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Basic Steps to Building Your First Rainwater Harvesting System

Basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system

As populations rise and climate patterns shift, the importance of sustainable water use becomes ever more critical. Rainwater harvesting is not just a backup plan for dry seasons, but a mainstay of eco-friendly living and responsible resource management.

It involves collecting and storing rainwater from surfaces like roofs to be used later for various purposes such as landscaping, agricultural irrigation, or even in-home use after proper treatment. The advantages extend beyond mere conservation; it eases the demand on municipal systems, potentially lowers water bills, and provides an off-grid solution during emergencies.

Understanding the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system is essential for anyone interested in adopting this age-old yet increasingly relevant practice. This alternative approach aligns effortlessly with global efforts to conserve freshwater supplies while ensuring that individuals have a direct impact on their immediate environment.

Not only does it offer practical benefits, but it also instills a sense of autonomy over one’s sustainability practices-after all, capturing raindrops right from the sky into a barrel feels both ingenious and rewarding.

Embarking on the journey of creating your first system requires knowing where to begin and what to expect along the way. Our guide aims to arm you with foundational knowledge about rainwater harvesting-starting from understanding its significance down to handling maintenance routines post-installation.

As we explore this ancient method tailored for modern times, we join hands in magnifying awareness about sustainable water practices-a collective effort towards our planet’s well-being. Let’s prepare ourselves by delving into learning the basic steps to build your first system wisely and efficiently.

Understanding Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is a process that involves collecting, storing, and using rainwater for various domestic and agricultural purposes. This sustainable practice has been around for centuries and serves as an alternative to relying solely on municipal water supplies or groundwater. By capturing rainfall on rooftops, in gutters, and through other catchment methods, one can accumulate a significant reserve of water that’s valuable both ecologically and economically.

Defining Rainwater Harvesting

At its core, rainwater harvesting encompasses any system or technique used to collect water from surfaces where rain falls, divert it, and store it for later use. These systems can range from simple barrels at the bottom of downspouts to large storage tanks integrated into building design with filtration and pumping equipment.

Unlike traditional methods that involve extracting water from the ground or surface bodies which are subject to depletion, rainwater harvesting draws upon a renewable resource that recharges with each rainfall event.

The Environmental and Economic Benefits

The environmental benefits of rainwater harvesting are manifold. It reduces dependency on conventional water sources which may be overburdened during periods of drought or high demand. By decreasing the amount of storm runoff, these systems mitigate flood risks and lessen soil erosion while also promoting groundwater recharge when properly managed.

Economically speaking, harnessing rainwater can lead to substantial cost savings by reducing household water bills. It also lessens the infrastructure strain on cities as pressure on treatment plants and delivery systems diminishes.

Reducing Strain on Municipal Water Supply

The role of rainwater harvesting in alleviating pressure on public water supplies cannot be overstated. As populations grow and urbanization increases, the demand for potable water surges-often outpacing supply capabilities-a crisis exacerbated by climate change-related weather fluctuations.

Integrating a rainwater collection system into residential or commercial spaces not only offers a buffer against such vulnerabilities but also promotes responsible stewardship of this precious resource by encouraging individuals to participate actively in its conservation. Understanding these fundamental motives strengthens the case for learning the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system as part of an individual contribution towards wider environmental sustainability efforts.


Getting to grips with the importance and impact of rainwater harvesting is a pivotal first step. As you embark on your journey towards sustainable living, one of the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system is pre-planning. This stage involves a thoughtful assessment of your needs and a clear definition of what you hope to achieve with your system.

Calculating Your Rainwater Potential

Before diving into the construction of a rainwater harvesting system, it’s critical to understand how much water you can actually collect. This calculation hinges on two factors: the average annual rainfall in your area and the size of your catchment surface, which is typically your roof. You can find local rainfall data through weather services or local government resources.

Once you have this information, multiplying the square footage of your catchment area by the inches of rainfall gives you an estimate of potential water collection in gallons. Remember that not all rain will be captured effectively due to losses like evaporation and splashing out, so a conservative approach is advisable.

