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Rain Barrel How To {Harvesting Rainwater}

I don’t know about you, but I like free stuff. You know what’s free? Rainwater. Which is why we invested in a DIY rain barrel last year for our vegetable garden. Seriously, why pay for water when you can be über hipsters and harvest your own rainwater?

Rain Barrel How To

My parents and brother have had their own rain barrel watering systems for their vegetable gardens for a few years so it was only natural that Brad and I jump on the hippy train.

Last summer my parents brought us a 58 gallon food-grade barrel. They purchased 4 barrels for $50 from Reusable Barrels, located in Niles, Michigan– about 30 minutes from my hometown. Reusable Barrels ships barrels, but if you don’t want to deal with that Google “food grade barrels” and see if something near you pops up. This is apparently how my mom found them.

rain barrel

Now this is important, if you want to make your own rain barrel you need to get a food-grade barrel. Think about it. Do you really want to use a drum that used to contain motor oil housing your vegetable garden’s water supply? Me thinks not. Our barrel once held balsamic vinegar. That’s a whole lot of balsamic.


Before we got busy on the barrel we needed to hang a gutter and downspout on one side of our shed. I’m not going to get into all the details about that (unless a bunch of you comment saying, “we want more, we want more!”). But I’ll add that you’ll need to put a debris catcher where the gutter meets the downspout. You don’t want rotting leaves traveling down the downspout and into your rain barrel.

We also laid out three cinder blocks for the rain barrel to sit on.

Brad picked up a rain barrel kit– very similar to this one. After rinsing out the barrel, he began drilling a hole in the side of the barrel by the downspout.

how to make DIY rain barrel

Then, Brad drilled a hole in the downspout.

Note: we didn’t seal the bottom of the downspout. When it rains some of the rain goes into the hose that connects to the barrel and some falls to the ground. If we’re supposed to get a heavy rain I’ll put a bucket under the downspout so we can collect that water. I’m crunchy like that.

do it yourself rain barrel

Next, we connected the downspout to the rain barrel with the plastic hose provided in the kit.

make your own rain barrel

Then, Brad drilled another hole at the bottom of the barrel and installed the spigot.

rain barrel for garden

Brad also drilled an overflow hole but I don’t have a photo of that.

Edit: I mentioned the overflow hole to Brad while I was writing this post at 10:30 PM last night. He said he should probably go out and take the cap off of the overflow. Good thing I said something because the barrel was pretty full from all the rain we’ve had.

rain barrel overflow

Here you can see the rain barrel on top of the cinder blocks. This is for water flow purposes. You know, gravity and stuff.

DIY rain barrel

We attached a hose holder to the side of the shed to keep the hose organized. And a couple weeks ago I spray painted the in-your-face blue barrel white so it would blend into our yard a little better.

Rain barrel for vegetable garden

We used the rain barrel as much as possible last spring and summer. We had a crazy drought so we didn’t get to use it as much as we would have liked. Especially when our $85 water bill came in– that’s double what we usually pay. And as for the winter months, we drained and disconnected the barrel and stored it in our shed.

In the end, I think we invested about $80 into this project (gutter and downspout materials, barrel, kit, hose, hose holder, spray paint), which is pretty good. I spotted a 58 gallon rain barrel at a home improvement store for $138, and that didn’t include the gutter and downspout, hose, and hose holder.

We’ll most definitely get a return on our investment with the money we’ll save on our water bill. Plus, harvesting your own rainwater is all green and earth loving.

Next up– adding a DIY compost bin.

Do you have a rain barrel water system?
If not, do you think you’ll invest in one for your garden?
Or is this too granola and kombucha for you?

Stalk away!


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  1. Love the rain barrel. I have thought about putting one in, just on a long list of things to do. My water is “free” because it’s well water–so I don’t get a bill per se. I hope you get a lot of use out of it this summer!

  2. Love rain barrels. Great post. Definitely going to add one to our shed for a future garden. One question… where did your folks buy the barrel?

