How to Make the Most of Rain and Protect Your Home

Follow these strategies to keep your property safe—and take advantage of falling water.

A rain permeable path cuts through a lush garden.
Rain-permeable features reduce storm runoff and improve water absorption on your property.
Olena Serzhanova / Shutterstock

For homeowners, rain has a dual role: Too much, and there’s a risk of floods and leaks. Not enough, and barren landscapes, sky-rocketing water bills, and foundation damage can result.

“The lack of water falling out of the sky creates a situation where homeowners need to spend a significant amount of money on water,” says Matt Daly, the owner and principal designer at Water and Earth Landscape Design in the Bay Area. Otherwise, plants may die or become susceptible to pests.

Here in the West, we’re all too familiar with a rainfall shortage. Currently, 86 percent of Montana is experiencing extreme drought, and much of California is grappling with water shortages in the face of severe drought. Often, dry conditions are accompanied by extreme rain events, which can lead to flash floods and mudslides, not to mention property damage.

These weather swings between extremely dry and torrential downpours makes it necessary for homeowners to both make the most of every drop and to protect their home from storms. Here’s how.

Incorporate permeable paving.

Storm drains serve an essential purpose: They remove water from streets and roads to reduce flood risk. But, as water travels over impermeable surfaces en route to drains, it picks up debris, pet waste, and pollutants, which eventually flow into local waterways.

As a homeowner, make it your mission to divert water from entering these drains—and the lakes, rivers, and oceans down the line. One strategy: Replace impermeable surfaces, such as concrete, with porous or pervious ones, which enable water to slowly, effectively penetrate the ground below.

Permeable pavers are really popular, Daly says. They’re installed "in such a way that there's a joint in between with a fine gravel that lets the water pass through and stay on the property,” he says. Alternatives to impermeable pavement include:

  • Pervious asphalt
  • Pervious concrete
  • Interlocking pavers
  • Plastic grid pavers
Water drains into a rain barrel surrounded by flowers.

Capture rainwater for use in the garden with a rain barrel.

Richard Pratt / Shutterstock

Collect rain with a rain barrel.

When there’s rain available, make use of it. Capture rainwater as it flows off the roof through downspouts with rain barrels. Rainwater can be used to water the garden or clean vehicles and windows—just don’t drink it or introduce it into your home water pipes, since the collected water is untreated and can contain pollutants.

“One inch of rainfall can provide roughly 1/2 gallon of water per square foot of rooftop,” says Dave Holmes, service training manager at The Grounds Guys, a Neighborly company.

How to Install a Rain Barrel

  1. Purchase a dedicated rain barrel or make your own from a food-grade plastic drum. Check if your local government has programs that offer free or reduced-price rain barrels. You’ll also want to confirm that rain barrels are allowed; some municipalities prohibit them, Holmes says.
  2. Create a hole at the top to allow water into the barrel from the gutter downspout. Downspout extensions are readily available online if needed.
  3. Install a mesh screen, so that debris (think: leaves, insects, and small branches) are barred from the barrel, recommends the University of Nevada, Reno, Extension.
  4. Add a hole toward the bottom of the barrel, with a spigot that attaches to a hose, so you can easily use the water.
  5. Clean the rain barrel using soapy water annually, Holmes says.

Redirect your downspouts.

If your downspouts go directly into a sewer drain or run off into the street, you can redirect downspouts to rain barrels or aim them toward your garden or other permeable surface away from your home’s foundation.

Just add a gutter extension (readily available online and at hardware stores) to direct the water where you want it. A splash block, which keeps the water away from your foundation, is also helpful. A professional can help with this project and ensure that any changes to the downspout direction are safe and will not cause water to flow too close to your home’s foundation, which can lead to leaks.

Create a rain garden.

Help water absorb more easily and prevent runoff with a beautiful rain garden. Within the garden, water is filtered through soil planted with native, drought-friendly plants, which helps the water remain on the property and recharge groundwater aquifers. 

How to Build a Rain Garden

  1. Find the appropriate spot. Look for a sunken area that naturally collects rainwater, or place it where the downspouts direct water, Daly says. Keep it at least 10 feet from your home’s foundation to prevent damage.
  2. Determine the appropriate size. This map from the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System can help steer you.
  3. Dig as needed to create the garden, going for a depth between four and eight inches. Make sure to have a berm in place to prevent the water from flowing where it shouldn’t.
  4. Modify the soil using compost and sand, Holmes advises. This enhances the water infiltration.
  5. Plant native vegetation. Native, drought-friendly plants will help the water stay on the property and the garden flourish. “Once plants get established, they require little, if any, maintenance,” Holmes says. Your local nursery or university garden-focused extension can help you choose the best varieties.

Smart Tip: Unable to create a rain garden? You can still seek out native, drought-tolerant plants that will thrive in dry conditions and help pull moisture into the soil.

A dry creek bed landscaping feature wet with rain.

Recreate a dry creek bed to encourage water to absorb into the ground as it moves away from your home.

Hana Kolarova / Shutterstock

Add landscaping elements to deal with rain.

French drains, catch basins, grading, and features that resemble a dry creek bed can also help ease stormwater runoff and improve drainage. Dry creek beds are stone-lined trenches edged with plants, making them attractive, Holmes says. But they serve a function, too: “The use of curves in a dry creek bed creates a meandering path that slows down the force of water runoff while providing a natural element to a landscape,” he says.

Keep up with your home maintenance.

Simple preventative tasks can help ensure your home can handle a deluge of water from storms.

  • Clean your gutters. Both gutters and downspouts help keep rainwater away from your home’s foundation, where it could otherwise cause damage and leaks, Holmes points out. “Check each regularly to ensure they aren’t clogged with leaves, sticks, and debris,” Holmes says.
  • Maintain your sump pump, if you have one. These may be installed in the lowest point of your home, and when they fail to work properly, may lead to damage to your foundation or personal items. “Check your sump pump regularly, especially during times of heavy rainfall,” Holmes recommends. The discharge pipe should be clear of obstructions outside, and water should flow away from your home. “Consider adding a battery backup system to ensure the pump works during power outages,” Holmes adds.
  • Install a backwater preventer valve on your sewer line. For city dwellers, heavy rains can mean that storm runoff may overwhelm the municipal sewer system and cause water and sewage to flow backwards into your home. Consult a sewer specialist to find out if your property is at risk in a backflow event. It’s also wise to inspect for damage along your sewer lateral, the pipes that connect your home plumbing to the large municipal pipes in the street. Tree roots and aging can lead to cracks in the sewer lateral pipe and provide a potential entrypoint for rain or groundwater.
  • Be on the lookout for leaks. Even a small amount of water entering your home can cause a lot of damage. Follow these steps to inspect your home for leaks.