Rain Barrels - DIY, Cheap, Decorative Options (Plus Care Tips) (2022)

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Rain barrels are a great water conservation option, but there are a few things you need to know to avoid a mess and get the most out of your storage. We'll share how to make a rain barrel (or get one cheap or decorative), plus installation and maintenance tips for rain water collection.

Rain Barrels - DIY, Cheap, Decorative Options (Plus Care Tips) (1)

Contents

  • How to Make a Rain Barrel for Rainwater Collection
  • Rain Barrel Stands
  • Rainwater Inlet
  • Rainwater Outlet/Drain
  • Rain Barrel Overflow
  • Maintaining Your Rain Barrel System
  • Algae in Your Rain Barrel
  • Keeping Mosquitoes out of your Rain Barrels
  • Finding Rain Barrels for Sale, Cheap Rain Barrels or Decorative Rain Barrels
  • Are you ready for Rain Barrels?

How to Make a Rain Barrel for Rainwater Collection

There are three key elements in every rain barrel system.

You need:

  • a way for the water to get in, with a screen to keep debris out
  • a spigot to use your collected rainwater
  • an overflow, in case your rain barrel gets too full

For a system like ours, you need:

Tools

Supplies

Optional supplies

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Rain Barrel Stands

We want to get our rain barrels high enough that we can get a bucket under the spigot. This means we need a stand.

(Video) The BEST DIY RAIN BARREL Install [Complete Guide]

Keep in mind that water weighs about eight pounds per gallon, so whatever you use for a rain barrel stand; make sure that it’s sturdy.

A 55 gallon drum full of water will weigh over 450 pounds. Make sure your stand is strong and level – you don’t want those barrels tipping over on someone.

We paired up six concrete deck footings with a small reinforced treated wood deck. You could also use concrete blocks, or a combination of concrete blocks and pavers, as shown in the video below.

Downspout Filters

We don't recommend downspout filters on the roof. They are hard to clean, and can create ice damns in your gutters and downspouts.

A couple of options for downspout and gutter filters include:

Rainwater Inlet

For our rain barrel, we cut around the inside of the cover. Then we inserted a sheet of fiberglass window screen to keep out debris.I’ve also seen small holes cut in the top to fit a skimmer basket covered in fiberglass screen.

You don’t want to have an open top, because this is an invitation to mosquitoes and other bugs.

Make sure your opening is big enough to capture all the rainwater from your downspout. You also want to be able to clean your filter or screen.

Do not skip adding a screen to your rain barrel! I’ve seen guides that don’t use a screen because they route the water directly in through a tight opening. This is a bad idea.

We have a high roof, with no trees around, and yet we still get bits of branches, leaves, tree seeds and other debris in our screen.

I don’t know if the birds drop them or the wind blows them, but there are chunks that would build up in your rain barrel.

You can include a roof washing system that diverts the first round of rain from your roof around your barrels so you store cleaner rainwater, but for garden use it's not critical.

The book “Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged” has a great tutorial on building your own roof washer, or there are roof washer kits available online.

(Video) Cheap DIY Rain Barrel System

If you want to collect rainwater for potable use, a roof washer is essential.

If you don’t want to reroute your downspout to the rain barrel, there are downspout diverter kits that insert into the side of a downspout.

Rainwater Outlet/Drain

Mark a spot at least two inches from the bottom of the water barrel. Why two inches above the bottom, instead of closer?

That spacing will give you room to mount your faucet, plus it’ll help you avoid any sediment that builds up in the bottom of your rain barrel. Even with a screen, some sediment will build up – not a ton, but some.

If you get a good quality brass faucet, you should be able to screw it directly into the wall of your barrel wall once you’ve drilled your hole to match the faucet, as demonstrated in the video below.

If you find that you need a tighter fit, or want to extend the faucet farther out, you can use PVC fittings and Teflon tape.

Rain Barrel Overflow

We have a two barrel system, with the first barrel connected to the second barrel via PVC fittings. The friend who built our rain barrel system fitted the overflow to the top of the second rain barrel because it was quick an easy.

