You don’t need barrels of experience for DIY rainwater capture
Why pay to use the hose on your lawn and garden when free water falls abundantly from the sky? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, using a rain barrel can save you as much as 1,300 gallons during the hottest months of the year.
The sustainable and cost-saving practice of harvesting rainwater capture has grown in popularity in recent years in the face of ecological challenges and rising utility bills. You can take the savings and the environmental impact even further if you build your own rain barrel—a fairly quick and simple DIY job. Read on to learn how to do it in five easy steps.
Difficulty: 2/5 Saturday Skill Builder
Time To Complete: 2–4 hours
What you’ll need:
3/4-inch drill bit
40–80 gallon plastic barrel. Fifty-five gallons is the most common size. If repurposing a used barrel, make sure it never stored anything toxic.
Rain barrel spigot kit
Aluminum, stainless steel or fiberglass mesh or landscape netting
Flexible downspout adapter
Black paint (Optional)
2-inch PVC pipe (Optional)
Downspout diverter (Optional)
Cinder blocks (Optional)
Water pump (Optional)
5 Steps to Make a DIY Rain Barrel
It should only take about three to four hours to build your own rain barrel from scratch.
1. Choose a Location
Before constructing the rain barrel, confirm that you have a suitable location. A rain barrel must sit below a downspout to collect runoff, on a level surface. If the location is not already at a higher elevation than the garden, the spot you choose should be able to support cinder blocks to allow for smooth, steady water pressure.
When identifying a location for your rain barrel, think about how your setup will transport water to where you want it to go. If you want the barrel to supply a water hose directly, you’ll need to add a pump. If you have a large yard with multiple garden beds or want to hydrate potted plants, it may be easier to use a watering can.
If your barrel is white or another light color, add a layer of black paint to the exterior—since white attracts the direct sunlight that supports algae growth.
2. Cut and Drill Holes
If you’re using a barrel that has previously served a different purpose, make sure to thoroughly wash and clean the insides and the lid. Once cleaned, you will create three holes into your barrel: 1) an entry gate, 2) a spigot fitting, and 3) an overflow hole.
For the entry gate, cut out an opening in the lid of the barrel that can accommodate the mouth of the downspout, which will be either 2 inches by 3 inches or 3 inches by 4 inches. If you want to more precisely control the flow of water from the downspout into the barrel, you can also purchase a downspout diverter.
For the spigot fitting, choose a spot a few inches above the curve at the bottom of the barrel or trash can. With a drill bit slightly smaller than the spigot or union fitting, drill a hole.
On the back of the barrel, about 3 inches below the top, drill a hole for overflow.
3. Install Spigot and Other Fittings
Add sealant to the threads and the flange on the spigot and, applying some force, screw it into the hole. From the inside of the barrel, put a rubber washer on the spigot. Apply sealant to the nut or fitting and secure from the inside. After the sealant dries, wrap the threads in Teflon tape.
If you want to direct the flow of excess water out of the overflow hole, you can also insert a piece of PVC piping cut to the desired length.
4. Add Screens to All Openings
To keep insects, dirt, and other debris out of your reservoir, without impeding the flow of water into your barrel, make sure to screen all of the openings in the barrel.
Using utility scissors, cut three pieces of screen, to sizes about 150% the size of each opening. Fold all four edges of each screen piece. Fix the first one in place with sealant, and then drive in a screw at each folded edge until secure. Repeat with the other two screens.
5. Build Platform If Desired
For water pressure, the rain barrel takes advantage of the simple power of gravity. If you want to increase the water pressure, you can build a platform to elevate it. The higher from the ground the barrel, the higher the pressure will be.
The platform must be strong enough to support the heavy, water-filled rain barrel—a little more than 450 pounds for a 55-gallon barrel. The simplest solution is to stack cinder blocks or bricks with concrete pavers—but you can also construct a more elaborate version with pressure-treated wood.
Buying a Rain Barrel vs. Building Your Own
Depending on the materials you’ve already got, you’ll spend between $20 and $50 for all the parts required for your DIY rain barrel.
Buying a finished rain barrel typically costs between $120 and $160, though there are small, simple models sold for as low as $40 and high-end, design-conscious models going for as high as $750.
FAQs About Making a Rain Barrel
How do I maintain my rain barrel?
Regularly check your filters for damage and confirm that debris isn’t entering the catchment. Inspect the fittings as well to make sure they stay securely in place.
Keep an eye on the weather. When storms and heavy downpours are approaching, you may need to leave both valves open to prevent overflow. If you’re in an area that regularly experiences sub-freezing winter temperatures, move the barrel away from the downspout during the coldest months since ice can damage it.
If you see any signs of algae growth, empty the barrel, scrub it with bleach and water, and rinse thoroughly.
Can I drink the water collected in the rain barrel?
Without further treatment, the water collected in your rain barrel is not potable, and should only be used for soil, washing the car, and similar tasks. You should avoid using the rainwater to hydrate a vegetable garden to avoid the risk of contamination from bacteria or chemicals in your gutters.
If you use a food-grade barrel as your reservoir, you can make or install your own water filtration system to treat your rainwater catchment supply, but keep in mind that the filter may require certification in certain areas.