Determining Usage for Harvested Rainwater

Knowing what you want to use the harvested water for is crucial in designing a system that meets those needs appropriately. Are you looking to keep your garden lush without impacting your utility bill? Or are you aiming for more extensive usage like flushing toilets or doing laundry?

Each purpose will require different levels of filtration and sanitation capabilities within your setup. Garden irrigation might only require basic debris filtering, while using rainwater indoors would mean installing more sophisticated purification systems. Consider also if you’re going to use this as a primary water source or just as supplemental; this affects both storage capacity and treatment levels needed.

Setting Realistic System Goals

After determining how much water you could harvest and what uses it will serve, setting realistic goals for your rainwater collection is next. It’s about matching expectations with what’s achievable given your physical space, budget, and time investment capability.

For example, if space permits only small tanks but you have significant irrigation needs, then perhaps aiming for partial rather than total watering reliance on rainwater might be more practical. And if initial costs are prohibitive for larger systems, starting smaller and scaling up over time can be equally rewarding while maintaining financial prudence.

It’s important when pre-planning to leave room for adaptability within your goals because as much as we can calculate and predict, weather patterns can change and may affect yields from year to year. Additionally, considering future household or landscaping changes can help ensure that today’s effort remains functional tomorrow.

Getting to Know the Components of a Rainwater Harvesting System

A successful rainwater harvesting system is contingent on its various components working seamlessly together. While the process might seem daunting for first-timers, understanding each part’s function can demystify how the system works, paving the way for homeowners to take confident strides towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Catchment Area: The Starting Point

The catchment area, usually a roof, is where rainwater is initially collected. It’s essential to consider the material of your roof as some materials may be more suitable than others for quality water collection.

For example, metal roofing is often preferred due to its smooth surface that allows rainwater to flow easily and minimizes contamination. On the other hand, roofs made of asphalt shingles may leach chemicals into the water and are generally not recommended unless there are pre-filtration measures in place.

When preparing your catchment area, ensure that it’s clean and free of debris such as leaves or bird droppings. This cleanliness helps to improve water quality at the source before it ever reaches your conveyance system or storage tanks.

Conveyance System: Guiding Rainwater Efficiently

After rainfall hits your catchment area, a conveyance system-made up of gutters and downspouts-directs the water from your roof to a storage vessel. To prevent blockages and maintain efficiency, gutters should have leaf guards installed and be regularly cleaned out, especially before heavy rainfall events. Gutters must also be properly angled so that water flows towards downspouts without pooling.

Downspouts are equally crucial as they too need proper design consideration. They should have sufficient capacity to handle heavy rains and feature connections that securely direct water towards storage tanks while minimizing spillage and waste.

Storage Tanks: Securing Your Harvest

Equally important in compiling basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system is selecting an appropriate storage tank. Storage tanks come in various sizes and materials; you can choose from plastic (polyethylene), concrete, fiberglass, or metal tanks depending on local climate conditions, space constraints, budgetary considerations, and personal preference.

The placement of these tanks should factor in convenience for use but also protection from direct sunlight which can encourage algae growth if tanks are not opaque. Moreover, whether you opt for above-ground or below-ground installation will impact factors such as ease of access for maintenance versus aesthetics and space utilization within your property.

Understanding these core components sets a strong foundation for people learning about rainwater harvesting systems-and their integration hints at the next practical steps required to transform them into a functional whole-system approach capable of meeting residential water needs sustainably.

Selecting a Catchment Area

When embarking on the journey of installing a rainwater harvesting system, one of the most critical considerations is selecting an appropriate catchment area. This typically involves identifying a section of the roof that will act as the primary surface for collecting rainwater.

The choice of your roof as a catchment area is influenced by its size, material, and position relative to prevailing winds and rainfall patterns. You need to ascertain which parts of your roof are best suited for channeling water effectively into your conveyance system.

Regarding gutter systems, their role is indispensable – they bridge your selected roof areas and the storage tanks where rainwater is captured. Materials like PVC, aluminum, or stainless steel are commonly used for gutters and downspouts due to their durability and resistance to weather-induced wear. When choosing materials for gutters, consider their longevity against corrosion and ease of maintenance.

Seamless gutters may be a bit more expensive than sectional ones but can reduce chances of leaks. It’s also crucial to regular checks for blockages or accumulation of debris that could prevent water flow; this maintenance ensures maximum water capture efficiency.

