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Save On Your Water Bill With This Easy DIY Rain Barrel

DIY rain barrel system

If you have gutters on your house, then your flowerbeds, backyard garden, lawn, and potted plants would benefit from a rain barrel!

A rain barrel sits under one of the downspouts connected to your gutters and acts as a diverter into your barrel for rainwater harvesting. Rainwater runs into the barrel and is collected for use instead of the excess water pouring uselessly.

Using the water from your rain barrel is a simple way to water all those flowers and plants in your yard, without running up your water bill. Best of all, rainwater barrels are also good for the planet because you are pumping less water in from other sources! In regions that frequently suffer from periods of drought, collecting and using the water from your rainwater barrel is especially crucial for helping conserve a precious resource. And, you can make your own rain barrel!

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that a DIY rain barrel is a REALLY easy home project!

It probably took me a half-hour to make this one (and that includes the time it took to take the photos!). And if you already happen to have a barrel or trash can that you can use for this project, you’re halfway done already! :-)

Disclaimer: While there are no federal rules against collecting rainwater, and most states even encourage it, there are some areas that prohibit or regulate rainwater collection. Check with your local authorities and HOA.

The average person might use as much as 90 to 170 liters of water on their yard and garden just to keep it green and healthy in the summer. This can account for as much as 30% of your total water consumption.

Related: This One Little Thing Could Be Killing All Your Plants

Why Make a Rain Barrel?

Rain barrels are not new—they are part of the age-old concept of collecting rainwater. Mismanagement of the water supply makes rainwater collection important. There are several reasons why you will want to start collecting rainwater:

  • Rainwater doesn’t contain chlorine or any of the hard minerals city water contains—which makes it much better for your plants.
  • You can cut down on water consumption and reduce municipal demand to support water conservation.
  • You reduce the energy needed to filtrate and pump water.
  • Reduce water that could cause flooding or erosion to your foundation.
  • Reduce water added to storm runoff.

Never drink rainwater, but you could use it for a refreshing outdoor shower. It could also be used for washing your car or driveway. You can use rainwater to give the dog a bath or clean your yard tools.

Making a DIY Rain Barrel

Collect supplies to make rain barrel

Rainwater can be collected in simple barrels or complex systems. I’m a big believer in starting simple and increasing complexity if I feel the need. Why complicate things if you don’t have to?

So, here’s what you’ll need to make an easy rain barrel:

Step 1 – Collect Your Supplies

You could literally put a big barrel under your downspout, but how would you empty it for water use? The first step gathering all the supplies and tools you will need. Next, is creating that controlled spout (like a faucet) for the water access.

Once you have your garbage can or water barrel picked out, you can apply your spigot kit. This step is probably the trickiest, but don’t worry! I found a way to seriously simplify it, so bear with me.

Depending on what kind of spigot you get, you’ll need to drill a certain sized hole on your trash can to accommodate your spigot. Spigots are readily available a home improvement stores and online, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a suitably sized drill bit—especially since I wasn’t looking to spend a lot of money buying a set of drill bits. It wouldn’t make sense to spend much on something I will probably only use once.

But, after a bit of searching, I managed to find this spigot kit on Amazon that included a drill bit that would make the perfect-sized hole! Makes it easy, right? I highly recommend getting this kit (or something like it) because it made the whole process a breeze!

drill hole in garbage can

Step 2 – Install The Spigot

To drill the spigot hole, I put the drill bit into my power drill, measured about 4 inches up from the bottom of my barrel, and carefully drilled the hole. You don’t want the hole right at the bottom for two reasons: you will have trouble filling anything with water, and you don’t want it clogging with sediment that will eventually start collecting at the bottom of the barrel.

Install spigot

Once the hole was done, I dropped the bulkhead fitting into the trash can and pushed it through the hole so the washer was up against the inside of the trash can. Then I screwed on the nut part, so it was relatively tight, but not tightened all the way just yet.

rain barrel

I applied the thread seal tape to the threaded end of the spigot, wrapping the tape around the spigot about five times. Then I screwed the spigot into the bulkhead, got the spigot to the correct angle, and tightened the nut piece the rest of the way with the help of some pliers.

Apply sealant to spigot

Step 3 – Apply Sealant

The last thing I did was apply a waterproof sealant to the spigot, on both the inside and outside of the garbage can, where the metal meets the plastic. The tube of sealant was inexpensive, so I used it for just a bit of extra insurance to make sure the spigot wouldn’t leak. Make sure to let your sealant dry for the recommended time before exposing it to water.

