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Practical Gutter and Downspout Drainage Ideas [Rain Barrels, Cisterns, and More]

Roof water is one of the most underused homeowner resources. Practical downspout drainage ideas should focus on collecting and dispersing water to gardens and trees. You can turn the burden of excess water into a tremendous homesteading asset. Here’s how.

Consider that 1 US gallon = 231 cubic inches. 1,000 square feet = 144,000 square inches. Meaning that 1 inch of rain on 1,000 square feet is 623 gallons of water.

But how can you manage that water effectively? Downspout drainage should move the rainwater away from the house. Draining 1,000 square feet of a roof into a flower bed set against the house so it can run into the basement tends to be counterproductive.

How Can You Use Creative Gutter and Downspout Drainage Ideas?

Creativity is a nice bonus. But effective and efficient better be the goal. 

The purpose of gutters and downspouts is to collect and remove water from around buildings. Rainwater or water from flower beds can travel six or eight feet through the soil to make your basement or crawlspace wet.

Even if your house got built 100 years ago, the backfill around the basement is more porous than undisturbed soil.

rainwater flowing out of gutters into drainspout
Look at this unsightly puddle of water. It’s uncomfortably close to the foundation! It reminds us of one of the best practical gutter and downspout drainage ideas from a stormwater management guide we found on the University of Nebraska Lincoln blog. It advises hanging your downspouts at least five feet from building foundations. Doing so helps to prevent excessive seepage near your home’s foundation – as seen in the image above. We also think that anything beyond five feet is a good idea. The further the water drains from your home’s foundation – the better.

How Do You Divert Water from a Downspout Into a Rain Barrel?

Getting the water into a 55-gallon rain barrel is straightforward. Cut the downspout off at the proper level and place the barrel under it. Ensure the barrel is set high enough to allow a tap to get installed for filling watering cans. 

Cover the barrel to reduce the number of drowned squirrels, mice, and rats you have to fish out.

Make sure you install an overflow and run-off to get excess water away from your foundation. (Anything more than a heavy dew on 1,000 square feet will fill that barrel in a heartbeat.)

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Add a Pump to the Barrel

If carrying watering cans around is not on your bucket list, add a transfer pump to the barrel and turn it into a watering system. You can get pumps that mount on top of the barrel, sit on the ground, or are submersible. Attach a hose and water with ease.

Make sure you choose the correct type of pump. A reliable sump pump will have the barrel empty before you can pick up the end of the hose. Amazon and Tractor Supply both have nifty solar-powered pumps.

Read More!

How Far Should Downspouts Drain From the House?

More and more building codes specify a 10-foot extension for downpipes to get the water well away from the foundation. They work best if the soil slopes away from the house. A six-inch drop every six feet horizontally, one inch per foot, or six inches per ten feet, as shown in the following picture from The US Department of Energy.

Quite often, new houses get backfilled once. The backfill will settle and could end up lower than the surrounding yard. Allowing rainwater and sprinkler water to flow towards the house, down the foundation, and potentially into your basement.

gutters and downspouts diagram
We found an excellent water management blueprint stuffed with helpful details on the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory website. Image credit – US Department of Energy and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Is It Okay to Bury Downspouts?

As far as downspout drainage ideas go, you can bury your downspouts. You probably want to bury something stronger than aluminum downspouts that will not crush – like a four-inch ABS pipe. Dig your trench toward a large tree, hedge, or garden area. Put in a layer of sand. Install the pipe. Cover it and pack it well.

Buried drains are location-dependent. We live someplace where the frost goes six feet deep in winter. And the January can cause 60-degree Fahrenheit temperature swings in 24 hours.

In both directions!

Snow melts into the pipe (and not just a few drops) – then freezes solid.

Note – You can install heat tape throughout underground piping to keep any melt water from freezing. But it is a pretty pricey program when other options are available.

Do Rocks Help With Water Drainage?

Yes, they do. But only with certain parts. They are great at preventing downspout washouts. And at forming aesthetic and distinctive waterways. They need help to perform water drainage adequately.

To ensure the water goes where you want it, dig out a sloped trench, line it with a waterproof membrane, then put in your rocks, shale, gravel, or whatever you like. The membrane prevents water from soaking into the ground. And any rocks make good landscaping.

rainwater downspout with pebbles and grill
The University of Maryland Extension blog has one of the best downspout water management guides we could find after researching for days. Our favorite insight from the guide cites how splash pads of gravel or small stones can help to prevent erosion from the rapidly-moving water. Stone splash pads also help to divert water away from your home’s foundation.

Should a Downpipe Go Into a Drain?

Unless you have your underground storage or diffusion system to hook into, you will probably save money and aggravation by draining your eavestrough and downspouts above ground.

But if you have a storage or blind drain system, this is the perfect system to keep from cluttering up your yard with a drain pipe.

Storm Sewer Drain – Maybe

Thirty to fifty years ago, the hookup pictured above was very common. The hookup contains buried pipes attached to the storm sewer with the eavestrough downpipe draining into them. But recent building booms have overloaded the system with roof water, preventing the sewer system from draining the streets during heavy rains.

Many jurisdictions have outlawed the practice. In some, where it is still legal, they work hard at dissuading any new homes from hooking into the sewer. I would not connect to the sewer and then have to disconnect again. Not one of the best downspout drainage ideas!

downspout storm sewers connection
We found some fascinating insights about downspout disconnection from the Eavestrough Company blog. The article cites how too many homes got connected to storm sewers – resulting in floods and sewage backups. No fun! Image credit – Eavestrough Company.

Waste Sewer Drain – Probably Not

If you enjoy watching a building inspector losing their poop, then suggest you are going to dump your roof water into your septic system or the waste system. As far as I know, it is illegal almost everywhere. The extra water does tend to overload the system.

