Rainwater Harvesting 101: Combat Water Scarcity Even If You Live in an Apartment

Projections show that water will soon become an even hotter commodity. 

As we mentioned in Part 1 and Part 2 of our series on the Regional Effects of Climate Change, many areas of the US will experience water scarcity due to the warming climate. Some places will see intense water shortages and severe droughts that hinder everyday life, from washing your clothes to accessing safe drinking water. 

Depending on where you live, your state may have already started to place restrictions on your water usage. Water restrictions affect things like when and if you can water your lawn or rationing your home’s water, especially in locations with extreme drought. In some regions, you can’t shower and do laundry on the same day, or you face hefty fines.  

It can be downright frustrating. But you can take steps to take matters into your own hands today! 

Harvesting rainwater is an excellent and resourceful tool that allows you to still have water for all your needs. Unlike seawater, it’s safe to use rainwater for drinking, bathing, and watering your plants. You can combat water scarcity by collecting rainwater at homeeven if you live in an apartment. 

Here’s how to get started.

How to Harvest the Rain

Harvesting rainwater typically involves collecting rain from the roof and gutters of your home. However, there are rainwater collection methods for apartment dwellers too. The systems available vary based on scale or how they work. To find the best option for you, consider your living situation and budget. 

Barrels are the most common way to collect and store rainwater. There are many types of barrels available, including traditional wood barrels to containers designed to sit at the bottom of your downspout and hold the water simultaneously. 

If You Own a House 

Collect rainwater from your gutters. Attach a barrel to the bottom of your downspout or hook your entire guttering system up to a large water collection tank. All the water from your roof drains right into the collection tank for you to use when needed. 

You could collect 50 to 100 gallons of water in a single barrel each year using this method. Homeowners then have the luxury of attaching a garden hose to the barrel for gardening needs or connecting the system directly to your home. 

Black rain barrels are ideal because they help block the sunlight and reduce algae growth. You could paint the barrel or buy a dark-colored one with rainwater harvesting in mind. Alternatively, you want to store the barrel in the shade. 

If You Rent an Apartment

Talk with your building manager and neighbors if you live in an apartment. You might be able to collaborate with the people around you to collect water from the gutters. You can also harvest rainwater on your balcony by strategically placing barrels, containers, or buckets where they can catch the rainfall (or drips from the balcony above). 

No balcony? Try adding window boxes outside your windows. Place small containers in the window boxes to catch the rain. You probably won’t be able to harvest enough water for all your needs using this technique, but you can gather enough water for your plants or as a backup source when emergencies strike. 

When the containers are full, make sure to cover them with a lid. Water is a massive breeding ground for mosquitoes or algae growth. Store them in a shady area or inside your apartment for the best protection. 

How to Use Your Water Collection

Rainwater can take care of all your needs! You can use the rainwater you collect for irrigation and indoor use. If you own your home, for example, you could connect the collection system to a sprinkler. Apartment dwellers can water potted plants by hand. 

The crucial part is understanding the difference between potable and non-potable, unfiltered water. Non-potable water is best for direct use. This means it’s ideal for tasks that don’t require pristine water. According to the CDC, drinking non-potable water could cause illness. The water may contain germs, dirt, or contaminants from your roof. 

Use unfiltered rainwater to:

  • Clean your home
  • Wash your vehicle(s)
  • Bathe your pet(s)
  • Run a fountain or fish pond
  • Refill your swimming pool
  • Water your plants or lawn
  • Replace non-potable water needs, like your toilet and clothes washer

If you want to convert rainwater to potable water, you must filter and disinfect it first. The easiest way to create clean water is to filter germs and chemicals from the water with a fine mesh screen or portable filter, then boil the water to kill germs. 

For a more hands-off approach, some people add a filtration system or cloth to remove pollutants and contamination from the stored water as the container fills.

Only then is the water potable or safe for: 

  • Drinking
  • Cooking
  • Bathing
  • Teeth brushing
  • Washing dishes
  • Watering plants that you intend to eat later  

How Much Water Can You Collect?

You can only collect a portion of the annual rainfall in your area. The amount of water you harvest depends on the scale of your collection system and how frequently it rains. 

To find an exact number, look up stats from your local weather station. Find the average rainfall in your location. Multiply the average rainfall by the square footage of your collection area. That’s how much rain you can expect to collect. 

The rainwater harvesting calculator from the World Bank is another handy tool that automatically calculates averages based on your address. 

A final tip: Rainwater collection is not legal everywhere. Before you start, check local laws to ensure your rainwater collection method is legal in your area. Some states consider rainwater as property of the state and require you to obtain a permit.


The benefits of harvesting rainwater are extensive. Rainwater is a clean option that gives you complete control over your water supply. When cities place restrictions on water, you will be untouchable. The self-sufficiency you gain feels remarkable. Plus, it’s a free source that allows you to help conserve water! Why not give it a try?

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