Rain barrels and HOAs

Rain barrels capture rain water from a roof to be used in the flower garden.

Rain barrels capture rain water from a roof to be used in the flower garden.

By Cynthia Knowles, Pollution Prevention Specialist, San Mateo County Environmental Health

The critical drought saga continues and creativity in water conversation measures is our new reality. The rain barrel is an excellent means to capturing precious rain water before it reaches the street, dragging cigarette butts, plastic wrappers, and car oil down the storm drain and directly into the ocean and the bay. A rain barrel is an easy way to take advantage of scarce rain water for decorative garden plants! And the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program (SMCWPPP), in partnership with the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) and participating member agencies, are offering rebates of up to $100 per rain barrel!
But what do you get when you mix a rain barrel, run-away rain spouts, and a Home Owners Association? Lots of new friends! Meet Ivy, my new rain barrel I purchased from the North Coast County Water District in Pacifica. I ventured down the rain barrel route with my neighbor because I don’t actually have a rain spout in my small condo space and she has TWO. We planned to purchase and install the rain barrel together and collect water on her patio. Because rain spouts are a common property resource, we must request authorization from the Home Owner’s Association (HOA) to alter the spout (i.e. cut it in half!). Just before submitting the Architectural Review Form, we received notice that our roofs would be replaced. Then suddenly all the spouts went MIA! The contractor was preparing the roof for replacement!!

The spouts reappeared weeks later, but they were installed in different locations and had a completely different shape. A quick call to our HOA President for

The diverter allows water to fill the barrel, but when the barrel is full, water continues down the downspout

The diverter allows water to fill the barrel, but when the barrel is full, water continues down the downspout

guidance revealed that she too was interested in installing a model rain barrel in a common area. We were now allies! She graciously worked with the roofing contractor to arrange our installation. But wait, the contractor had an idea for a special attachment that diverts the water from the spout to a tube, which then directs it into the barrel, i.e. the diverter (many rain barrel kits include a diverter). So I picked up the diverter from our HOA President and eagerly waited to hear from the contractor with the installation date. But wait, the contractor had a second diverter in mind; this one is better because you can open it and remove leaves and debris. Great!
Communication is Key! Before you plan for rain barrel installation, here’s an important question to ask your HOA: Does the HOA allow for rain barrels? Does the HOA plan to work on the roof and/or the rain spouts within the next year? If so, contact the HOA Board of Directors to be informed about when this work will occur, if the spouts will be relocated and the type of spout to be used.

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