Introduction: Rainwater Collection & Distribution System

Picture of Rainwater Collection & Distribution System

This is a custom system I designed to collect the rainwater coming off my roof and have both the ability to store the water and distribute it without attaching any temporary piping. My apologies in advance that I don't have pictures showing the step by step construction - I only discovered this site last night!

Step 1: Get Your Materials and Tools

Picture of Get Your Materials and Tools

It's a pretty simple collection of materials - most of which can be found at your local hardware store. I did a little hunting around to find an appropriate rain barrel - ended up getting one from an eco-store here in Calgary.


6 - 2x4 studs (each 8 feet long)
Approximately 100 - 3" long deck screws
55 gallon rain barrel
Sections of 2" central vacuum tubing (could substitute plumbing PVC or ABS pipe, but they cost 2x or 3x the price). Length determined by the distance you need the water to travel - I needed 6 sections.
Assorted couplings, end caps, 90 degree elbows, 2" ball valve, 1 'Y' section, and two threaded adapters to connect into the rain barrel.
2" plastic straps to affix the pipe to fence.
1 10' length of 3" pvc pipe & assorted 3" couplers/elbows
Silicone cauking
Optional stainless steel screws (or substitute the deck screws)
'C' shaped straps - number depends on the length of your delivery pipe


Power drill
Saw (I used a mitre saw, but a hacksaw would work)
Measuring tape

Step 2: Build the Stand

Picture of Build the Stand

I didn't have any set plans, but I knew I wanted to build something that wouldn't fall apart under the weight of the water-filled barrel. A 55 gallon barrel of water weighs over 200 kilograms. Also, if the base sags, the connections will be stressed, so make the base of the legs wide to support the weight.

I built mine out of 2x4's, roughly 2'x2'x2'. The barrel I purchased (side note - these can be obtained quite inexpensively, just make sure what they used to contain wasn't toxic) had a spigot attached, so I had to accommodate that during construction. I had to be careful to make sure the lengths were correct (measure twice cut once), and that the joints were square. Take a bit of extra time and it will stand up much longer.

Step 3: Prep the Pipe

Picture of Prep the Pipe

In this step I prepared the lengths of pipe by drilling a 1/2" hole every foot along the pipe - be sure that they are all in line.

Step 4: Determine Your Fall Line

Picture of Determine Your Fall Line

I have a 40' section of fence I wanted the pipe to travel, so I put a screw in the fence at the level the water would be exiting the barrel, and then a second screw in the fence where the pipe would end. I then took a string and attached it to both strings to find out what the fall would be from the barrel. From this line I put marks on the fence where I would attach the pipe using the straps.

Step 5: Attach the Pipes to Fence

Picture of Attach the Pipes to Fence

I attached the pipes to the fence with some plastic 'C' shaped straps - found them in the electrical section of the hardware store. Then, using the ABS/PVC glue I connected the end cap, and then pipe-to-pipe with couplers - almost all the way back to the barrel.

Step 6: Plumb the Barrel

Picture of Plumb the Barrel

This step proved to be a bit more complicated than I expected, mostly because I was using vacuum tubing/connectors on one side, but to connect to the barrel the only pieces I could find were for plumbing. Problem was, they were about 1/16th of an inch smaller than I wanted them to be. So after a bit of cleaning out the inside with a dremel, I was back in business.

I designed this system to be able to store rainwater, but have a spillover pipe that would take any excess into the pipe system and away from the house. This spillover pipe enters the main pipe on the opposite side of the valve (see pictures).

I cut holes in the barrel, as I was concerned that the small spigot wouldn't be able to handle any volume of water. I then attached the plumbing fixtures at the top and bottom and used some silicone caulking to seal the connection. I then measured, cut, and glued the pipes, elbows, and valve assembly.

Step 7: Connect the Valve Assembly to the Watering Pipe

Picture of Connect the Valve Assembly to the Watering Pipe

Pretty straight forward - helps to have a bit of leeway in your watering pipe (the one you drilled holes into). Use couplers if needed and the ABS/PVC glue.

