simple rain barrel. They come in different sizes (50 – 200,000 L), shapes (rectangular, square, cylindrical, bag) and materials (concrete, fibreglass, plastic, steel, wood) and can be installed above or below ground. Cisterns and related components should be insulated or emptied to avoid freezing in the winter months.

While there are currently very few regulations for rainwater quality, a rainwater harvesting system can include some level of treatment to stop the system from clogging up and to help ensure good water quality. Gutter filters, screens and systems that divert the “first flush” of rainwater are used to reduce the amount of leaf litter, insects, pollens, dust and other pollutants that can collect on roofs and get into the rainwater system. Screens are also used on access openings on the cistern to keep out insects, rodents, etc. Stored rainwater can also be treated with cartridge or membrane filters and then disinfected with chlorine or ultraviolet light prior to use. Check with your local health agency to determine what treatment (if any) is required in your jurisdiction. Once installed, it will be necessary to maintain your system as per the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure optimal performance. It is important to inspect and clean out gutters, check filters and check for leaks at least once a year.

rain3In most cases, you will need a pump to deliver the treated rainwater from the cistern to the garden or your house. It is important to ensure that all plumbing and piping for the distribution system are adequately sized and installed for optimal flow. Consideration must be given to redirecting excess rain to a soakaway pit or infiltration trench to prevent the cistern from overflowing during heavy storm periods. Consider having your system designed, installed and commissioned by a professional.

Rainwater harvesting systems offer an effective way to reduce your water bills, use plant-friendly water in your garden and reduce your demands on local water infrastructure. To learn more about rainwater harvesting systems, visit

Six Hot Home Design Trends for Spring 2014

Does the change of seasons have you itching to refresh a tired, lackluster room? Or maybe you’re looking for some small ways to make a big impact on your home’s style? Whatever the case, here are some of this season’s most buzzed-about trends and how you can incorporate them into your next project.

wood1Wood is the new neutral. This season’s strong trend toward wood textures pairs the warmth, richness and texture of real wood with limitless design flexibility. Think wood-textured textiles, tree-printed wallpapers and embossed soaps that look like wood. Installing engineered wood ceilings and wainscoting can bring the unique look of reclaimed wood into any environment – an easy do-it-yourself project with striking results.

wood5Ode to the elements. Mother Nature is inspiring design in a big way this year and homeowners are finding unique ways to incorporate rocks, minerals and other natural elements into their home’s design. Try replacing a common-place item like an alarm clock with one encased within a multi-colored agate. Bring this look to the kitchen with a stainless steel backsplash, or swap out run-of-the-mill hardware with mineral-inspired drawer pulls and knobs.

wood2Shore thing. Homeowners, inspired by the calm, care-free attitude of coastal living are all about bringing the beach inside this season. Beach-inspired design elements are popping up throughout the home. Weathered and white-washed wood ceilings are a subtle but stunning on-trend addition – especially when finished with interior accents like decorative shells, drift wood furniture and marine-themed prints.

wood4Contrast in texture. Step aside Pantone, texture is spring’s hottest new color. Homeowners are putting down their paintbrushes and adding interest with texture through high-gloss finishes, metallics, sequins and mirrors. A textured tile wall brings visual and tactile interest, especially when paired with contrasting high-gloss lacquer or low-gloss matte accessories.

wood3Visual punch. Reawaken the senses this spring by incorporating a striking visual element to the home. Multi-dimensional surface treatments in pearl, metallic and gold/silver combinations add panache as a coating used for hardwood, or can be applied to wallpaper, furniture or decorative accessories. And don’t forget to look up – coffered ceilings bring a striking “Je ne sais quoi” to any room.

wood6Manipulated metals. The versatility of manipulated metal makes it a great addition to any style home – from hand-crafted artisan to contemporary high gloss. Copper, pewter and nickel are getting in on the action and can be styled in a variety of ways, including hammered metal sink basins, tin-look ceiling tiles, antiqued copper light fixtures and brushed stainless steel cabinet hardware.