Rain Barrel Construction

Rain barrel construction is a relatively simple task. Never mind that the rain barrels now gracing our yard took hours of intensive Internet research, many visits to area hardware stores to seek out the best parts available, and a few instances of installing a plug where a hole was mistakenly drilled. Now, you can benefit from my research, experimentation, and hard work, and assemble a batch of rain barrels in no time – and avoid the common pitfalls.

Many nurseries and yard supply stores sell fully assembled rain barrels, but you can get an unmodified barrel and convert it into a rain barrel yourself. If you can use common household tools, you can make your
own rainbarrel in s few steps. These steps can be tackled in any order, but this is what I do when I add a new rain barrel to my network of barrels.

Plastic 55-gallon drums

I recommended this type of barrel for safely collecting water – because it is the most common type and size available. There are a number of local and on-line retailers who sell 55-gallon drums – for a variety of prices. If you’re having trouble locating the right type of barrel, please contact me.

Top or Inlet Hole

The first step in your rain barrel construction project is to create an “inlet” opening at the top of your rain barrel for collecting the water. Many rain barrels already come with one or more holes at the top, but in case yours doesn’t, you need to cut a hole by using an electric drill and jig saw. This hole can be a single opening large enough to accommodate the downspout diverter or a series of smaller screened openings directly in the top of the barrel. You should consider inserting a skimmer basket like those found in garden ponds and swimming pools to filter out leaves and other debris. It is important to cover the basket with window screen to prevent mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects from entering and breeding in the barrel, to keep leaves and shingle granules out so the faucet doesn’t get clogged, and to prevent small animals from falling in and drowning.

Top Drain or Overflow

The next step in your rain barrel construction project is to drill a hole on the side near the top of the barrel to accommodate an overflow drain. Some suggest using a pipe that is at least 2 inches in diameter, but that requires a series of pipes and elbows to divert the overflow water. I just screw in a plastic adaptor, attached to a “nut” on the inside of the rain barrel opening, and attach a short garden house to an adaptor. I then position the end
of the garden house to the exit location for the overflow water.


There are three (3) main techniques/methods for attaching a garden hose to the rain barrel. See “Attaching a Garden Hose to a Rain Barrel”.

Bottom Drain or Outlet

The next step in your rain barrel construction project is to drill a hole on the side of your rain barrel near the bottom – to attach a drain or outlet connector. This bottom drain attaches to a hose for watering your lawn or garden, or to drain the barrel for winter storage. Some people use a spigot (recommended to be plastic), threaded directly into the barrel opening. Instead of a spigot or faucet, I connect a short garden hose directly to an adaptor connected to the rain barrel. And I attach a shut-off value to the other end of the hose — and leave the hose connected all the time. To keep the water from running out, I used to put the hose end on top of the barrel. But now I just use a shutoff valve on the “business” end of the hose. In either case, this is simpler and a little less expensive to build — you need no faucet — and this method puts less strain on the seal where the adaptor/hose is connected to the barrel. See “Attaching a Garden Hose to a Rain Barrel”.

I’ve seen some commercially prepared rain barrels with the overflow tube coming out at the bottom, fed by a vertical pipe inside whose top is near the top of the barrel. While this may be more esthetic, it must be harder to construct, seal, and clean. We think our way is better, especially for a home-made barrel.

If you set the barrel up on a couple of cinder blocks, you can also install the drain faucet sticking out of the bottom of the barrel, to get nearly all the water out of it. This construction method, while allowing the most efficient use of collected rainwater, is a bit harder to handle the barrel – since you can’t set the barrel down without turning it upside down. It, while screening the barrel will cut down on debris, this method might encourage clogging with the debris that collects at the bottom of the barrel.

Barrel Connectors

If you’re going to hook up a second (or third) barrel to the first one, install another adaptor to attach a hose connector to another barrel. See “Rain Barrel Connectors”. I prefer to use barrels with sealed tops for the “chained” barrels, because I don’t have to worry about fastening screens on them. To keep air from being trapped inside I just loosen one of the one of the caps in the cover.

I’ve also seen barrels that, for some mysterious reason, are linked together at the top, instead of the bottom. If you use this linkage system, you must have a faucet on each barrel, instead of just one to drain the whole chain of rain barrels. Why do it this way?

Foundation or Base

A critical step in your rain barrel construction project is the creation of a raised, stable, level base for the barrel.