Introduction: Green Rainwater

Picture of Green Rainwater

The Green Rainwater system is a simple but beautiful way to collect rainwater for use in your yard so that it need not go to waste. The best part: you can create it yourself. Water is one of, if not the most, precious of our natural resources, which is why I'm always looking for ways to conserve it, both in the houses I design and in my own home and garden.

That's why I love water catchment systems so much: they make it easy to collect rainwater and put it to good use in your yard where you don't actually need to use fresh water. While most houses don't have a catchment system built-in, almost all have downspouts that drain rainwater from the roof. So I have come up with a way for anyone who wants one to create their own water catchment system. It's simple, it's beautiful, and it can cut down on your utility bills, too! I call it a Green Rainwater system because using what might otherwise be wasted rainwater in place of fresh, potable water is a very eco-friendly solution and something we can all do to make less of an impact on our environment.

Step 1: Collect Materials

Picture of Collect Materials

For this project you'll need a few important materials, all listed below.

1. Barrels & Fittings: 'The barrels can be purchased from You will need to get at least two so you can stack them to create more storage and enough space for vines to grow up into. They will come with all the fittings you'll need. If you happen to buy barrels from elsewhere that don't come with fittings then you can pick them up while you're at the hardware store.

2. Wire Mesh: If you have leftover welded wire from a previous project then this is a great reuse for it. If not, then just stop into your local hardware store or go to an online to buy some. Two barrels stacked with brick or cinder blocks underneath will be around 3.5 feet tall so try to purchase wire a bit taller than that. Be sure the openings are large enough to allow vines to grow trough. You'll also need cinder blocks or brinks, a downspout elbow joint, a short length of hose, and a metal saw if you don't have one already.

3. Plants: Visit your local nursery to get the viney plants for your Green Rainwater system as well as some nice plants for the top. Be sure to consult with the nursery attendants who can tell you which plants will do best in your climate, climb the wire well, and, hopefully, require the least water! You'll probably want 6 to 8 plants to go around your barrels.

Step 2: Set Up Tanks

Picture of Set Up Tanks

The trickiest part of this whole project will be making sure the barrels are properly set up and supported from below, but, luckily, it's not actually all that tricky!

1. Lay brick, concrete blocks, or a concrete pad down in a place just under your downspout. You want to create a level, elevated surface on which to rest your barrels (the higher the elevation the better the water pressure).

2. Assemble the barrels on top of this surface according to the instructions. Attach the fittings into the proper openings. Do not attach hoses yet.

3. Once the barrels are in position you will be able to see at what point the downspout must be cut. Use a handsaw to carefully make the cut. Affix the elbow joint to the cut end. With the excess downspout you cut off, just cut it down so that it is short enough to lead right to the opening of your barrel then attach it to the elbow joint.

Step 3: Wrap the Mesh

Picture of Wrap the Mesh

Wrapping the wire around the barrels shouldn't be very hard at all.

1. Simply roll the wire out and around the barrel until the ends meet. Bind them with stray bits of wire (paper clips will do) and gently push down until it is slightly set in the ground and stable.

2. Don't worry if your wire doesn't come all the way to the top of the barrel. Eventually your plants will grow up along the upper edge and fill it out. Until then you can place potted plants with overhanging tendrils on top of the barrel to hide the wire at the top.

3. Make sure you allow your spigot and other fixtures to peek out of the wire so they remain accessible.

4. Attach your own garden hose or hoses to one or both of the overflow fittings to direct any overflow away from the tank and structures.

Step 4: Plant the Vines

Picture of Plant the Vines

Now the fun part: planting!

1. Plant your vines at the base of the mesh surrounded barrels. Get them as close to the wire as possible but be sure to space them away from each other according to the needs of the particular plant.

2. Coax the plants into growing up the wire by guiding already formed vines into the wire and gently weaving them through. To prevent vines from developing sparse foliage low on the mesh but dense on top (as they tend to do), pinch back the terminal growth of the stems as they develop because this
forces lower branching and more evenly distributed foliage on the wire.

3. After it has rained and you want to water with your collected rainwater just attach your regular garden hose to the bottommost outlet and turn the spout!

