Introduction: Gutterless Rain Barrel - a "Drain Barrel"

Picture of Gutterless Rain Barrel - a "Drain Barrel"

I wanted to share instructions on how to build a "drain barrel" for those of you who may not have gutters on your house.  This project is most useful for those of us who have a clearly-defined gouge in our wood chips where the water pours off the roof.

Step 1:

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Purchase three cedar decking boards and screw them together in the shape of a trough. Seal all joined edges with a clear silicone caulk.

Step 2:

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Obtain containers in which the capture the rainwater; it would be best to find containers with about a 2" opening.

Step 3:

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Line up the containers and measure the distance between the center of the containers' openings. Leave about 1/2" per container for expansion.  Measure the diameter of the container's opening and use a hole saw (attached to the drill) to make holes in the trough.

Step 4:

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Purchase a 10' length of PVC pipe. It should be slightly less in diameter than your hole. Count the number of holes and divide evenly. Cut the PVC into equal lengths.  Purchase a narrowing PVC conduit to glue to the top of your pipes.  Drill two holes in the widest part of the conduit and use a miter saw to remove the material between the holes. This will make a slit to help drain the water into the pipe and ultimately into your container.

Step 5:

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Construct some simple "feet" to attach to the ends of the trough. If you drill a hole in the middle of the end of the trough, you will be able to swivel the trough up-side-down on the lag bolt to prevent snow from weighing the trough down during the winter.  Dig a hole on both ends for the "feet", level the trough, and add concrete to prevent the structure from moving during a hard rain.

Step 6:

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Rake the area under the trough so that you can remove the containers easily. Insert the PVC pipe, and add metal menders if you like to ensure the container's slit stays level with the trough. When it rains, the water will be directed from the trough, into the PVC pipe and then into your container.  When the container is full, lift the PVC pipe out of the mouth of the container, remove the container, and water your plants.  When the container is empty, put it back under the trough and slip the PVC pipe back down into the mouth of the container.  If you like, you can purchase a rain barrel with which to pour the full containers.


devbert (author)2014-08-03

Here's an idea, why not use a real gutter in place of the wood trough, a ten foot section with end caps is only about $10. That would save the cost of the lumber and silicone. It's just a thought, thanks for sharing your cool idea!

CormacF (author)devbert2016-07-09

duh! some houses are governed by lords of the land or HOAs that have the stupidest rules for attaching gutters to the houses (or leaving trash cans outside your gate for more than a day, but that's another article). I'm sure this person thought of that before building. who knows? maybe this is a project for those that are afraid of heights?

carmp3fan (author)CormacF2016-11-07

@CormacF Devbert didn't say to hang the gutter, he said to use it instead of the wood.

teddlesruss (author)carmp3fan2017-10-17

I think guttering is for the win - saves making guttering. Also easier to make the spouts to go to the rain collectors, you could use PVC cement to glue some 3" lengths in place.

teddlesruss (author)teddlesruss2017-10-17

PS: I'm thinking the white PVC guttering not the metal kind.

Uncannie1 (author)2016-12-19

What about using empty milk containers or cat litter containers? This might work well for my greenhouse, running line (like used for refrigerators) to each area of the plant area would water them. A simple clip would cut the water until you're ready to water the plants. I have a piece of gutter... and plenty of cat litter containers and refrigerator water line. Hurry up spring!

purecajn (author)2015-05-28

the only problem with this build is that all containers must be removed and stored before algae begins to grow due to their being frosted. Using a container that doesn't allow the sunshine thru will help prevent this problem. Also remember to screen the top to help prevent debre and mosquitos.

JON-A-TRON (author)2014-11-06


wolfgang64 (author)2014-08-03

Please can you tell me what kind of containers you used and where you got them?

by the way very nice.

Judycol87 (author)wolfgang642014-08-07

try your local ice cream stand I get mine 3 for $1.00

Judycol87 (author)2014-08-07

I have containers just like this!! I get mine from my local ice cream stand 3 for $1.00. they are old oil jugs

WayneB1 (author)2014-08-03

FREAKING COOL!!!! I live in a double wide with a metal roof and was trying to figure out how to do this...THANK YOU...pure awesome!!!!

homer35805 (author)2014-08-03

Have you thought about any way to filter the water before it goes into the containers? Maybe a flow thru type arrangement filled with sand for a filter? I know sand is still used as a primary filtering mechanism in many water systems in the US. Other than that, great idea to keep beds from being washed out and capturing rainfall for drinking or just watering...

fahrradtraegertest (author)2014-08-01

Nice water collector

CurtosNoirDesign (author)2014-08-01

This is very clever! Love it

jzimbler (author)2014-08-01

I think i would be using really big wide funnels on each container to catch the rain then i can wash the funnels out .... and know the water is as clean as it could be beyond a leaf, or a bug or a bird that enjoys flying and pooping while its raining

PaganRaven (author)2012-04-03

I really love this 'ible! You wouldn't believe how many houses in our area do not have guttering on them. Huzzah for this idea!

