Rainwater Cistern





Introduction: Rainwater Cistern

This is a cistern I made from some pressure treated 2x6 material and a 55 gallon plastic juice drum. I got the used drum locally for $15 and the wood came from my scrap bin.  I chose to use 2x6 material because I had it handy, but if you choose to use 2x4 instead, some dimensions will change.  I haven't done any structural calcs, but the water weight alone of 55 gallons of rain will be about 459 pounds, so keep that in mind if you change the size.  I use this to water my vegetable garden which is nice and close to the cistern.

To make this, you will need:
  • Aa 55 gallon plastic drum with the screw caps intact
  • The following pieces of 2x6 pressure treated (PT) lumber:
    • (4) 28.5"
    • (7) 24"
    • (4) 23"
    • (4) 18"
    • (2) 13"
  • Construction adhesive
  • 2-1/2" all purpose fasteners
  • (3) 2" PVC 90 degree elbows
  • Small lengths of 2" PVC
  • 3" to 2" PVC reducing bushing (to attach to your gutter's downspout - your application may vary)
  • (1) 3/4" PVC threaded male adapter (to attach to the barrel's cap)
  • (1) 3/4" PVC 90 degree elbow
  • (1) 3/4" PVC shut-off valve (controls the flow of the rainwater when you use it!)
  • (1) 3/4" slip x 3/4" MHT PVC fittings (this is at the end of the pipe exiting the barrel - you can attach your garden hose to this)
  • (1) 2" PVC coupling (this will form a riser to keep sediment out of your garden water)
  • (1) 2" PVC male adapter
  • (1) 2" PVC female adapter
  • Epoxy

Step 1: Get a Leg Up

Start by glueing and screwing 2 lengths of 2x6 together, keeping the bottom end flush.  They are 28.5" and 23" long, respectively.

Step 2: Two Legs Are Better Than One

Repeat step 1 to make a built-up second leg.

Step 3: A Time to Join

Next, cut an 18" piece of 2x6 and glue & screw it between 2 of the legs.

Step 4: Have a Pair

Now repeat steps 1-3 so you have an identical U-shaped assembly.

Step 5: Come Together

Now, cut a 24" piece of 2x6, and slap some adhesive on the 'notches' at the top ends of the 2 leg assemblies.  Place the 24" 2x6 and screw it in.

Step 6: Deja Vu

Repeat step 5 for the other side.

Step 7: Sister Marry Me Please

The next thing is to sister up the 4 leg stretchers to beef them up a bit.  For this, you will need two 18" and two 13" pieces of 2x6.  Glue and screw them in place.

Step 8: Top It Off

The last part of the stand construction is to make the top.  Just use whatever 2x material you have, cut them to 24" length and space them evenly.  You could make an overhang if you wish, but I preferred the cleaner look of making it flush.  Remember to put a space between boards to give rainwater a place to drain.

Step 9: Down the Drain

The next step is to prepare the stand for the barrel's drain. This requires drilling a hole in the top, and another in the side. There will be a 3/4" PVC pipe that exits the barrel, and turns 90 degrees to protrude out of the stand's side. I chose a 1-1/2" drill bit for the hole on the top (to allow a little bit of wiggle room), and a smaller one for the hole in the front.

With the 2 holes drilled, next you must attach the PVC to the drum's screw on cap.  However, to keep sediment from entering the drain, I added a riser to the inside of the cap.  The riser is nothing more than a 2" PVC coupling.  I mixed up some epoxy, poured it in the recess and stuck the coupling on.  For my drum, the cap is outfitted with a threaded hole that fit a 3/4" threaded male coupling perfectly.

Now it is time to assemble the 3/4" PVC components that make up the rest of the drain.  Note that some of them need to be assembled once the barrel is in it's final resting place.  See the 'exploded view' for a complete visual of which pieces go where.  Basically, the vertical parts can be assemled/attached, then you place the barrel on the stand, then you assemble/attach the horizontal parts.

Step 10: A Solid Foundation

With the drain pipe installed on the barrel, now you must pick a spot for the barrel and prepare the foundation.  For me, it was directly under the gutter's downspout.  The foundation itself is nothing more than 4 chunks of pressure treated 4x6 wood, placed on level ground.  Cinder blocks would work too - the main idea is to spread out the weight of the full barrel.

Step 11: Connect to Gutter

Next the rainwater needs to be diverted into the barrel.  Your application may differ, but the basic premise is to pipe the water into a hole cut in the top of the barrel.  For me, a 3" to 2" PVC reducer fit perfectly onto the gutter's flange (attached with sheet metal screws).  I came out of the reducer with a 2" PVC elbow, then another, then a 6" length of 2" PVC, directly into the barrel.

Step 12: Overflow Mechanism

When the barrel is full, you will want additional rainwater to take it's normal course through the downspout.  To achieve this, I used the male and female 2" PVC adapters, a 2" PVC elbow, and a short piece of 2" PVC.  Cut a round hole in the side of the barrel at the elevation you want to be the high water mark.  Make the hole sized so the male adapter will fit snug.  Pass the male adapter through, and screw on the female adapter.  Now you have a PVC fitting on which to glue the elbow (on the outside), then a short piece of 2" PVC which sticks into the downspout.



