Thinking about building your own rain barrel to save on your water bill? Good idea.
DIY rain barrels have become an extremely popular way to collect rainwater to keep your garden watered for free. A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from your roof for lawn and gardening purposes. Rain barrels are especially useful resources during droughts when municipals ban or restrict watering.
The EPA estimates that most homeowners can save up to 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months when water usage is highest and most costly by using rain barrels. If you want, you can always buy a ready-made rain barrel, but wouldn’t it be more fun to make your own customized rain barrel? We’ve combed through dozens of methods to provide you with a one-stop shop for unique ways to BYORB: Build Your Own Rain Barrel. No two methods are exactly alike.
Better Homes and Gardens Basic Garbage Can Rain Barrel
This trusted authority has developed its own way to BYORB. Their website describes a basic method of creating a rain barrel using a large plastic garbage can with cut-out lid top. The project involves drilling a hole near the bottom of the garbage can and attaching a spigot. An optional (and recommended) overflow hole can be drilled near the top of the can. The garbage can lid is then cut wide enough to collect water from a downspout or roof outcropping while a layer of landscape fabric will keep out bugs and debris.
Optimally, the completed rain barrel will be placed on a raised platform for easy spigot access and to reduce splash water waste. See the final Better Homes and Garden rain barrel. Minimal cuts and simple connections make this method a great beginner DIY project that isn’t too time-consuming.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation Colander Rain Barrel (allow for load time)
Students that led this Chesapeake Bay BYORB project estimate that their rain barrel model costs about $63. Materials needed include several couplings, hose pieces, a colander, and a shutoff valve. Their rain barrel consists of a recycled barrel that formerly held food, grain or some other non-toxic substance.
Students used an aluminum elbow for direct connection to a downspout, which we think is a great touch. The spigot at the bottom of this barrel feeds directly into a garden hose line with its own shutoff valve for easy and targeted lawn watering. A hole should be cut in the barrel’s top to situate a colander, and window screening placed over the colander to filter debris (for extra protection, drop an eco-friendly Mosquito Control Ring into the barrel). Consider including children for a fun, yet educational, project over the summer.
Travis Moyer’s Simple Rain Barrel
One of the simpler BYORB methods we found is designed by Travis Moyer. His video series explains a two-cut rain barrel technique: one hole is formed in the top of the barrel which will hold a funnel or cup of your choice. The funnel/cup should be lined with window screen for filtration. This cup simply collects water from a nearby downspout with no connections needed and also allows for overflow (for a fancier touch, consider installing rain chains to function as the downspout, as described by Doug Pushard on HarvestH2o). The other hole is drilled at the bottom of the barrel. Small PVC piping is inserted, the connection is waterproofed, and the piping runs along the bottom of the barrel and connects to an elbow. One more short connection of piping creates a raised housing for a spigot. The spigot can be connected to a hose or used to fill a watering can (Travis placed his barrel on cinderblocks to ensure enough access space).
One of his future improvements will be drilling a third overflow hole at the top of the barrel. To this he will connect a soaker hose for watering nearby flower beds. We find this last component especially useful, making Travis’ method both simple and multi-functional.
Susan Kroll’s Rain Barrel System
MSN.com provides a synopsis of how one woman created her own BYORB system, an interesting two-tiered, two-barreled structure. Having lived in Thailand, where rain barrels have been used since ancient times, she devised her own method of connecting 55-gallon cisterns to handle the abundance of Pacific Northwest rainfall.
She does this by sitting barrels—sometimes up to seven—on tiered surfaces so that one barrel is higher than the other. Barrels have PVC piping securely attached to the side of the house with a funnel-shaped top to collect water from the roof. A fitted garden hose is connected from the top of the higher barrel to the top of the lower barrel, creating a cascade to handle overflow. A thick mesh screen lying on the top of the barrel protects the contents from debris (an especially important component of her rain barrel system, given her aversion to Thai mosquitoes). Tired of having seven unsightly cisterns, her husband even decorated them with scenes of mountains or landscape—a perfect job for a supervised child.
SurvivalWeekly Cheap Rain Barrel
This video details steps to create a cheap rain barrel using a polka dot top water collection method. He received a 55-gallon food barrel free from a food distributor with a two-piece lid: ring and bowl. Holes are drilled into the bowl using a spade bit and window screen is placed over the bowl, held in place by the screw-top lid. Another hole is drilled at the bottom with a ¾” spade bit, and a ½” sediment faucet is inserted (no sealant needed). A third hole is drilled at the top for overflow and any number of fittings can be attached for desired overflow diversion. This BYORB can cost as little as the cost of a faucet.
