How Rain Barrels Function

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Home Improvement

Create Your Own Basic Rain Barrel

You can construct your own budget-friendly rain barrel with a clean plastic container, a downspout extension, spigot, hose, overflow adapter, drill, tin snips, tubing, and hose clamps. This basic setup will collect and store water, but it won’t have the advanced features of the more complex homemade or pre-made models.

  • Choose a durable plastic container. Food-grade plastic that is UV-resistant is the ideal choice, but any leak-proof container that is clean and rust-free will do. A substantial rainfall will fill a 55-gallon (208-liter) barrel in a matter of minutes, so even a large container won’t take long to fill.
  • Select a level spot next to a downspout to place your rain barrel. After clearing the area, put a foundation in place, such as cinder blocks or pavers, to keep the barrel off the ground. When filled with water, the barrel will be heavy, so ensure it has a sturdy base. Adding some extra height is also a good idea as it will aid water flow.
  • Drill two holes in your barrel, one 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) from the bottom to fit a spigot and another hole a few inches (several centimeters) from the top to attach an overflow adapter.
  • Screw the spigot into the pre-drilled hole. Insert the overflow adapter into the hole at the top of the barrel. It should fit snugly. Attach a length of hose to the adapter and secure it in place with a hose clamp. The hose should be long enough to extend downhill away from your home’s foundation.
  • Measure the height of the barrel and cut or disconnect the downspout a few inches above it. Some segmented downspouts can be disassembled. If yours needs to be cut, you may be able to use tin snips. (If not, you may need to remove the downspout entirely and saw it with a hacksaw.)
  • Attach a flexible downspout extender from the end of the shortened downspout to the rain barrel. Cut a hole in the top of the barrel that is large enough to accommodate the extender. Insert the extender through the opening in the lid and attach the lid to the barrel. To filter the water entering the barrel, you can attach a plastic mesh bag to the end of the downspout extender and secure it in place with a rubber band. If you choose to do this, make sure to clean the makeshift filter regularly to prevent clogging.

Check out the next page where we’ll delve into more water and garden-related topics.

The article provides a list of related HowStuffWorks articles, including topics on gray water, composting toilet systems, and greenhouses. There is also a Rain Barrel Quiz. More Great Links are provided, including guides on water saving in the garden, historical weather databases, and how to make a rain barrel. The article ends with a list of sources, which include articles on rain barrel installation, weather, rainwater harvesting, and the benefits of using rain barrels.


1. What is a rain barrel?

A rain barrel is a container used to collect and store rainwater that runs off from a roof or other surfaces. It is typically made of plastic, metal, or wood and has a spigot at the bottom to allow for easy access to the stored water.

2. How do rain barrels work?

When it rains, water flows from the roof into a gutter system and then into the rain barrel. A screen on the top of the barrel filters out leaves and other debris, while a spigot at the bottom allows for easy access to the stored water. The water can then be used for watering plants, washing cars, or other outdoor activities.

3. Why should I use a rain barrel?

Using a rain barrel helps to conserve water and reduce your water bill. It also helps to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that can cause erosion, flooding, and pollution in streams and rivers.

4. How much water can a rain barrel hold?

The size of a rain barrel can vary, but most hold between 50 and 100 gallons of water. The amount of water collected will depend on the size of the roof and the amount of rainfall in your area.

5. Do I need any special equipment to install a rain barrel?

You will need a downspout diverter to direct the water from your gutter system into the rain barrel. You may also need a platform or stand to elevate the barrel and make it easier to access the stored water.

6. How do I maintain my rain barrel?

Regular maintenance is important to keep your rain barrel functioning properly. This includes cleaning the screen on the top of the barrel, checking for leaks, and draining the barrel before winter to prevent freezing and cracking.

7. Can I drink the water stored in a rain barrel?

No, the water stored in a rain barrel is not safe for drinking. It may contain bacteria, pollutants, or other contaminants that can be harmful to human health. It should only be used for outdoor activities such as watering plants or washing cars.

8. Are rain barrels legal in my area?

Regulations regarding rain barrels vary by location. Some areas may require permits or have restrictions on the use of rain barrels. It is important to check with your local government or environmental agency before installing a rain barrel.

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