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How to Make a Rain Barrel Cheaply

Updated on September 19, 2014
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

If you are looking at rainwater catchment systems you know how expensive they can be! How would you like to know how to make a rain barrel cheaply?

Thought so. Did you know it can easily be done for under $40.00 USD, and in some cases, under $10.00?

What Is a Rain Barrel?

Rain barrels are simply large containers used to hold rainwater until it is need. This water can be used to water your garden, flush your toilet — and, if it is clean you can water livestock, or wash the dog. Sounds great. right? But how often are you going to have that much rain?

If you think that it will take months to fill a fifty gallon barrel think again.

According to the Office of the State Engineering in New Mexico 2 inches of rain will result in 1.24 gallons per square foot of area. The roof of an average size home can shed up to 5,000 gallons of rain water with just two inches of rain!

Two inches.

If you have a home, a garden shed, and a small barn you can easily save enough water to water your garden all summer, plus flush toilets, and wash cars.

Think what you could do with the money you would save!

Rainwater Collection Gutters

For the most effective catchment system you will need to have rainwater collection gutters on your home. Simply put, these gutters (just like the old fashioned ones - just with a high class name) are attached to the roofline to catch the runoff when it rains. They divert the water into downspouts on the sides of your house and then into your homemade rain barrel for storage.

Pretty simple.

Rain Barrels on Amazon

RTS Home Accents 50-Gallon Rain Water Collection Barrel with Brass Spigot, Wood Grain
RTS Home Accents 50-Gallon Rain Water Collection Barrel with Brass Spigot, Wood Grain

Buying a rain barrel on Amazon isn't the cheapest way to go but if you can't find the barrel anywhere else this will do the trick.


Finding a Barrel

The first step in making a rain barrel is, of course, finding the barrel.

Get a Food Grade Barrel

If you have a soda bottling company within driving distance, give them a call and see if they have any barrels you can buy. You want the barrels to be food grade so that the water is not filled with chemicals and toxins since you will be pouring this water over your plants, and possibly having your animals drinking it. Often the bottling companies will charge ten dollars or less for a barrel, sometimes even giving them away. They are of no use to the company after the contents are removed. There are other food distributors that use large barrels so look in your phone book or do an internet search to find one near you.

A large plastic trash can is another way to acquire a rain barrel. These are available at nearly any home improvement store for less than twenty dollars. A trash can will give you fifty five gallons of water storage, and while it isn't food grade, if it is new it will be clean enough to use for watering vegetable gardens and to provide drinking water for any livestock you may have.

When you know how to make a rain barrel cheaply, you can even make them as gifts or make them to sell for a little extra income.

Stay Away from These Barrels!

Whatever you do, do not use a barrel that has been used to hold petroleum products or chemicals! These containers may leach toxins into the water that you use to water your plants.

Tools and Materials for Making a Rain Barrel or Water Catchment System

Supplies for making a rain barrel are not expensive and are available at Home Depot, Lowes, or other home improvement store.

Here is what you will need:

  • Electric Drill
  • 1 inch spade bit
  • Jigsaw
  • Tin Snips
  • Marking pen
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Pocket knife or utility knife
  • Hacksaw
  • Measure
  • Screw driver
  • Pliers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Extension cord
  • Safety glasses
  • Hose spigot with 3./4 inch threaded inlet and male hose end
  • Two ¾ inch galvanized lock nuts to secure the spigot from the inside of the barrel
  • Four washers with a 1 inch opening
  • Teflon tape Silicone adhesive
  • Bricks or concrete blocks for a platform
  • Window screen big enough to cover the opening of the barrel
  • Down spout elbow to route the downspout to the barrel
  • Clincher strap to secure the barrel to the house
  • ¼ inch sheet metal screws
  • ¾ inch screws for clincher strap
  • 2 inch overflow pipe fittings