JohnJordanTv Spigot-less Rain Barrel
The assembly of an innovative, yet simply engineered rain barrel is detailed on a YouTube video tutorial by JohnJordanTV. This method is a good option for those who want a spigot-less, sanitary, and low-maintenance barrel. A 55-gallon barrel is directly connected to a downspout via piping for 100% accuracy in collecting roof rainwater. A piece of window screen filters the water that flows into 3” PVC piping inserted into the barrel’s bung. To prevent overflow, water will instead run into a sanitary tee and more PVC piping. This piping can be directly patched into an existing French drain system to keep overflow away from the house’s foundation (or, as one DIYer has done, connected directly to a toilet on a lower floor by drilling a hole in the outer wall).
Because there is no spigot, a second bung on the top of the barrel is removed, and a water pump is used to quickly and efficiently remove the water from the barrel. By connecting a garden hose to the water pump, high pressure flow can be achieved, as opposed to bottom-spigot barrels that use gravity to fill a garden hose.
Instructables.com Wine/Whiskey Rain Barrel
If the idea of a plastic barrel alongside your house makes you hesitant to BYORB, consider this method. Instructables.com describes making a rain barrel using an old wine barrel (a whiskey barrel works as well). One unique feature of this method is the attractive stainless steel (or substitute) cabinet handle attached to the removable barrel lid for easy opening. The top can be removed by loosening the barrel’s upper metal band so the lid can be removed from its groove. A small hole must be drilled into the side of the oak barrel to attach a small PVC pipe directly to the downspout. This is done by using an enclosed plastic rainwater collector fitting that connects to a gutter, which forms a direct connection helps reduce the potential for contamination.
This DIYer was careful to elevate the barrel from the ground so that the oak would not rot over time. The creator decided not to attach a spigot to his barrel; instead, the wine barrel’s cork plug can be removed, but we bet he has a foolproof method for catching the gush of water that is soon to follow!
The Family Handyman.com Hidden Plumbing Dual-Barrel System
The Family Handyman.com utilizes two lidded trashcans and more intricate piping connections for an internal overflow mechanism. An excellent diagram can be found on the site. This DIYer built a sturdy wooden platform to house the two trashcans, leaving adequate space underneath for plumbing fixtures, spigots, and garden hoses. One trashcan contains a hole (covered with window screening) that captures water from a downspout. Inside this trashcan are two PVC pipes inserted from the bottom: one runs nearly to the top of the trashcan and serves as an overflow outlet. The second pipe connects to the bottom of a second trashcan, which serves as a water reservoir. When that second trashcan fills, water will be forced back into the first can and the overflow pipe will carry excess water through a PVC pipe located underneath the wooden platform. Presumably, this could be connected to a French drain system. Via a tee underneath the wooden platform, the PVC pipes connecting both trashcans are connected to a third PVC pipe, which again branches out into a tee that easily accessible at the front of the structure.
This means in all, you will have two separate valves and two garden hose connections. We love this design for three reasons: 1) two rain barrels to store water with only one collection hole, minimizing debris accumulation, 2) overflow and spigot placement are well designed, and 3) most of the plumbing is hidden under the wooden platform for a clean appearance.
Coastguard1010’s 330-Gallon Rain Barrel
Sometimes, a 55-gallon rain barrel just is not big enough. Coastguard1010 uploaded a four-part video series of his BYORB method: it features a massive 330-gallon tank. After acquiring the 330-gallon tank with metal framing (which alone can cost over $400), it was sturdily supported by cinder blocks, for a full barrel can weigh over a ton. This type of barrel can already come pre-installed with an open/close knob, which means the DIY part involves figuring out the best plumbing connection methods to effectively use all of that water. Coastguard1010 ran flexible PVC piping from his gutter and connected it directly into the top of the tank using a waterproof sealant. He opted not to use the already present cap (which he has covered with window screening and possibly uses for an overflow solution-yes, that tank is full!). He used fittings to connect a garden hose to the knob, which runs out into his yard and is mounted to a stake with standard spigot. A soaker hose is attached to the spigot for automatic vegetable gardening watering.
In order to achieve better water pressure, he attached a submergible pond pump since the soaker hose did not have enough pressure to operate correctly. One aesthetic touch was painting the white barrel black in order to disguise discoloration from algae and pollen.
Alabama Rain Catchers BYORB Guide
If you can’t decide which BYORB model to replicate, check out this guide from Alabama Rain Catchers, posted on the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ website, part of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. This guide describes the major uses of a rain barrel, basic components of a rain barrel system, and pros and cons for each construction method.
For example, if you cannot decide how to best capture the rain water, this guide will list a myriad of ways: open top, direct downspout, polka dots, gutter elbows, and flexile adapters. These methods are carefully weighed so you don’t have to wonder about the disadvantages to using a flexible adapter versus open top. In addition, this guide goes beyond the DIY aspect and offers other helpful info: best places to situation your rain barrel system, daisy chaining barrels, protecting your barrel from the sun, and overflow solutions.
A must-read for beginners who cannot decide how to BYORB.