How to Make a Rain Barrel

Don't let that rainwater go to waste. This easy, recycled rain barrel project puts money back in your pocket.

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Photo By: Mick Telkamp

Conserve Water, Build a Rain Barrel!

A rain barrel is a great way to go green, using captured rain water to water the garden, lawn or even houseplants. For this project we use a recycled barrel and create a stylish cover with simple fence pickets and rope. 

Choosing a Barrel

Plastic barrels suitable for use as a rain barrel can be purchased new, but many can be found secondhand for a fraction of the cost. We're using a recycled food-grade barrel originally used for shipping pickles found on Craigslist. Wherever you get it, make sure it's a food-grade barrel to avoid passing on any residual contaminants into your garden.

You Will Need

55-gallon plastic barrel with screw-top lid / two 3/4" male iron pipe x 3/4" male hose thread garden hose adapters / one 3/4" threaded boiler drain / three 3/4" female iron pipe adapters / six 1 3/4" reducing washers / one tube silicone sealant / 2 feet of window screen / 2 cinder blocks / twenty 1/2” x 4” x 6’ fence pickets / 40 feet 5/8” manila rope / 1 quart outdoor-rated wood stain or paint / four 3/4" screws / adjustable drain spout diverter / drill with 1-inch bit, 3-inch hole saw bit and Phillips head screwdriver bit / adjustable wrench / utility knife / miter saw or handsaw / bungee cord / stain rag or paintbrush / level

Add a Faucet

To create a faucet that can be used to fill watering cans or attach a garden hose, measure 1 foot from the base of the barrel and drill a hole using a 1-inch drill bit. If the edges of hole are spurred, use a razor blade to trim any excess plastic.

Add a Faucet

Coat the boiler drain thread with silicone and turn firmly into the hole until the base of spigot meets the barrel. No washer was necessary here, but if your barrel is not rigid (gives when pressed), coat one side of a washer and place it over the hole—silicone side to the barrel—before threading.

Adding a Drain

Adding a bottom drain with a garden hose adapter allows you to cap it, then completely drain the barrel (and any built-up sediment) as needed or it can be used as a permanent hose attachment. Measure 2 inches from the base of the barrel and drill a 1-inch hole directly beneath the boiler drain. Coat the threads of a 3/4-inch garden hose adapter with silicone and thread it into the hole using an adjustable wrench. As with the boiler drain, weaker barrels should use a silicone-coated washer between the adapter and barrel exterior.

Create an Overflow Port

Select a spot along the back edge of the barrel where the overflow will be most convenient, measure down two inches from the bottom of lid and drill a 1-inch hole. Coat hose adapter thread with silicone and use wrench to thread into hole. A hose may be attached to this port to divert water overflow to desired location.

Attach the Iron Pipe Adapters

This step will require an assistant, preferably someone slender or with long arms who can reach inside the barrel. Coat three washers with silicone and place around the threads of the boiler drain and both hose adapters, inside the barrel. Using an adjustable wrench, Thread female iron pipe adapters onto the boiler and hose adapter threads as a partner tightens the assemblies from the outside. Turn until firmly set, but take care not to over tighten to avoid cracking.

Create the Top Filter

Use a pencil to draw perpendicular lines on the lid of the barrel, intersecting in the middle. Use a 3-inch hole saw to cut four holes, centered on drawn lines and equal distance from center and edge of lid.

Create the Top Filter

Next, lay a piece of window screen oven the lid. Trim it to match the size of the lid using a utility knife. Screw the outer ring of the lid in place to secure the screen.

Gather Materials for the Cover

Your rain barrel is functional at this point, but a wine barrel-style cover will make it an addition to backyard settings that need not be hidden. Start by placing your barrel on cinder blocks. The number of pickets and length of rope we used are based on a barrel with a 75-inch circumference and may need to be adjusted for other barrel sizes.

Measure Height for Fence Pickets

With the barrel resting on cinder blocks, measure the height from the ground to the top of the barrel, plus 2 inches.

Cut Pickets

Cut pickets to measured height using a miter saw or hand saw. When finished, pickets will extend from the ground to cover barrel and supporting cinder blocks.

Space Pickets Around Barrel

Use a bungee cord to temporarily secure pickets to barrel. If spacing is not even, a picket may need to be cut lengthwise to fully cover barrel. With the pickets in place, mark a picket measured to the height of the boiler drain and bottom hose adapter.

Cut Holes for the Drains

Using the drill with a 3-inch hole saw bit, cut holes at marked heights for access to faucet and drain. A hole for the overflow port will be cut after assembly.

Paint or Stain Pickets

Fence pickets are pressure treated and do not require sealant, but can be painted or stained to add visual appeal. Used here is a warm brown, reminiscent of wine casks. 

Place and Level Rain Barrel

Clear debris and rocks from the ground and level cinder blocks side by side at the installation site. Place rain barrel on top of blocks and confirm it rests level and steady. The cinder blocks are used to stabilize the barrel, provide easy access to water with a watering can and allow gravity to push water with greater force through an attached hose.

Assemble Cover

Using the picket cut for the boiler drain and hose adapter as a keystone, assemble pickets using the bungee cord to hold them in place. If pickets to not sit evenly, use a garden spade to level the ground beneath high pickets until even.

Attach Binding Rope

Measure 1 foot from the top of the cover and use drill with Phillips head bit to attach the end of the rope to a picket on the back of the rain barrel with a 3/4-inch screw. Screw length is based on a firm, 5/8-inch rope. If a different rope is used, take care that the screw will be long enough to securely hold rope to picket without piercing the barrel.

Wrap and Secure Top Rope

Wrap the rope around the barrel three times, adjusting so it rests level and taut, then secure with another screw on the same picket as the first. Cut excess rope with a utility knife.

Wrap and Secure Bottom Rope

Measuring up three inches from the top of the boiler drain, attach and secure second binding using the same method as the first. Once in place, the bungee cord may be removed.

Cut Hole for Overflow

Use a drill with a 3-inch hole saw bit to cut a hole for the overflow hose adapter. If staining or painting, have on hand to touch up the newly cut hole.

Install the Drainpipe Diverter

Following manufacturer instructions, attach the diverter to the drain pipe and route to rain barrel. The diverter will rest on top of barrel, but does not need to be attached.

Using Your Rain Barrel

Use the boiler drain to fill a watering can or connect a hose for easy and economical watering around the yard.

Caring for Your Rain Barrel

The screen should prevent accumulation of debris in your barrel and will protect against mosquito larvae. If mosquitoes become an issue, add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil to the water to prevent larvae from forming. Keep screens free of leaves and debris and leave the drainage hose adapter open in winter months to avoid ice damage.

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