Step 8: Connect to Your Eavestrough

Picture of Connect to Your Eavestrough

I did this step a day after I did the other steps, and from one day to the next I learned that the 2" pipe capacity was just barely enough to handle any real volume of water coming from the barrel. So, I opted for a 3" diameter abs pipe to handle the water coming from the roof. It was a little tricky getting the oversized fixture to attach to my aluminum eave, but with some minor modifications I got it to work. Again, I used some silicone caulking to seal the connection.

Step 9: Test the Connections for Leaks

Picture of Test the Connections for Leaks

Finally, if you have a rainstorm nature will do this for you, but if not (as in my case) I used my garden hose. I learned that I had a small leak coming from the eave connection - which I fixed once it dried out using some more caulking.

We haven't had any real rain as of yet, but I anticipate this system working just fine. I have some other rainwater collection and distribution ideas to try out - and will document each step.

Feel free to email me if you have questions: - let me know if you have suggestions regarding float activated, solar powered pumps that I could attach to another rain barrel to distribute water.



mark11photography (author)2014-08-26

Calculation is correct Hugh - or in kilograms (as I'm in Canada and we use the metric system) it's 206.9742kg

Side note: the stand continues to hold strong after 5 years of use and being exposed to the elements. I've revised the design to have the cross boards on top of the supports, which in turn are on top of the legs.

HughWeinrich (author)2014-08-25

55gal (H2O) * 8.3lbs/gal = 456.3 lbs(H2O)

Shooglenifty (author)2014-04-22

I have a feeling that your fence will begin to rot where the holes are made in the piping. Water takes the path of least resistance, hence down along the side of your fence.

Hi Shooglenifty - I had the same concern when I set this project up 4 years ago, but have found no such problems with the design. My experience has shown that rot tends to form when water comes into contact with wood without the drying presence of air. We live in a very dry, not exactly desert, climate on the eastern slopes of the rockies, and don't have much rot issues aside from where the fence boards are in touching the ground.

Hi there,

Thanks for your reply. I live in Ireland and that fence would be firewood by now due to the rain fall we get here. My garden fences need to be painted twice a year here with anti rot woodstain. Spring and then Autumn before the frost. It's a nightmare.

I have several barrels here with more or less the same idea, except i used a hose pipe running from the barrel that was then drilled every 6 or so inches where needed and then laid in my raised beds.

Due to the amount of rainfall here i placed Seaweed and Stinging Nettles into hessian bags or even womens tights / stockings and placed them in the barrels (weighed down with rocks) to give the plants nutrients, it's not really water they need here it nutrients as it rains nearly every day here in the Irish North West.

Glad to hear your Indestructable is still working well after 4 years and your fence is still in top shape.

All the best.


chris73044 (author)2011-12-01

anyone have an easy idea to use and filter the water from a clothes washer? I am sure with the pump when it drains it can push the water quite a distance.

Buzzinski (author)2010-12-02

I grew up drinking rain water collected from the house roof and stored in galvanised rain water tanks. We drank it unfiltered and still do. In Australia we treat every drop of rain fall as precious and don't waste any if we can help it. Oh and nobody owns it except the people who collect it. I know you americans have some strange ideas but when the New South Wales state government tried to claim all rainfall belonged to them it took less than an hour for the first legal claims to be made against them for flood damage. You see if the 'own' the rainfall then they must be legally repsonsible for any deaths/damage 'their ' rainfall caused.

But, setting up a 55 gallon ( 208.20 litres) tank is a bit too small in my opinion. To create a decent storage system to say water an average garden you would need in excess of 1000 litres for 3 month period. New homes built in Queensland since 2005 are mandated to include a minimum 1000 litre rain water tank for no drinking purposes .i i.e. toilet flushing, clothes washing etc.

billbillt (author)Buzzinski2011-09-29

I agree a 55 gal. tank is too small. I am designing a system at this time that uses a 550 gal. as a minimum.. Here in the USA rain is seen as a thing to ignore.. I live in the Gulf Coast of Texas, and we are becoming rapidly a desert..I feel more effort needs to capture and treat with respect every drop of rain..

