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The Do’s And Don’ts Of Building Your First Rain Barrel



Drain for rain water in a plastic barrel in a country house | The Do's And Don'ts Of Building Your First Rain Barrel | Featured

Before you get carried away with your DIY rain barrel, take these tips and ideas to avoid rain barrel mistakes!

RELATED: Conquering The Cornerstones: Water – The 2nd Pillar Of Survival

In this article:

    1. Build a Rain Barrel for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living
      1. Sturdy Surface for the Barrels
      2. Debris Filter and Drain Pipe
      3. Cleaning the Barrels
      4. Rain Barrel Uses
      5. More on Rainwater Collection

DIY Rain Barrel Tips and Ideas You Need to Know

Build a Rain Barrel for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

Whether for everyday use or for emergency situations, collecting rainwater will prove to be a valuable means of water supply. It's also a great way to save some money on your water bill by using rainwater for your garden.

Rainwater collection can be useful in survival situations as well as when living off the grid. When water starts to run out inside your home or shelter, water stored in water barrels will make a valuable supply—especially if the rain barrel system is well-maintained.

Last spring, I finally asked my friend, Bob, who does handyman work, to help me build some rain barrels. I had actually acquired two food-grade 55-gallon drums from the meat shop.

It's just a couple miles down the road, but they had been living in my greenhouse waiting patiently for installation. Make sure you use food-grade barrels and not barrels that may have contained toxic substances.

We decided to place the DIY rain barrel system under the stairs so they would be out of the way, but still close to the greenhouse and garden.

1. Sturdy Surface for the Barrels

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To get started, I rerouted the downspout down the stairs to the barrels. Now, to allow room for a bucket to go under the rain barrel faucets, six concrete footings were placed under a small reinforced wood deck.

You could also potentially use concrete blocks. Remember, once a 55-gallon drum is full of water, it will weigh over 450 pounds, so whatever surface you have should be sturdy and level.

To create additional capacity, we linked two drums together.

2. Debris Filter and Drain Pipe

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To keep debris and bugs out of the tank, we cut out the center of a two-part lid and inserted mesh window screen into the opening. PVC pipe connects the two tanks, and an overflow pipe fits the second barrel, along with drain pipe.

Note: We found out after use that the overflow really should have been on the side of the second barrel, opposite the inlet. This way was easier to rig up but didn’t work very well.

Since we have high winds out here, we need to add strapping to hold the barrels down when they’re not filled. For winter, we drained the barrels and brought them into the greenhouse.

RELATED: 8 Emergency Water Storage Tips For Preppers Like You

3. Cleaning the Barrels

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This spring, before putting them back into action, I gave the barrels a good cleaning. You really want to scrub them out at the beginning of the season to make sure you’re not starting off with contaminated water.

Chunks and scum will clog up your faucets, and make your water foul. You may need a long-handled scrub brush, or have to crawl into your barrel.

I improvised by duct taping a piece of firewood to a brush with a shorter handle. If you’ve got open water, mosquito dunks may be helpful, but a screen works just as well (if not better).

The active ingredient in mosquito dunks is “Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis” (Bti), which attacks the larval stage of mosquitoes. This is a naturally occurring soil bacteria.

However, there are concerns that Bti will be losing its effectiveness due to its genetic engineering into corn.

4. Rain Barrel Uses

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Rain barrels are a great way to control runoff and conserve water. It lacks chlorine and fluoride you can find in many municipal water supplies.

Natural rainwater is softer and easier on your garden plants. My grandmother always washed her hair every Saturday night with water from her small rain barrel.

If you happen to have a good water filter, such as a Berkey, you can use the best rain barrel for drinking water in case of emergencies.

5. More on Rainwater Collection

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If you want to learn more about how to set up your rain barrel, plans for roof washing systems (to divert the first flow away from your storage to clean your roof before filling your storage), and just about any other questions you may have on rainwater collection, I recommend the book “Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged“.

Note: Rainwater collection is illegal in some areas and encouraged in others. Please check this list of State Rainwater Harvesting and Graywater Laws and Programs to find out if it is allowed in your area.