Step 5: Other Design Options

Picture of Other Design Options

1. Green Wall: The green wall option is terrific if you live in a very rainy area or simply prefer the look of it. This is also a great way to create shading in your yard.
i. Order extra barrels from the onset, 4 or 6 in total. Also buy extra plants.
ii. When setting your first barrel, the one under the downspout, make sure it is the most elevated of the barrels by creating a higher foundation. Each subsequent barrel should be a bit lower than the one just up the line (you can still stack them two high).
iii. Attach a short length of hose from the top overflow fitting of the first set of barrels to the lower overflow fitting of the next set (allows for transfer of water). Do the same down the line and then attach a hose to the overflow fitting of the last barrel to direct any additional overflow away from barrels.
iv. You may wrap each barrel individually in wire or all together. Then just plant your flowers!

2. Wood: The wood wrapped barrel is super easy and a great way to reuse old pieces of wood you have around the yard:
i. Find or buy wood pieces between 2 and 3 inches wide and about an inch thick. They don't have to be the same length as long as they are all long enough to reach the top of your barrels; an uneven edge can look really beautiful. Get enough to go all the way around your barrels. Leave gaps for fixtures (these you can fill in with shorter lengths of wood later on).
ii. You'll also want to buy a length of thin steel cable long enough to wrap around a barrel 5 or 6 times. Place the lengths of wood around the barrel and carefully (probably with a little help from someone) loop the cable around and through the wood pieces to secure them and also to make an interesting weave pattern around the barrels.
iii. Attach the ends of the cable using a small steel crimp or clamp. Add planters on top of the barrel to create a flowery top.

3. Stone:The stone gabion look is very attractive. This design also lets you rest assured that your barrel will never fall over (though each barrel filled with water weighs 400 lbs):
i. Just as with the plant surrounded barrel, you'll need wire mesh to go around your barrels in order to fill them with stone. Choose wire that will hold the size stones you plan to use and that looks nice, too, since it will be exposed.
ii. Wrap the mesh at a distance from your barrel that leaves enough room for the stones but not so much that your layer of stone is too thick.
iii. Carefully begin dropping stones into the gap until they come all the way up the barrels, being careful not to hit fixtures. Add planters on top of the barrel if desired.

Step 6: Water Your Garden the Green Way!

Picture of Water Your Garden the Green Way!

Now, when the weather begins to get drier you can simply tap your Green Rainwater system to water your garden and save gallons of fresh, potable water!

You can learn about other ways to conserve water and live greener by visiting and


RelientOwl (author)2010-04-27
looks nicer than a dirty blue barrel lol
meremaiden (author)2009-07-23

what is that purple plant--- streptocarpus?

mastersparks (author)2008-03-26

Another benefit is that, in many municipalities, Sewage rates are based on the amount of freshwater passing through your meter. Unlike your neighbors you will not be paying for sewage treatment on water that never goes into the process. I have often wondered about saving runoff water, but I have one important question: When you are storing water in a barrel is there any problem with breeding mosquitoes?

kikiclint (author)mastersparks2009-06-25

I use a piece of old window screening to filter and cover the opening where the water pours in. The only problem is that I have to clean out the moss that gets washed down every once in a while.

bunglesmate (author)mastersparks2008-05-22

You can get green mesh from most garden centres (in the UK anyway) which has very small size. If you put some of this over the hole in the collection tank this should stop mosquitoes getting in. Another bonus is that it will stop leaves etc falling to the bottom of the tank blocking the taps. If that's not an option you could use open mesh cloth instead, or just cut the hole in the top as snuggly as possible for the inlet pipe.

you can go to the garden center and buy Bt (bacillus thurengensis) mosquito dunks. They are donut shaped float-y things that will 1) kill the mosquito eggs and 2) do zero harm to fruit. veggies, or you.

chotii (author)2009-05-16

I'd do rainbarrels in a second - I'm in rain country (Seattle) but my roof grows so much algae and moss, we have the roof-care company put down chemicals to help preserve the roof. can do. However, I have experimented in a very small way with tarps, corrugated roofing material, and other methods of water-collection, using the top edge of my fence as the high point, and 5-gallon buckets for the receptacles.. They work well enough that I know if I ever want to do it more seriously, I can...though I would use a larger receptacle. 5 gallons doesn't go very far when you're watering a garden.. It would not be drinkable, all the same. It would rapidly become contaminated with fir needles & other debris, and if stored outside, would grow algae and what not. But it would be fine for gardening.

kikiclint (author)chotii2009-06-25

I think it would be ok to capture the rain from your chemical roof if it has been many rains since the zinc sulfate has been applied to the roof.

arirang777 (author)2009-04-29

One more rain barrel project, okay... but the idea of disguising it with plants or whatever other material is a killer. The touch of photoshop and the lady "prop" is just a nice, funny touch. Thanks for the ingenuity!

