How To Make A Rain Barrel*

by Josh on November 22, 2010 · 5 comments

in garden,Projects

*Rain not included

As I scrape ice off the car windshield and shovel backbreaking snowfalls the coming weeks in Minneapolis, it is tantalizing to dream of rain showers, gardening and green plants.  When the rain comes next spring, I’ll be ready to jumpstart my gardening with the new rain barrel I built this fall.

Why build a rain barrel?

Unlike the water that comes out of your tap, rain is free.  Although there are some nice rain barrels available to purchase in a store, you can build a basic rain barrel for a fraction of the cost of a retail model.  A rain barrel– even a few barrels– may not be able to meet your entire outdoor watering need, but 50 gallons of rain water would be pretty awesome in the middle of your next summer watering ban or dry spell.

Rain barrel partsSupply List

  • 1 – 55-gallon plastic industrial barrel with caps, rinsed clean
  • 1 – 3/4″ brass sillcock/faucet
  • 1 – 3/4″ x 1″ threaded pipe
  • 1 – 3/4″ x 2″ threaded pipe
  • 1 – 3/4″ x 6″ threaded pipe
  • 1 – 3/4″ 90-degree corner fitting
  • 1 – 6″ plastic sump flange
  • 1 – plastic floor grate
  • spray paint (optional)
  • teflon plumber’s tape
  • silicone caulk
  • insect screen
  • concrete blocks for base
  • pipe wrench
  • drill with 5/8″ and 3/4″ bits
  • rotary saw or jigsaw

A great place to look for a 55-gallon drum is at a local car wash, where empty detergent barrels may otherwise go in the trash.  I got my barrel at a nearby small engine shop that was actually displaying pre-rinsed barrels outside their building.  I found the necessary plumbing parts and paint at True Value hardware; cost: about $30.  All the tools and incidental supplies I had on hand already.

Barrel Construction

1.  Paint the barrel – If blue is your color, consider this first step optional.  Otherwise start of by spray painting the barrel in the color of your choice.  I picked a matte brown color that should blend in well with my house’s brick skirt, from Krylon’s plastic-specific Fusion spray paint line.

Rain barrel before

2.  Install the caps – In this rain barrel design, the barrel will be installed upside down, so it is important to have caps for both holes.  Apply a generous bead of silicone caulk to the cap threads and tighten them into the barrel.  For good measure I applied an extra bead of caulk around the perimeter of each cap once it was in place.

Drilling spout hole

3.  Install the faucet pipe – Begin by identifying the barrel cap with recessed pipe threads.  Using a drill and a 1/2″ or 5/8″ bit, drill through the bottom of the threaded union in the cap.  Assemble the faucet supply pipe in this order, wrapping teflon tape around the threads at each joint: 1″ pipe, 90-degree elbow, 6″ pipe, faucet.  Use pipe wrenches to tighten the joints, making sure that the open ends of the 1″ pipe and the faucet face exactly opposite.  Install the faucet assembly in the threaded opening in the barrel cap until it is tightly in place and the faucet is pointing out from the center of the barrel.

Spout installed

4.  Cut the fill opening – Turn the barrel bottom side up, stabilize it on lumber or concrete blocks, and use the smaller end of the plastic sump flange to trace a circle near the back side (opposite the faucet) of the barrel.  Carefully cut a hole along your tracing line using a rotary saw, or drill a large pilot hole and then follow the tracing with a jig saw.

Cutting out supply opening

5.  Install the overflow pipe – Drill a 3/4″ hole on the side of the barrel and near the top for the overflow pipe, being careful to avoid oversizing the hole.  Install the 2″ pipe in the opening, generously caulking around the perimeter of the pipe when it is firmly in place.

Insect screen fill filter
6.  Prepare the fill flange – The last part of the rain barrel is the fill assembly, consisting of the sump flange and the floor drain cover.  Buy a plastic floor drain cover that is sized to the inside diameter of the larger end of the sump flange, then cover the drain opening with insect screen secured by rubber bands to keep mosquitos out of the rain barrel.  Put the drain cover into the sump flange and then install the flange in the opening in the top of the barrel.  Don’t caulk these parts in place so that they can be removed to clean out debris periodically.

Rain barrel fill installed

7.  Install the barrel – Set the finished barrel on concrete blocks in line with the downspout.  Cut the downspout or use a flexible downspout pipe to  direct water into the fill receiver on top of the barrel.  Connect an old piece of garden hose or other tubing to the overflow pipe to direct excess rainfall away from the house.

Finished rain barrel

A rain barrel might not be a useful winter item, but it could make a great winter project to build in a garage or indoor workshop.  Plus, there are multiple designs and ways to make this project  your own.  For another set of DIY barrel instructions, check out the helpful guide from True Value at StartRightStartHere.com.  If you’ve used or built a rain barrel, share your tips in the comments below.

Disclosure: I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program and my DIY project as well as my posts about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike @HA November 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Great tutorial! My sister-in-law made us one for our wedding gift this summer. We got our first good rain and I went to check on the barrel. I figured it was like 1/5 full but it was overflowing! I couldn’t believe how much water comes off the roof and how much of it just goes to waste. How is your water pressure? We had our up on 1 level of cinder block and it wasn’t much pressure. I think we’ll raise it a few more blocks next year and try that.

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Josh November 22, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Water pressure is fine for me, Mike, but I think I’m going to raise my barrel up a bit so I can fit our rather large watering can under the faucet to fill it.

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Michele November 23, 2010 at 10:56 pm

That is awesome…..I have always wanted to learn how to make these since the price has gone up on them in the last couple years. One or three is not enough!

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emily July 7, 2011 at 10:07 pm

thanks for this! we just had torrential downpours in denver and i was so sad about all the wasted water. will get on this!

(also love that you painted it brown… bc my FIRST concern was how hideous the blue drums were 😉 )

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