      1. Our local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store also sells them. One of their pet projects is encouraging homeowners to use rain barrels. They have the barrels, parts to install (also pre-packaged kit for those less handy), instructions & support. I THINK (but I’m not positive) they also will contract to put them in for truly unhandy types (a fund-raising effort for Habitat). So if you have a Habitat for Humanity group near you, you might check w/ them.

  3. This is awesome! I totally want a rain barrel. For our apartment I just keep a bucket outside, but when we finally get a house I would love to install a rain barrel. I especially love that you spray painted it and will have to keep that in mind! I would also like to know where your parents found that barrel 🙂

      1. Thank you so much!!! I can’t believe how cheap these are. And shipping is only 12-13 dollars for me (Bloomington)…no excuses.

  4. I have been wanting one of these forever. There are a couple in our neighborhood and I think they are just genius. I love recycling and saving money so its just a given that I need one.

  5. I’ve been really really wanting a rain barrel for a while!!! Thanks for the post – I plan to send it to my husband in the hopes he’ll be as inspired as I am!

  6. My husband and I have been wanting a rain barrel for a while. I didn’t realize you could by used ones…. That’s pretty cool. Maybe one of these days we will break down and buy one.

  7. This is awesome! I have been wanting to do this forever since we use a TON of water to water our grass in Florida. Thank you!

  8. Had to come over from over from IG world and read all about this fantasticness. I’m a little miffed that there are no peony pics but hey this is one cool free and ecofriendly barrel of goodness. Wondering if you may get the aurprise added bonus of balsamic infused veggies?
    Nicsantam (instagram)

  9. We love our rain barrel, too. Our last city had a rain garden program so we got a nice one with all the fittings for free. This house, I asked for one for my birthday. There’s just nothing better than free water.

    I get all giddy when it’s full!

    1. Man, I wish our city had a rain garden program– so cool! Is it bad that I’ll probably take this one with us when we move?

  10. Michelle S says:

    I love this idea beyond enumeration and I’m not a “crunchy” person by any means! However, make sure to check with your state and local government (don’t call and give them the idea) to make sure it’s legal.I KID YOU NOT several states have made it illegal because you “don’t own the rainwater”. I think if you conceal it to the best of your abilities the HOA or city won’t see it, want to investigate and propose legislation to outlaw them. IMO they outlaw them because it takes away from people having to pay the city for water, but if you’re in the country then go right ahead. I think I will make one for my parents. We’re on well water in the country so it wouldn’t make that much difference, but you’re putting the water back into the ground.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Michelle! I’m pretty sure it’s legal in our city and state. And I’m married to the HOA vice president so hopefully he won’t come after me. 😉 I don’t see why places outlaw it. I could see limiting the number of barrels you have so you’re not hoarding water.

      1. Michelle S says:

        Lol, I was just helping out people who do live in the states that outlaw it/to bring awareness that laws do exist. I think there are like 12 states that do have laws specific to “unlawful diversion of rainwater” (which includes barrel collection). I could see it for extreme cases involving someone with 10 barrels on their property and having set-ups like this all over town, finding a way to funnel groundwater (that has actually touched the ground and formed puddles) into a barrel (some people take it to the extreme) or if they outfitted the rainwater to supply their water system in a house. A guy who owns a car wash was collecting water on the rare occasion that it rains because he wanted to be “greener” and was forced to stop. While most people use it water their plants, the move is purely monetary. It’ll save you money, but that money it saves you it loses the city. LOL, sorry for the schpiel, I wish everyone could live greener like this, but the government has to make a profit somewhere.

        1. Michelle S says:

          Not that they have rain collection monitors, but if a city started trending a significant enough amount of loss in usage of city water it would pique curiosity, well, to me it would if I worked for the city lol.

        2. June Ramirez says:

          You are correct, there are cities where you can’t collect rain water. I think the reasons are that the water falls to the ground and then into underground rivers (sorry just can’t think of the proper name right now. That old age thing)! That’s why houses in cities you have to give up mineral and water rights to your city. If you have wells you usually live in rural or semi rural areas where there aren’t water companies.