Hey Bill,

You bet - would be great to ramp up the size of the tank system. The way this is designed, you could really put any size tank you want. Where I live in Canada, there wouldn't really be enough space in my yard to put a system much larger than about 200 gallons. If you do install a similar rig send me/post some shots!!

jdbt (author)Buzzinski2011-07-04

I would like to know more about how you make and use your rain barrels in Queensland if youdon't mind. I am trying to save my rainwater for my garden and would also like to use it for other things when we have water restrictions here where I live. Please help me with this. Thanks. jdbt

Buzzinski (author)jdbt2011-07-04

Hi jdbt.

To start with our rainfall is very sparse over much of Australia so we tend to use purpose built rainwater tanks of large capacity (29,000 litres or 6,500gallons Australian or 7806 gallons US approx) and not worry about using little 200litre barrels.

Please have a look at or if the link doesn't work look up Gough Plastics in Australia and click on Water Tanks.

Basically we run a length of pvc pipe from the gutters down into the tank and water is drawn from there via gravity feed or electric pump. In remote locations we don't worry too much about filtering the water for human consumption but in large towns and cities you need a filter.

We also use this water for garden use and such things as flushing toilets, washing clothes etc without being filtered. for some information about how to install a rainwater tank.

Hope that helps you out a bit.


I completely agree with you on the quantity issue. Although this was an initial installation, I have multiple downspouts and have plans to set up similar rigs at the other ones as well. The way I have designed this one is to do most of the watering automatically, or at the very most with the quick turn of a valve. By spring I will have at least two other systems set up to store and distribute rainwater.

I'd love to have a rainwater system that I could use to supply water for other uses in my house, but it's not in the plans for now.

Thanks for the feedback!


Buzzinski (author)2011-07-07 Gives some more details on plumbing into your toilet and washing machine and a lot of waffle about licenced plumbers, back flow devices etc. Typical nanny police document trying to save everyone from hurting themselves with rainwater or some such rubbish but in the final 3 or 4 pages there are a couple of diagrams that show how to plumb the lines in. includes some more information about tank sizes etc.
An overview of what you need to do to make a complete system including first flush diversion system to keep debris from roof entering rainwater tanks.

Finally Wikipedia which shows a 1,000 litre poly tank on a steel pallet which could be an ideal method of storing rainwater if you can't source an Australian style rainwater tank in the USA.

Hope this points you and others in the right direction.



jimihendrix4753 (author)2010-12-02

Righteous instructible! I was just wondering what the purpose of having the pipe fork into the one pipe leading to the greenery?


Very simply, the top pipe you see acts as a safety overflow. When the barrel fills to that point, it automatically drains to the free side of the valve and away from the house. One of the reasons I installed this in the first place was to avoid water from the downspout collecting and leaking into my basement. And after two years I can say it works perfectly.

Thanks for the feedback!


Clever solution, nice instructable.

Eye Poker (author)2010-12-02

This may sound crazy but check your local ordinances, it could be illegal to catch rain because it BELONGS TO SOMEONE ELSE!

In Utah, Colorado and Washington, it's illegal to do so unless you go through the difficult -- and often impossible -- process of gaining a state water right. That's because virtually all flowing water in most Western states is already dedicated to someone's use, and state water officials figure that trapping rainwater amounts to impeding that legal right.

EP - Definitely worth looking into, and a somewhat contentious issue no less. I live in Canada, and here they encourage people to collect rainwater rather than use the city processed/filtered/distributed/fluorinated water.

mark11photography (author)2010-02-08

 Griff - I totally agree. One of those things that I would do differently if I made another. So far it hasn't been an issue, but it could buckle under the weight.