Check out this video by envirosponsible on how to make your own rain barrel:

Depending on your location, making a DIY rain barrel is definitely a smart move. Now, you know more ways to get your water supply in case the current water supply system breaks.

You've also added one more survival and self-sufficiency skill for living off the grid or when sh*t hits the fan. A few bucks off your water bill isn't bad either!

Do you consider rain barrels a necessity in your home? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 27, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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  1. Jaime Cancio

    May 20, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    Once years ago when I was still a child and after an earthquake our home was without water for a few weeks. Living in earthquake prone California I have learned to respect that lesson. I use a system much easier and ensures me thirty days water supply [drinking and cooking] at all times. I use one gallon and half gallon heavy clear plastic fruit juice containers with handles [Langers] re-filling those food safe bottles with hot only tap water and good for over thirty days storage. I use them in constant pre-determined rotation/sanitation to water the vertical garden on my patio. I also use collaspible 5 gallon water storage containers and provide me another 30 gallons of water when needed paying attention to the warnings of the national weather service [NOAA]. It always amuses me people and their water barrels and collecting rain along with all the contaminates possible in collecting rain water. Just let someone sneeze near or over a rain barrel and see what happens to the water and the container. It is far easier, safer and healthier to prefill these containers with hot tap water for storage and once or twice a month drain, clean and refill these devices and never once letting rain water contaminate the stored water from the tap. A recent study on tree leafs in water, run off water from tree leaves, over ten thousand contaminates are transferred into the body of collected water making it over time unsafe to drink. Some of these contaminates can never again be rid of embedded into the porous plastic. Far better to refill the containers with fresh hot water and sealing the containers. Remember also, with clear heavy plastic containers – water in it with two hours of direct sunlight exposure kills off and destroys all contaminates making the water safe to drink. Learning where and how to find water is good education also. BTW god help you if someone pees or defecates next to or near your water supply.

    • Susan

      May 20, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      Jaime, I’m pretty sure these rain barrels are for the purpose of watering the garden since it is clearly stated these are located close to the greenhouse and garden. I also doubt anyone collecting water for drinking would recommend only a screen for a cover. With that being said, I don’t believe adding hot tap water to plastic containers for drinking is such a great idea. Although it may amuse you to see all the rain barrels, it’s even more amusing to know that you’re okay with drinking chemical laden tap water that you’ve further contaminated by leaching even more chemicals from the heat of the water. (At least look for BPA free plastic water containers.) Your recommendation of placing plastic bottles in direct sunlight is dangerous as well. Research shows that heat causes chemicals to be released into the water and there is a campaign to educate women to this hazard. NEVER drink water that’s been left in the heat in plastic water bottles!

      • mark

        May 20, 2013 at 6:51 PM

        I concur with you, Susan. One of the plastic pipes used in your house or in new houses says not to use them in a water recirculation loop in the hot water side. The heat releases a chemical that looks like estrogen to your body. There is also a maximum temp the water can be running through the pipes, but I don’t recall what it is. When it exceeds this temp it releases a lot more of the chemical into the water.


        • Susan

          May 20, 2013 at 8:18 PM

          Thanks for adding that, Mark. I’m using a mobile device and it “posted” before I was finished. Not only was Jaime’s comments completely off the mark for the article, her information is ill informed and hazardous. Many people assume that just because you purchase a container with food or drink it has to be safe. I hope she’ll do a little research and change her practices. (And I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most everyone else knows this article was written for garden water and not drinking water so I won’t have to assure her there won’t be anyone using the potty near their water supply!) 😉

  2. Laurie

    May 30, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    Just to clarify, yes, these rain barrels are intended for watering in the garden and greenhouse. I’ve got another post specifically for Emergency Water Storage:

    I wouldn’t recommend combining heat, plastic and water. Mark is right about the release of functional estrogens –

    • Joe

      May 31, 2013 at 7:02 AM

      Hey Laurie,

      Thanks for the clarification, and thanks even more for the great article! I look forward to reading more from you.

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    August 7, 2018 at 12:39 PM

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