Preparation of these areas necessitates both correct installation and periodic maintenance to sustain performance. Gutters should be securely fastened with sufficient slope towards downspouts so that water flows freely without stagnation.

Infographic on basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system

Downspouts must be strategically placed, ensuring they facilitate unimpeded flow from roofs to the storage tanks below while minimizing splashing losses at ground level. If you live in an area with heavy leaf fall or debris, it may be wise to install leaf screens or guards on top of your gutters.

Catchment Area Factor Considerations
Roof Material Water collection efficiency, contamination risk, durability
Gutter Material Resilience against corrosion and weather conditions, required maintenance
Gutter Maintenance Frequent cleaning schedules, use of guards/screens against debris build-up

This preparation phase is fundamental among the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system because it sets the foundation for how well your system will function overall. Getting it right at this stage means less troubleshooting later on and ensures that you’re harnessing nature’s precious resource as effectively as possible right from the start.

From Catchment to Container

When considering the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system, the design of your conveyance system is crucial. This is the network that channels the collected rainwater from your catchment area to the storage container. It typically involves gutters and downspouts, but an efficient conveyance system requires a thorough plan to guide water flow steadily and prevent debris accumulation.

The choice of materials for these components can affect water quality and system longevity, so it’s vital to opt for durable, non-reactive materials such as PVC or aluminum. In addition, ensure that all joints are securely sealed to avoid leaks and potential water loss.

A well-designed conveyance system entails more than just affixing gutters to your roof; it should integrate features like screens or mesh guards at entry points to keep out leaves and other organic matter. Moreover, you might consider installing a first flush diverter – a device that directs the initial dirty water away from the tank to reduce contamination.

The basic outline for setting up your conveyance channels should factor in the slope of your gutters-guidelines suggest about 1/4 inch decline every 10 feet towards downspouts for optimal flow-and making certain there are sufficient downspouts to handle heavy rainfall.

Component Consideration
Gutters Material durability, correct sizing based on roof area, proper slope for water movement.
Downspouts Sufficient quantity for roof size, ideally placed at low points to maximize water catchment.
Leaf Guards/ Mesh Screens Installed at gutter entry points to eliminate debris which could clog the pathway.
First Flush Diverters To dispel contaminants in initial runoff before entering storage tanks.

Initial planning must encompass not only current needs but also future expansion possibilities. Considering drainage areas away from tanks will help manage overflow during high precipitation periods while maintaining accessibility around tanks ensures ease of maintenance tasks like cleaning and repairs.

Fabricating a sound design now saves hassle later-by immediately tackling issues such as restrictive flow capacity or inefficient diversion of contaminants, you’re laying a solid foundation upon which a reliable rainwater harvesting system can be built and sustained over time.

Storage Solutions

Selecting the appropriate storage tank is an integral part of establishing a functional rainwater harvesting system. Deciding on the right tank involves considering several key variables, including size, material, budget constraints, and the available space at your location. It’s crucial to anticipate your water usage and select a tank that accommodates your needs while also fitting within your financial plan and property layout.

When it comes to size, too small a tank will fill up quickly and won’t provide enough stored water during dry spells; however, an excessively large tank can be unnecessarily costly and occupy more space than you have available. Calculate the maximum capacity you’ll need based on how much rainfall you typically get in your area combined with your intended use for the harvested water.

If you plan to use it solely for landscaping irrigation or gardening, your capacity requirements may be lower compared to using it for household purposes like laundry or toilet flushing.

Material choice is another significant consideration when choosing your rainwater storage solution. Tanks are commonly made from plastics like polyethylene, metal such as galvanized steel, fiberglass, or concrete.

Each material has its benefits and drawbacks-plastic tanks are usually cheaper and more versatile regarding placement but may not be as durable as metal or concrete options which are often longer-lasting but might come with higher initial costs. Furthermore, above-ground tanks are generally simpler to install than below-ground ones but could be more vulnerable to weather damage over time if not properly maintained.

Lastly, before installing the chosen tank at your home or property, ensure that a sturdy foundation is prepared to support the full weight of the tank once it’s filled with water. This can involve creating a sand base or pouring a concrete slab depending on the ground conditions and type of tank selected.