Step 4 – Prepare Your Placement

You aren’t done with the barrel yet, but you need to know exactly where you are going to put it. You will want to elevate your barrel with cinder blocks for easier watering can access to the spout and to improve the water pressure. But set it up before you continue, or your lid won’t be correct.

Cut hole in garbage can lid

Step 5 – Cut The Lid

If your container isn’t sealed, it’s crucial to have tight-fitting lid to protect tYou want a lid that will protect your barrel from invaders. Children and pets could get hurt if they fell into the barrel, and mosquitos would love to create a new breeding ground on your collected water. Having an open container of standing water in your yard is an open invitation for all kinds of creepy crawlies and pests, and we want to keep that from happening! You can keep out most pests with just a couple of easy preventative measures.

Your lid needs to be custom fit for your rain barrel. First, you’ll want to cut a small hole in the lid for the water to flow into from your downspout. Once you know where you’re going to place your rain barrel, you’ll be able to see where the downspout is going to meet the barrel. Mark that area off with a sharpie, then use your utility knife to cut the correctly shaped hole into your lid.

Add mesh screen filter

Step 6 – Add a Filter

The final piece of the DIY rain barrel is the screen. Most bugs will be deterred by a simple piece of mesh screening that stops them from accessing the water surface. Your screen filter will also stop leaves and larger debris from getting into the water when it comes through the downspout. Use the kind of window screen material you can purchase at a hardware store to re-screen a patio door. Rolls of this durable mesh material for rescreening can be found online too.

Cut a piece that extends several inches past the edges of your barrel or garbage can on every side. Then put the lid on over the screen to keep it in place.

Collect rainwater

Step 7 – Collect Rainwater!

Now place your rain barrel underneath your downspout and wait for rain! Oh, and pat yourself on the back for doing your part to help conserve water! :-)

Optional Rain Barrel Upgrades

Like I said, your rain barrel can be as complex as you’d like it to be! If you wLike I said, your rain barrel can be more complicated if you want it to be. You can make these upgrades to improve your DIY rain barrel.

Secure The Lid

Use a small drill bit to create holes that go through both the rim of your barrel and lid edge when closed. Use zip ties or light wire to secure your lid to the barrel. Some people only do this on one side to create a kind of swinging lid, but this can be irritating when strong winds crop up.

Zip ties are cheap enough you can cut and reapply if you need to get into the barrel from the top for some reason. Wire is easy to untwist and re-twist, though it may rust over time.

Make an Overflow Valve for Rainwater

With a male adapter and a leader hose, you can make an overflow valve in case your barrel gets too full. Just point the leader hose towards the side of the bucket where a stream of downpouring water won’t hurt anything.

Make sure this valve stays above your protective bug netting by cutting out a section from the top of the barrel and adding the netting before attaching the adapter and hose.

Improve Its Curb Appeal of Your Rain Barrel

Make your barrel less of an “eyesore” by incorporating it into your yard design. You can use shrubs and plants to blend it into the landscaping around the house. You can also paint the barrel and even the cinderblocks to match your house color with exterior paint. If you are feeling especially creative, you could paint a mural or design.

The Benefits of a Rain Barrel

You did it! Now you can sit back and reap the benefits of your DIY home improvement project. This eco-friendly build will help you save on your water bills and reduce the harmful mark we make on the Earth. You can catch 1,300 gallons of water during the summer seasons when plants need watering. Irrigating with collected rainwater can reduce your water bill by as much as 30%.

This is just one more project you can be proud of making with your own two hands and a little know-how. The easy steps will let you build a cheap rain barrel quickly. Are you ready to help the environment through rain collection?

And while we are on the topic of easy projects you can do for green living, make sure you check out my post on how to make a compost bin. Your food waste can be used to refuel your yard instead of causing toxic gas buildups in the landfill. So, after you build your rain barrel, learn how to start an easy compost bin.

Do you collect rainwater at home?

