rain barrels



here’s a quick and dirty way to put some rain barrels together. these rain barrels aren’t the fanciest ones out there but they do the job of storing rainwater and they do it well. hopefully this step-by-step is straightforward enough to adapt to your own needs.

this is what we’re building:

sourcing the barrels is going to be the hardest part of the whole endeavor. i picked these up in 2020 from a coworker who didn’t need them, and they sat unused in the backyard where i was renting until i bought my own house and could put them up. if you don’t have a coworker/friend giving them away, there’s a few places to look. first, try checking with your city, some municipalities have programs in place to get rain barrels to residents. if your city isn’t with it, you can try searching craigslist or calling manufacturers, car washes or animal supply shops, things of that nature. many industries use these 55 gallon barrels so ask around. be sure to thoroughly clean the barrels before storing water in them. don’t use a barrel if something toxic to plant life was stored in it previously, even if you’ve clean it. find a different barrel.

okay. so you’ve got a barrel (or two). here are the other things you’ll need per barrel:

  • 3/4” spigot valve
  • 3/4” female copper adapter
  • 3/4” pvc male-male adapter
  • flexible downspout adapters
  • screen (could be scrap from a window screen, only need a 4 or 5” square)

and the tools:

  • 1” & 4” hole saw drill bit + drill (or your preferred method of cleanly cutting consistent holes in plastic)
  • silicone caulk + caulk gun

what we need is (roughly) seen here:

not pictured: caulk gun, a few other pieces of plastic gutter adapter, and materials for the base (sand, gravel, tiles)

we’re going to drill 3 holes total. two 1” holes that will fit the 3/4” adapters & spigot, and one 4” hole in the lid of the barrel for the gutters to feed into. flip the barrel upside down and drill the first 1” hole about 4” from the bottom. this is where the spigot and copper adapter will go. screw the spigot in now while the barrel is upside down.

now flip the barrel right side up and attach the adapter to the inside.

drill the second 1” hole about an inch or two from the top. this is the overflow hole where water will escape from so that your gutters don’t back up.

now take the silicone caulk and caulk the edges around the spigot and overflow holes to prevent leaks.

i don’t have pictures of the 4” hole in the top, but drill it towards the back side (opposite of the spigot) so it’s closer to the gutters coming down. remove your existing gutter pieces and attach your adapters to connect your gutters to the barrels. lowe’s/home depot etc. will sell these plastic gutter adapters in various sizes (3”, 4”, etc.), get the ones that fit your gutter!

so… when I initially put them up, i was so pleased with myself! but i totally didn’t think about the base for the second barrel… the first one was on concrete, so no worries there, but the second… i just put the stand on the dirt and water is very heavy. surprise! it fell over.

so another trip to lowe’s, i grabbed a bag of sand and a bag of gravel, plus eight tiles. I wanted to use cinder blocks originally in order to lift it even further off the ground, but my local store didn’t have them.. so this is what i ended up with after digging out some dirt and some rough leveling with the sand and gravel before laying the tile. definitely take your time on this step to ensure the ground is as level as possible. you want the weight to distribute evenly so your barrel doesn’t tip over.

one other change that i did after the fact, i noticed that the barrel on the concrete wasn’t really filling at all. two huge storms and the water line was still below the spigot! meanwhile the other barrel was practically full after the first storm. i think this is due to the slope of my house on the land, the water moves west away from that spout. so I moved the empty-ish barrel over to capture that overflow and just hooked the original gutter back up on that downspout. you can see it’s a little janky right now, with the gutter adapter and an extra tile at the overflow. i put a piece of mesh screen underneath in order to keep bugs and debris out.

in the future, i want to put a real concrete base down on the side of the house, behind these barrels (without the window) and replace these with some larger 250gal tanks. then I could move these two barrels to the front yard gutters for eventual beds out there. these two are a good stopgap for now.

that’s all there is to it, thanks for reading!

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