GriffAllen (author)2010-02-07

wow i really like your design with the distribution! that just seems so much easier.  just a thought on your stand... im sure the boards that the barrel is actually sitting on are strong enough, but you might have a problem later down the road because they're screwed/nailed under the cross supports instead of on top of them. if the whole thing is outside and it gets wet and you have that much weight in the barrel, it could actually pull them out, but if they're on top of the cross supports the only way you'd have a problem is if your boards break... just a thought ;)

salinascarlos (author)2009-05-19

How about water from the washer can u use it on the lawn

I'm not sure - but I can't think that the soap residue would be very good for the lawn/garden. There might be an organic soap that might work. I've heard of people collecting grey water (water from shower/sink) to reuse, even going as far as showering with buckets. If you do a search on this site you can find a foot-controlled shower lever that would save a ton of water. Cheers, Mark

i may be wrong but i think most commercial detergents have stuff in them that plants actually like, nitrogen and phosphorous, stuff like that. it's my understanding that this is why gray water dumped into lakes causes algae blooms. the chemicals in detergents are similar to the chemicals in fertilizer. i'm not an expert and i may be off target. but i know that i've read that dishwasher and laundry machine gray water is safe for your garden.

pickford78 (author)gernboken2009-10-08

Some plants may like it but certain bacteria may not like it causing a imballance.  Its best to use biodegradable soaps such as sunlight detergent I think.  I use sunlight detergent on not just dishes but my clothes aswell.  It makes wool soft and I can use it on my plants.  Another thing for grey water is that you may want to filter it somehow.

If you use "soap nuts" for washing laundry, your gray water would be safe for your lawn.

rhaver (author)2009-06-08

It's a nice setup, I really like your overflow design. If I went this route, I may add more to support the 455 pounds (206 kilos)... but that is just because I'm a worrier and over do things!

theRIAA (author)2009-05-02

cool. have you had any problems with leaves/needles clogging the pipes? I've always wondered about "rain barrels" because there wasn't a good way to get the water where you wanted it (t was already on the ground), so people used pumps and stuff, but the cost of a pump and barrel and running the pump really just ruins the idea. Some people say "saving water helps the environment"... not really, the only thing you're saving is the cost they put in to purify water, water doesn't just "go away" when it goes down the drain. Spending money to buy pumps and plastic jugs is WAY worse than paying the nice water utilities to deliver you crystal clear water. this is a GREAT idea.

well i agreee with you on saving water dosent really help the enviroment but the rain colection is just like to use as back up water for when the water geos off during power outages or use it as and electricity free gravity powered way to flush your tolliet (or something :P)

except for the energy used to purify the water, if you have a solar pump or no pump at all then it does help the enviroment. During a dought this also helps. Water that might normally just runoff or return to the ground water is used.

Thanks for the comments. I've only had it up and running for a few weeks now, and am still waiting for our first real dump of rain. I was worried about the leaves/needles issue and am open to trying a variety of screens/filters if needed. I did clean out the eaves prior to setting this up - just to help things along. I guess you could attach the end cap with something you can remove and then flush things out with a garden hose. I partly did this project to move water away from my foundation as much as anything - 50 year old house doesn't like water in the basement much! Also, the water piped to my house by the city not only costs money, but has both chlorine and flouride in it as well - not great things for gardens.

zxcv (author)2009-05-04

Nice. I like the overflow directly watering. I would suggest you have a screen on top your barrel and aim the pipe at a 45 degree angle or so at the screen. The water coming out of the pipe will pass right into the barrel, but a leaf will hit the screen and be washed off by flowing water (hopefully.) Anyway it should keep your barrel free of large debris.

mark11photography (author)zxcv2009-05-05

Great suggestion - many thanks!

lemonie (author)2009-05-03

Nice work. Do you get even watering along the length of the outlet-pipe? If your holes are small it's probably OK, but too big near the barrel and you might not water so well at the furthest point? L I'd advise you remove the e-mail address (could get spammed), let people contact you through the site.

Lemonie - Surprisingly yes - it spreads out along the length of the pipe fairly well. I had considered some ideas of varying the hole diameter or even where on the pipe they are located to ensure the water would travel the length of the pipe. Perhaps I'll try this in my next water project. No worries about the email/spam issue - it's not my primary account. Cheers the RIAA - Thanks for the comments!

About This Instructable




More by mark11photography:Gravity feed rain barrel garden wateringDIY Fabric Softbox (14x56 Strip)Rainwater collection & distribution system
Add instructable to: