A rain barrel is a water catchment system that you can easily set up in your yard. All you need to do is find a large plastic barrel, install a screen over the top, and put a faucet at the bottom. Rain will run off your roof and into the barrel (placed strategically under a rain gutter downspout). The screen will catch debris, and you can attach a hose to the faucet and use the water as needed.
The most challenging part of installing your own water barrel will likely be finding the barrel itself. You’ll need a 50-gallon plastic barrel that is strong enough to handle the water pressure (a plastic trash can is typically too thin for the task and will collapse or break once it’s full). You can buy a barrel at most hardware stores, your local garden supply store, or a retailer from GreenPages.org, a directory of our certified Green Business Network members.
If you want to save resources, find a used barrel (hint: this is also the best option for the planet!). Check with local restaurants, bottling companies, or food manufacturers to see if they have used food-grade barrels. These businesses often receive large shipments of liquids in plastic barrels and have no use for them afterward. These barrels are engineered so the plastic does not break down when it comes into contact with liquid.
Once you have a barrel, these are the tools you’ll need:
- Power drill with hole bit (1/16 inch smaller than faucet insert) and pilot drill bit. (A 3⁄4” faucet measures 1” on outside, so you need a 15/16” hole bit)
- Pliers to tighten washers
- Paper towels (for excess caulk)
- Utility knife or small saber saw to cut lid
- Scissors to cut screening
- Hacksaw to shorten downspout
- Screwdriver for hose clamp
Once you’ve gathered your tools, make a trip to your local hardware store to gather your supplies:
- A 3⁄4” faucet (measures 1” on outside)
- Washers and lock nut for the faucet
- Caulk (clear plumber’s)
- Screening (Buy a roll that is used to repair screen windows. Nylon fabric-like netting is better than the metal type.)
- Hose adapter for your overflow (Many options here, depending on where you want your overflow to go.)
- Washer and lock nut needed for the adapter
- Hosing (short piece) to connect one barrel to another, if you want to have multiple barrels. Hose clamps as needed.
- Bricks or cinder blocks to raise your barrel above the ground (this will improve water pressure).
Now it’s time to put together your barrel. Follow these steps, provided by Clean Virginia Waterways. If you need some extra help, they have photos to accompany each step on their website:
- Drill a hole near bottom of barrel where your faucet will be.
- Caulk around outside of hole.
- Screw faucet in, using a washer.
- Caulk inside, then put on lock nut with washer and tighten with pliers.
- Drill a hole near top for overflow, where water will flow out when your barrel is full.
- Put in a hose adapter for overflow with washers and tighten with pliers.
- Cut out center of lid.
- Cut screen larger than lid (the screen will be placed on top of the lid and will help keep out debris and mosquitoes).
- Level the dirt under the rain barrel, then add some sand.
- Rain barrels need to be higher than ground level—use bricks or cinder blocks to give your barrel some height.
- Measure and cut off part of the downspout.
- Put the barrel in place, securing the screen over it with the lid, and placing it under the downspout.
- Connect the overflow from one barrel to the next, or have overflow hose divert excess rain to a garden or distant area of your choice, away from your home’s foundation.
If you have cold winters, store your rain barrel in the winter. Turn it on its side so it doesn’t collect water that will freeze and crack the barrel. Taking good care of your rain barrel will keep it in good condition for years to come.
It's good for the environment.
Rain barrels help you conserve water in your Climate Victory Garden. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that lawn and garden watering make up about 40 percent of household water use in summer months, and that a rain barrel will save most homeowners 1,300 gallons of water during that time.
In addition to conserving water, collecting runoff from your roof stops that water from polluting your local watershed. Typically, rainwater will run off of your roof and end up either in a local sewage system or stream. On the journey, the water can pick up pollutants like yard fertilizers, oil and gasoline from street surfaces, animal waste, and more. This polluted storm water runoff will either tax a municipal sewage system or pollute your local watershed. Treatment facilities can easily become overwhelmed and often use energy that has a climate impact.
Learn more about the benefits of using rain barrels in your Climate Victory Garden.