Best Rainwater Hoses
Hopefully by the time you are reading this, or if you are a new visitor, you have completed your rainwater catchment system or at least planned out your build. If not, check out this guide.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a rainwater catchment system is how you plan on distributing the water you have collected. Sure, you can dip a bucket or watering can into your rain barrel, but wouldn’t it be a lot more convenient to simply turn on a spigot or even fully automate the distribution with drip irrigation?
Assuming you don’t want to hoard massive amounts of rainwater for a future apocalypse, I am going to go over a few options you have to water your garden or plants.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to exclude soaker hoses but you can read up about them as an alternative.
We have found that the Water Right Professional Coil Garden Hose, 50-Foot x 3/8-Inch, Olive Green (amazon.com link) fits all of our needs and is the best bang for your money.
It is a ⅜” spring hose made of high quality polyurethane with brass fittings. Rubber supports prevent stress on the hose from causing premature damage. At the price point, it is the best deal available and if found to be too long, can easily be cut to the appropriate size. I would recommend buying an on/off switch to supplement this purchase.
This hose is made with the highest quality of materials and should last you for many, many years. The only caveat to purchasing this hose is to be very, very careful when determining the length of hose you need. Buy larger than you think, because 50′ of coiled hose does not reach plants 50′ away….
There are many different options available on the market, with different designs, materials and purposes. For 99.9% of our readers, rain water barrels are pressurized by nothing more than gravity. If you do have a pump for your rain barrel, good on you! You can use any hose that works for your needs.
For those of you who rely on gravity to water your garden and plants, options are a bit limited. Your experience with the water velocity will greatly depend on how high your rain barrel is above your gardening area. For more information, you can read more on hydraulic head.
Following the same concept as a water tower, the higher your rain barrel, the greater pressure your hose will produce. If your rain barrel is uphill from your garden, then you are in luck, you probably have enough pressure with any hose to fulfill your needs. If not, I strongly consider purchasing or building a rain barrel stand to increase your rainwater elevation.
When everyone talks about hoses or plumbing systems not producing enough pressure for their needs, what they really mean is there is a lack of flow velocity.
The flow velocity is the speed at which your water exits the fitting. If your shower head just has water dripping out, do you really have a pressure problem? Sometimes. Other times you may just have a mineral build up that causes low velocities.
When you cover the end of a garden hose with your thumb to increase the water stream, the water pressure does not increase, the velocity increases. Without getting too far into the hydrodynamics of water pressure and how it may affect your garden watering, the flow velocity is basically dependent on 3 factors: pressure, flow rate and head loss (friction).
We can increase the pressure by elevating the rain barrel as high as possible or by purchasing a pump. Head loss can be reduced by selecting a material and design with as little friction as possible. Lastly, and the most important factor for selecting a rainwater hose is the hose diameter.
A smaller hose diameter allows you to reduce the flow rate when watering. At first glance, it seems like a bad thing. Many people ask, “don’t I want a higher flow rate for watering plants?” The answer to that question depends on how you plan on watering your garden. If you want the water to just spill out of the end of the hose then go with a larger diameter. If you want a bit of velocity to reach the plants in the back, go with a smaller diameter hose.
On another note regarding flow velocity – the more you drain from your rain barrel, the less pressure you will have. Pressure by gravity is caused by the weight of the water, “pushing” down on the lower water. If you had a rain barrel 50 feet tall, it would obviously produce a heck of a lot more pressure than a standard barrel at 4 feet tall. Either way though, if both barrels are filled only 2 feet tall they will both produce the same amount of pressure.
Ok, enough of the nitty gritty science of hoses, which I’m sure is more information than anyone cares to read about rainwater hoses, we can dive right into the different features of rainwater hoses.
Rainwater hoses are generally composed of only 2 types of materials. The hose itself can be a rubber, plastic or fiber product and the end fittings can be plastic, brass, or other form of metal. When deciding on the material to be used, you should consider two main points.
Lower the head loss: Remember that bit about pipe friction and how it can reduce your flow velocity? It can have a substantial effect on your flow velocity. Materials like woven fibers and the expandable hoses are great and have wonderful applications but rainwater is not one of them.
