Build a 3 Drum Rain Collection System Better





Introduction: Build a 3 Drum Rain Collection System Better


I live down in south Louisiana & plant a vegetable garden every year.  Now even though my area is considered tropical, we do have dry periods. Watering my garden  from the tap hinders the growth because of the
chemical and algae inhibiters that they add to make it drinkable (potable). (not to mention what the "crooks" at the water dept. want to charge you!!) Any nursary or avid gardener will tell you that tap water is not the best thing for your garden.  When it would rain my garden shoots up 4 inches overnight!! (dramatization) So I began searching for a way to capture and store all the free water i wanted. After looking at project after project I found that IpodGuy's stacked system was the best one for me...(with some improvements of course!!)


I looked at plenty of designs that used the vertical placement method. you'd better set aside a lot of landscape to set up that way.  but with all of them you have to drill vent holes or cut large fill holes & I didn't want to destroy my drums like that. With the stacked system there is no pumping needed. Everything is gravity fed. (and pretty good pressure to boot)

SO HERE WE GO..........

First of all let me clarify for the grammer nuts: these drums are layed horizontally, & stacked vertically.

Here are some of the changes I made from Ipodguy's design:

1) simpler design and easier to build.(approx. a 12 pk. job) A horizontal "stacked" system takes up much less space than placing them side by side vertically. Great if you don't have much room to spare. (go up rather than out!)

2) I removed the tilt of the barrels. Unless you cut/drill vent holes in each of the barrels, they will only fill to about 75%. I want to utilize the maximum amount of storage from these three drums. Being level, they should fill to about 95%, plus if I decide to dismantle the system and use the barrels for something else, I have that option since I haven't rendered them useless by cutting or drilling holes in them.

3) I changed the installation to a much less permanent one. Instead of digging holes and cementing it in, I will mount the system on concrete blocks (think i pd. $2.59 each for them).
in case i need to move the system or use the drums for another purpose.

4) I implemented the "cradle" design which makes the drums part of the supporting structure. This way I do not have to use 4x4's to bear the weight of three full drums. The 2x4 legs are basically there to hold the whole thing together and for bracing.

5) rather than use expensive (and hard to cut) 4x4's....I used 2x4's. It is still as strong as a 4x4. Its just the reinforcement that matters.

6) kept metal out of the system completely. (which doesn't matter if used for rainwater anyways)(comes in handy if i need to convert this to my SHTF fresh water supply. (yep...i'm somewhat of a doomsday prepper)

With the horizontal mount you don't have to worry about cutting uneeded extra holes in your barrels therefore destroying them. The top drum vents the entire system via the hose connections (see video) as well as making the whole thing essentially one tank.

Once again, this doesn't involve any cutting of the barrels that basically render it useless if you decide to dismantle it & use them for something else down the road.


First of all I cut my cradles that will be used to support the barrels. i simply traced the outline of the drum and cut from there. I cut ten of these. With this design i should (and that a very strong word) should be able to stack three for my system.


I used 2x4's for the legs. Now you might think this may be a bit flimsy for supporting 3 filled 55 gallon drums (approx 500lbs each.) but the cradle pieces between the drums are part of the support themselves. The 2 x 4's are basically there to hold the system together. (of course....I'll test it to just to make sure)

step 3
Assembling the system and installing the drums. the plywood on the sides is for bracing, eliminating any sway from front to back. The cradles will brace any side to side sway.
I will also test the system to ensure that the cradle system & 2x4's will handle the weight.


Pretty much adding the plumbing to the drums. My drums had threaded bungs on both sides which made this design possible.
I found these nifty little gray 3/4" NPT angle fittings that connect the drums at Highs (lowes). They do the trick nicely and only cost about $0.89 each. (much cheaper than brass hose fittings)


Testing the system. I filled the water on the top drum and it vented nicely down to the next two drums. the video shows one of the connector tubes as the water traveled down and the venting process occured at the same time. performed rather well, i think!


Finished system. The drums as well as the 2x4's supported the weight nicely. I can now drain it & disassemble it so i can treat the 2x4's as well as paint it.
I will add the inlet from the gutters later, but it will simply pipe my gutter to the upper hole on the top drum...(see...still no cutting of the drums!!)


almost complete with the rebuild. purchased treated wood and treated it once more myself. added the t-fittings
Rebuild complete...and just in time for the rain!! Here is a video of the system filling from the rainwater.



UPDATE ON THE UPDATES....  After about a half inch of rain yesterday and collecting only about 20% from the gutters my system has filled to capacity! I may keep the crude collection system because you do not want the rainwater entering the system at a rate thats too fast for it to settle to the bottom drum (gets top heavy) I guess it all depends on how much rain you actually get. if you only get a half inch or so every month, you may want to collect every drop you can, but I'm in a rather tropical area, so its not as critical for me here.
thanks for all the comments and suggestions. most of them i will implement into the system to better it. Its no secret.....this is a dual purpose unit. I am a doomsday prepper and this will be used as my freshwater source if the SHTF. But until then it will make an excellent vegetable garden water provider. Also a suggestion was made about piping the top holes together and the bottom holes together for easier fill during heavy rains. This is an excellent idea. Another person commented on the amount of sediment, dirt, bird fecal matter and general BS&W that washes off of the roof. Not a problem if your just watering your garden, Big problem if you are reclaiming for drinking.....YUCCHHH!!!  Soooo.....i added a small riser to the inside of my gutters outlet. this prevents any heavies from entering the system. a good suggestion is to let it rain a few minutes before you connect your collector. LET THE CRAP RINSE OFF OF THE ROOF

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81 Discussions

Nice work! Now time to bring some laziness in your master piece. Presently you are sitting next to your work and redirect the pipes when the barrels are full. Instead, add an overflow pipe near the top of the funnel. When everything is full the overflow pipe will send the extra water in the regular gutter. And you don't have to stay there to change the pipe setting. Now you can enjoy the nice deserved break.