Instructions for How to Make a Rain Barrel Cheaply

  1. First decide where you will be keeping your rain barrel or barrels. Place them in those locations and consider their placement in reference to how you will be using them.Try to make it so you will not have to haul water great distances to accomplish your goals. If you will be using the water mostly in your vegetable gardenthen take that into consideration when planning the placement of the system.
  2. Now, create the inlet, or the place where the rain water will enter the barrel from the downspout. Make an opening large enough for the downspout elbow and place a piece of screening over it. The screening will keep out large debris and bugs.
  3. Next you will need an overflow pipe. Drill a hole near the top of the barrel at least two inches in diameter. Place the overflow pipe into it. If it seals and seats securely you can thread it right into the opening, however if it doesn't, just secure it with washers on both the inside and the outside of the barrel and a nut on the inside. Use the Teflon tape around the threads and bead silicon caulk around the opening. You want a tight seal to maintain the cleanliness of the water. Plus, you don't want to provide a day care center for baby mosquitoes!
  4. A raised base will allow gravity to work with you when you want water from your barrel. Use a couple of concrete blocks or bricks to make a stable base for the barrel to sit on. Make sure the surface is level to prevent tipping and accidents.
  5. Cut your downspout with the hacksaw do that the elbow sits above the barrel inlet by less than an inch. Attach the elbow over the downspout with a screw. Fix the downspout to your house with the clincher strap. Place the barrel beneath the elbow and attach it to the house with a clincher strap as well. This will prevent any tipping or accidents. Full rain barrels are extremely heavy and can be dangerous.
  6. Cut the overflow pipe and attach it to the overflow elbow. Direct it to where you want the excess water diverted. You can make a second barrel to hold the overflow, but be sure to affix an overflow to it as well. This way, if you get a lot of rain and both barrels fill the excess can drain off. If you live in an area where you do get a lot of rain you can even attach a third barrel if you want to. Just make sure there is always an overflow drain.The excess water from the overflow should drain away from the house.
  7. Now, drill a hole near the bottom of the barrel to attach the drain spigot. If it seems to be secure then you can just thread it into the barrel opening but if not use the same process you used for the overflow pipe.

Ideas for Makign Barrels

Using Your Rain Barrel

Now your rain barrel is finished and waiting for the next shower.

To use it just attach a hose to the drain spigot and fill your container with free water. Some people like to decorate their rain barrels by painting them to make them look less utilitarian. This is totally up to you. Your home will look better if the barrel is painted a color that integrates it into your exterior landscaping. Just beware of painting it a dark color - you don't want to water your green beans with boiling water!

The cost of all the supplies including the barrel should be around $20 to $40 depending on how much it costs you to acquire a barrel and if you have the drill and other tools already.


Here are a few extra tips to help you get the most use out of your homemade rainwater catchment system.

  • Remember that unless the water comes off a metal or slate roof it should not be used for drinking or washing food.
  • Keep your gutters clean so that your water will be clean.
  • Check your barrel twice a year for leaks and loose fittings.
  • Some people keep gold fish or even raise catfish for eating in their barrels to keep down the mosquito larvae. If you do this keep track of how much water is in the barrel or you will find yourself with dead, smelly fish.

Making a rain barrel is a great way to save money and conserve water. When you learn how to make a rain barrel cheaply you can even create a whole catchment system. Just connect a series of barrels one to another. Each will over flow into the next as it fills up.

Imagine having 500 gallons of water to use as you needed to whenever you needed to!


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    • jrueff profile image

      Joshua Rueff 4 years ago from Kansas City

      Oh so good. I had to click every good vote I could make for this hub - thumbs up, interesting, awesome - everything but funny, and it's not supposed to be funny - but it is awesome, interesting, and extremely useful - coming back to re-read when I have time over this weekend to make my rain barrel - thank you so much for the great info.

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 4 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      I am so thankful to find your hub! I have admired rain barrels for a very long time, but the high cost truly prvents me from owning one. I feel confident I can create my own now and reap the true benefits from that. Thank you for such a fantastic hub full of instructions and the video!

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Hi Mary - Just saw this great hub. Added a link to it on my rain collection hub. Hope that's ok.

    • prettynutjob30 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet.

      My father does this he uses the rain water for his garden as well great hub voted up.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I've been thinking about a rain barrel, but I'm not sure I have a good place for one. My gutters come down lower to the ground and most are in areas where the barrel would look funny. Still, if I can figure it out, I'll refer to this article. Good one! Many votes. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Cindy 5 years ago

      I have a 50 gallon barrel from a wine making company. We need to make the rain barrel as cheap as we can because we live frugally. I need it for my big veggie garden. I would like to attach soakers hoses to it. any suggestions?