Safety during installation cannot be overemphasized-make sure that any overhead hazards like power lines are well clear of where the tank will be situated and consider easy access for future maintenance when deciding on its location. Investing in high-quality fittings and connections will also help secure your tank appropriately while reducing chances of leaks or other failures over time.

Water Treatment

Before the collected rainwater can be put to use, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the treatment it requires to ensure its safety for your intended purposes. Filtration is one of the primary processes involved in cleaning the water, serving to remove physical particles and debris that might have been collected along with the rain.

Depending on your needs, purification may also be necessary, especially if you intend to utilize the water for domestic purposes that may involve human consumption.

The filtration process can range from simple mechanical filters that trap leaves and larger debris at the gutters’ entrance points to more complex systems designed to eliminate smaller impurities from the water before storage. It is critical that filtration occurs before storing to prevent any potential clogging or damage within your storage system-key advice in mastering the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system.

Different levels of sophistication in filtration will correspond with different needs and budgets; mesh screens might suffice for garden watering, while finer filters are needed for indoor uses like flushing toilets or laundry.

In addition to mechanical filtration, there are several purification methods available if making rainwater potable is a goal. Chemical treatments such as chlorination can kill bacteria and other pathogens present in rainwater. Ultraviolet (UV) light purification is another effective non-chemical approach that ensures all microorganisms are rendered harmless.

Keep in mind though, before implementing any chemical treatment method, proper knowledge about dosing and effects on water quality is vital – a misstep here could lead to water that is unsafe for any use. Always check local guidance and regulations around purifying rainwater for potable use, both for health reasons and compliance with laws.

The Basic Steps to Building Your First Rainwater Harvesting System

Understanding the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system is crucial for a successful project. First and foremost, you must know your local regulations as they pertain to rainwater harvesting. Many areas have specific codes or guidelines that need to be followed, so checking with your local government about permits and restrictions is vital prior to beginning construction. Once you have established what is legally permissible in your area, you can proceed with more confidence and compliance.

Building a rainwater harvesting system revolves around several key components – the catchment area (typically a roof), gutters and downspouts for conveyance, a storage unit like a tank or barrel, filtration systems for debris removal, and purification systems if the water is intended for domestic use. The complexity of each component may vary based on individual needs and goals.

Before buying materials or tools, sketching out a detailed plan will help visualize the entire setup and allow you to estimate sizes and lengths of materials such as pipes or conduits accurately.

Finally, setting up the system demands attention to detail and safety precautions. Begin by installing gutters onto the roof edges ensuring they slope towards downspouts that channel collected water into storage tanks. It’s typically recommended to include a first flush diverter which ensures the initial dirty runoff does not enter the tank; this prolongs water quality and limits maintenance work. Securing tanks firmly on prepared foundations prevents any accidental toppling or shifting-balancing practicality with safety at every step.

Component Considerations
Legal Compliance Check local regulations & acquire necessary permits
Catchment Area Identify and prepare an appropriate section of roofing
Gutters/Downspouts Install with an adequate slope towards storage; consider first flush diverters
Storage Tanks Determine size based on need/capacity; install on solid foundation
Filtration/Purification Include appropriate systems for intended water use (non-potable vs potable)

Planning correctly by following these key stages makes sure you stay organized throughout the entire process and end up with an efficient rainwater harvesting system tailored specifically to your requirements.

System Maintenance

Once you have set up your rainwater harvesting system by following the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system, it’s imperative that you also understand the importance of regular maintenance. To ensure long-term efficiency and reduce the likelihood of any issues arising, there are several key upkeep tasks that should be part of your routine.

basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system with visuals

Firstly, inspections should be a priority. Regular checks will help you spot any potential problems such as leaks, overflows, or blockages before they escalate. Your maintenance plan should include:

  • Monitoring your catchment surface for accumulation of debris and cleaning as needed.
  • Examining gutters and downspouts periodically for leaves, twigs, or even bird nests that can impede the flow of water.
  • Checking the pre-filtration units like first-flush diverters and leaf screens-if used-to ensure they’re functioning correctly.
  • Assessing storage tanks for signs of algae growth or contamination to maintain water quality.

