Make a Rain Barrel – A How to Guide

Make a rain barrel

Make a rain barrel for yourself, just like we did

Not soon after we started thinking about growing our own vegetable garden, we stumbled upon the idea of using a rainwater barrel to help water it. We thought it was a great idea and starting learning all that we could about rain barrels. It turned out that it was not that hard to build your own rain barrel and doing so helps keep the cost of the rain barrel down considerably. So, we decided to make a rainwater barrel ourselves. Here is a step by step guide on how we did it.

Step 1: Find a Barrel

First, we had to get a barrel to use for our rainwater barrel. Figuring that she would know a lot about how to make a rain barrel, we asked Heidi, the sponsor of our local CSA, if she knew where we could get a barrel. She actually had one that she was planning on using as a compost bin that she sold to us for $30. If you are not a member of a local CSA (you should consider joining one), you can usually find used food barrels on craigslist and ebay. Also, sometimes your local city or county will sponsor a rain barrel workshop where you can either build a rainwater barrel or buy a used food barrel to build your own.

Step 2: Clean your Barrel

Now that we had a barrel to use for our rainwater barrel, we had to clean it. Our used food barrel held jalapeños in its previous life, so it was pretty stinky. To clean it out, we put regular dish soap in it, filled it about 1/3 full of water and then put the top on and rolled it around our yard a bit. We re-filled the barrel with water a few times and rolled the barrel around some more until all of the soap was gone.

Step 3: Make a Way for the Water to Get In

Holes in Rain Barrel Top

Step 3 in make a rain barrel: drill holes in the top to let water in

Now that our barrel was clean, we had to create a way for the water to get in. Our food barrel, like most of food barrels, has a top that consists of two parts: a bowl and a ring. We simply drilled holes in the bowl section of the top to allow water to enter the barrel.

We drilled about 12 holes in the top using a 3/4″ drill bit. The size and spacing of the holes does not matter that much, just as long as you have enough of them to allow water to get into the barrel. As you can see, the drill bit actually broke through the top when we were drilling one of our holes to make a very large hole. Not a big deal though, it will still work just fine.

Step 4: Keep the Mosquitoes Out

Rain Barrel Screen

Step 4 in make a rain barrel: keep the mosquitoes out

Our rain barrel now had holes in the top to allow water in, but those same holes will allow mosquitoes in as well and turn our rainwater barrel into a breeding ground if we didn’t do something about it. To prevent mosquitoes, other bugs and debris from getting into our rain barrel, we covered the top bowl where we drilled the holes with window screen that we purchased for very little cost from our local hardware store. We then screwed the top lid back on the top bowl to tighten the screen down over the holes. The screen is small enough to stop debris and insects from entering the rain barrel, but large enough to still allow water to pass through it into the barrel.

Step 5: Install the Water Spigot

Hole for Rain Barrel Spigot

Step 5 in make a rain barrel: install the water spigot

Now that our barrel had holes to let water in and screen to keep critters out, we had to install the water spigot so that we could get the water out of the barrel. We bought a water spigot at our local hardware store for about $2.50. The spigot was threaded, with one side measuring 3/4″ so that we could attach a hose and the other side measuring 1″.

Using a 1″ drill bit, we drilled a hole near the bottom of the barrel where the spigot would go. We then threaded the spigot onto the barrel. Our spigot ended up going in a little sideways at first. To correct this, we just unscrewed it and used the 1″ drill bit to smooth out the edges of the hole and threaded it on again. It went on straight the second time.

Step 6: Install the Overflow Valve

Hole for the Rain Barrel Overflow Valve

Step 6 in make a rain barrel: install the overflow valve

When your rainwater barrel is done and collecting water for you, it will eventually fill up. When it does, if there is no mechanism in place to control the extra water, it will just slosh out of the top and spill over the sides of the barrel, which will likely cause the water to splash up on your house or erode the soil near your house, neither or which you want to happen. The way to prevent this is to install an overflow valve on the rain barrel.

For our overflow valve, we bought a hose connector with two threaded sides, one side measuring 1″ and the other measuring 3/4″. Again, the 3/4″ side is so you can connect a hose to it once it is in place. We took our 1″ drill bit and drilled a hole in the barrel near the top. Then we screwed the overflow valve into place.

Once your rain barrel is in place, you can screw a hose onto the overflow valve so that you can direct the overflow water where you want it to go. Some people screw soaker hoses onto the overflow valve so that the extra water is used to water their garden or plants. Others chain rain barrels together, where the overflow hose is used to add water to an additional rain barrel. There are many different ways to use the overflow water. Just do what works best for you.

Commercial Rain Barrels

If you don’t have the tools required to make a rain barrel, need your rain barrel to look at certain way to fit into your home’s decor or be accepted by your homeowner’s association, or just don’t want to make a rain barrel, you can buy one instead. There are several specialty stores online that sell them, but we found that Amazon offers a good selection for the best prices. Here are some of the rain barrels available there:

Now that you know how to make a rainwater barrel, go find a barrel to use and make your own and then check out our post on installing a rain barrel to see how to install your new rain barrel.

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