    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Great article, very useful advice! People often overlook the small things they can do themselves, but which can have a hug impact on the environment if only we would actually DO them. Thanks! (Voted up, and as awesome)

    • Dr Rockpile profile image

      Dr Rockpile 6 years ago from USA

      Sounds like a great and useful DIY project. Nice idea.

    • RalphGreene profile image

      RalphGreene 6 years ago

      Very useful.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This is one more thing I have intended to do but postponed. You have given me the inspiration. WhooHoo

    • profile image

      Timmothy mcVeigh 6 years ago

      Great idea joseph, should be great for drinking water

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Joseph...not a good idea.

    • profile image

      Joseph N. Caucci 6 years ago

      I have a barrel that the contents were 67.5% deionized water and 32.5% high purity urea. It was used for trucks as a diesel exhaust fluid. If I clean it out, can I use it as a rain barrel? It's plastic and 55 gallon container, empty.

    • sean kinn profile image

      sean kinn 7 years ago from Key West and Budapest

      Great article. I've got a rain barrel located at the front of my house, also on my garden house, now just have to install a gutter, downspout and barrel for my "bicycle port."

    • Victress In All profile image

      Victress In All 7 years ago

      Great article! I absolutely agree that rain barrels are the way to go these days. After a drought this past summer, and a huge water bill, I am investing in a few of those barrels myself. To give an example of how much water one can collect, it was raining hard today for about 40 minutes, so I have filled about 40-50 gallons of water just from one spout. Used up all my buckets and spare trash cans:)

    • dvdpro profile image

      dvdpro 7 years ago from Studio City

      This helped a lot! I bookmarked it to send to my friends on the web that are holistic and into eco and gardening.

    • SwiftlyClean profile image

      SwiftlyClean 7 years ago from Texas

      Great Hub and very useful.That would be a fun project.I'm working on mine tommorow!


      Sharon Smith

    • despereaux profile image

      despereaux 7 years ago from Madison, WI

      Thanks for the great info, I'm hoping to make one later in the summer. For those that are do-yourself impaired, many communities in the U.S. have "rain barrel days" where citizens can pickup rain barrel kits at a discount. Check out local environmental groups and/or your water utility.

    • profile image

      Rain Barrel Diverter guy 7 years ago

      If you are willing to spend the extra cash I recommend the RainReserve Diverter system. It is a closed system that keeps out bugs and critters. It sends overflow water back out the downspout. I have had very few problems with this system compared to the others, which is why it is the best Diverter system on the market!

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

      This is so helpful! As it has been raining here almost consistently for the past two weeks with barely a break and my sump pump has been running non stop in my basement all I have thought about is how much I need a rain barrel. This is really thorough information. Thanks so much!

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Hello Marye, just found this excellent hub! I believe it will help us finish the rain water catchment project want. Well, we already have the barrels and the idea, but now have detailed instructions to get it done! Thanks for the sensible info!

    • profile image

      Odette 7 years ago

      If you're worried about finding one that looks pretty I suggest painting the barrel with a paint that adheres to plastic. Just sand the barrel and pick your color.

    • amazil profile image

      amazil 7 years ago from Savannah, GA

      I've always wanted a rain barrel, I just can't seem to find a "pretty" barrel. Something that won't be such an eyesore around the house.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Great for people on well water! My friend just bought one today for $90.00. Your instructions seem cost efffective and pretty simple.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I remember my grandmother's house in Wisconsin had a cistern that collected rainwater in her basement. She used it for washing clothes, flushing toilets, etc. She had a separate system for drinking water.

    • AshleyVictoria profile image

      AshleyVictoria 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      What a great idea! And what a money saver!

    • ajcor profile image

      ajcor 9 years ago from NSW. Australia

      in our drought ridden country we are always looking for ways to save water so thanks for your hub.

    • solarstories profile image

      solarstories 9 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Another hub that shows how easy it is to make a difference on environmental impact and save money at the same time.

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 9 years ago

      You mention that: " if you have a home, a garden shed, and a small barn you can easily save enough water to water your garden all summer, plus flush toilets, and wash cars" I find that to be truly fascinating.