To properly use expandable hoses, they require a certain level of pressure which you will not be able to achieve with a gravity fed system. Just don’t do it.
Your best options are rubber or plastic material. For garden hoses, rubber is more expensive but is far more durable, especially for higher pressure applications. You could use a rubber hose if you find something you prefer but it would be more expensive than you really need.
The best material that I have used is plastic. There are various types but your best bet is polyurethane. It is strong, flexible and smooth. It is relatively resistant to kinking compared to other materials but can become brittle if left in the sun for many years so it is always best to keep in the shade or under the rain barrel.
When deciding on your choice, take note of the material used in the fittings. Brass is the best material to choose as it will outlive whatever hose material you choose. Plastic fittings are another option but expect them to crack and break because of temperature fluctuations and deterioration from UV rays.
Length and Diameter
Obviously you want a hose long enough to reach your garden or plants, but the longer your hose the less flow velocity you will have for two reasons. The first is pipe friction; the longer your hose, the greater friction and lower the flow. Secondly, the amount of rain water required to fill your hose will reduce the amount in the barrel, effectively dropping your pressure.
It’s a tough balance, but I would go with hoses 25 feet and less. You can go longer if the if you are watering downhill or have a pump.
Typical rain barrels hold 55 gallons or less. You may find that your rain barrel is not filled to the top frequently if you are water plants weekly or even daily. In the event that you have a substantially larger rain barrel or tank, then you should go with a larger pipe diameter like ½” or ¾” to reduce the time it takes to water your garden. For the typical rainwater catchment system ⅜” is your best bet, for the performance of your hose.
Other people do prefer to just have a short hose that can be used to fill a watering can and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I would recommend simply using an old garden hose and cut it to your desired length. Garden hoses are typically trashed after enough holes are formed and the duct tape no longer keeps it sealed. In high pressure applications, that can be problematic but for a low pressure rainwater system, it will work just fine for filling up your can.
If possible, use an old rubber hose as it will last you substantially longer than the cheaper vinyl hoses.
One common problem people make regarding spring hoses is, the advertised length of the hose is the theoretical length if completely straight. Since these hoses are spiralized, you will never achieve the advertised length. A good rule of thumb is to buy twice the length you need.
It’s hard to believe that rainwater hoses have any features at all, but it’s true! Many hoses come with sprayers of all types. Unfortunately, none of them will work with a gravity fed system.
However, there are some attachments that will work. In fact, adding an on/off switch to your hose is extremely convenient. During the warm seasons, you can keep the hose filled and simply use the switch to water your plants instead of using a spigot like the Garden Hose to Shut Off Valve Connect (Amazon link)
Other hoses have supports on the ends near the fittings. Hoses that are connected to stationary objects always have stresses focused right next to the fittings and the supports give added strength to prevent wear and tear in one spot. These are standard on most hoses and should be a red flag if missing on a hose you are considering purchasing.
Lastly, many hoses come with a retractability feature. You have probably seen the three most common types which are the manual/automatic spooler, spring hoses and expandable hoses.
As previously mentioned, avoid expandable hoses for your gravity fed system at all costs. They are designed for high pressure applications.
You could use a manual or automatic, retractable spooler if you wanted but it’s overkill. Spring hoses are manufactured in the shape of a spring so when let go, they pull back to the spigot. They are commonly used on RVs and boats as washdown hoses. The only drawback is they constantly pull back, so if you stretch it to its maximum length, you will need to be pretty strong to keep it in place.
Your best option for rainwater catchment system hoses are small spring hoses with an on/off switch. Make sure that whichever hose you choose has brass couplings, end supports and and offers UV protection.
Remember, there are far too many factors to know for sure what hose will work best for you. Barrel elevation, garden distance, amount of water filled, etc. We recommend using a spring hose and if it is too long, cut it to the appropriate size.
Otherwise, use an old garden hose that you can use to fill up a bucket or watering can. But if you try and use one to your garden, expect very poor flow due to the large diameter.