  11. I really want to do this! I’ve finally started planting stuff in my empty flower beds, so I’ve been using ungodly amounts of water lately. Putting this on the list!

  12. You last bill was $85 and that was DOUBLE your normal water bill?!? I live in a large west coast city and my last water bill was $300 for three months (includes sewer) and they are just bout to raise our rates again!!!
    I need a freakin rain barrel. And trust , we get rain.

    1. Wow, that’s crazy! Our typical monthly water and sewage bill is around $43. Our bill during the drought last summer was $85 (when I was watering our plants and trees in an attempt to keep them alive). You should definitely get a rain barrel with those prices.

  13. I’m working on my own rain barrel and I’m concerned about the faucet installation. Have you or your parents had any problems with your faucets? Do you have any tips or tricks?

    1. Hi, Marjorie! No, we haven’t had any issues with the spigot part of the rain barrel. Brad followed the installation instructions in the kit. I think our spigot has a plug/seal so water won’t leak out.

    1. No gutters? Is that a Texas thing? We don’t have gutters on our shed so we added a gutter to one side so we could collect the rain. You could always do that!

      1. It must be a Texas thing; only about half the homes on our street have gutters. None of the houses down here have basements either (which is weird and annoying)!

    2. Jess, if you don’t have gutters, you can still just set out a good sized container to collect rain water coming down naturally. It’s not as effective but it’ll fill up eventually….depending on how much rain you get. 🙂

  14. Great tutorial. Your instructions & photos were done well – very clear & informative.
    If you really want to make your barrel “blend in”, you might consider painting it the same color as your shed. OR I’ve seen some painted as garden art w/ “happy flowers”, etc.
    Now that you’ve painted it white, your barrel has a nice “primer” base. I hope you used paint meant for use on plastic. I’ve painted plastic w/o using that, and it was a peeling mess within a few weeks.
    Another suggestion: we found that a full-length downspout is better than one that ends up the wall (unless you don’t care about mildew/moss on your wall. Also a splash block or some other diverter underneath your overflow & downspout is a good idea. We had problem w/ little water in the basement in that corner until we did that (not surprising w/ all the rain we’ve had — our rain barrel was full to overflowing!

    1. Thanks, Mimi! I thought about trying to match it to the shed, but decided it was just easier to spray paint it white. It goes with the trim on the shed and our white fence. Yep, I used spray paint meant for plastic to make sure it wouldn’t peel off. Thanks for the downspout tip. So far we haven’t had any issues with mildew or moss but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  15. I’ve actually been thinking about doing this for a long time, but just haven’t pulled the trigger yet. My grandma always told me washing your hair with rainwater makes it softer. I dunno.

    1. Pull the trigger! I agree with your grandma. When I was younger I washed my hair outside during a downpour. My hair did feel a lot softer afterward.

  16. Sadly, rainwater harvesting is illegal here in Colorado.
    As the saying goes, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting”.

    1. Wow, it’s illegal to collect rainwater, but pot is legal. Sorry, I find that funny!

  17. Oh I love this idea! We have so much rain here in Florida we should totally do this!!! Pinning this in hopes we can do this project!

  18. We did rain barrels last week and couldn’t believe how much water we collected in such a short time. We actually got our barrels for $20 each from the local car wash. They receive them filled with soap so we cleaned them out and installed our spigots towards the bottom. We also used a silicon to seal around the spigot to prevent water leakage. One thing that we did because we have a lot of trees nearby is to put the hose from the downspout to pour over the top hole and then covered that hole with some screen we bought. That way no leaves, debris or mosquitos get into our barrels.