It would work better located on the side, slightly above the PVC connection between the two rain barrels (this is where you use the bulkhead connectors – one per barrel).

Rain Barrels - DIY, Cheap, Decorative Options (Plus Care Tips) (4)

Whatever you decide to rig up for an overflow, whether it’s a garden hose or PVC fittings, make sure the water flows away from your building, just as you would a downspout. You may even decide that you’d like to add a rain garden off of the overflow.

Maintaining Your Rain Barrel System

Because we have high winds, we added strapping to hold the barrels down when they're not filled. For winter, we drain the rain barrels and bring them into the greenhouse.

Water expands about 11% when it freezes, so a frozen rain barrel is likely to have damaged fittings.

If you don’t have a spot to move your barrels inside for winter, drain them and cover them so they can’t gather water or snow, and divert your downspout to its normal course.

We add a downspout extension for winter, and take it off again in the spring when the barrels go out.

(Video) Top 7 Mistakes to Avoid when Harvesting Rain Water

In spring, before putting the rain barrels back into action, give the barrels a good cleaning. You want to scrub them out at the beginning of the season to make sure you're not starting off with contaminated water.

For cleaning your rain barrels, you’ll need a long handled scrub brush, or you’ll have to crawl in to your barrel. I improvised by duck taping a piece of firewood to a brush with a shorter handle.

Make sure to clean your screens, too, and double check that your faucet and overflow are clear of obstructions.

Algae in Your Rain Barrel

If you use a translucent barrel, you're more likely to algae growth due to sun exposure. Try covering your rain barrels with a tarp, painting your water barrels or using a wooden surround to block the light.

If you're not opposed to goldfish in your rain water, they will eat the algae, as well as mosquito larva. Just make sure that your rain barrels don't run dry, or you'll kill your fish.

Keeping Mosquitoes out of your Rain Barrels

Use a screen to keep mosquitoes from having easy access to your rain barrels.

If you find that they still somehow manage to get in, a couple drops of vegetable oil on the water surface will prevent them from laying eggs. (This will make your rain barrels messier, so you need to clean them more frequently. You’ll also need to add more oil from time to time.)

Another option is to add a couple of goldfish to your rain barrel. They’ll eat the larva and add some fish poop fertilizer to your water. (This is not recommended if you think you may need to drink the water.)

Mosquito dunks are another commonly recommended option, but not my top choice. The active ingredient in mosquito dunks is “Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis” (Bt), which attacks the larval stage of mosquitoes.

Bt occurs naturally in soil bacteria. Now it's being genetically engineered into corn and other crops, and some insects are becoming resistant. I prefer to stick to simpler control method.

Finding Rain Barrels for Sale, Cheap Rain Barrels or Decorative Rain Barrels

Many home improvement stores now offer plain and decorative rain barrels and rain barrel kits, or they can be purchased through catalogs or online. There are decorative rain barrel options now, such as:

Rain Barrels - DIY, Cheap, Decorative Options (Plus Care Tips) (6)

Where space is limited, there are rain barrels that are flat on one side to sit flush against a building.

(Video) DIY Simple & Easy Rain Barrel For Your Garden

There are also some local programs that supply rain barrels at reduced cost to encourage rainwater collection.

For free and cheap water barrels, inquire at local food processors. Often they receive ingredients in 55 gallon drums. For instance, we were able to get the barrels we used for our rain collection system for free from a nearby meat shop.

Make sure you use FOOD GRADE BARRELS, not barrels that may have contained toxic substances.

Are you ready for Rain Barrels?

Natural rain water 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 it for drinking water in case of emergencies.

I hope you found this post helpful. Drop a note below if you have any questions or tips to share.

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You may also find useful:

Rainwater Collection Guide – Common Questions Answered (Is it legal? How much water can I collect?)

The Bio-Integrated Farm – Water Gardening Like You Never Imagined

Emergency Water Storage and Filtration – What you need to know before emergencies hit.

