Homemade Rain Barrel DIY Project
Learn how to make your own homemade rain barrel out of a garbage can and a few simple materials and always have a source of off-grid water on hand!
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We have the good fortune to live on Vancouver Island. On the west coast of Canada. Where it rains. A lot.
In fact, we actually live in a temperate rainforest. It might not necessarily look like it because so much of the land has been developed in various ways, but luckily there’s still a lot of forested area around us, and in the fall, winter and spring, it tends to get pretty wet.
People here complain about that because, well, people like to complain about everything, not least of all the rain. But come summer, everybody raves about how lush and green everything is.
Naturally, as a gardener, the spring rains are more than welcome, and around here we tend to take it for granted because we get so much of it that by summer we’re used to having a surplus of water in our rivers, reservoirs and deep in the ground warding off the worst effects of summer drought. The only problem is, that rain isn’t so predictable anymore.
The climate is changing and every year we’re experiencing drier weather, longer droughts, more wildfires and a longer wildfire season. This also means campfire bans, air quality advisories and water restrictions, all of which we’re getting pretty used to around here.
But this year is off to an especially dry start already. In fact, this has been our driest spring ever, which means there’s even less water in our reservoirs. And on top of that, we’re dealing with a broken city water pipe that needs being repaired this week. And Murphy’s Law would have it that we just got put on city water a few months ago (we used to be part of a rural well system but the city limits are beginning to expand).
All of these things combined have led to us being put on Stage 4 water restrictions for the first time ever. For some perspective, Stage 4 is the most extreme level of water restrictions where we live. We’re already pretty used to being put on Stage 1, 2 and 3 restrictions in the summer, which includes no washing of cars, limited to no watering of lawns and even hand watering of vegetables and shrubs between certain hours only.
But Stage 4 means no watering at all. Bad news for gardeners, homesteaders and even commercial farmers (even farmers are not permitted to water their crops under Stage 4 water restrictions. The only exception is to use water for livestock drinking purposes).
We’re still allowed to use running water for drinking, cooking and sanitary purposes (within reason), but no watering of vegetable gardens or anything like that.
Luckily the restrictions are only set to last for 10 days and it’s supposed to be a fairly rainy week. But we still wanted to be prepared and figured this was a good push to get some rain barrels set up, just in case. We figured that even if it didn’t rain before the restrictions went into place, if we at least filled up a barrel with water from the hose, we’d have enough water to draw from during the restrictions.
Rain Barrels: Pre-Fab Vs. Homemade
We’ve been meaning to set up some rain barrels up for a while. Even though we’re not off-grid and, clearly, very much reliant on city water at the moment, we know it’s always a good idea to have emergency water on hand.
Now, you can buy rain barrels around here or online but they’re not cheap. Most of them cost around $85 – $100 or more per barrel. But really all you need is some sort of vessel to hold water. Which is how we came up with the idea of using garbage cans since we already had a couple extras we weren’t using.
If you don’t have plastic garbage bins on hand you can purchase one for less than you could buy a rain barrel for at your local hardware store, but if you have to purchase all of the parts, you should add up the cost and see if it makes more sense to just buy a water barrel or to make your own. In our case, we always have random parts and bits and pieces and scrap materials laying around so we were able to make this rain barrel for zero dollars out-of-pocket.
I am, of course, very lucky (and grateful!) to have such a handy, handsome husband who can build and craft just about anything, and can pretty much figure out how to do it all in his head. But even so, this project is a pretty simple one to tackle even if you don’t consider yourself very handy.
My hubby, Ryan, was able to make this rain barrel in an afternoon and it’s working great! But again, you should weigh out the cost to you and the time it will take versus the cost of just purchasing a rain barrel. Some things are better and cheaper when they’re homemade, but it always depends on your situation and experience. (ie. I do NOT sew. I’ve tried, but the time it takes me to do a sub-par job is just not worth it for what I can purchase clothes, etc. for at the store).
As for how to use the rainwater you collect, be aware that the water is not potable, meaning it’s not safe to drink. If you’re looking for an off-grid or emergency drinking water system, there are filtration options such as this family water purifier. Also, be sure to check out this post on 10 Emergency Water Solutions for When the SHTF if you’re looking for more water preparedness ideas. But as for this DIY rain barrel, it’s best to use the water for things like watering your garden or for emergency sanitation purposes (ie. washing dishes, clothes, bathing, etc.)
