Using municipal water to keep your garden and or landscaping properly hydrated is at best inefficient. The weather is unpredictable; so many people have turned to modern conveniences as an easy and readily available solution. The amount of energy, resources, and chemicals used in the process of supplying tap water may be acceptable for the purpose of human consumption; however, for watering plants, it’s overkill and downright wasteful. If your conscience doesn’t motivate you to seek a more natural alternative, perhaps your wallet will. Potable water scarcity and rising prices are a reality and trending in a bad direction. For all these reasons, we’ve decided to take a gentle step towards living “off the grid”.
Rain barrels are becoming more readily available at hardware and garden/farm supply stores. It will return your investment over time by lowered utility bills. We looked at this as an option, but decided instead to make our own and here’s why: store bought goods consume resources in their manufacture and to transport them to your local retail store. Why not repurpose local, previously manufactured materials to achieve the same goal? You’ll reduce irrigation, resource consumption, and transportation waste, as well as save perfectly good products from a landfill. As an additional benefit, this method is more cost effective than a store bought rain barrel. We’ll detail how you can make your own rain barrels and hopefully get as much satisfaction from them as we have.
|55 Gallon Barrel||We managed to find some food grade barrels locally for $20 each that had a previous life transporting large quantities of condiments. Some water and natural cleaning products made it new again. We bought two for increased storage capacity. Try to find one with a lid; otherwise you’ll have to make one to keep leaves, debris, and bugs out.|
|Hose Spigot||You can find these at any hardware store for less than $10. Why not shop your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore and give an old spigot new life? Either way, make sure it fits the hose you’ll be using!|
|Silicon Sealant||These are about $5 for a 9oz tube, which is far more than you’ll need for this project. We had some already from other household maintenance.|
|Flexible Downspout||$10-$15 at any hardware store, if you get creative and know what you’re doing, you could work with your current downspout.|
|Stand||We used bricks and some wood scraps.|
Optional Materials for Connecting Multiple Rain Barrels Together
|Small Hose||Any hardware store for less than $5. Three feet should be plenty depending on how you arrange the barrels.|
|Hose Coupler||Any hardware store for about $1. You’ll need two.|
|20 Gauge Steel Wire||You won’t need much, a foot should be plenty. We had some from putting chicken wire around our vegetable patch.|
Drill with a drill bit the same size as the spigot stem (opposite end from where you attach the hose), another drill bit for screws if needed
Jig Saw or reciprocating saw or hand powered alternative.
Marker or Pen.
Pliers and a wire cutter if you’re connecting multiple rain barrels.
Making the Barrel into a Rain Barrel
If you have options, the hardest part may be deciding where to place the rain barrel. It’s a decision that may change how long a downspout you’ll need or what type of stand you’ll need. Once you’ve made your choice you can get a better feel for where you’ll connect the lid to the downspout.
Cutting a hole for the downspout
Trace the small end of the flexible downspout on the lid of your barrel where you want it connected. There are several ways you could cut the hole, what we did is drill a hole in the center of the marked area, and then used a jigsaw to cut along the marks. When you’re done cutting the hole, make sure the downspout fits snugly. A little wiggle room is fine, but don’t make the hole larger than some silicon will seal up so bugs don’t swarm in.
Attaching the spigot
You’ll want the spigot as low as possible; otherwise you’ll have water sitting in the bottom of the barrel that you’ll never make use of. Keeping in mind where your barrel(s) will be positioned, determine the best place for the spigot to be located. Mark the location, and make sure where you’re drilling won’t puncture the bottom or cause other problems. As mentioned above, use a drill bit the same size as the stem of the spigot or ever so slightly larger. Drill your hole and make sure the spigot fits as desired. If your spigot uses screws on the front to secure it, mark the location of the holes and use a drill bit just smaller than the threads of the screws. The spigot we used had a threaded stem, so securing it in place just required tightening down the back nut on the inside of the barrel. Before you secure it, make sure you apply silicon around any holes to make it water resistant.
Building the stand
The main consideration here is sturdiness. 55 gallons of water weighs over 450 pounds! We used some 4×4 pieces of wood as the posts, 2×8 wood as the base and platform, and some salvaged bricks for extra support. Screw it together and all is well. We made ours about 10 inches high, you may want to go even higher. Remember, without a pump, water only goes in one direction: down. Your spigot needs to be higher than the highest plant you’ll be watering.
Connecting multiple barrels (optional)
We used a clear plastic hose available at any hardware store along with two couplers. Again, drill the hole the size of the hose. Push the hose through both barrels, and attach the couplers on the inside. We used some 20 gauge steel wire to make sure the couplers didn’t pop off (they keep the hose from coming out of the barrel). Use the pliers to twist the wire as tight as possible around the hose where the coupler connects. Lastly use silicon around the hole to make it water tight.
You’ll typically need to let the silicon dry for at least 24 hours. After that, check to make sure you don’t have any leaks. If you find a small one, just dry the area off and try some more silicon. For aesthetics, you may consider painting the barrel. We would suggest rustoleum for plastic (or whatever your barrel is made of). Put it in place, connect your downspout and start saving the world (and money)!
Don’t be intimidated by this project, the only quality you need for this is openness to trying something new. The materials and tools are quite common. If you’re missing something to get the job done, surely there’s someone in your family or community that can lend it to you. Don’t hesitate to contact us for advice, and send in your pictures if this article helped you make your own rain barrel!