How to build a rain barrel

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rain barrel
Rain barrel photo by Virginia State Parks staff [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ohio has seen its fair share of rain so far this summer. Fields are under water, dry wells can’t hold any more rainwater, gardens are drenched and in general, there’s been too much wet weather for one month.

One way to take advantage of the excessive rain is to build a rain barrel for your home. The purpose of a rain barrel is to catch rainwater and reuse it to water lawns and gardens, wash cars or pets, rinse tools and equipment as well as for other uses.

The following information about building a rain barrel is adapted from University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Supplies

You’ll need a number of supplies to build a rain barrel:

  • One plastic food-grade drum with a solid screw-on lid
  • One ¾ inch brass adapter
  • One brass Y valve
  • One set of 4 #14 O-ring
  • One conduit lock nut
  • Clear silicone sealant
  • Charcoal aluminum screen mesh (36 by 84 inches)
  • One 2-inch PVC adapter with a male-threaded end
  • One 2-inch PVC 90 degree elbow with a female-threaded end
  • 20 plastic cable/zip ties (8 inch)
  • Optional: garden hose coupling
  • Optional: garden hose section

Tools

In order to make a rain barrel, you’ll need to have the following tools on hand:

  • Jig saw
  • Adjustable wrench (10-inch)
  • Handheld electric drill
  • Wood drill (15/16-inch or 31/32-inch)
  • Scissors or tin snips
  • Compass
  • Measuring tape
  • Optional: hole saw (2 ⅜-inch)
  • Optional: drill bit (⅜-inch)

How to build a rain barrel

The major parts of a rain barrel are: the barrel (the storage tank), screen, spigot, overflow outlet, platform and a downspout connector.

Making the outlet

  1. Drill a 15/16-inch hole about 3 inches from the bottom of the barrel.
  2. Apply silicone caulk around the ¾-inch brass adapter.
  3. Insert one #14 O-ring onto the caulked adapter.
  4. Insert the adapter into the hole with an adjustable wrench.
  5. Using the adjustable wrench, attach the conduit locknut onto the brass adapter from the inside of the barrel.
  6. Connect the ¾-inch brass hose adapter to the brass Y valve.

Making the screened lid

  1. Draw a circle with a 15-inch diameter on the plastic screen. Use the jig saw to cut it out.
  2. Use the circle as a template for cutting a 15-inch diameter circle out of the charcoal aluminum screen mesh with scissors or tin snips.
  3. On the solid inner lid of the barrel, find the slight ridge. It will have a diameter of 12 ¼ inches. Drill a hole with the 15/16-inch drill bit inside this circle.
  4. Insert the jig saw blade into the hole and cut around the ridge line to remove the inner circle.
  5. Place the inner circle on top of the barrel’s top opening. Place the plastic screen circle on top of the inner circle, and then the charcoal aluminum screen mesh. Screw the outer ring last.

Making the overflow

  1. Cut a 2 ⅜-inch diameter hole in the upper section of the barrel.
  2. Apply silicone caulk to the threading of a 2-inch PVC adapter between the fitting and the barrel.
  3. Insert the adapter into the 2 ⅜-inch hole from the inside of the barrel. The threaded end must stick outside of the barrel.
  4. Screw on the 2-inch 90 degree PVC threaded elbow so that the threaded elbow points downward.
  5. Put a piece of the charcoal aluminum screen mesh on the 2-inch PVC adapter inside the rain barrel. Secure the mesh with a plastic zip tie.

Make sure your rain barrel sits on a solid, stable and flat surface. Consider placing your rain barrel in an elevated place so that you can easily attach your garden hose to the barrel’s spigot. Then, shorten your downspout so that it connects to your rain barrel.

For additional information about maintaining your rain barrel, refer to University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service’s Building a Rain Barrel publication.

Other tips

Use a dark colored barrel or paint your rain barrel a dark color. This will lessen sunlight exposure, making algae less likely to form. Before winter, follow these steps to winterize your rain barrel.

Penn State Extension advises only using water collected in rain barrels to water lawns and inedible plants. Don’t drink water from rain barrels, and don’t water edible plants with it.

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