DanCrocker (author)2012-03-26

Do you have an outflow set up in the event all of the containers fill up with runoff or does it just overflow the trough and run down the sides?

DanCrocker (author)2012-03-26

Those with shake roofs should be careful what they use the collected water for. Shakes are impregnated with chemicals to resist moss buildup and rot and those chemicals could potentially leach out into your water.

CatTrampoline (author)2012-03-14

Perfect!! I wanted to install rainbarrels when we moved, but none of the houses we looked at had gutters (I guess that is a Texas thing?). this is much more affordable than adding gutters to the house.

AngloTeacher (author)2012-01-03

Love it! *Fave*

Cheap. Easy to construct. Depending on how clean your roof (water source) is, you could tip the water into an earthen filtering urn inside and drink the rainwater too. This is my plan... always clean and fresh drinking water off grid.

jlterrell (author)2011-09-24

Great idea! Thank you so much.

ToLiCo (author)2011-09-23

What about wind?

Utahtabby (author)2011-02-18

If you notice in the original posting, he can't use regular gutters because the water drips through the edges of what I am guessing is a wood shake or ceramic tile roof. We have the same problem, put up gutters and of course the rain runs through the cracks between our cedar wood shakes and never makes it to the gutters in the first place. Waste of time and money. So this idea works well for wood shake roofs.

swilcoxon (author)Utahtabby2011-06-05

I suspect his roof needs drip edge flashing installed. It's sheet metal that goes under the shingles, guiding water away from the edge of the roof and providing a straight drip edge over the gutters. It also prevents the edge of the roof from rotting.

Also, it's possible to pump from a ground-level barrel up to a higher container. There are a number of ways to pump; an electric water pump is an obvious solution, but it can also be done with an aquarium air pump or a windmill-driven pump.

gemtree (author)2010-12-02

A friend of mine discovered plastic food containers being sold at donut shops for $1-2 a bucket from 2-5 gallon buckets, with lids. They hold icing and donut fillings. Some are round and some are square buckets. These could be used as the containers underneath by using a hole saw on the lid and positioning buckets below and attaching with pvc connectors. Using the outer dimension of the pvc as the hole size in the wood, then caulk the pvc to the wood trough. You could use the smaller buckets if you can't lift the larger ones when they are full.

To keep out insects, caulk, glue or silicon a mesh across the tops of the pvc holes.

Skylerk (author)2010-09-10

Wow what a creative solution if you don't have gutters or downspouts on your house. Not exactly appealing but the name is pretty creative. But as skylane said it would be best to use HTPE plastic because of its' durability in outside conditions. Debris could be a problem though. But I use traditional rain barrels with a rainreserve diverter which lets the debris fall through the downspout, found at

meralgia (author)2010-05-13

As of the date when this item was built, I've stockpiled over 200 gallons of rainwater!  I purchased three 55-gallon steel barrels with lids and locks and simply dump water from the 5-gallon containers into them.  Locking the lids down ensures that the mosquitos can't breed in the container (but unfortunately they can breed in the water that collects in the recessed lid).
Sure, a "regular" gutter system might have worked as efficiently, but the traditional rain barrels also don't have enough pressure to water our 2.5' raised bed garden.

I developing a water-delivery system whereby I can connect the 5-gallon containers full of water to the soaker hose in the raised bed garden.  Ironically, I can't test the system until it stops raining!  ;)

tbcross (author)2010-05-07

If you are worried about leaves or "rodent stew" hardware cloth is an easy fix. A bit over the openings would allow you to scoop out any obstructions without them entering your water cans. Just a thought I'd offer an idea (years of raising chickens has made me very familiar with hardware cloth) :) great idea may be assembling one in the future thanks!!!

rhoula (author)2010-04-30

I tried similar container unfortunately they are not very strong. I had a Restaurant for 11 years and was collecting this jugs. But when they get exposed to the elements especially the sun they start cracking.

Don't get me wrong the idea is excellent but you have to find a better and stronger materiel.

Thank you for the great Instructable. Very smart idea :)

Valster (author)rhoula2010-05-03

You're right about the containers.  You could substitute a bunch of 2 gallon watering cans (bought on sale, of course).  They'd be easy to handle and last for years.

Great instructable!

