How To Make A Rain Barrel

Ever since we spotted a rain barrel in action on our visit to Matt & Kristin’s house last fall, Sherry and I have been itching to harness the power of our own otherwise wasted rainwater. So we participated in a recent rain barrel making workshop offered locally and we’re here to pass along the play by play.

First things first – why rain barrels? Well, placed under one of your downspouts, rain barrels conveniently collect rainwater that you can use to water gardens and lawns, wash cars or even fill birdbaths and ponds. A 1000 square foot roof yields about 600 gallons per inch of rainfall, so that’s a lot of water (and money) to be saved. We’ve even seen ’em hooked up to a soaker hose for easy and free garden watering. Novel idea, eh?

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Rain barrels are relatively easy to make, but finding the barrel can be a challenge. Which is why many people will purchase them already assembled for upwards of $120. Needless to say, we were thrilled to find a local workshop that provided the tools, equipment and instruction for only $40. They provided everyone with a 50 gallon food grade plastic barrel… that just happened to have a previous life as an olive shipping vessel. Funny, huh? Sherry said it made her mouth water.

The first step was drilling the hole for the faucet. You’ll want to drill it as low as possible (since the water below the hole won’t flow out) but not too low that you can’t attach a hose or place a watering can under it (which obviously would be no good). Here’s Sherry sitting on our barrel to keep it from rolling while one of the volunteers operated the hole saw (a regular drill with a hole-cutting attachment). In less than 20 seconds, we had a hole for our faucet.

howtorainbarreldrillinghole

You’ll want to keep the barrel on its side and then use your faucet (or “hose bibb”) to thread the plastic edges of the hole. You’ll do this by screwing it all the way into and back out of your newly made hole once. It may take a little bit of force to get the faucet threads to catch, but be careful not to push it so hard that you damage the plastic threads you’re creating. In under a minute we had made our threads and removed the faucet for the next step…

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Once you’ve unscrewed the faucet, you’ll want to apply a thin line of caulk around the edge of the hole:

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Then you’ll place a reducing washer over the hole, with the caulk acting as the adhesive. Reducing washers have a raised lip on the inner rim, and that raised portion should go against the barrel.

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With the reducing washer firmly in place, you can screw your faucet back into place for good (this will be a lot easier since you’ve already created threads by screwing the faucet into the hole and removing it a few steps back). When it’s firmly in place, it should look something like this:

howtorainbarrelfinishedfaucet

Now that you’ve created a watertight seal on the outside – here comes the fun part – you’ve gotta do the same on the INSIDE. Yep, time to crawl inside the barrel. You’d think this would be the perfect job for a petite person like my 5’2″ wife. Nope, somehow I got that assignment (and Sherry kept her job as barrel sitter to keep me from rolling away).

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Inside the barrel, you’ll be repeating the process with the caulk and reducing washer – so remember to bring those with you when you go in. You’ll also want to bring a flashlight, because it’s dark in there (and it may smell like olives). Once you’ve got your washer caulked in place, you’ll screw on a locknut to secure the faucet. You’ll probably need the help of some pliers to ensure you’ve got the locknut on there nice and tight.

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Your partner should stay sitting on the barrel to keep it from rolling away throughout the process. Or if you’re Sherry, you could use the opportunity to snap photos of your husband looking like, and I quote, a “California Raisin.” All I needed  were some oversized gloves and a saxophone.

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That completes the process of attaching the faucet. We did have the option of repeating the process at the top of the barrel with a “rigid nipple.” Basically, it’s an overflow spout that you could use to connect multiple barrels together. Since we’ll be a one barrel family for now, we’ve just opted for the overflow to come out the top (meaning when the barrel fills up with water, the excess spillover will do just that- spill over the top).

Speaking of the top – the barrels we were provided already had 6″ holes drilled in their lids. So all we had to do was screw the lid on over a tight mesh mosquito screen to keep any standing-water-lovin’ bugs out of our barrel. Here’s Sherry with our finished product:

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That would’ve been the end of our workshop adventure, but I guess some other people working near us took note of my locknut-tightening skills. Before I knew it I was climbing into not one, not two, but three other barrels to help other barrel-makers ensure that their faucets were secure. And should we be surprised that Sherry seized the opportunity to take more photos of me in those barrels?

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Once I finished barrel diving, we got the thing crammed into the backseat of our car and took it home for placement in our backyard. We picked a downspout at the edge of our driveway that was completely hidden from the front of the house, and mostly hidden from the side (let’s be honest, rain barrels don’t scream curb appeal). Luckily the placement will be super convenient for Sherry’s new back garden (stay tuned to see what sorts of edible goodies and purty bloomers she’s planning to grow).

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Then we just had to adjust the height of our downspout so it would spill into the top of the barrel. We detached the elbow at the bottom of the spout and dug out the underground plastic tubing that had been in place (and because we didn’t have any fancy metal snips with us, we broke out a box cutter once we figured out our desired height). Here’s Sherry making the cut while I stood by and watched. She’s hardcore. Maybe she was trying to make up for all the barrel-crawling I did?

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It did the trick, and with the gutter cut to the right height we just reattached the existing end spout and slid the barrel into place underneath it. Voila. Bring on the rain.

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We should note that it’s extremely important that the barrel sits on level ground (you may want to use a shovel to level the ground and even lay some sand to be sure). A full barrel can weight up to 450lbs so you don’t want it tipping over on you. Of course we’re going to have to do a few more rain dances before ours will get that heavy. Bring it on Mother Nature.

Do any of you guys already use rain barrels? Any advice or tips for us newbies?

If you’re in Richmond and are looking to make a barrel of your own, check out upcoming workshops through Chesterfield County ($40) and Tricycle Gardens ($75).

Comments

  1. says

    I’m jealous of your workshop! I’ve been wanting to do this for a year now and am planning on getting on this spring so I hope they put on workshops in SE Michigan as well.

    I just noticed the door to what appears to be a basement. I don’t recall y’all ever mentioning a basement. Do tell, what’s down there? :)

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Heather,

      We do indeed have a separate entry unfinished basement. And it’s full of….. nothing! We actually use it to store out Christmas ornaments but not much else. Someday we plan to seal it with waterproofing paint (it’s a bit damp because when it rains the cinder blocks “sweat”) and maybe even make it into a place that could function as more livable square footage. Someday…

      xo,
      Sherry

  2. tab says

    you can paint your barrel to make it a little more pleasant, or screen it with trellis and climbing plants

  3. says

    We installed a rain barrel a few weeks ago. It’s on a stand, which takes care of the tap being high enough to fit a bucket underneath. It also has an easy to fit water diverter, so once it’s full the water continues down the downspout into the drain rather than the barrel overflowing. You can see it here: http://tinyurl.com/df75ms

    • Mel says

      I agree, the barrel has to be raised so the gravity will feed the water…we learned – oops – the hard way…but what fun and energy savings we have enjoyed

  4. says

    That’s such a great idea. I’m thinking my house could use one of those rain catchers. Looks like another project to add to the list!

  5. Nicole Greene says

    Sherry-
    As a fellow Richmonder and this post stated that you crashed a pad in Charlotte, HOW can WE get that to happen as new 1st time homeowners for only 1 year??????

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Nicole,

      Howdy neighbor! We crash houses that we hear are amazing through friends and word of mouth (and actually enjoy traveling to see homes that make us swoon) but if you think you have a house that will make our readers salivate feel free to email us some pics!

      xo,
      Sherry

  6. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your workshop experience. My husband and I have been talking about making a rain barrel for a while, and now we have the know-how to make it happen. You guys are such an inspiration!

  7. says

    So awesome! As soon as we have a home we are going to have a homemade compost and rain barrel, and I know exactly where to go to find the ‘how to’. Thanks so much!

    p.s. I would have taken the ‘in the barrel’ photos as well. Great job John!

  8. Amie A. says

    I always wondered what I could do instead of have the water drain so near the house! Hey, where did you guys get the idea of that extra black tubing (and what is it exactly) the you had on the downspout prior to putting in your rain barrel?

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Amie,

      The previous homeowner attached that black plastic piping to direct all the water far away from the house. I think it’s readily available at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s and all you have to do is attach it to your downspouts and either let it drain water away from your house above ground, or dig a trench to hide it so it can carry all that water away from the foundation in secret. Hope it helps!

      xo,
      Sherry

    • heather says

      its called Drain TIle. Sold at Home Depot with all the needed attachments too. you can get it perforated or solid. we use solid for a good length to get it away from the basement then perforated so it distributes in the yard. :)

  9. Lee says

    I have a rain barrel and my only caution is regarding the mosquito breeding ground, but your screen idea seems to solve that. Though you’ll have to be vigilant about cleaning out the leaves and whatnot.

    I also love the idea of putting it up on a stand so you can put the faucet at the very bottom (or have it up higher so you can fill a larger vessel).

  10. Alison says

    Hi guys,
    I love this! I was just looking into getting a rain barrel for our house, but I was less than thrilled at spending $100 on one. This is great that I now have DIY instructions. Any ideas on where we can acquire an affordable old olive barrel (or anything else that would work)?

    Thanks,
    Alison

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Alison,

      Since we wanted to publish a tutorial for everyone we were happy to take a class that provided all the supplies and the know-how. But now that we understand how to make a rain barrel, we’d totally just hunt down a food grade 50 gallon barrel and DIY it! Iwould try googling “food grade barrel” or “50 gallon barrel.” Or maybe call up a vineyard or farm in your area to see if they use barrels to ship things and would give one to you? Maybe you could offer them $20 for it? I don’t really have much advice since we just took the class this time, but definitely get creative and you’ll surely be able to track one down. Maybe even on ebay? Or how about posting a “wanted” ad on craigslist? Happy hunting…

      xo,
      Sherry

  11. says

    This is so awesome! I am registered to attend a rain barrel workshop in a few weeks, but I think I might just put the money toward my supplies. What a perfectly-timed post. Thanks for the how-to!

  12. kati says

    We just bought our daughter’s classroom art project at her school auction: a decorated rain barrel :). I think paint for plastic was used to spray paint the barrel (it’s a blue barrel with silver fish that the kids made). So, it’s not only functional but pretty cute.

  13. says

    I think rain barrels are a fantastic idea!

    I have to brag a little bit about my city though. Here in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District sells pre-made barrels for only 30 bones! It’s such an awesome initiative they’ve created and they’ve sold over 8,000 barrels in the past couple of years. That’s over 440,000 gallons of water recycled in just one fill of the barrel! Yay us!

    We painted ours to blend in a little more and it sits about 2 feet off the ground on cinder blocks for better spout access and increased water pressure. We plan on buying another one this year for added savings to our water bill.

    Enjoy your savings and the great feeling you get helping out the planet!