The Do’s and Don’ts of Building Your First Rain Barrel

Last spring, I finally asked my friend, Bob, who does handyman work, to help me build some rain barrels. I had actually acquired two food-grade 55-gallon drums from the meat shop. It's just a couple miles down the road, but they had been living in my greenhouse waiting patiently for installation. Make sure you use food grade barrels, not barrels that may have contained toxic substances. We decided to place the DIY rain barrel system under the stairs so they would be out of the way, but still close to the greenhouse and garden.

Rain Barrel DIY | Important Things to Note

Sturdy Surface for the Barrels

The downspout was rerouted down the stairs to the barrels. To allow room for a bucket to be placed under the rain barrel faucets, six concrete footings were placed under a small reinforced wood deck. You could also potentially use concrete blocks. Remember, once a 55-gallon drum is full of water, it will weigh over 450 pounds, so whatever surface you have should be sturdy and level. To create additional capacity, we linked two drums together.

Debris Filter and Drain Pipe

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To keep debris and bugs out of the tank, we cut out the center of a two-part lid and inserted mesh window screen into the opening.

PVC pipe connects the two tanks, and an overflow pipe fits to the second barrel, along with drain pipe.

*Note – We found out after use that the overflow really should have been on the side of the second barrel, opposite the inlet. This way was easier to rig up but didn’t work very well.

Since we have high winds out here, we need to add strapping to hold the barrels down when they’re not filled. For winter, we drained the barrels and brought them into the greenhouse.

Cleaning the Barrels

Cleaning the Barrels | The Do's and Don'ts of Building Your First Rain Barrel

This spring, before putting them back into action, I gave the barrels a good cleaning. You really want to scrub them out at the beginning of the season to make sure you’re not starting off with contaminated water. Chunks and scum will clog up your faucets, and make your water foul.

You may need a long-handled scrub brushCheck out The Do's and Don'ts of Building Your First Rain Barrel at, or have to crawl into your barrel. I improvised by duct taping a piece of firewood to a brush with a shorter handle.

If you’ve got open water, mosquito dunks may be helpful, but a screen works just as well (if not better). The active ingredient in mosquito dunks is “Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis” (Bt), which attacks the larval stage of mosquitoes. This is a naturally occurring soil bacteria. However, there are concerns that Bt will be losing its effectiveness due to its genetic engineering into corn.

Some Benefits of Rainwater

Rain barrels are a great way to control runoff and conserve water. It lacks chlorine and fluoride that you can find in many municipal water supplies. Natural rainwater is softer and easier on your garden plants. My grandmother always washed her hair every Saturday night with water from her rain barrel. If you happen to have a good water filter, such as a Berkey, you can use rain barrel water for drinking water in case of emergencies.

If you want to learn more about how to design your system, plans for roof washing systems (to divert the first flow away from your storage to clean your roof before filling your storage), and just about any other questions you may have on rainwater collection, I recommend the book “Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged“.

Note: Rainwater collection is prohibited in some areas and encouraged in others. Please check this list of State Rainwater Harvesting and Graywater Laws and Programs to find out if it is allowed in your area.

Check out this video by envirosponsible on how to make your own rain barrel:

Rainwater can be useful in survival situations, too. When you start to run out of provisions inside the house, the water stored in your barrels is a valuable suppl– especially if your rain barrel system is well-maintained. It's also a great way to save some money on your water bill by using rainwater for your garden.

Do you consider rain barrels a necessity in your home? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Up Next: Container Gardening for Your Patio or Balcony

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2013 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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