  19. Nice idea! A lot of us ‘oldies’ have been doing this for longer than most of your readers have been alive. Hee hee! Actually the only thing I do differently is, instead of investing money for the hose kit etc., I just use a small bucket to take out the water I need. That’s a cheaper alternative especially if a) your garden is really close to the rain barrel and b) your garden ..or flower beds…are rather small. 🙂 You can actually just collect water by leaving the top of your container open. If you find the water’s getting kinda ‘gunky’ from moss growth or insects, that’s not really a problem if you’re just using it for watering plants. You can always skim that off the top and discard if you want though.

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  22. A lovely disguise: place chicken wire around the barrel and allow vines/plants to grow on and/or around it.

  23. I have been wanted to do a rain barrel. Thanks for the info. Do we need to add anything to the water to keep it “clean”? I can just see that water getting murky maybe before we get to use the entire barrel full. Any thoughts?

  24. I made a rain barrel system out of a garbage can where my downspout from the roof drained into the garbage can. I had a bunch of garden hose so instead of wasting the extra water I put another rain barrel in my garden at the end at the yard, with the overflow from the first barrel running to the second barrel. It rains a lot here on Vancouver Island, so I definitely need to get another one or two barrels for the winter. I had a total of about 80 gallons, and I use them up within two weeks watering my garden every evening. The only problem I had with this rain barrel system, was getting the drainage properly feeding into the back barrel. I did not have enough height but thankfully my husband had an extra sump pump kicking around and we use that to move the water to the back rain barrel. Now is strange as it sounds I’m waiting for it to rain again.

  25. Going to try this. We don’t live to far away from Michigan (just across the pond) in Canada. I need to get some kind of timer on this idea for when we are away. Checking Pinterest like crazy to get lots of ideas for planning the garden. Found this tip and it is awesome. thanks

  26. This is really cool! I’m just wondering if there’s anything you need to do to prevent Mosquitos from propagating in the water. We have terrible Mosquitos in Florida!

  27. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article plus the rest of
    the website is also really good.

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  28. We have been wanting to do this but we were dreading it because of the price of the barrels. Thank you for that find!
    I want to put 2 connected barrels (one extra for the overflow). We forgot to shut off the water one day and we didn’t noticed until our neighbor said he shut it off aftrr seeing we had a new lake in our yard. Still waiting for the bill…. definitely a good investment for us LOL

  29. A water butt or rain barrel is pretty standard for UK gardeners. It’s not considered hippy, it’s just common sense. Rain water is just better for plants than treated mains water.

    Water collection is encouraged by councils because it reduces consumption. Strange that some US states make it illegal, but maybe it’s because you have some serious droughts. You’d think that would make water collection a good thing. Water is a right not a commodity for making money.

    Cool project though. Hope your garden is going well. And I really must sort out a water butt for our shed 🙂

  30. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on bblogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It will always be helpful to read articles frpm other writers and practice a little something from other web sites.

  31. Thanks for this inspiration. I definitely want to try one, and I love the idea of painting it to blend in with the buildings.
    How much pressure do you get out of the hose? I would have thought you’d need the barrel to be higher to get some pressure.

  32. I love the idea and design. I don’t know if many people do this, but I sat down and did the numbers to see what 58 gallons of water costs me. Comes to $ 0.46. So even if I was able to set up a 58 gallon barrel for $20 it would take little over 43 barrels of water to equate the cost to set it up. This does not include the cost of the extra time involved in storage, moving, and utilizing the barrel. This is at our city’s rate of $5.90 per 100 cubic feet of water. So check you own cities rates if it’s higher or lower and see if you are really saving any money or just making a fashion statement.

  33. Bruno Parsons says:

    I love the idea but have a question with one design aspect… Assuming you already have rain gutters all around your house, how would you tie this into the system so that you collected water from a downspout, but also that when the barrel was full your water drained properly into the drainage system and not just flooded by your house? Water pooling around the foundation is a problem where I live (northern California) as we get large quantities of water often in storms.

  34. What type of drill, and what sized bit did you use to put the hole in the downspout? I’m almost illiterate when it comes to power tools so feel free to be detailed.