Eye Poker (author)2010-05-02

Always make sure you have a good lid  system on an open rain barrel.  I once had an in ground water cache and a small animal got into it and couldn't get out.  Cleaning out 3 month old animal stew was quite the traumatic experience.

joyalove (author)2010-04-25

 I love this idea, there is no way that I can handle the size or weight of the large rain barrels. Even empty rain barrels are hard to handle, and transport home without a truck or van. Forget ordering them on line by time you pay for shipping you can't afford the barrel.

meralgia (author)joyalove2010-04-25

Thanks for your comment!  After the few rains we've had this season, I've been able to empty the containers into (and completely fill) TWO 55-gallon barrels.  I've filled them completely and put the lids on them for dipping into on future dry days.  I've enhanced the functionality of the catching containers and will probably submit it in the gardening instructables contest on Wednesday.  ;)  Stay tuned!

usmmjenny (author)2010-04-15

Very creative, but I would have just installed a French drain, and maybe a rain barrel. 

meralgia (author)2010-04-08

good question.  we have a tree that overhangs the roof, and the gutters would need to be cleared out every Spring.

woodNfish (author)meralgia2010-04-11

 I have trees that dump leaves into my gutters too, and I have them cleaned out twice a year or they get clogged.

This is a creative solution, especially if you don't like heights like me. Other than its appearance (which could be hidden with a hedge, or even a nice garden of bush beans, I see two other issues with your system that anyone thinking of building it might consider.

1. During a hard rain the velocity of the water coming off your roof may fall beyond your catch basin, and if it is also windy, as is often the case during rain storms, the wind may well disperse most of the water before it reaches your catch basin.

2. DIY gutters emptying into barrels may actually be less expensive and won't suffer from the problems listed in 1, but you will have  to most likely have to clean them out at least once a year. You can buy both vinyl and aluminum guttering from the home centers in the USA, and it is not expensive. In fact it probably cost less for an equivalent length of your system, is light weight and water tight, and you can often find the blue plastic food-grade barrels on Craig's List for free or very little money.

Also, there is a reason for traditional - it is often the best method.

deladybex (author)2010-04-10

Now this is a good idea a bit of work to enpyt the containers but good for plants and washing the car etc. I will rememebr this to share for those who may want this idea.

c2builder (author)2010-04-09

I like your original design but I also think some of the reviewers have made some valuable points. I hope you'll play with some of their comments and re-publish your work. 

I've never before thought I needed to trap water but I'm only now beginning an
effort to somehow reduce the water consumption at my house. Your project is
thought provoking. Thanks!


tomasina (author)2010-04-09

love the idea!.......we do not have gutters.......seeing your instructible has helped me get an idea for what would work in front of our house........thank you

someone commented about "curb appeal".......for those who care about that sort of about a hinged board to hide the plastic bottles?........would make a nice border.........and plants could be set on top
of the short gutter to get watered........and look pretty

i like the idea of the gutter being @ an angle and draining into one separate
container.......and a hose coming off of the container to water the garden.....or whatever
good instructible....tu

wantsum (author)2010-04-08

Would'nt make more sense to spend your money on a traditional guttering system and water bowser to catch the rainwater?

dfc849 (author)wantsum2010-04-08

Key word traditional. This is a DIY community and most people here keep it unique and simple. I'm guessing some of the materials were also already available, and I'm always looking at ways to save money. 

Otherwise, great instructable, meralgia! I love the idea of having separate containers and how you built the collector

woodNfish (author)2010-04-08

 So, what do you think that does to your curb appeal?

pleabargain (author)2010-04-08

Very clever! You could also scale up the installation to include more containers, one overflowing into the next. You could have quite a thermal heat/cold sink as well. Or better, run the line/stacks along a fence in the backyard/fence whatever... very interesting idea! I wish I had the space to test it!

skylane (author)2010-04-08

Nice instructable!  Easy to carry containers.  so much more convenient for moving your watter.

 Be careful with the containers that you use.
I have a few dozen containers that look exactly like the above.
When left exposed to the sun, the plastic will become very brittle.
You grab the handle, lift, and then.. CRACK!  
The handle comes right off.
HDPE (high density polypropelene) containers will hold up to the sun for several years, based on my experience.

HEY YOU (author)2010-04-08

Nicely Done

If you have access to a barrel, you can divert water off your "gutter-less" roof with a simple "L" shaped piece of tin and collect this water.

Check out

Installing a Rain Diverter.

Place the barrel high enough to put one of the smaller containers underneath when you want to use the water without lugging the Big Barrell around.

I appreciate your design, it is just a bit too big for my situation.


Scammah (author)2010-04-03

How fast do these fill up compared to the traditional rain barrels?

ironsmiter (author)Scammah2010-04-03

slightly slower. but evaporation losses would be minimized also, with the smaller openings compared to the screen topped rain barrels.

If you're thinking of replacing a traditional rain barrel, you'll want to cover the top of the unit wit a mesh also, to keep insects and leaves out of your water.

The main advantage I see ini this design is, it's easier to move the full containers to where you need them, rather than having to run garden hoses from the barrel to wherever. Especially on larger properties. Just load the containers onto the tractor, or into the pickup, etc. Much easier than trying to move that 450+lbs. rain barrel.

ShadowJesus (author)2010-04-02

nice reuse of those plastic containers!

About This Instructable



Bio: I sit at my desk at the clinic for six hours a day; often, during the middle of the day, you can find me drawing ... More »
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