Alright, now that I’ve got any “disclaimers” out of the way, here’s how we Ryan made our DIY garbage can rain barrel…
How to make your own homemade rain barrel
Step 1: Choose your location
For a rain barrel to work properly, it should be set up near the corner of your house where your drain pipe runs down from your gutters.
You’ll need to route your drain pipe into your rain barrel to filter the water into it from your gutter catchment system, so choose a corner of your house where there’s a drain pipe to set your rain barrel up.
Step 2: Make a stand for your rain barrel to sit on
While you could technically just put your rain barrel right on the ground, keeping it a couple feet up off the ground gives you the ability to add a spigot (tap) and have enough room to fit a watering can or bucket beneath it and allow the water to pour into it, so I recommend making or using a stand underneath your rain barrel.
Ryan built a two-foot tall stand out of scrap wood to prop our rain barrel up on because that’s what we had on hand, but you could use cinderblocks or bricks or really anything that is strong enough to hold the weight of your barrel when it’s full of water (at least 250 to 300 pounds on average for a standard size garbage can), and level so that the barrel sits flat and doesn’t tip or wobble.
Step 3: Route your drain pipe into the bin
Once you’ve set your stand up and put the garbage can on top of it, you’ll need to cut a hole in the lid and route the drain pipe from your gutter into the bin.
Ryan used a couple elbows to divert our drain pipe to where we wanted it to be, but you could also use a flexible drain pipe that you can bend and shape to where you want it to go.
Trace around the drain pipe on top of the lid and then cut the hole out with a utility knife. Do a test run to make sure the drain pipe fits in the hole, but keep the lid off until after step 5 as you’ll be adding a debris screen before the lid goes on.
Step 4: Add spigots
You’ll want a tap on your rain barrel for ease of use, as well as a tap to allow any excess water to flow out instead of having your barrel overflow from the top. Again, we had a couple spigots on hand for these purposes, but you can buy them at any hardware store or get them online here.
Cut a hole in the bottom of the barrel where the spigot will go. A ¾ inch hole should do for most standard spigots. Pop the spigot in the hole and then seal around the edge with silicone, pipe dough or rubber washers.
Drill another hole on the side of the barrel near the top and attach another spigot or a pipe for the overflow drain. (If using a spigot for the overflow, you’ll want to leave the tap open).
Attach a hose and route the hose to the original drain (or wherever you want any overflow water to go). This will help direct overflow water to where you want it to go and prevent water from spilling over the sides of the garbage can once it’s full.
Step 5: Add a debris screen
You’ll also want to add a screen to your rain barrel to prevent any leaves and debris from your gutter from entering your rain barrel, as well as to keep bugs out. This is especially important for bugs like mosquitoes that lay their eggs and hatch their larvae in still water. Even though you probably won’t be filtering and drinking this water, you certainly don’t want to be attracting a bunch of mosquitoes into your space!
Ryan cut the mesh out of an old window screen we had laying around. Of course, if you don’t live in a scarp yard like us, you can buy some window screen material and use that.
Rest the screen on top of the open barrel and then secure the lid on top and cut any excess screen material from around the edge, leaving a couple inches all the way around so that the screen is slightly larger in diameter than the barrel.
Fasten the lid onto the barrel and rout the drain pipe through the lid into the hole that you cut.
Step 6: Secure the barrel
This is an optional step, but it helps to make sure your rain barrel stays in place and doesn’t tip over or blow over if it’s not full enough.
Ryan fastened our barrel to the side of our house with plumbing banding to prevent it from tipping and spilling, however you could also run plumbing banding through the handles of the bin and fasten it right to the stand.
And that’s it! You’ve got yourself a rain barrel!
Having rain barrels on your property is a HUGE step toward self-sufficiency on any homestead and is pretty much a non-negotiable if you’re planning on going off-grid, but really everybody should have some sort of emergency water source for watering and sanitation purposes.
Because we (humans) use A LOT of water, and we often only think about storing water for drinking and maybe cooking with. But all it takes is a day without running water to reveal how much water we really do use in a day for everything from watering gardens to doing dishes and laundry to bathing, washing up and flushing toilets.
So even if you have no intentions of having to use water from a rain barrel, it never hurts to have one anyway. You just never know when you might need that water source, and you’ll definitely be glad to have it when you do.
Wishing you health, wealth and plenty of rain this spring!