DIY rain barrel system

How To Make A DIY Rain Barrel

Jill Nystul
Collecting and using rainwater in your yard and garden is a great way to save both water and money!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Active Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Cost $121
Yield 1 Rain Barrel

Equipment

  • Garbage Can with Lid
  • Power Drill
  • Drill Bit
  • Utility Knife

Ingredients
  

  • 1 unit Spigot with Bulkhead Fitting
  • 4 inches Thread Seal (PTFE) Tape
  • 0.25 ounces Waterproof Silicon Sealent
  • 3 sq ft Mesh Screen

Instructions
 

  • The first step gathering all the supplies and tools you will need.
    Collect supplies to make rain barrel
  • To drill the spigot hole, I put the drill bit into my power drill, measured about 4 inches up from the bottom of my barrel, and carefully drilled the hole.
    drill hole in garbage can
  • Drop the bulkhead fitting into the trash can and pushed it through the hole so the washer was up against the inside of the trash can. I applied the thread seal tape to the threaded end of the spigot, wrapping the tape around the spigot about five times. Then I screwed the spigot into the bulkhead, got the spigot to the correct angle, and tightened the nut piece the rest of the way with the help of some pliers.
    Install spigot
  • The last thing I did was apply a waterproof sealant to the spigot, on both the inside and outside of the garbage can, where the metal meets the plastic.
    Apply sealant to spigot
  • You will want to elevate your barrel with cinder blocks for easier watering can access to the spout and to improve the water pressure.
  • Once you know where you’re going to place your rain barrel, you’ll be able to see where the downspout is going to meet the barrel. Mark that area off with a sharpie, then use your utility knife to cut the correctly shaped hole into your lid.
    Cut hole in garbage can lid
  • Cut a piece that extends several inches past the edges of your barrel or garbage can on every side. Then put the lid on over the screen to keep it in place.
    Add mesh screen filter
  • Now place your rain barrel underneath your downspout and wait for rain!
    Collect rainwater

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • I have read that if you keep a large open container to collect rain water, put goldfish in the water to eat mosquito larva and other insects. The container should be kept in the shade because if the water gets too warm, the fish will not survive.

  • The community that I live in will reimburse 50% of expenses to anyone that installs a rain barrel. This is handled by our storm water management department. Your city or county may have the same offer available. If you are concerned about mosquitoes or durability, there are some very nice, attractive rain barrels that can be purchased at your local big box hardware stores.
    If a rain barrel isn’t in your future there are also rain gardens you could consider. A rain garden is a low lying patch of yard that naturally collects water during a rain and is perhaps slow to drain. Guttering can be directed to the rain garden which can be planted with suitable and attractive plant species. Decorative rock and mulch can be added as well. Many examples of rain gardens are very attractive but you will want to do your homework before taking this route. The purpose of a rain garden isn’t to collect water for later use, but to allow the run off from your roof to slowly percolate into the soil instead of racing to the storm water system. Water traveling to the storm water system picks up debris, lawn chemicals, and contaminants before it eventually makes it’s way to nearby streams and creeks. Storm water management costs everyone.

  • We not only use the water for outside plants but use it for our indoor plants. Also in the winter before freeze up when we empty the rain barrel we fill containers with water and store them in our basement to water our indoor plants through the winter.

  • I HAVE BEEN TOLD , BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE, THAT THE CITY WILL NOT ALLOW RAIN BARRELS.SUPPOSEDLY DUE TO MOSQUITOES. FINDING THIS DOUBTFUL, OPINIONS PLEASE.

  • My friend brought up a concern about mosquitos. In Indiana, we have a plethora of mosquitos and a tough time getting rid of them. I agree with her regarding stagnet water becoming a breeding ground for the dreaded mosquitos. There chas to be some tiny space for them to get in to breed new ones.

    Do you still think I would be able to use this design?

  • I am a huge rain barrel fan but my water engineer husband has serious concerns about a garbage can being able to hold up to the pressure of that much water. Most rain barrels are made from much sturdier material.. Have you put this to the test?

    • I know this is an old question, but others may still have the same concern. Our water is high in iron, so in order to have fish we either have to buy gallons of spring water, or put our water in a container & let it sit. Years ago the guy at the fish store told me this after testing our water when the fish kept dying after cleaning and doing partial water changes. He told me to get the largest rubbermaid storage container that I had room for and wrap a couple bands of duct tape around it to strengthen the sides, then fill it up with water & let it sit for at least two weeks to let the iron settle to the bottom. He said that after that when it was time to clean the tank I was to carefully dip off the top without disturbing the settled iron on the bottom & to keep it covered & top it off when needed, but to always let it sit for two weeks after adding water. We didn’t lose any fish after that, so it must have worked. I’d imagine that adding three or four bands of duct tape from top to bottom of a trash can would help strengthen as well.

