Build Your Own Rain Barrel

November 7th, 2013 BY Gloria Campos | 15 Comments

Today it rained heavily for over six hours and as I looked outside my window watching the rain temporarily flood the streets I wondered why I wasn’t doing more to conserve water considering that many areas in the country and around the world are suffering with drought.

I conserve water where I can. The water I boil my vegetables in, once it’s cooled, is used to water my plants out front. In addition each toilet in my home has a bottle of water in the tank to conserve water there. I encourage my family to turn the water off while brushing their teeth. Last but not least, I let the rain water my plants, as there has been plenty of rain to do so recently.

I’m lucky enough to live in an area where there is sufficient rain to do this (sometimes to much, hence the flood warning). Still there have been days were rain didn’t come around for a few weeks, leaving the soil dry and my plants and lawn thirsty until I had no choice but to water them from the water-hose. I thought then and I think now that I should have had a rain barrel.

A rain barrel would have made all the difference, as it would have helped me conserve water and money. I’ve decided not to wait any longer. In my research to find one I have found plenty of DIY rain barrel instructions as well as where to buy already made rain barrels.

What is a rain barrel?

A rain barrel is a large container that captures rainwater. Rain barrels vary in sizes from 20 – 150 gallons and barrels can be linked to one-another for more water holding capacity. They can be adjusted to easily collect water at the end of your downspout as well as placed around the yard.

Using rain barrels to collect rainwater is environmentally friendly in many ways. Obviously collecting rainwater is free and requires no pumping or electricity making rainwater cheaper to use and more energy efficient. Rainwater is also great for plants, better than tap water, as it is unchlorinated water. In addition using rain barrels helps reduce and helps prevent stormwater pollution.

A rain barrel can be filled with water within a matter of minutes especially during heavy rains. Simple uncovered barrels with a net at the top to keep out leaves and debris will do. The water can then be taken out by buckets to water your garden, but an uncovered barrel with water can be extremely dangerous if near children or pets. It can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Building Your Own

For a safer more sophisticated DIY rain barrel you will need materials like: a drill bit, and electric jigsaw, an electric drill, a utility knife, a marker, some pvc pipe, all purpose caulk or plumbing sealant, a garden hose or garden soaker hose, pipe adaptors (male) and couplings (female), window screening, hose clamp and some cinderblocks. The materials and instructions vary depending on how and where you want to place your rain barrel, but the idea is generally the same despite the instructions you wish to follow.

Step one. Find a large waterproof container. Something that doesn’t rust is best. Wood or heavy plastic will work. If you have trouble finding a barrel or any of the material above you can always shop at a local Habitat For Humanity store where your purchase helps those in need.

The next few steps require drilling holes connecting them to filters and hose and sealing them securely so that water doesn’t escape. There are one or two holes drilled at the top. One is left open so that overflowing water can come out. A filter like window screening or skimmer basket is put in place to keep out debris. There is also a hole drilled on the bottom side where a hose is then attached.

Building Support

The last steps involve building a base to elevate the rain barrel so that it allows water to flow to your garden or lawn. Adjusting the downspout to flow into rain barrel and always keeping the overflow valve open is also important.

Buying a Rain Barrel

If building your own barrel is too complicated you can always purchase one from any garden catalog, gardening website, local garden store or have someone else make it for you. Look for rebates and discounts and try to buy barrels that have been made of recycled material. In addition some cities with water conservation programs have rebate programs or discounts if you buy a rain barrel from them or a through a partnership site. If you live in a city with a water conservation program ask around to see if they have rain barrels at a discounted price. I did.

Note: Rain barrel water can also be used to wash you windows and your car.

  1. Jay Coleman

    What I’ve run into across most sites when relating to this is the size of the overflow hoses, openings and so forth. As the sizing for most gutter systems(downspouts) incorporate a 3×4 inch, or so, I can’t understand why people would put only a size opening and tubing under this standard. Aquaflow(name?) seems to appreciate this, though.

  2. mollyL

    We have perhaps two dry months on the Coast, but still you could save water in barrels for those months. Your pets might appreciate some chlorinated drinking or bath water.Don’t just hose off your patio, bale water on to it and then sweep. Inspiration from such a simple device!

  3. bruce hengge

    boiled water while it is still very hot willkill weeds

  4. anne

    all grey water can go into the compost barrel underneath the sink…

  5. flowerhorn08

    There is a similar rain container located in the house in front of our house. It is sure a good idea to have one built to store those rainwater that will go to waste. Hmmm, maybe I will make one for our home as I can use them to water the plants in my garden.

  6. Scott

    What are your thoughts on using rain water for bathing perhaps, or possibly even cooking with?

  7. Steven Elliott

    i brush ALL of my teeth with rain barrel waters. my local DDS just told me that my gums are the healthiest he’s seen in weeks.
    doesn’t it feel good to conserve as well as use this fun water for ”everyday use” ? LOL, i know i can !

  8. Steven Elliott

    *by the way* – if mosquitos get trapped in your rayne barrel, the best idea might be to bring this barrel to a boil.
    then, the pests die because the water gets too hot to provide a nurturing insect habitat, steadily reducing the winged wretch rate, am i right ???

  9. Berkey Water Filter

    Thank you for the informative article. I’m definitely going to buy a rain barrel very soon. I’ll still run it through a water filter though before drinking.

  10. Sissie

    during a particularly dry season last year, I discovered that I used 55 gal of water in my bath! – how did I know- because I dipped it out ,2 gals. at a time, and threw it out my front door to my shrubs- I have since put in less bath water and am still working on a way to pump that water out without having to haul it-oh my achin’ back!!

  11. Frank

    Rainwater has been used for bathing as is done in hot tropical climates like Southeast Asia.
    In 1972 ,I was in Southeast Asia,bathroom was a finished concrete floor with a 4 inch lip at the doorway.Rainwater barrel was in the bathroom,dip 3 gallon bucket into rain barrel,pour on yourself,lather up,dip 3 gallon bucket in rain barrel again,rinse off.This same method can be used for an outside shower and for just cooling off.
    Yes the water is cooler than our 120 degree heated water,but it is also 80-100 degrees outside,so you are not going to freeze and it will feel nice.
    In America these ideas are great for the whole country during the warm months,don’t try this in winter.

  12. Kurt DeLong

    I am looking for a solar heater for a outdoor rain barrel? I am planning on using a wooded 55 gallon wine barrel suspended for a shower. Anyone had any experiance with this?

  13. Sharon Gorkles

    Kurt -

    I live by the beach and was using a discarded wine barrel for a beach shower wherein my gutters emptied into the barrel. This worked marvelously for a few years, but the barrel began to crack and split where it was not supposed to. You should really consider the atmospheric conditions if you are set on using a wine barrel – perhaps a PVC 55 gal drum would suffice. As far as heaters go – what’s wrong with Mother Sunshine ?? ;) :P :)

  14. Adam

    Since I am really bad at DIY projects, I got a rain barrel from EarthMinded and it works great. It has some great design features like the diverter fits into the downspout like a glove allowing excess water to pass through. It has a lid that locks and a spigot. It’s wonderful. We have been watering our plants and washing the car with the water we store. I highly recommend it. The resellers listed on the company’s website offer much better deals though.

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