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55 gallon rain barrelI live north of Atlanta, Georgia, an area currently under homeowner outdoor watering restrictions. Not much is allowed because of a lingering drought. In addition to trying to do my part to conserve water, I want to be able to water my plants, without waiting for Mother Nature to send the rain. I liked Dan Chilton's article on rain barrels, but I wanted to do something a bit different. I built my barrel in about two hours and it's now the repository for all my recycled water and rainfall, such as it is.

Peruse the gallery, follow the construction steps, and you can be the proud owner of your very own rain barrel and, might I say, the envy of your neighbors.

Rain barrels made easy(click thumbnails to view gallery)

My clean rain barrel.All the parts.Gathering the tools.Locating the downspout inlet.Cutting the inlet hole.

I had very specific requirements for my barrel; it must:

  • Be food grade -- no prior chemical or petroleum contents.
  • Be plastic -- steel barrels are heavy and prone to rusting (duh), difficult to cut or drill, and generally are used for transporting the aforementioned chemical or petroleum products.
  • Have a removable top -- to facilitate access to the inside in order to remove the pinestraw and leaves coming from my backyard trees.
  • Be reasonably attractive in appearance so as not to be a problem for the neighbors; since it will not be sited at ground level, it will be some difficult to disguise it with plantings.
  • Not cost a bazillion dollars.

You can buy rain barrels for $40-60 at various venues and complete kits for $100-300, but I wanted to customize the setup to my specs, so I started looking, visiting restaurants, an auto repair shop, even the home stores -- no luck. After a couple weeks, I happened across a man who had a bunch of various sized barrels and cisterns lined up along his driveway -- OK! I paid $20 for the only barrel that met all my requirements -- what a deal, literally!

So, lets get started.

The materials:

  • A six inch drainage atrium; I turned it upside down to have the big opening facing up -- $6.
  • A " quarter turn" hose bib, to facilitate easily opening the faucet -- $7.
  • Two cans of spray paint -- $4.
  • Teflon tape; had this in my shop.
  • Four self-tapping sheet metal screws, also in my shop.

The tools:

  • A drill with 9/16 and 1" spade bits.
  • A jigsaw.
  • A hacksaw.
  • A measuring tape.


You might want some eye protection for the cutting and drilling parts of this project, and a dust mask for the spray painting.

The process steps:

  1. Thoroughly clean the interior of the barrel. I used recycled water, dish soap, and vinegar.
  2. I turned the atrium grate upside down, marked the outline of the collar on the barrel top, punched a hole with my one inch spade bit and then cut it with the jigsaw. I put the atrium over the location of one of the bungholes and left the other one intact as a view port. The grate serves not only as an support entrance for the downspout extender but also as a crude filter. I have loads of trees in my back yard and I didn't want all the leaves and pinestraw to easily make their way into the barrel. Some folks use a colander, but I wanted bigger holes; others use window screening in order to minimize mosquito colonies, but the openings in that were way too tiny for me. It seemed to me that as soon as a small amount of gutter gunk hit the screen it would occlude (look it up, it'll be your word of the day) the surface of the screen and the water would not enter the barrel . You can solve the mosquito issue with dunks, a small amount of vegetable oil on the water's surface, or gold fish!
  3. I secured the atrium with two brass sheet metal screws to keep critters and kids from fooling around with it or having it dislodge in a heavy rain.
  4. I marked the site for the hose bib about three inches from the bottom, allowing me to easily attach my hose, and keeping the valve inlet above the level of any accumulated gunk in the bottom.
  5. With my one inch spade bit, I punched a hole for the hose bib. Because the bib has an increasing thread diameter, from inlet to outlet, I didn't need a thread tap to pre-cut threads; the bib cut its own when screwed into the barrel. Very cool!
  6. I wrapped the bib threads with Teflon tape, taking care to put it on in the correct direction (there is a wrong way; I'll let you figure it out) so that the tape stayed in place when I screwed the bib in the barrel. Don't feel bad -- unless you do this stuff for a living, you generally don't think much about how tape should correctly go on a threaded shaft.
  7. I screwed the bib into the wall of the barrel until the collar of the bib was snug against the outside. That's a mistake easily made, screwing the bib hard against the outside of the barrel and stripping the threads you were carefully cutting (remember, this is a plastic barrel). If you strip the threads, you will now have a 55 gallon trash can with a drain hole and you'll have to begin again, cutting a bigger hole, and fitting it with an adapter for the bib. Gently but firmly is the watchword.
  8. Next, I secured the top on the barrel with self-tapping screws to keep critters and kids from taking a swim and possibly not making it to the other side.
  9. I drilled 9/16" holes in the top in order to catch any rain, or spillage when I add my recycled water to the barrel. I purposely did not install an overflow on the barrel. My barrel is not near the foundation of my home and there is no erosion danger. The holes in the top, and the atrium, serve the purpose of an overflow and there is less junk hanging off the unit.
  10. Now the fun begins: most folks place their barrels on the ground, with the really adventuresome types sticking the unit up on some cinder blocks. About the only thing you can do with that setup is to run some drip irrigation. I know something about water and head pressure -- more height, more pressure and an increased ability to water my plants.

