9 things you need to know about water butts – from installation to health risks

All good gardeners have one to catch and use rain water, but how do you choose the right water butt, install and maintain it?

If you want an even ‘greener’ garden this year, it might be time to finally invest in that water butt.

Here’s what you need to know…

1. Buying a water butt to collect rainwater can be a cost-effective, and more environmentally friendly, way to look after your plants year-round.

2. Rainwater is generally better for your plants than the stuff we get out of the tap, as it contains all the nutrients they need with none of the added chlorine. Although plants can tolerate tap water, it isn’t as good for them.

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3. If we get a really hot ‘BBQ summer’ (here’s hoping), and there’s a hosepipe ban, having a water butt can be a real lifeline to keep your garden looking good.

4. When considering which water butt to get, think about how much water you want to save and where in the garden it will go, so you know which capacity to go for. Slim-line ones are great for small gardens and you can even get ones that double up as planters, so they blend in.

5. Water butts are connected to your home’s downpipe, which in turn is connected to the guttering via a rainwater diverter, so you may have install or move a downpipe to make room for your water butt. This could also be a good time to sort out any guttering problems and clear them.

6. You’ll need your water butt to be raised off the ground, so you can access the tap, so think about positioning on a wall or building/buying a stand for it to go on.

7. Your water butt will come with a lid, which should be kept on to keep debris and animals out. However, if your water does get contaminated, you can add a few drops of treatment, like this one from Homebase, so it’s safe to use again.

8. A note of warning: water butts can be a breeding ground for Legionella bacteria, which can lead to Legionnaire’s Disease, a kind of pneumonia. The L. pneumonophila bacteria is known to multiply in standing water between temperatures of 20°C to 45°C.

To make sure your water butt is safe, the RHS recommend emptying it and scrubbing it out once a year. It also suggests insulating them to “reduce temperatures increasing in warm weather or paint them with a light colour to reflect the heat”.

9. Water butts are also a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and over-scratching bites can lead to septicemia (blood poisoning) or cellulitis. So keep the lid on firmly and make sure you have plenty of DEET mosquito repellent.

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