LucyBelle (author)2008-07-05

Why waste good $ on skeeter dunk do-nuts. Just put that hardware cloth over the barrel and you get cleaner water and no skeeters. But no you cannot drink it Kenny.

Peelmeister (author)2008-04-25

Awesome, free veges anyone?

IkilledKenny (author)2008-03-25

Here's an ideer...paint the wood or brick, or whatever you use to surround your container, with yogurt. (providing your in the shade) It will be covered in moss quite quickly. I do this to my clay pots, really looks nice.

jongscx (author)IkilledKenny2008-03-26

Actually, if you blend some actual moss in with the yogurt, it grows on it faster and more evenly...

wingman358 (author)jongscx2008-03-31

On MythBusters, they utilized an actual food processor (typically known as a blender) to mix moss and yogurt. It worked for them!

a food processor and a blender are 2 different kitchen tools. myth busters used a blender.

I did not know that. Do you wish to enlighten me and the others reading as to what the differences are between food processor and blender?

I also must add that the Mythbusters did not use yogurt, they used buttermilk.

A quick google search gave me these helpful links:

Buttermilk, water, and even beer moss recipes here

Another buttermilk/beer recipe
This beer thing has got me more interested in moss...

jongscx (author)wingman3582008-04-15

I'll do that... A blender is a high-rpm/speed, low torque device. As such, it has a narrow/small blade. A blender uses that speed to cut through the material very quickly, and the result is more or less thin mush or liquid. A food processor, on the other hand, is a high-torque fairly low rpm. That's why you can run it really slow and feed stuff into it without getting the resulting mush and you have the options of diced, cubed, etc. So, since we're trying to get a homogeneous goo of yougurt, buttermilk, moss, whatever, it would probably be best to use a blender. However, be careful to take our ALL rocks, b/c moss tends to cling on to some when you pick it. They will eat up your blade fast, and your blender will not be so effective.

yogurt? I had no idea moss would grow from yogurt, do you have any pictures. This is a very cool idea!

leebryuk (author)IkilledKenny2008-03-26

That's a very interesting idea. What city do you live in? And do you have a ton of ants?

IkilledKenny (author)leebryuk2008-03-26

I live in the Cullman, Al. area...north of Birmingham. No ant problems thus far.

rybokc1 (author)2008-04-15

Another great place to look for rain barrells is at your local recycle center. Often times companies donate barrells that can hold a couple hundred gallons of water, you just need to make the holes for the water spout and add connector for the hose. It's pretty simple and CHEAP!

rednksurfer (author)2008-03-27

Get free blue 55 gallon plastic barrels at School Districts. They buy floor wax, stripper and just throw away the empties. Good luck!

IkilledKenny (author)rednksurfer2008-04-14

kewl, thnx for da tip

Megadodo (author)rednksurfer2008-04-09

A better idea would be to check with the school kitchens.I'd not want to put floor wax or stripper chemical residue on my vegetable beds. I love the idea of checking with grocery stores. Thanks for the idea of using the rain barrels as planters. Beautiful.

rybokc1 (author)2008-04-13

First of all I think this instructable was purposely designed to get you to buy from and buy barrells for outrageous prices! Makes me wonder if they care about the planet or the dollar more? Anyway, I built a cheaper version of this and ran the hose system about 7-8" underground with holes punched in the hose so that when i turn the spout and run the water, it runs underground in my garden.

IkilledKenny (author)rybokc12008-04-14

FYI...the only thing "green" companies care about is the dollar. Global warming is the biggest hoax of all time......the CO2 levels are around the lowest in earths history...another thing, I pump CO2 into my greenhouse, like most commercial growers, heat+CO2+sunlight=more food for plants.

theburn7 (author)2008-04-11

dont forget that mosquitoes love these things

djbarista (author)2008-04-02

I got some Free barrels at my local Carwash. they had a bunch of sizes.

flashride (author)2008-03-30

Last year i wanted to get also a rain catching system on our balcony (ca. 13m long, below the roof). The reason i did not do it so far, it think you should add an automatism for getting rid of the first 5min of the roof water. Thats because of the pollution poisons lying on the roof especially after a long sun period in summer when you live in a town. But most of them are washed away after ca. 5mins. The following water is relatively clean. You might not care, but especially if there are children i think you should. The mesh against any kind of insects is also clever. The other reason i´ve not build so far, is the barrel problem. Don´t want to pay over 100€ for it. But i have not found some so far. Most such things in Germany go direct into reuse or recycling, there must be some in any trash, but i did not find some for now. If someone knows something in germany, please let me know.