    There's a reason that water tanks are way up in the air, and it's not so that some high school kid can inform the community of undying love for his girlfriend. My barrel is on my back deck, about four feet in the air, and right above a support point so that the weight of the water (about 7.5 pounds/gallon) won't do any structural damage. I'd really like to hang the barrel right under my second story gutters but I'm pretty sure my neighbors would take umbrage (look it up, for another word of the day.) I get about two gallons per minute from my unit, not much different from the two and a half gallons from my low-flow kitchen faucet, although at much lower pressure, about four or five psi (pounds per square inch) rather than 45 psi. My principle desire is to water my plants and I can do that admirably, thank you.
  11. With my hacksaw, I cut my downspout about 3 1/2' above the top of the barrel and just slightly below the level of the top.
  12. I permanently attached the top of the downspout extender to the bottom of the gutter and I put the bottom of the extender into the atrium grate. Voila, bring on the rain!
  13. If I don't want water in the barrel, I simply move the extender from the atrium, on the the top of the barrel, to the bottom part of the downspout and the water runs through the existing downspout drain system and out into the drainage field in my back yard.
  14. My barrel is located under the edge of my steel-roofed back porch. It is approximately 162 square feet in area. Theoretically, one half inch of rain will yield about 51 gallons of water. You can do the math here. Anecdotally, I have confirmed that calculation. Additionally, I put about 40-50 gallons of recycled water a week into the barrel, so it's not very likely I will run short even if we don't get a drop of rain the rest of the summer. And, LUCKY ME, because the barrel is on my deck, the roof of which is directly under my bathroom window, I can dump my shower water out the window, where it goes onto the roof, though the gutter system, and into the barrel. How cool is that !

Eventually I will "hard pipe" the barrel to another faucet closer to my plants, thus eliminating the hose strung under the deck. But that awaits some testing (the engineer in me, sorry) and observation of the rainfall in the coming months.

So, there it is. Your turn; get with it and build a barrel with your kids or friends, save some water (and money), and pray for rain -- except on the weekends, of course.


  • Andrew J

    Great article! Just wanted to let users know that if they are going to use a respirator / dust mask while spray painting that they should use a P95 respirator filter. Most common dust masks you can by at stores like Home Depot, Lowes, etc. are just N95 which won't actually provide the right protection level.

    I actually do a fair amout of spray painting so I bought a reuseable 3M respirator specifally for painting.

    Hope this helps!

  • Bill Volk

    Andrew--thanks for your comment and advice; I would agree that anything more than a couple cans of paint deserves a good mask.

  • Andrew J

    Oops my links didn't work. Here are some links to for the respirators I'm talking about.

  • earthpilot

    I'd be careful about where you put the barrel. If it ends up filling a 55 gallon barrel that's around 460 pounds or extra weight. So make sure it's a sturdy base.

  • Bill Volk

    Thanks for the great comment; the barrel is directly over a 6 x 6 post, on a concrete footer.

  • diane.rixon

    Looks great, Bill! I would love to follow in your footsteps one day and make one for our house.

  • Bill Volk

    Diane-- thanks for the comment. It's full, now, thanks to some rain and my recycling.

  • egs

    i just bought 2 barrels on craigslist for $40 ea.

  • Willy

    "because the barrel is on my deck, the roof of which is directly under my bathroom window, I can dump my shower water out the window, where it goes onto the roof, though the gutter system, and into the barrel."

    How do you collect your shower water?

  • Bill Volk

    Willy - a great question. I have a 5 gallon bucket in the shower and the "splash" ends up in it; I can fill it up in about 3 showers.

  • Marie

    I was wondering how you got your lid off? I got some barrels to make a rain barrel and the top looks similar, but I can't figure out how to take the top off... hate to cut it if it really does come off :-)

  • Bill Volk

    Marie--thanks for the question. My barrel came with a removeable top; you can cut yours off, adjacent to the top rim, with a jigsaw, and attach it with a strap hinge.
    Does this help?

  • Bruce K

    I have 4 diy rain barrels, connected in set of 2. I joined them at the bottom, to equalize the water level in both barrels and have a 2 inch overflow coming out near the top of one pair of the 2 barrels. I also use a small pump that takes a garden hose, to empty the barrels onto my gardens and lawn. Picked up the pump at home depot and it works great.
    Here's a link to a picture of the barrels and pump:

  • JeanK

    Great way to get the news out regarding conserving rainwater harvesting with the addition of instructions for rain barrel set up. I didn't see instructions for the proper care and maintenance of rain gutters.
    Water harvesting is only as clean as the gutters are clean!
    Please explain to your readers how important it is to keep gutters squeaky clean for two very important reasons;1) Keeps rain gutters free flowing, 2) Keeps gutters free of disease, virus, mold, roaches that carry 33 different infectious diseases, bird nests, decaying debris, stagnant water that breeds mosquitoes which can carry West Nile Virus, leaves and other debris clogging us the gutters.
    I invite y'all to come and visit with me at to see a brand new method of cleaning rain gutters that is safer, faster, cleaner, and saves you money, and is called "The Best Gutter Cleaning Tool On The Market Today!"
    You'll save time, money, energy, and more water when you use the Gutter Clutter Buster. It vacuums out all debris, wet or dry, while you stand firmly on the ground.
    So, our desire is for you to Stay Well, Stay Safe, and "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled."
    Enjoy your worthwhile rainwater harvesting and add "one more drop in the bucket" toward water conservation, using those beautiful rain barrels.

  • APTD27 has a DIY rain barrel kit with everything you need... It makes it just a little bit easier if you're lazy like me :)

  • 15 Comments / 1 Pages

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