Harvesting Rainwater: How to Make a Rain Barrel

From harvesting rainwater in a rain barrel to composting your kitchen and yard waste in a compost bin, you can greatly increase your self-reliance by undertaking a few simple DIY projects.

| May 12, 2011

The following is an excerpt from DIY Projects for the Self-Sufficient Homeowner by Betsy Matheson (Creative Publishing International, 2011). This handy book is your first step toward participating in the fast-growing self-sufficiency movement. Even if you live on a small urban lot, you can take steps to gain a little more control over things you consume using the plans in this book. This excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Collecting Rainwater.” 

Practically everything around your house that requires water loves the natural goodness that’s provided with soft rainwater. When you know how to make a rain barrel, you can begin harvesting rainwater to irrigate your garden or lawn, water your houseplants, or top off swimming pools and hot tubs. A ready supply of rainwater is also a reliable stand-by for emergency use if your primary water supply is interrupted.  

Collecting rainwater runoff in rain barrels can save thousands of gallons of tap water each year. A typical 40-by- 40-foot roof is capable of collecting 1,000 gallons of water from only one inch of rain. A large rainwater collection system that squeezes every drop from your roof can provide most — or sometimes all — of the water used throughout the home, if it’s combined with large cisterns, pumps, and purification processing. 

Sprinkling your lawn and garden can consume as much as 40 percent of the total household water use during the growing season. A simple rain barrel system that limits collected water to outdoor (nonpotable) use only, like the rain barrels described on the following pages, can have a big impact on the self-sufficiency of your home, helping you save on utility expenses and reducing the energy used to process and purify water for your lawn and garden. Some communities now offer subsidies for rain barrel use, offering free or reduced-price barrels and downspout connection kits. Check with your local water authority for more information. Get smart with your water usage, and take advantage of the abundant supply from above.

Rain Barrels 

Rain barrels, either built from scratch or purchased as a kit, are a great way to irrigate a lawn or garden without running up your utilities bill. The most common systems include one or more rain barrels (40 to 80 gallons) positioned below gutter downspouts to collect water runoff from the roof. A hose or drip irrigation line can be connected to spigot valves at the bottom of the rain barrel. You can use a single barrel, or connect several rain barrels in series to collect and dispense even more rainwater. 

Plastic rain barrel kits are available for purchase at many home centers for around $100. If kit prices aren’t for you, a rain barrel is easy to make yourself for a fraction of the price. The most important component to your homemade barrel is the drum you choose. 

9/28/2015 8:01:59 AM

Going to buy a house soon. One of the listings has a broken hot tub on a deck. Could that be used for rain water collection and then run the irrigation line off its drain?

6/10/2014 12:37:49 PM

I purchased containers which had been filled with sealant solution for treatment of new concrete. Reputedly, they can be cleaned by washing the plastic-product out with plain water. Will this be likely to be safe for use in a quasi-organic garden? What about for human intake?

4/5/2014 2:51:08 PM

Thank you for posting the tutorial. I have built a lot of rain barrels myself, and i used to use a design similar to this one. However, when the downspout is routed directly into the top of the barrel like that, often times an 1.5" overflow is not sufficient to prevent overflow and/or pooling around the foundation. Forgive the plug, but have you seen the DIY construction kit for rain barrels offered by the "rain brothers"? it definitely simplifies some aspects of making a rain barrel. their website is www.rainbrothers.com -- check it out. it's, so far, been the easiest way i've seen to build a rain barrel. thanks again!

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