Even in our little hamlet of about 50 rednecks, with our very own dedicated waste treatment system, the inspector made funny choking sounds when we suggested it during the construction of our house.

downspout running off into garden rain barrel
Rain barrels are perfect for all homesteaders! They’re our favorite way to capture excess water from rainstorms. Rain barrel water makes excellent (and free) irrigation water for your dry, brown lawn. And ornamental trees and plants. We also read a PennState Extension article with more ideas. They cleverly cite how water harvested from rain barrels is also perfect for washing old tools. Or even your car!

Drain Your Roof Into a Cistern

People have used cisterns for water collection and storage since the early Greeks. And probably before. A cistern is a Latin word meaning water storage tank. Tanks that are called cisterns range in size from 100 gallons to 5,000 gallons to massive underground storage facilities.

Cisterns are usually relatively tight, should be disinfected every three to five years, and are meant for in-house use – though not necessarily for drinking.

Personal Note! In 1916, my grandfather built the house I grew up in with a 12,000-gallon poured concrete cistern – that we used well into the sixties!

large cistern harvesting rainwater
Cisterns are perfect for holding excess water runoff from your gutter and downspout system. The image above depicts an eco-friendly cistern water detainment system. Notice that it’s above ground. But – having an aboveground cistern may not be wise if you live in a cold climate. An excellent rainwater cistern guide we studied on the PennState Extension specifies that many homeowners should consider underground cisterns to prevent freezing. Their cistern guide also lists another advantage of underground cisterns used for plumbing. The water will stay much cooler underground – even during summer. Sounds good to us!

How Do You Diffuse Water From a Downspout?

As mentioned, many downspouts are routed into storm drains. Or the downspout ends a few inches above the ground. This website lcbp.org provides an easy step-by-step guide on how to extend your downpipes.

How Do You Disperse Water Across Sidewalks? 

Getting water across sidewalks, decks, or driveways without creating sheets of ice or tripping hazards can be challenging. One of the most effective routes is to go overhead.

Dig a four-by-four post ten feet long into the lawn on the other side of your sidewalk. Then extend your downspout from the gutter to the four-by-four post. After that – carry it down the gutter post, and attach a run-off.

If the look of an aluminum downspout is not appealing, give some thought to mounting a trellis to cover it. For some downspout drainage ideas – Morning Glories make an excellent trellis downspout cover.

wooden rain barrel for harvesting rainwater
We’re paranoid about our health – so we researched to determine if rain barrel water is safe for irrigating gardens. We think that a rainwater barrel is best for ornamental and lawn irrigation. However – we found an intriguing water harvesting testing guide from the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station with promising findings! Their study concludes that the rainwater from their tested rain barrels was safe enough to irrigate herb and vegetable gardens. Their rainwater harvesting guide also lists several rainwater collection best practices to consider. We recommend printing out their tips – and saving them for future reference!

Practical Gutter and Downspout Drainage Ideas – FAQs

We have a ton of experience brainstorming practical drainage ideas for roof run-off. And we want to help you with questions you may have when managing your excess rainwater. May they make your life easier!

What Do You Put at the Bottom of a Downspout?

An elbow and a run-off to move water from the foundation. Then something solid under the outlet to prevent soil erosion. Rocks, gravel, or various types of concrete pads work magnificently. They also look the part.

Will Gravel Around the House Help Drainage?

Gravel can potentially help drainage around your home. But only if the soil underneath is graded to slope away from your home’s foundation! Water will always run through the gravel. The water then (hopefully) flows away from your home, riding the downward slope of the membrane spread or foundation soil. In other words – more gravel won’t fix improper soil grading!

How Do You Divert Water Without Gutters?

Generally speaking, you don’t. The water will pour off the roof and pound out your topsoil. I have seen people pour concrete around the house to protect the dirt and drain the water. It seems like an expensive way to divert rainwater. And it still depends on grading.

Where Should Downspouts Drain?

Downspouts should flow into storage tanks, cisterns, barrels, or away from the house. At least five feet if the house has a crawl space or is a rancher, and ten feet if you have an eight-foot basement.

End Notes

Whether you believe that the last fire or flood are signs of apocalyptic climate end times – or if it is just weather, there is little doubt that things are changing. And life gets tough quickly without water!

Some of what I have written about involves aesthetics. Some involve keeping your basement dry. Most of it focuses on collecting water to keep plants alive.

We are just beginning to feast off the garden. Peas, beets, potatoes, squash, and flying saucers. Three dry years. There would not be much feasting without water. Collect–and use–as much sky water as possible. It is never a bad thing.

In the meantime – if you have questions about practical drainage ideas, or need help managing excess rainwater, don’t hesitate to ask!

We thank you for reading.

And have a great day!

Author

  • Terry Schutz

    Although I am slightly older than dirt, my wife of 48 years still keeps me around. We have 3 children and 4 granddaughters. We homesteaded one square mile of trees in northern Alberta, Canada in 1982. I have made a living in the home renovation industry for 40 years, and we have built 4 houses. I have been writing for about 20 years-construction articles, magazine columns, soundproofing articles, and politically incorrect social commentary.

Carol L

Thursday 15th of December 2022

OK, you have a few very confusing sentences in this post: “A 500-gallon water tank on our front porch c/w lid, tap, overflow, and rerouted downpipe.”

VERY random sentence, UNLESS there was supposed to be a picture above it???

“But the January chinooks not only terrify Leonardo DiCaprio but can cause 60-degree Fahrenheit temperature swings in 24 hours. In both directions!” The above makes NO SENSE AT ALL.

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