How to build a rain barrel

It’s been a couple years now that I’ve had “rain barrel” on my to do list. When I’m not sending out resumes or waiting by the phone to sell a Bohemian Hose Guide, I’m looking for projects to do around the house. So last Thursday I decided to finally get to work on the rain barrel project.

My inclination was to just buy a relatively inexpensive rain barrel on Austin’s craigslist. As of last Thursday night, I couldn’t find a rain barrel that fell within my price range (I don’t recall what my price range was at that point – maybe $50 if memory serves me correctly). And I didn’t want to spend $100+ for a rain barrel at the local Home Depot. And I didn’t want to have to spend $250 at in order to get a rain barrel that I wanted. Although after it was all said and done, I think I would have made out better by just buying a rain barrel at the Home Depot. More on that later. But keep in mind, this is a project — man work!

After some research, I found Barrel City USA down south in Buda, TX. They sell 55 gallon food-grade barrels. So Maly and I got up early on Friday morning and headed down to Barrel City USA and good ol’ Philip sold me a big blue barrel for $18.

We stopped at the Home Depot (what project doesn’t involve a stop at the HoPot?) for some lumber, deck screws, mesh screening, water spigot, downspout attachments and a gasket kit.

After a stop at Starbucks, a blood letting and lunch, we headed home and the rain barrel project commenced. First I had to clean the dead Russian hooker parts out of the barrel. I jest, but seriously, good Lord that barrel stunk. It didn’t really smell like dead Russian hooker parts, but more like an industrial dead Russian hooker parts cover-up scent. If you’ve ever smelled the scent that’s emitted from the Flamingo Casino & Hotel in Vegas, or spent more than 30 seconds in a truck stop bathroom, then you know 1/10th of the potency of this smell. There was a pink gelatinous goo smeared amongst some industrial grime about the interior and exterior of the barrel that required copious amounts of dishwashing soap, elbow grease and the business side of an abrasive dish sponge.

First I built a two-foot tall table on which to place the rain barrel. The table would elevate the rain barrel enough so gravity would lend me some water pressure, and so we can get a watering can underneath the spigot.

Next I drilled the bung hole. Yes, bung hole. I didn’t have a bung hole bit (The Bung Hole Bits would be a great name for a band), so had to make a quick trip to Home Depot for a set of spade bits. I used a 7/8″ spade bit to drill my hose approximately 2″ from the bottom of the barrel. I used a PVC female adapter and a gasket that I made from the purchased gasket kit to ensure the spigot was water-tight.

It’s worth noting that if you buy a barrel for your rain barrel, make sure there isn’t a top to your barrel, otherwise you’ll have to saw the top off to install your spigot. Philip gave me a clamp for the top rim so I could cover the top with a mesh screen.

Next I used my jigsaw to create a 3″ hole for overflow. A 3″ hole is too big. Another trip to Home Depot to get some PVC parts and my rain overflow was complete.

Next I painted my downspout attachments to match the house. I already had paint from another downspout project some 5 years ago.

So, building a rain barrel is a relatively inexpensive ($99 if my math is correct) and fun project. Here are the parts that I purchased and their approximate prices:

  • 1 – 55 gallon dark colored plastic barrel (I’ve read that white barrels promote UV penetration which will foster faster algae growth.) ($18)
  • 1 – treated 8′ 4×4″ (cut into 2′ sections for the legs of the table) ($6)
  • 2 – treated 8′ 2×4″ ($6)
  • 1 – box 2″ deck screws ($7)
  • 1 – 3/4″ water spigot ($6)
  • 1 – rubber gasket kit ($5)
  • 2 – 18″ accordion downspout attachments ($6)
  • 2 – 60″ accordion downspout attachments ($20)
  • 1 roll of mesh screening* ($5)
  • PVC parts & glue** ($20)

* 55 gallon barrel had a 22″ opening at the top, so make sure your mesh screening or lid is at least 22″ in diameter.
** You could probably get away with just using 3/4″ or 1″ tube for your overflow. Or PVC and gutter attachments that will let you tap back into your original downspout.

And it just so happened to rain late in the afternoon on Saturday, just after I’d pieced together my overflow downspout. We got 4/10″ of rain and the rain barrel was full (and watertight)!

Today I’ll paint the barrel so it matches the house. And I’d also like to get a trash can lid with a cutout for the downspout to cover the top of the barrel. I don’t like the wire mesh hanging over the sides of the barrel.

Photos of the project can be seen here.

One Reply to “How to build a rain barrel”

  1. You need to buy some Mosquito Dunks to keep the mosquitos from breeding in there… or some tadpoles. (The Tadpoles and Mosquito Dunks would be a good name for a band).

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