Furthermore, taking care of your conveyance system is equally essential. Any attachments used to connect gutters and downspouts may come loose over time due to weather conditions or simple wear-and-tear. Ensuring all connections are secure helps prevent leaks and potential water loss. Additionally, if you have underground pipes as part of your conveyance system, it’s wise to carry out occasional checks for any root intrusion or ground settlement which might compromise your pipework.

Regarding hygiene and safety concerns:

  1. Clean the interior of water storage tanks every six months to a year-depending on local conditions-to remove any sediment buildup.
  2. Conduct a periodic check-up on all filters to confirm they are clean; replace them as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  3. If water purification measures are in place-such as disinfection systems-they require consistent monitoring and management according to specified guidelines.

Lastly, keep an eye out for any changes in legislation concerning rainwater harvesting in your area that may affect how you maintain your system. These can include regulations about how often certain types of equipment must be cleaned or replaced. Tailoring this framework effectively means adapting maintenance activities based on seasonal variations; during times when rainfall is less frequent, certain components (like first-flush diverters) won’t need as much attention compared with periods where there is substantial precipitation.

Being disciplined with these maintenance aspects will not only prolong the life of every component within your rainwater harvesting system but will also give you peace of mind knowing that you’re getting high-quality water while operating an environmentally friendly setup efficiently.

Budgeting and Financial Considerations

Embarking on the journey of creating a rainwater harvesting system comes with financial implications that are an essential part of the planning process. Upfront, it’s crucial to understand the investment required for materials, equipment, and possibly labor, depending on whether you’re planning a DIY project or hiring professionals.

The sheer variety of components such as tanks, gutters, filtration systems, and pumps means that prices can vary widely. To begin estimating costs, itemize each component needed for your specific design and research average prices in your area or from reputable online retailers.

While initial expenses may seem daunting at first glance, there are practical ways to save money during the build process without compromising quality. Opting for more economical materials like plastic tanks over stainless steel can significantly reduce costs. Also, investigating government rebates or local incentives for rainwater collection projects can offset some expenses.

Engaging in do-it-yourself where possible saves on labor costs; however, ensure that this does not lead to compromises in safety or system efficiency. Prioritizing aspects of the system where professional help is truly needed-perhaps for installing sizable storage tanks or complex plumbing-can make better financial sense.

Beyond the build itself lies the potential for long-term financial benefits of a rainwater harvesting system that often justifies the initial outlay. Reduced utility bills thanks to lessened reliance on municipal water supply can create ongoing savings over time. Additionally, a properly maintained system can have a substantial lifespan with minimal ongoing costs beyond routine checks and cleaning.

For households looking at long-term residency and sustainable living practices, investing adequately at inception ensures a robust system yielding financial benefits far into the future. Including these factors into your overall budget considerations will provide a clearer picture of both short-term expenditures and long-term returns which altogether frame rainwater harvesting as not only an environmental choice but also a financially savvy one.


As we reflect on the journey of setting up a rainwater harvesting system, it is clear that the process serves more than just a utilitarian purpose. Embracing rainwater harvesting symbolizes an important shift towards self-sufficiency and a commitment to preserving our planet. The simple act of collecting and using rainwater can significantly reduce dependence on municipal water supplies, thereby helping not only to alleviate stress on these systems but also to conserve a precious resource.

Moreover, building a rainwater harvesting system is an empowering step that demonstrates responsibility for our own water consumption while also contributing positively to the environment. Each drop of harvested rainwater used for gardening, flushing toilets, or washing cars means one less drop that needs to be processed through municipal facilities. Additionally, managing your own water resources encourages a deeper connection with the natural water cycle and fosters a greater appreciation for this vital resource.

Ultimately, starting your own rainwater harvesting project can be as enriching and educational as it is environmentally beneficial. There are few endeavors that allow individuals to play such an active role in promoting sustainability while simultaneously providing practical benefits for their home and community.

By taking the leap into creating your own water-saving system, you become part of a global movement towards better water practices-one rooftop at a time. So let us take pride in taking this sustainable step forward and encourage others to see how they too can make a significant difference with small actions like rainwater harvesting.

