Water splashing inside a barrel

Water Conservation Guide: How to Make a Rain Barrel

Steve Russell - December 15, 2023

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Saving water and other natural resources is a shared responsibility for everyone. One simple way people can contribute is by building rain barrels for rainwater collection. This tutorial will teach you how to make a rain barrel using easily accessible materials.

Why Collect Rainwater?

The water running down the roof of your house or shed during the rainy season has plenty of uses. It can water plants and irrigate small gardens to produce better yields. Plants benefit the most from rainwater since it’s free from chemicals like lime, calcium and chlorine, typically found in tap water. Rainwater also contains more oxygen to help plants grow.

Other household uses of rainwater include washing driveways and cars, filling aquariums and supplementing ponds. You can do so many things with rainwater that it would be wasteful not to use it. The best part is you can save money in the long run by using collected rainwater instead of turning the tap on.

On average, a 2,000-square-foot roof could potentially harvest 1,000 gallons of rainwater during heavy rains. Using collected rainwater instead of tap water to do house chores can help slash a significant amount of your water bill. It’s also more environmentally friendly since using less water is an excellent way to conserve natural resources.

Other environmentally friendly benefits of collecting rainwater include:

  • Prevents harmful chemicals in water runoff from reaching natural waterways
  • Reduces the pressure on groundwater supply during drier seasons
  • Reduces the flow of stormwater runoff that contributes to flooding
  • Improves the quality of the groundwater supply
  • Decreases water demand at peak hours

How to Make a Rain Barrel at Home

Knowing how to make a rain barrel will open up many opportunities to improve your home life and help the environment simultaneously. You can create a water catchment system using multiple rain barrels to collect as much rainwater as possible during the rainy season. 

This guide will help you create a simple rain barrel fitted with a spigot for filling watering cans or connecting to a garden hose. Let’s get started.

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 55-gallon food-grade plastic barrel
  • 1 brass spigot
  • 1 roll of plumber’s tape
  • 1 tube of silicone caulk
  • A portion of a fine mesh screen for the strainer
  • 1 garden hose adapter with 
  • 2 rubber washers
  • 2 metal washers
  • 2 brass nuts

Tools Needed:

  • Electric drill
  • Utility cutter and scissors
  • Latex gloves
  • Hole saw

1. Prepare Your Materials and Tools

Gather all materials and tools needed for your rain barrel. Place everything you need on a tray or table to ensure you have everything you need beforehand. If you go with a used plastic barrel, clean it with soap and water to prepare it for use. Try getting a plastic barrel with a screwtop to make installing the fixture and valve easier.

Bonus Tip: Elevate your rain barrel by placing it on a stand. This will help you get better pressure when attaching a hose and make using the spigot to fill watering cans and buckets easier. Concrete blocks are an easy and affordable way to elevate your rain barrel.

2. Drill Holes Into the Barrel

Decide where you want to put your spigot and overflow valve. Measure from the bottom of the barrel and mark the place where you’re going to connect your tap. Drill a hole using the hole saw about six inches up the bottom of the barrel.

Make sure you use a hole saw with the exact size as your fittings or smaller. Do the same for the overflow valve, but start around six inches from the top of the barrel. 

Bonus Tip: Use sandpaper to remove the burrs from the holes you just drilled. Doing so will also make fitting your spigot and valve easier.

3. Attach the Spigot and Seal It

Get your brass spigot and apply the plumber’s tape clockwise to the threads. Leave the bottom part of the threads uncovered to make it easier to attach to the hole in the barrel. Place a metal washer first onto the threaded end of the faucet. 

Do the same procedure with the rubber washer. Apply some sealant over the tape and threads with your latex gloves on. Apply pressure and screw the faucet in the barrel until the threaded part is all through and the faucet points toward the ground. Secure the threaded end of the tap with a nut.

Bonus Tip: Leave the sealant to dry before testing the barrel. This will ensure there are no leaks from the holes and fittings. Also, avoid drilling holes near the seams of the plastic barrel to prevent bursting.

4. Create an Overflow

Follow the same procedure with the overflow valve at the top, but ensure the hose end is outside the barrel. Wrap the plumber’s tape on the threaded part clockwise inside the barrel, and add the metal washer first, then the rubber washer. 

Apply some sealant on the thread and screw the fitting into the barrel. Secure the threaded end of the overflow valve with a nut. The overflow valve will help divert excess water from the downspout into a garden hose. You can use the overflow hose to fill extra buckets or barrels for storage.

5. Put a Strainer or Screen at the Top

Cut a hole in your barrel lid using the drill and utility cutter. Be sure to make the hole big enough to accommodate the downspout. Measure the barrel’s diameter and cut a larger portion of fine mesh to create a filter.

Another reason screwtop barrels are better for this project is that you can add a strainer by simply using the fine mesh and placing it on top of the barrel before closing the lid. The strainer will help keep unwanted debris and insects from entering the inside of the rain barrel.

6. Position Your Barrel Beneath a Downspout

Place your finished rain barrel beneath a downspout to test it. Pick a strategic location around your home where you can access the tap quickly. Some recommended areas are near your garden for irrigation or driveway for household chores.

Why Use a Rain Barrel to Harvest Rainwater?

Collecting or harvesting rainwater is a simple but effective way to help conserve natural resources. Aside from saving water, harvesting rainwater also reduces energy consumption for households that use a water pump.

Rain barrels are a cost-effective way to collect non-potable water. They are affordable compared to complicated water catchment systems that typically require large cisterns, significant lengths of piping and expensive water pumps.

Rain barrels are also more accessible and require less space than complex water catchment systems. Homeowners can DIY their own rain barrels and immediately enjoy the benefits of free water for various household uses. Knowing how to make a rain barrel is a fun and helpful skill, especially if you’re into gardening and sustainable living.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.