Learn how to make your own rain barrel to collect rain water for the garden.
For more, also see these DIY garden projects.
How to Make a Rain Barrel
In this tutorial you’ll see how to convert a large, food grade plastic container into a functioning rain barrel with a handy hose faucet. In addition to water conservation, I really prefer using water from a rain barrel because it’s warmer than tap water and doesn’t shock my plants with a blast of cold. Plants are like people: they enjoy a gentle, warm shower.
Keep in mind that, in some areas, it is actually illegal to use rain barrels, so please check your local bylaws first.
This project is from the book Gardening Lab for Kids by Renata Fossen Brown featuring 52 fun experiments to learn, grow, harvest, make, play, and enjoy your garden. The photos (below) are by Dave Brown.
While many of the projects are aimed at encouraging children in the garden, there’s several like this one for adults too. You can see more projects from the book here.
DIY Rain Barrel
From Gardening Lab for Kids by Renata Fossen Brown, Images by Dave Brown
Rain barrels are a great way to harvest free water for use in your garden. The average gardener can save more than 1,000 gallons (3785 L) of water each summer by installing and using a rain barrel—it saves natural resources and lots of money, too. Imagine all of the new plants you could buy with those savings!
- 55 gallon (208 L) barrel (make sure it is “food-grade” and cleaned thoroughly)
- 15/16” (24 mm) drill bit and drill
- 3/4” (2 cm) pipe tap (These are about $25 and can be found at hardware stores.
See if you can borrow one from someone instead of buying one.)
- 3/4” (2 cm) male spigot (boiler drain)
- 3/4” (2 cm) thread (male) to 1/2” (1.3 cm) hose connection hose barb
- Teflon tape
- Crescent wrench
- Diverter kit
1. With a 15/16” (24 mm) drill bit, drill one hole near the bottom of the barrel for the spigot (boiler drain). Drill a second hold near the top of the barrel for the hose barb. Keep in mind which side you want the top hole on to connect to the diverter from the downspout. The top hole that you drill may be on the opposite side of the barrel as the bottom hole. (Fig. 1)
2. Thread both holes with the 3/4” (2 cm) pipe tap. This creates ridges in the holes for the spigot and hose barb to be tightly inserted into the rain barrel and seal against water leaking. (Fig. 2)
DIY Bug Houses are another great outdoor project idea for kids!
3. Wrap the threaded ends of the spigot and hose barb with Teflon tape. (Fig. 3)
4. Insert the spigot and hose barb into their correct holes. Use the wrench to tighten and secure them into place. (Fig. 4)
5. Cut the downspout and attach the diverter according to the kit directions, fitting the hose into the hose barb. Water will continue flowing through the downspout, but now some will also be diverted into the barrel. Paint your rain barrel. (Fig. 5)
TIP: You’ll need to elevate your rain barrel (cinder blocks work well for this) for several reasons:
- The higher the rain barrel is, the better water pressure you will get.
- Putting your rain barrel on stable ground and elevated will prevent it from sinking into the ground. A filled barrel weighs more than 400 lbs (181 kg).
- If the rain barrel is too close to the ground, you won’t be able to fit a watering can under the spout.
- If you live in a climate with winters below freezing, you’ll need to disconnect your rain barrel each fall and store it for the season. This is a good time to empty it and clean it all out so it will be ready for the spring.
- To further save water, use mulch in your garden to slow water evaporation from the soil and keep your plants nice and happy.
- Get artistic with your rain barrel and paint a design on it.