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Roll out the barrel, the rain barrel that is!

By Paul Rodman (paulgrowMarch 20, 2008

Do you know that the roof area of a 1500 square foot house will catch and run off 900 gallons of water during a 1 inch rainfall? The average yearly rainfall in the area where I live is 27 inches per year. If I were able to catch all of that rain it would amount to over 24,000 gallons. We may not be able to catch it all but I will tell you how to catch part of it for use in your yard and garden.

Gardening picture


Archaeologists have documented that rain has been collected in containers for some 2000 years. Drawings from the Middle and Far East show that rain water was collected in clay containers from which plants were watered.

In additions to saving money for folks who are on city water systems people who use wells can also benefit from collecting rain water. It is much softer than well water in most cases. Many women swear that it makes their hair look much better when washed with rain water instead of tap water.

Rain barrels are easy to make, even those with limited mechanical ability can make one without too much trouble.

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Feeling artsy? Decorate to your hearts content

You are limited only by the amount of space that you have in which to place the barrel or barrels. If you have enough room barrels can be joined together in order to store larger amounts of water.



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How about some dragonflies and flowers?


A couple of tips regarding building a R.B.

Use only food grade barrels

DO NOT use a barrel that has contained chemicals, solvents, or petroleum products.

Good sources for barrels are Middle Eastern markets. Many get their olives in barrels that are ideal for converting into R.B.’s.

Check with wine or home brewing stores; many sell barrels at a very reasonable cost.

Look in the Yellow pages under Barrels; we have a dealer here from which you can purchase new food grade barrels for about $20 for a 55 gallon size.

If you’re not up to building your own, check your garden catalogs many companies sell them ready made.

When choosing the locations, remember it needs to be near a downspout.

The higher the barrel is off the ground the more water pressure you will have. I’ve found that cement blocks make a sturdy platform to set the barrels on. 3 or 4 blocks high give adequate pressure from which to water.

The following instructions are meant to be a general guideline, I’m sure many of you will adapt or “tweak the plans to suit your individual situation.


1 - 55 gallon polyethylene plastic barrell

1 - 10 foot length of 2 inch PVC pipe

1 - 2 inch PVC elbow

1 - 2 inch female threaded by 2 inch PVC elbow

1 - 2 inch male threaded by 2 inch pipe adapter

1 - Tube silicone sealer/cement

1 - 1/2 inch female threaded silcock (aka outdoor faucet or hose bib)

1 - 1/2 inch threaded bushing

1 - 1/2 inch female threaded socket 1 - roll Teflon tape

1 - 1 foot by 2 foot piece of old or new screen fabric

1 - 1 gallon plastic bucket, tub or flowerpot 4 - cinder blocks


Jig Saw

Power Drill with 3/4 inch Spade Bit


Pipe Wrench and Pump Pliers

Screw Driver

Hack Saw

Tape Measure



Step 1 - Inflow - Cut a hole in the top of the barrel to allow rainwater to enter the barrel, and to access the inside of the barrel. The hole should be just large enough to snugly fit the 1 gallon plastic bucket, tub or flowerpot the bucket will be used to support a screen to keep mosquitoes and debris out. Cut c: 3/4 inch holes in the bucket.

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Rain Barrels are easy to make

Step 2 - Spigot - Drill a 3/4 inch hole close to bottom of the 55 gallon barrrel. Put Teflon tape on the 1/2 inch bushing and thread it into the silcock or hose bib. Now carefully thread the other end of bushing into the 1/2 inch hole in bottom of barrel. It should fit snugly in the hole and cut threads in the plastic as you screw it in. Now unscrew it from the barrel, apply Teflon tape to the threads of the bushing and apply silicone to the outside of the flange on the silcock. Screw it back into the hole and into a 1/2 inch socket on the inside of the barrel.

Step 3 - Down Spout Modification­Prepare the area under the down spout where you want to install the rain barrel. Remove the old down spout and splash block and level the area where the barrel will sit. Place the concrete blocks so they are sloped slightly downward away from the house. Set the barrel on the blocks. With a hacksaw cut the down spout so it is just long enough to fit into the bucket on top of the rain barrel.

Step 4 - Overflow - You should provide an overflow for water if the barrel fills to the top. With a jig saw, cut a hole in the side of the barrel large enough to fit the 2 inch male threaded by 2 inch pipe adapter. Place this fitting inside the barrel and thread it into the 2 inch female threaded by 2 inch PVC elbow on the outside of the barrel. Seal with silicone. Cut a length of 2 inch PVC pipe long enough to reach the ground. Attach a 2 inch PVC elbow to the bottom of this pipe and cut another length of 2 inch pipe to connect to a splash block. This is wherer 2 or more barrels may be connected together for more storeage.

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Multiple barrels can be connected together for more capacity


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Ready made barrels are available for sale



  About Paul Rodman  
Paul RodmanPaul Rodman has been gardening for over 45 years. He is an Advanced Master Gardener, and American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian. He is President Emertius of the Western Wayne County Master Gardener Association in Wayne County, Michigan. He currently serves as the greenhouse chairman of this group. Rodman has amassed over 5500 volunteer hours in the Master Gardener program. Rodman is the garden columnist for The News Herald newspaper, in Southgate, Michigan. He has also written for the Organic web site. He is a certified Master Canner and has taught classes on Home Food Preserving for 7 years. He has lectured on various gardening topics throughout southeastern Michigan. His favorite pastime is teaching children about gardening. For the past several years he has conducted classes for second grade students teaching them about subjects ranging from vermi-composting to propagation.

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