Additional Resources and Further Reading

In conclusion, the journey of building a rainwater harvesting system is both a practical dedication to sustainable living and a positive step towards self-sufficiency. By understanding the basics-from assessing your needs to selecting components and maintaining your system-you can tailor an eco-friendly solution that works for you. The benefits are multifaceted, contributing to environmental conservation, reducing dependence on municipal water supplies, and ultimately yielding economic advantages through lower utility bills.

Taking the time to learn the basic steps to building your first rainwater harvesting system empowers you to contribute positively to the environment while securing a personal water supply for various uses. It can be a rewarding project that not only serves immediate practical needs but also instills a sense of responsibility and connection with natural resources.

Remember that every system can be as unique as its builder’s intentions; whether it’s for irrigation, household non-potable uses, or even treated for potable purposes, your initiative can make a significant difference.

For those eager to delve deeper into rainwater harvesting or seeking specific advice tailored to their region’s climate and regulations, additional resources are available. Books such as “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond” by Brad Lancaster provide detailed knowledge about harvesting techniques suitable for different environments.

Online community forums also offer camaraderie and support from like-minded individuals who have embarked on similar projects. Additionally, websites focusing on sustainable living may feature regional supplier directories or guides that help in planning and implementation according to local codes.

By exploring these resources further, you’ll gain greater insight into this ancient yet continually evolving practice-equipping yourself with the knowledge needed not just to create but also thrive with your own rainwater harvesting system.

As freshwater becomes an increasingly precious resource amidst growing global concerns about sustainability and conservation, taking action now positions you at the forefront of ecological stewardship-inspiring others in your community to consider how they too can conserve water through innovative practices like rainwater harvesting.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Build a Rainwater Harvesting System?

Building a rainwater harvesting system involves several steps. Firstly, you need to calculate the amount of rainwater that can be collected from your rooftop or collection surface. This is based on the size of the area and local rainfall patterns. Next, install gutters and downspouts that channel water from the roof to a filtration system, which removes debris and contaminants.

The filtered water then gets directed into a storage tank, which should be appropriately sized for your needs and equipped with an overflow pipe. A secure cover is necessary to prevent contamination and evaporation. Lastly, set up a distribution system, such as a pump or gravity feed, to use the harvested water for various purposes like irrigation or flushing toilets.

What Is the Simple Process of Rainwater Harvesting?

The simple process of rainwater harvesting usually comprises four main components: collection, conveyance, storage, and use. Collection occurs when rain falls onto roofs or other surfaces where it’s channeled into gutters.

Conveyance refers to piping or channels that direct this captured rainwater towards storage facilities such as barrels or tanks while filtering out debris and leaves through screens or meshes. Once stored, the water can be used for non-potable demands like garden watering, car washing, or toilet flushing after suitable treatment if necessary.

What Is the First Flush System for Rainwater Harvesting?

The first flush system is an essential part of many rainwater harvesting setups designed to improve water quality by diverting initial rainfall away from storage tanks. This first flush of water typically contains higher levels of pollutants because it washes away particulate matter that has accumulated on the collection surface between rain events.

By incorporating either a manual valve or an automatic diverter at the downspout leading into the storage tank, these impurities are isolated from subsequent cleaner runoff that accumulates after the initial flow.

How Do I Start Collecting Rainwater?

To start collecting rainwater, one should begin by analyzing their property layout to determine optimal collection points like roof areas for funneling rainfall into a capturing system. Installing gutter systems with leaf guards along these points helps in funneling clean water into a containment unit like barrels positioned under downspouts ensure capture most efficiently.

It’s crucial to adhere to local regulations governing rainwater collection before implementing any form of catchment strategy.

What Are the Disadvantages of Rainwater Harvesting?

Despite its benefits, there are disadvantages associated with rainwater harvesting that must be taken into consideration before installation including relatively high setup costs; potential space constraints; maintenance requirements such as consistently cleaning filters and tanks; reliance on weather patterns thereby making supply inconsistent; potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes if not properly safeguarded; limited uses without treatment due to possible contamination by pathogens and airborne pollutants necessitating additional purification steps along with legal issues in some regions where water rights mean it might not be allowable by law.