moseph (author)2008-03-29

cool ideas. you all might also wanna check out this guy who is a landscape architect who has done a bunch of things to conserve water/ reduce runoff.

generz (author)2008-03-28

Some cities subsidize rain barrel purchase.
For example:
$60 each for City of Austin (TX) Municiple Water customers / $95 each for out of area purchases

walkalongaviation (author)generz2008-03-28

I just use $10 34 gallon trash barrels from Home Depot and siphon the water out with a garden hose. Makes it a little easier to clean the barrels.

ohbejoyful (author)2008-03-28

Great instructable! I live in Portland, OR, and we can actually get monthly credits on our water bill for every runoff-conservation measure we have in place: reducing hardscape, planting trees and shrubs, installing rain barrels.

equisetaceae (author)2008-03-27

awesome instructable. it's nice to get the word out about conserving rain water! we made ours last summer from old barrels used to transport chemicals (the barrels never had chemicals in them, they just contained the chemical containers). We got them for free from a local asphalt company. just one tip if you live in a west nile threatened area like I do (SK in Canada) it's a good idea to put mesh on the top where water runs in. It keeps mosquitos out- the last thing you want is a breeding ground for those nasty bloodsuckers, right in your backyard. the mesh also keeps out leaves, so you don't have to worry about them plugging the 'hose-spigot'.

dudester (author)equisetaceae2008-03-28

I once heard Bob Flowerdew (UK gardener) suggest using pond plants to keep the water clean, and goldfish to eat the mosquitoes! Never tried it myself though...

Kozz (author)2008-03-27

Excellent idea to encourage this kind of usage! I know that some grocery stores' meat departments will get sausage casings in very large barrels. Chances are that the contents wouldn't be as damaging to the environment or your plants as floor wax or stripper (sorry, rednksurfer). If the barrel contained a salt solution, be sure that you rinse it out very well, as salt can "burn" your lawn or other greenery. Here's some tips if you decide to "roll your own". Keep in mind that eventually your barrel WILL accumulate small bits of leaves, twigs, and so on. As it gathers at the bottom of the barrel, eventually it could entirely plug the spigot at the bottom of the barrel. To prevent this, design your enclosure to occasionally be opened and cleaned. We had one at a house many years ago. I'm going to get one this summer for our new home. I LOVE the idea of the wire fencing upon which plants or vines can grow and help disguise the barrel. Awesome! Our old one was ugly black plastic and could have used some dressing up.

IG-88 (author)2008-03-27

$150 per barrel !! Thats flippin' nuts. Got to be a better way.....

Madkins007 (author)2008-03-27

I got a reply that it was photoshopped, which is obvious. I was trying to nicely poke fun at the physically impossible end scene.

computerwiz_222 (author)2008-03-27

Heres an idea!! Go to any food supply place and ask for a bucket. Home depot sells them if you cant scrounge them. Put a couple of fittings on it and make your own rain collector...

Madkins007 (author)2008-03-27

In the last photo- how is she getting that much pressure with the end of the hose higher than the top of the barrel?

Fiction (author)Madkins0072008-03-27

Those images are just photoshop renderings... so that's how.

Full Frontal Graphic (author)2008-03-27

Plused and faved. Very nice installations. Thanks for the link to the supplier.

goodfishfive (author)2008-03-26

Sorry iPodGuy, I meant to say that my rain barrels are ugly like incorrigible packrat's. ;-) I have your instuctable faved. Your rain barrels are very handsom.

What a great system and improvement. I visited and ordered some barrels for the garden. Thanks for the tips.

goodfishfive (author)2008-03-25

Thanks for the instructable. I, like iPodGuy, have very ugly rain barrels. My mother in-law won't be able to critize the look of my rain collection system anymore.

iPodGuy (author)goodfishfive2008-03-25


GorillazMiko (author)2008-03-25

Pretty cool! Nice job, this could come in handy around my house, my dad might like this. +1 rating.

darkmuskrat (author)2008-03-25

The green way to "Get 'r done" :P

dspfun (author)2008-03-25

Nice design, the photo shop of this lady spraying all around is a bit silly.

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