I made this barrel for about $15, but using bulk discounts I was making them on average for about $12-$13.
I can make one in about 10 minutes if I have all my parts and tools lined up, but it will most likely take about an hour if you are not familiar with the process
For two years I made these rain barrels and sold them at a local farmers market for $50. I got a little tired of them, as anyone would after making hundreds of anything. Eventually I realized that I would probably be more interested in designing larger rain water containers, and that these barrels are kind of a puny attempt at rain water collection. The best way to collect rain water is with a cistern that can hold thousands of gallons of water, rather than a mere 55 gallons. I recognize that not many people would like to spend their time and money on a large plastic container in their yard, which is why I am posting this "how to" as a compromise. I also think that having a rain barrel forces you to reconsider your daily water use, which is a positive outcome of a large or small rain water collecter.
Step 1: Rationale
Another advantage to my design is that it is easily repairable if a part ever wears out or leaks. Many other rain barrels also drill holes in the barrel plugs themselves to attach a hose bib, which will come out of the bottom of the barrel. This is not a great plan either as the plug cannot be retightened and the joint is susceptible to breaking if the barrel is accidentally dropped on the hose bib.
Many rain barrels are made by cutting large holes in the top so that someone can access the back of the hose bib to put on a nut. The holes are commonly covered with screening material which filter's debris. In concept, this idea works, but in reality the screens clog, or rip, or they let in mosquitos, or they let in sunlight which encourages algae growth and bad smells. My barrels do not let in sun or mosquitos because it is a closed system. Debris may settle in the bottom of the barrel over time, but this will happen with any barrel. The barrel can be easily cleaned by tipping it over and spraying it out with a hose.
Follow my instructions and I think you will be happy with the product.
Step 2: Where to Find a Barrel?
1. Craigslist: This is often the easiest way to find a barrel. Where I live, people commonly sell them for $10. I would not pay more than $15. If you just search for "barrel" you should find something. Check what was stored in them before you buy them. I have found some with liquid smoke in them that have been a real pain to deal with and they never really stop smelling. They should also not have had any toxic chemicals stored in them that could harm your plants. I would encourage you to ask if the seller is willing to trade anything for an empty barrel. Many people on Craigslist are purveyors of multiple goods or are familiar with trading for goods. It can be worth the effort to ask. You may get a free barrel or two for trading some junk that you don't need.
2. Local Food Distributors/Bottlers: This could be your best bet and was my method of choice. You will have to do some research and call around your city to find out if any food distributors use 55 gallon drums and if they would be able to give them to you for free or sell them at a low cost. Common uses for the drums include soda syrups, juice, soy sauce (my most common variety), grain alcohol, hops for beer, marinades, liquid smoke, etc. I googled bottling companies in my area and made many phone calls. If you are polite and present clear questions to the people who answer the phone, you may get exactly what you need. I was able to arrange to pick them up locally for free if I did not disturb the area around the facility. This arrangement worked great for me for a long time, but each scenario is different. I have head that some Pepsi/Coke bottling plants give them away, while others do not. If you are looking to make multiple rain barrels, this could be your regular supplier. Don't give up after one or two calls, I think I made about one hundred calls before setting up my particular arrangement. Seek and ye shall find.
3. Pickles/Olives: I have met multiple rain barrel makers who get their barrels exclusively from olive or pickle distributors. . Go to your local grocery store and see if any of the pickles or olives are distributed locally and make a few phone calls to see if they have barrels. The barrels that contain olives and pickles are commonly larger and have a large screw lid, but they can be easily used to make the same type of rain barrels that I have designed.
4. Car wash: Many local car wash places get their soaps in 55 gallon barrels and they will sometimes give them away. I have found this approach to be more work than its worth because you will have to rinse the barrels many times to get the soap out, which can defeat the purpose of rain water harvesting. In reality, you will most likely have to rinse any barrel you find, so I guess my point is moot. This is often a viable option. I would also steer clear of the white or clear barrels common at car washes because they let sunlight in and can encourage algae growth.
5. Vineyard: For a fancier rain barrel, you can also try calling local vineyards to find out of they have any used oak barrels for sale. With a little more effort and more upfront cost, you can have a great looking rain barrel at a fraction of the cost of a store bought oak barrel. I bought mine for $80 each, which I found to be a common price. With a little shellac the barrels can last forever.
Step 3: Tools and Materials
Large Adjustable Wrench
1" Forstner Bit
4" Hole Saw
Long Screw Driver
Barrel Plug Wrench (Costs about $50, can use a screw driver and hammer instead)
Step 4: Materials
2" x 3" Flexible Downspout Adapter
(or if you have a 4" round downspout, you can divert it directly into the barrel. Or you could cut an outline of your own downspout in the top of the barrel and use your existing material. This is more work and less clean than my setup, but cheaper I guess)
3/4" Brass Hose Bib
3/4"MHT x 3/4"MIP x 1/2"MP Brass Adapter
3/4" Black Iron 90 Degree Elbow
All of the materials can be found at a local hardware store, but if you are going to make a lot of them I would check at a large pluming store for discounts on bulk orders. I was able to get my costs way down this way.
Step 5: Drill 3 Holes: First Hole
Use the 1" Forstner bit to drill a hole about 4 inches from the bottom of the barrel on the side wall so that it will line up with one of the barrel plugs. It is critical that it lines up with the barrel plug. This hole will be for the spout.
Step 6: 2nd Hole
Step 8: Screw in the Overflow Adapter
Step 9: Caulk
Step 10: Inside the Barrel
Step 11: Screw in the Hose Bib
Using your right hand to hold the hose bib and your left to hold the 90 degree fitting, carefully twist the hose bib into place making sure to align the threads straight. Once the threads have caught, hand tighten the hose bib.
Step 12: Tighten the Fittings
This part is really what I am most proud of about my rain barrels. Many people have asked me how I connect the hose bib and what keeps it on so tight. The secret is in this image.
Step 13: Clean Up
Step 14: Finish
Step 15: Installation and Rationale
Using the downspout adapter, multiple barrels can be linked together. Some people design their rain barrels with the downspout adapters at the bottom. The downspout adapter is placed at the top of the barrel in order to allow one barrel to completely fill up before filling the next one. This creates the water pressure that will push water through your hose.
I do not use a screen in my barrels because I designed a closed system rain barrel that will prohibit mosquitos from entering the barrel once everything is hooked up properly. You can clean the barrel by turning it over and spraying it with a hose. If you need a screen, you can cut out a piece of window screen and sandwich it between your barrel and your downspout.