Hi. I want to make this system myself. My husband is too busy with his full time job and our Apiary. I’m looking for a complete list of the materials you used. Would you be able to send that to me at I have off this week for spring break and hope to do this then. Thank you. Lauren

very interested in this but does anyone know a quick and safe way to make this ok for my family to drink? trying to find ways to simplify my life while still providing for my children without making them ill.

1 reply

You can try talking to a home water filtration place that sells R/O Systems and adding a Ultraviolet Light to kill the pathogens. Keep it simple and down to one tap for drinking or cooking and it should work great for you,

lperkins is right about checking for your local regulations; it is illegal in Colorado to catch the rain water, even if you don't have a well or aren't attached to "city water". They have a lot of other "rules" about water, it is VERY regulated in this state.

Cajundood where abouts in the south are you? Im a prepper too and I'm about two hours from Baton Rouge close to Tx border.

What's insane is they don't want use to catch and use our own water, and they pollute every chance they get with pesticides, chat from mines, and even the water company puts monocloranine and fluoride in your water and tell you it's ok. Well if fluoride is ok then why does it say on toothpaste that even if you swollen a pea sized amount to call poison control and they tell you it's good for teeth which it's not! Something stinks about that!!

Thank God here in Louisiana we can still catch and keep water. Some states have gone nazi and won't let you. And if you use a berkey black element it's purifies and filters the water

Nifty design! :)

Be sure to check local regulations and whether or not you own the water rights to your property. (Yes, stupid as it sounds in some places it's illegal to catch rain water.)

1 reply

If you paint the barrels black, it will make the water real hot if there out in the sun

instead of useing the clear tubing, I was thinking of using black to prevent alge growth and to gain the sight glass use a sight glass with a filter off an old diesel tractor. The filter could be changed once a year to keep the water clean kinda like you would keep the fuel clean on the tractor. any Ideas ?

Due to runoff, bacteria & animals - I recommend setting up a little Different with 2 (55) Gallons on top of Each Other & Advanced Filters - 4 Pair of them Which will Purify & Filter all Water -Remove all Contaminants,Bacteria,Viruses, Cyst & More!! Can be Used For Rain Catchment and or Disaster Relief of Both!! For more info about this. Message me for more Info!! Can Email info Private!!

I got an empty barrel from my workplace which was previously full of windshield washer fluid. I rinsed it out, stood it up and then cut the lid out so I can dip a watering can in for the rain water which works great for watering my mini garden, super simple, ez set up. Only problem is the algae that grows and grows as the summer goes along. Should I do something about the algae, if so what, or just not worry about it at all.

Wow Cajun! Thanks for your hard work! A few ideas here:

1- Angle the end of the rain gutter track down slightly and integrate a screen that feeds into a 6"+ diameter vertical pipe that runs the height of the house. Provide so that overflow can still travel past the screen and down the regular rain gutter. Thread the bottom of the 6" pipe with a large cap for easy system evacuation. This is your overflow that doubles as a catch for the first several gallons of pollutants per storm. Tap into the vertical pipe near the top with your 1" main feed.

2- Link the bottom vents of each barrel together (in the same manner shown) and connect them to your main feed. Link the top vents of each barrel together using a separate hose system that vents to a point higher than your main feed hose. Screen this vent against insects. Rotating each barrel 1 degree will make for 2 separate straight feeds and still allow 94% drainage from each barrel.

This eliminates bubbles in the system, sludge from storms, excessive fill rates, and will fill the bottom barrel first. evacuate the overflow pipe and check the gutter screen after each storm.

Fantastic design!

I have finally gotten around to building this system with a few modifications (and much more grude craftmanship...). I'll be posting my own step-by-step as well.

I'm wondering what you ended up doing for the diverter? From the looks of it, your top barrels' inlet is about the same height as your roof, which doesn't seem to work well with most of the diverters on the market.

I bought this one, but my downspout angles toward the house 2 inches down and where it connects to the long feed to the ground is well below the top of the barrels... ideas?

Evidently, it's now OK to use the water God sends your way in Colorado. Here's the link to an article in the NY Times:
Great instructable! Very clear and concise.o

Could you put an "L" connector on the top bung of the top barrel with a short piece of pipe on the upper side of the "L" as an overflow? Short piece of pipe
would extend above the top of the barrel so the top barrel would fill all the way.

I'd be interested to know what the water pressure is at the spigot. Do you have a water pressure gauge by any chance?

1 reply

i'd like to know the water pressure myself. if i ever get a hold to a guage i'll hook it up and update eveyone on what kind of pressure i got.

I have been looking at your tubing and am wondering, does this fill from the bottom barrel up? It looks like water would just flow down the tube and not go into a barrel until it ran into a blockage and had to go into the barrel.