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22 Discussions

I disagree with this set up. Don't drill the side to put in an overflow, use a "t" fitting on the top where the inlet is, and from there plumb to the drain. Why drill extra holes in the rain barrel, and reduce the capacity of it at the same time?

2 replies

If a tee is used above the top of the barrel, the barrel will overflow before water has a chance to reach the tee. My outflow is 3" from the top; that represents less than 6 gallons. If this was for drinking water for my family in an emergency, I might be concerned. For the plants, I don't really care much for the 6 gallons. :)

I can't see the top of the barrel, but from your comment you must have cut a hole in the top to fill it. You can use pvc pipe to thread the bung hole and not have to cut a hole, plus the tee fitting will work just fine, as it does on my barrels.

Need barrels?
I found that at the $2 car wash they have 55 or 60 gal drums that contain the soap that's used in the wash cycle . If you don't mind the work of cleaning them thoroughly, they can be had for little or nothing. I pick them up setting by the trash dumpsters at the car wash. AFTER asking if I can have them.

1 reply

ah, that's right, you've got a big hole in the top of your barrel, I forgot about that. I've got the pvc inlet screwed into the bung hole, so that's different than your setup. With a "t" on my pvc inlet, it lets the barrel fill up, and the overflow is piped away. Here's what I used on the first barrel, and when I got the second barrel I used a "t" on top of it to fill the second barrel and be the overflow.


Yeah, I have since decided to wrap a piece of fiberglass screen around the inflow pipe and spread out over the top of the barrel. I will edit the instructible and add a photo.

how did you get the female adapter into the drum to thread to the male adapter?? I think I could drop it through the fill hole but holding if to tighten may be a problem.

2 replies

Great question. I made the hole in the top (for the inflow) large enough so I could reach my hand in and hold one while I turned the other.

Also, be vary of Bisphenol A and similiar phthalates in the plastic components that could contaminate the water. That stuff can imbalance your hormone level or even make you infertile. Make sure the material doesn't degrade from UV light or feel softer than it should.

I have something similar - just used an old steel lab stool as a stand. The main problems are

* Lack of pressure - need to raise drum high as possible, connect it to a drip feeder watering system, use a pump for pressure, or only fill watering cans.

* Leaves in from the roof - a screen helps but still needs to be cleared off periodically

* Related - green snot. I drain my drum in mid-winter when its not really needed, and there's routinely 50mm of mud and smelly brown mess in the bottom. So remember to clean it or the outlet port and overflow ports may block up

* Mosquitos - little blighters love to lay eggs in stagnant water. So seal up around the inlet - some foam rubber wedged in would be fine, or even some duct tape.

* And finally - emergency preparedness. We had a 7.4 a couple years ago and my full drum moved on its base. Consider where it might land if a quake knocked off the whole device.

Note the water stored in this is generally not drinking quality, you'll absolutely want to boil it clean before human/animal consumption. Its fine for plants.

No, there's a male adaptor pvc fitting that will screw into the bung hole, so you don't have to drill a hole. Plus that makes it watertight, and bugs can't get in, as long as you've a screen at the top of the pvc opening.

I've got a similar setup, but with a piece of fiberglass window screen to keep out the sediment, and keep the skeeters from getting in there to breed.... I've got 2 barrels attached to a low pressure drip irrigation system (from Lee Valley tools) and it works GREAT! I almost never have to use tap water for my plants.

I think the diagram in Step 8 shows the top slats at 90 degrees from how you built it (looking at Step 9). How you built it in step 9 appears to be stronger than the diagram in Step 8. Just rotate the diagram slats and you're good to go! Thanks for the 'ible!
Best Wishes

Oh, please tell me the name of some place I can buy this drum that inexpensively! Going 5 days without water after a hurricane was 4 days too long!

2 replies

In our area there is a pickle barrel seller (55 gallon) who offers them for $5 each. Craigslist is a good place to look for your specific area. I paid $15 for mine before I found the $5 guy!

I wish I could help! If you are in the US, give craigslist a try. That's how I found my $15 barrels, and it was nice and close.

I had purchased a plastic base to hold my drum. During the summer when the drum was full of water, the base buckled and threatened to dump my barrel over, so I empltied it. A couple of weeks ago I made a base out of 2.4s. i measured the bottom of the barrel which was 15 inches and cut several pieces of 2X4 and nailed them together at the ends, until it was 10.5 inches high and then added two more for the inside of the top. This one is not going to buckle. It doesn't look as nice as yours, though.

does this provide enough flow for you? around here I've seen a 3x4 downspout gush like a firehose, so I'd be concerned that the 2" pipe would constrict too much cause the gutter to overflow. My in-laws just installed a 250 gallon container, and with the last heavy rain they filled in 30 minutes from just half their roof.

also, you're going to get a lot of debris and sediment in your barrel without a filter, maybe not if you don't really have trees tough. and if you have mosquitoes in your area at all, you're going to want either a screen on that hole or seal it up some so that down the spout is the only entry.