Rain Barrels

Tired of high water bills in the summer from watering your lawn and garden? Here is a simple way to harness rain run-off and put this water to work for you!

Collecting Rain Water
People have been collecting and storing rain water for a very long time, so why is it we, as a society, have become complacent with our rain collecting activities? Perhaps the wide spread use of exterior garden hoses, sprinklers, and cheap, treated, municipal water have spoiled us. If you are getting tired of paying precious money on watering the garden, like I am, and want to be a better steward of our natural resources, then read on to find out one solution to the problem.

What is a Rain Barrel?
A rain barrel is quite simply a barrel designed to catch and store rain water. There is no definite form that a barrel needs to take to be a "rain barrel," in fact, it does not even have to be a barrel! The simplest form of a rain barrel would be a bucket placed under a gutter downspout, but some rain barrels can be much more complicated and expensive.
Most rain barrels will have at least one of the following characteristics:
  • Large enough capacity to hold several gallons of water
  • A spigot, faucet, valve, or other similar way of emptying water from the barrel
  • A screen or mesh and a lid to keep debris and mosquitoes out of the barrel
  • An overflow tube to divert water away from the house's foundation
There are pre-made rain barrels and rain barrel kits available commercially, but it is not difficult to make your own, so in the spirit of How-To Matthew, I will show you how I made my first (of hopefully several) rain barrels.

Constructing the Rain Catcher
One of the fun aspects of designing and making your rain barrel is that you have a tremendous amount of freedom. Design your rain barrel however it best suits your needs and wants. I personally decided to try to make this rain barrel with only using scraps and spare parts I had sitting around the garage.

Getting the Barrel
Potentially the hardest part of this whole job is finding a good barrel. Large 55 gallon plastic food barrels are possibly the most sought after container by rain barrel makers since they will not rust like steel drums, did not contain any dangerous chemicals, and can sometimes be had for really low prices. I found my 55 gallon plastic barrel on craigslist for $25. You could also try businesses or industries that use these plastic barrels to see if they will sell their empty ones to you (or even better, give them away for free). Some best bets are water treatments plants, bottling companies (soft drinks), food processing plants, and car washes.

Here are the steps I took to create my rain barrel. Feel free to copy these steps, improvise as you see fit, or come up with your own unique set of steps.

Step 1. Rinse the Barrel Out and let it dry. You do not actually have to let it completely dry, but since I will be inside of the barrel shortly, I decided to let it dry. (Fig. A)
Step 2. Drill a Hole Towards the Bottom of the Barrel. I drilled the hole slightly smaller than the diameter of the faucet I was going to install. I positioned the hole a few inches up the side of the barrel. Too low would have caused a problem with the rounded edge of the barrel and too high would obviously decrease the usable amount of water I could get from this gravity-fed system. (Fig. B)
Step 3. Cut the Top of the Barrel Off. I only had to do this since the top was fused to the body of the barrel. I ended up cutting the top off about an inch under the lip, then I cut another couple of inches off the main body to allow the lid to fit down into the barrel. The lip on the lid is wider than the widest part of the main body, so the lid will not fall into the barrel. (Fig. C)
Step 4. Cut a Large Hole in the Lid for the screen. I accomplished this by first drilling several 3/4" holes and then using a reciprocating saw to finish the hole. (Fig. D)
Note: When cutting these plastic barrels with a reciprocating saw, use a metal cutting blade, it will work much better than a wood blade.

Step 5. Prepare the Faucet. You can see how I laid mine out before hand in Figure E. #1 is a spigot I salvaged from some old iron pipe stored in my garage. #2 is a female adapter that came with the spigot. #3 is the male piece of pipe I cut from the bottom of a kitchen faucet that was taken out during a renovation. #4 is a plastic washer/nut from the same kitchen faucet. As you can see in the photo, I have prepped the threaded male portions of the pipes by wrapping them in teflon tape. (Fig. E)
Step 6. Assemble the Outer Portion of the Faucet and then install the faucet into the barrel. I assembled parts #1-3 (from the step above) and then installed that into the hole I drilled in the side of the barrel. Since the hole was ever so slightly smaller than the threaded pipe, I had to screw the faucet into the barrel. This will effectively tap the plastic and will add to its water tightness. (Fig. F)
Step 7. Complete the Faucet Install by tightening the inside nut (part #4 from step 5). Before I installed this plastic nut, I applied some caulk to it, but I'm not sure the caulk did anything since it is old and never seemed to set properly. Oh well, the fixture is still water tight! (Fig. G)
Step 8. Prepare the Base where the rain barrel will sit. I made a raised platform out of cinder blocks and scrap pieces of lumber. You want it high enough off the ground to get a watering bucket under the spigot since this whole system relies on nothing more than gravity to work. (Fig. H & I)
Step 9. Route the Gutter Downspouts to Empty into the Barrel. This step is really easy if the rain barrel is directly under the downspout, however, in my case, the HVAC unit for the house is in the way. I chose the location because this is where two downspouts meet and the old downspout went straight into the ground. I started by cutting the lower portion of the downspout off (Fig. K) and then had to buy an elbow piece of gutter to help direct the water. After the elbow was installed I reinstalled a straight section from the portion I cut off previously. (Fig. K)
I then took a break from gutters to finish the barrel.
Step 10. Install the Barrel, Lid and Screen. I chose to attach the screen by laying it over top the hole in the lid and caulking it in place. I also attached a couple scrap pieces of wood to help fasten the screen. In my case though, I was using that old caulk that never seemed to fully harden and adhere, so I may have to go back and redo that portion, but for now it works.
Step 11. Install the Downspout Retaining Clip. I used some left over flexible metal strapping to create a clip to hold the end of the downspout that would empty into the barrel. (Fig. L)
Step 12. Connect the Gutter Downspout to the Barrel using a 10' length of black, flexible tubing (cost under $5 at the hardware store). One end of the tube goes through the clip I made in the previous step and the other end is slipped over the last straight portion of the gutter downspout. (Fig. M)
And it's done! Here is a view of the completed project.Sure, it is not pretty, but does it work?
It works very well in fact! A couple of days after I had installed the barrel we got a brief rain shower. It only took about twenty minutes of a steady rain to fill the barrel to where it was over flowing. We now have water that is perfect for watering plants since there are no harsh chemicals in the water. This water is also good for washing cars; I washed my truck and used about 15 gallons of this water to give it a good rinse. That is 15 gallons of water that we do not have to pay for and more importantly, it is 15 gallons that do not have to be treated, transported, and released far from its original source.

To aid the aesthetics of the rain barrel, I am thinking of planting some ivy or vines that will grow around the barrel. You could also construct a privacy fence to screen the barrel from site, or, if you are lucky enough to find a large wooden barrel, no decorations may be needed.

In the finished photo, you can see that I have attached a short length of hose to the spigot. You could also hook up a soaker hose to your rain barrel to give a garden a constant and steady source of water. Like I mentioned earlier, you are king (or queen) when it comes time to designing your rain water collection system!

My total cost break down:

Plastic 55 gallon barrel: $25 (found on www.craigslist.org)
Gutter Elbow: ~$2 (Lowes)
10' Flexible Black Irrigation Pipe: ~$5 (Lowes)
Everything else: Free

Total: $32

Relevant Sites
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