Conserve Water by Harvesting Rainwater: How to Make a Rain Barrel

Simple, homemade rain barrels harness one of nature's most basic and valuable resources, reducing water costs and stormwater runoff.

| March/April 2007

  • In this larger, 12-barrel configuration, a downspout pours into the top of the first barrel and then fills each barrel equally from the bottom up.
    Carol Steinfeld
  • Once used for making wine and spirits, oak barrels offer Old World charm, though they can be heavy and usually require plugging a too-high bunghole and drilling a new one for your spigot. Try local wineries and distilleries or Kentucky Barrels (
  • Place your rain barrel's inlet drain directly below your home's downspouts for easy collection.
    Carol Steinfeld
  • Laurie Gates uses a 50-gallon plastic barrel previously used to transport pickles from Europe.
    Carol Steinfeld
  • The Save-the-Rain Diverter is a downspout insert that you flip closed when the rain barrel is full. Available from Gaiam (
    Carol Steinfeld
  • Once used for making wine and spirits, oak barrels offer Old World charm, though they can be heavy and usually require plugging a too-high bunghole and drilling a new one for your spigot. Try local wineries and distilleries or Kentucky Barrels (
    Carol Steinfeld
  • Rain barrels easily can be attached to long drip-irrigation lines for gardens and yards.
    Carol Steinfeld
  • At this home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, rainwater is pumped from a series of 12 plastic, 50-gallon barrels to an elevated 100-gallon tank.
    Carol Steinfeld
  • If you're planning to drain your rain barrel with a spigot, not a pump, elevating it as much as possible increases water pressure.
    Carol Steinfeld

If you ever worry about your home’s water consumption, take heart: Some of the cleanest mineral- and chlorine-free water arrives free to most homes. Rain barrels are a fabulous, relatively inexpensive and easy way to harness this most basic of nature’s resources.

Rainwater can be used for watering lawns and gardens, filling swimming pools, washing cars and pets, rinsing windows, and even bathing and drinking (if it’s filtered and treated). Using rainwater reduces water costs, takes a load off water supplies and reduces stormwater runoff, helping prevent flooding and erosion. That’s a big environmental bang for your buck.

Rainwater harvesting is catching on across the country. In Texas, people have installed thousands of fiberglass, plastic and galvanized steel cisterns in homes and public facilities to supplement lawn watering (which accounts for as much as 40 percent of home water use). Outside Boston, watershed protection programs promote underground rain-collection tanks that allow big storage capacity under driveways. For indoor use, rainwater usually is pumped, run through a particle filter, and either carbon filtered or disinfected. In Colorado and some other Western states where most water is subject to water-rights laws, the only sure legal way to use rainwater is to water lawns and gardens. All other uses require permission from the state water resources agency.

Rain Barrel Basics

Unlike water pumped from the ground, rainwater is soft; it contains no minerals that leave calcium scale or residues, no sodium and no chlorine or fluoride. However, it can carry debris, bird excrement and anything else that washes off a roof. During storage, bacteria and insects can proliferate in standing water. Users can manage this easily by topping barrels with screens and using their water supply frequently, which keeps the water moving and aerated.

To store rainwater, rain barrels and cisterns are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. An easy option is a sturdy trash barrel or a food-grade, plastic, 55-gallon barrel available from food importers and processors. Either dip a bucket or watering can in the opening of the barrel or outfit it with a spigot and overflow drain.

Rain Barrels 101

>Here’s what you should know about creating and maintaining a rainwater collection system.

Deborah Leas
3/14/2013 5:06:11 PM

Could not agree with you more, Jackie ~~ thanx for your great comments!

Jackie Negrete
3/14/2013 3:29:07 AM

FYI: The Bats found in Canada and the US eat most of those insects we consider to be a problem. They eat many insects that eat our lovely vegetables, and ones that feed on us. Just one bat can eat up to 1200 mosquito-sized insects each hour! Now that's effective echolocation. Invest in a few bat houses and kiss pesky insects good-bye! Taken from Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats.

Jackie Negrete
3/14/2013 3:13:12 AM

Please install bat houses instead of worrying about pesky bugs that invade your rain barrel!!! this fellow mammal will go extinct if we don't change anything from what many of us are doing now! To find out more, visit the above sites or books.

Subscribe today and save 58%

Get the latest on Healthy Living and Natural Beauty!

Mother Earth LivingRedefine beauty and embrace holistic living with Mother Earth Living by your side. Each issue  provides you with easy, hands-on ways to connect your life with the natural world -- from eating seasonally to culinary and medicinal uses of herbs; from aromatherapy and DIY cosmetics to yoga and beyond. Start your journey to holistic living today and you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter