Rain barrels are an eco-friendly way to lower your water bill—and they’re simple to make.

Person watering plants using water collected in rain barrelIf you’re looking for a fun and easy project this spring, you might consider making a few rain barrels. These large containers collect water from your downspouts, which you can use for lots of different purposes like watering your lawn, giving your flowers and shrubs a drink, scrubbing your deck, or washing your car. That means a lower water bill for you—and a healthier environment for all of us.

Why are rain barrels eco-friendly? 

One of the best reasons to make rain barrels is because they reduce storm water runoff. As storm water gets contaminated by fertilizers, pesticides, trash, oil from roads, and other pollutants, it flows into waterways, which is harmful to wildlife and our ecosystem. But a rain barrel keeps that water from getting polluted—and eventually finding its way into streams and rivers—while also keeping it relatively clean for your own use.

What should I know before making one? 

Water from your rain barrel isn’t purified, so it shouldn’t be used for drinking or bathing. You should plan on using your rain barrel during the spring, summer, and fall, but it’s important to disconnect it once temperatures dip below freezing, as ice can cause damage. Also, if you don’t want to make a rain barrel but still want the benefits, keep in mind you can purchase them prefabricated from most hardware and big box stores.

Since sitting water can attract mosquitoes, try to use the water from your barrel frequently if you aren’t using a closed system. You can even add a tiny amount of bleach to the water if you’re having mosquito issues. A little bit of cooking or vegetable oil can be another effective option.

How do you build a rain barrel?

A closed-system rain barrel can be built in an hour or two, and requires a few supplies that you can pick up for $50 or less. You can save on costs by getting a barrel for free or inexpensively—large, industrial-size food barrels can sometimes be bought and repurposed for just a few dollars—and don’t be afraid to get creative with the container you choose. Just make sure it’s large (40+ gallons or so is a good place to start), fairly thick and sturdy, and that it’s water tight.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large plastic container with lid
  • Shut-off valve/spigot
  • Drill
  • Thread-sealing tape
  • Caulk
  • Inlet tap
  • Water diverter
  • Atrium grate
  • Hacksaw
  • Rubber drain hose
  • Concrete blocks

Step 1: Find a good place for your barrel. It will need to be near a downspout, and we recommend placing it up on concrete blocks for easy access to the spigot.

Step 2: Drill a hole in the side of your plastic container. It should be just a few inches above the bottom. Make sure the hole you drill is the right size for your spigot (a one-inch spigot should work fine).

Step 3: Cover the metal threading on the spigot with thread-sealing tape, then screw your spigot into the barrel for a water-tight seal. You can help seal it with caulk if necessary.

Step 4: If you’re using an atrium grate, simply cut a hole in the top of your trash can or container and fit the grate securely and with your inlet tap. You can seal it with caulk, and connect the rubber hose to the barrel.

Step 5: Now you’ll want to use your hacksaw to cut the downspout on the side of your house. Separate the two sections of downspout and reconnect them with the water diverter. Then connect your water diverter to your inlet tap on the top of your barrel.

Step 6 (optional): You may want to make an overflow valve in case your rain barrel gets too full. To do this, drill a hole near the top of the side of the barrel, and connect another inlet tap and rubber hose similarly to how you connected them to the top, and be sure to run the hose far away from your house to prevent water from pooling.

Step 7: Place your rain barrel up on the concrete block, and test it to make sure your seals are watertight.

That’s it! Making a rain barrel is a simple way to help out the environment while saving some money along the way. We hope you’ll consider building your own—and that you’ll use the water you collect to keep your landscape green and growing.

If you’re looking for help figuring out more ways to improve your landscape—or you want to design and build a new landscape—our team at Engledow would love to assist. Contact us today to learn more about all the ways we can help your landscape thrive.

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