Too Much Rain in the Garden – Managing Wet Dirt and Waterlogged Plants

3 Emergency Water Filtration Options to Get the Funky Chunks Out

Originally published in 2011, last updated in 2020.

(Video) Top 7 Mistakes to Avoid when Harvesting Rain Water

FAQs

How do you beautify a rain barrel? ›

Paint & Decorate Homemade Rain Barrels |Daniel Cunningham

How do you make a decorative rain barrel? ›

How to Make Your Own Rain Barrel -- Buildipedia DIY - YouTube

How do you keep rain barrels from stagnating? ›

Cover your barrel with a tight-fitting top. Keep organic matter, such as leaves and twigs, out of the water by using a fine screen at the end of the downspout that feeds your barrel from your gutters to discourage decay of matter in the stored water.

What material is best for rain barrels? ›

Rain barrels can be made out of various materials, but the most common one is plastic - it is extremely durable, portable, and long-lasting. For those mindful of keeping the environment safe, there are even barrels made out of 100% recycled plastics.

What color should a rain barrel be? ›

Eliminate sunlight: To help prevent the growth of algae on the inside of the tank, paint light colored plastic rain barrels with a dark color. 4.

Should I paint my rain barrel? ›

Whether you give it stripes like we did, or choose a different design, painting a rainbarrel is easy and you can give it more personality than just a plain blue color. Just a few cans of spray paint and a few hours of dry time and your rainbarrel will look like it's meant to go with your house decor.

What kind of paint do you use on a barrel? ›

You can decorate your barrels after letting the spray paint dry, but before the sealer. Use acrylic paints with paint brushes to add a creative design. Stencils may come in handy, but these are optional if you prefer free-painting.

What kind of paint do you use on a rain barrel? ›

Two such brands are Krylon Fusion and Rust-Oleum* plastic spray paints. Primer or regular will work. Two cans are needed to coat a barrel.

Do rain barrels attract mosquitoes? ›

Having a rain barrel is great for your yard and for the planet because it reduces runoff from your property, conserves resources, saves you money, and provides water for your garden. Unfortunately, rain barrels are also a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.

How long can water sit in rain barrel? ›

You probably know the benefits of using rainwater for plants, but how long can you keep it and use it on your plants? Generally, rainwater will become contaminated after about one week.

Do you need to treat water in a rain barrel? ›

Rather, it is recommended that the rain barrel user automatically treat the water, and take appropriate best practices, if it will be used to irrigate a vegetable/herb garden. However, testing may be necessary to comply with state or federal guidelines.

What are the problems with rain barrels? ›

Thousands of gallons of water can come off your roof during heavy rains. That barrel can fill up quickly. During heavy rains, overflowing rain barrels can lead to basement, crawl space, or slab moisture control problems and it can even lead to structural settlement over time.

What is a good size for a rain barrel? ›

Most rain barrels will have anywhere from 40 to 65 gallons of storage capacity. However, the most common size is your standard 55-gallon drum. I would advise sticking with the 55-gallon option, as the size makes accessorizing and chaining much easier.

How fast does a 50 gallon rain barrel fill up? ›

It's common for about 1/8" inch of rain to fall each hour during a moderate rainstorm. That means that a 500 square foot roof can fill a properly installed 50-gallon rain barrel in about one hour.

Can you paint plastic rain barrels? ›

The barrel must be primed so that the paint adheres properly to the surface. Krylon Fusion spray paint or RustOleum Spray Paint for Plastic both make a spray primer that are great for a base coat (primer). Allow the primer to dry according to the directions on the container.

Videos

1. Making a Rain Barrel Garden | The Home Depot
(The Home Depot)
2. Rain Barrel Evolution - 10 years of DIY Rainwater Harvesting ideas
(2ndrain)
3. Rain Barrels 101
(CityOfNormanOK)
4. 💧FREE Water💧Best Ways to Collect Rainwater💧
(GrowVeg)
5. Setting up Our Rain Barrel for FREE Water!
(MIgardener)
6. Installing a Rain Barrel for Beginners
(Alberta Urban Garden Simple Organic and Sustainable)

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