  35. Chelsea, I hit the jackpot. My neighbor cleared out some of their woods and found 4 blue barrels in the woods. She gave me two of them. Now, just to follow your instructions and get them set up.

  36. I have 7 right now – $10 each from a local cookie factory. Three on the back of the garage/shop are full but need a spigot replaced. The wind howls across these fields and the 2 on the front of the garage blew over before filling – they will be set up again on the east side where it’s more sheltered. Still deciding where to put the remaining two. Sounds like overkill but I have 2 acres, veggie gardens, a small greenhouse and a lot of baby trees.

  37. Hope you get good use from it, I used 330 gal IBC totes.
    I suggest you put a strap on it to protect from knock over.

  38. You don’t really need gutters for a rain barrel. Google RainSaucers and you will find out. We have a 310 gallon rain barrel connected to gutters and also a 65 gallon barrel connected to a saucer, which fills up surprisingly fast. Our barrels are black to help inhibit algae growth. There is also the possibility of leaching from the blocks it is mounted on, so a barrier like a thin metal sheet is advisable. My husband is now working on a soaker hose system for my three raised beds using the 300 gallon rain barrel. Low pressure soaker hoses are available, and we are investigating these now.

  39. I live in Australia and in the country we don’t have mains water so water tanks are our only source of water. We currently have 3 x 5000 gallon water tanks connected to our house to be used as you would used mains water. We collect rain water from our house roof as well as our shed/barn. We can taste the difference between our tank water – it tastes clean while mains water tastes dirty and smells of chemicals.

  40. Might want to check the rules in your municipality. Here in Colorado, we’re technically not supposed to use rain barrels because they’re (get this) illegal. That’s right. Illegal. The water that falls off our roofs does not belong to us, but to those peeps downstream from us. The wonderfully complicated world of Water Rights will mess you up just by looking sideways! I learned this a few years ago after I had purchased (yes, I know) a nice rain barrel from Ace Hardware and was all stoked to use it on my little flower garden that got scorched on the south side of the house. We have enough monsoon afternoon rain showers during mid-summer that I could make good use of the barrel during the drier months. Until someone… rained on my parade. (Yup, had to say it)
    So the nice purchase is still in its box in the garage and will be moving with us late this fall… and there it will be hidden in the back yard behind a fence and made useful… finally. I may keep it neutral tan so it blends in with the color of the house. 🙂 Plan on making a drip line system with it, but not with a soaker hose as it won’t have the water pressure needed, more likely with a regular nylon hose with holes pricked in it. Should work great for the flowers.

  41. I want a garden this year and would really like to do this. Need to save on water bill, plus really think a good idea, eco friendly

  42. It looks like your barrel is a sealed one……how did you install the spigot?
    Thanks, Nancy
    Aka: late to the party!☺️

  43. Margarita says:

    I noticed that you have connected a hose (the green one) at the barrel. but I dont understand how it works without the water pressure. Did you put also a water pump?.

    P.S. I hope you understand my poor english.

    Thank you for your reply.

  44. Very creative, in my area, people are advised not to use rainwater from the roof. Because they contain many toxins. They are only used to irrigate plants.

  45. Rick Yount says:

    I am going to do this, but I have a “stupid” question. Did your blue barrel have a removable lid? If not, how did you install the spigot at the bottom of the barrel? I have five barrels just like the blue, but I believe the top is sealed. My only access is two small openings on top.

  46. I have the same question that Margarita asked you back in June, how is the water pressure that comes from the hose? I would like to install one of these on the garage and possibly the house to help supplement with watering my plants and grass, but the one thing I am not getting is how you water with a hose with any sort of water pressure. If anyone has an answer to this it would be much appreciated! Thanks. 🙂

  47. This a cool idea, I never thought like that. It will really help me when I need extra water for use. thanks a lot for sharing this amazing idea.

  48. I read out the article and you wrote it details with the pictures, I really appreciate your effort. Thanks for sharing this amazing post.

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