  • I know parts of western USA are in the grip of severe drought and over here in Australia we are recognized as living in the driest inhabitable continent on earth so clean, fresh water truly is a precious resource. Rain barrels are something a lot of us could use to supplement our water usage and as Jillee shows, they can quite easily be made. We have been busy working on a product called EasiOyYa which then distributes the water from the rain barrels right into the root zone of your plants where it’s required. Water is saved with no run off and minimal evaporation. Hoping to take this technology to Africa to help villages grow their own food on the limited water that needs to be carted in on foot.

  • Do you ever worry about mosquitos hatching eggs in the rainwater? I love the idea of rainwater collection for tending to a garden, but we’re in a mosquito-heavy area and I’d hate to give them a breeding ground.

  • Good idea. That’s crazy. How can the water belong to the government. I did used to live in Colorado for many years. I hadn’t heard of rain water barrels back then. Some years when the droughts were bad , we were only allowed to water on certain days. Houses with certain numbers, watered one day, one the other watered other days. It was broken down by a series of three different numerical sets.

  • My husband doesn’t want to have a rain barrel hooked to our gutters because he says it will just plug up the gutter with leaves and garbage that falls off the roof and into the gutters. Then it will come down the gutter tube and the screen will keep the big stuff in the tube and that will plug it up over time. Also, the dirt coming down that tube will create a sludge in the bottom of the barrel. Seems like a big mess to him, so he says NO barrel for us. Have any of you considered this problem?

    • You could add a screen to your gutter, or just empty out the tube every once in a while! There will be some dirt in the bottom of the barrel, but the water is just for landscaping, anyways. :-)

    • We have lots of flowers and they take about an hour and a half to water them, most any night after a hot day in NC. (Yes, better to water in the morning but that’s not our thing.) We have 5 rain barrels around our house that provide a lot of the water. Hoses are hooked to them and stay there so we can easily water each area. You’ll be amazed at how much water you collect after just a small rain shower. For mosquito concerns there are little discs you can buy for this. Put them in and no mosquitoes will breed. It’s a wonderful way to recycle good water for your plants. You can get 55 gal barrels, these work best and are cheaper than the ones you purchase. If the barrels are in a conspicuous area, you can paint something pretty on them. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of our rain barrels.

  • You can also use a bungee cord to hold the screen in place. You can even get one that is like a giant pony tail holder for garbage cans at the hardware store. Pulling the screen taut may not let the lid fit correctly, so don’t cut it on the short side.

  • Colorado did have this law but changed it the last couple of years. Still think it can only be collected on a small scale.

    Yes, an overflow is definitely needed AND covered with screening. Another thing to consider is if you want to fill a container you should move the spigot up or elevate the barrel. The higher the elevation the better the pressure. I would leave a few gallons in the barrel at all times to keep it from blowing away when emptied. Learned that one the hard way once I saw my barrel blowing across my yard!

  • Love this idea. I also was concerned about overflow as we have a pipe channeling gutter water away from the foundation. I guess I’ll need an overflow barrel too.

  • I also put an adapter at the top side of the barrel so that I could screw on a garden hose for overflow water. Otherwise, when it fills up…and it can fill up quickly, it will just overflow onto ground close to foundation. Or you can make a 292nd barrel for overflow!

  • I wish I’d seen this years ago! Not that it’s your fault, but boy do I feel dumb, not realizing how easy it actually is! Can’t wait to get this done!
    On another note, someone commented that in some places it’s actually illegal to collect rain water?!?!?! How can it belong to the government if it’s free & comes from nature? Next it’ll be sunlight & wind. It’s beyond ridiculous & unfortunate & I truly empathize with you.

    • It’s usually illegal in areas during a drought. Every bit of rain needs to go into the ground in those areas to raise the water table.

      It’s not because the water belongs to the government, it’s for environmental reasons.

  • Great idea! Keep in mind in some cities, it is illegal to harvest rain water, as it all belongs to the government. So check the legislation on this before you build your own.

      • I think Colorado is the only state left that actually bans rainwater harvesting, although they were moving toward allowing it in rural areas the last I heard. Many places, however, do require permits and I believe some places require a licensed contractor to install approved rainwater harvesting equipment. Check with your local government to be sure, because some places actually offer tax incentives for harvesting rainwater for landscape irrigation! :)

    • It is not illegal to collect rainwater for non-potable use in any state. Some states will even give you a tax credit. You are limited as to how much you can collect depending on where you are. I suggest you do research on the state you are in. The information should be easy to find.

      • Take great care that the screen is tight. Otherwise, you get a mosquito farm. Also, realize cities in the south will constantly be on you because of disease carrying mosquitos and community health concerns.

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