Introduction: The Best RAIN BARREL for Less Than $15, and Where to Find a Barrel

I have researched many rain barrel plans out there and I believe that mine is one of the most adaptable, effective, simple to make, and cheapest out there. After you have found a barrel, the rest of the parts and tools can be found at most hardware stores. Let me know if you have any ideas for improvement. 

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

The compression fitting I have designed is superior to many other rain barrels. Other rain barrels use glue to hold the hose bib (spigot) in place, or they only tap the threads of the hose bib into the plastic wall of the barrel, which will certainly wear out and leak. I am using a pre-existing hole in the barrel to access the rear of the hose bib to tighten it on securely. My system does not have leaks, and if they ever develop, you could always tighten the connections or replace them. With this design I have never had a customer come back to me saying that their barrel started to leak. 

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?

For this Instructable, I will be using one blue HDPE 55 gallon barrel that has two screw plugs in the end/top. This is the most common type of barrel that I have seen and usually the cheapest to buy. Finding a barrel can be the hardest part of making a rain barrel, so I will list a few ideas, and successes that I have had:

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

Tools that you need include:

Silicone Caulk
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

Materials for the barrel include:

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)
1" Washer
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

The way that this should work out after you drill these holes is that there will be a spout in the barrel at the base which will face outwards, an overflow which will shoot out to the side from the top of the barrel wall, and a downspout adapter at the back of the top of the barrel which will back up to the wall of your house.

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

Turn the barrel 1/4 turn and drill a hole about 4 inches from the top of the barrel on the side wall. This hole will be for the overflow adapter.

Step 7:

Switch out the drill bit for the 4" hole saw and drill a hole in the top of the barrel, toward the backside of it. The location of the hole should NOT be like the one in the picture. Mine was drilled in the center because a client wanted it that way. Ideally, the hole at the base should be at the front side of the barrel and the 4" hole in the top should be at the back of the top, as it will back up to your house. You should drill your hole toward the back side of the top so that when you place the barrel beside your house, the downspout will feed directly into it.

Step 8: Screw in the Overflow Adapter

Manually insert the brass adapter piece into the 1" hole drilled near the top of the barrel, being careful to thread the pipe thread end (not the garden hose end) as close to horizontal as possible. Use an adjustable wrench to fully tighten the adapter all the way into the barrel. 

Step 9: Caulk

Spread silicone caulk on the washer and place it on the hose bib, with the caulk facing the barrel. 

Step 10: Inside the Barrel

Turn the barrel upside down and using the barrel wrench remove the screw plug which is nearest to the 1" spout hole in the barrel. Place the 90 degree black iron fitting on your left index finger and insert it into the plug hole so that the threads are visible from the outside, and lined up with the spout hole.

Step 11: Screw in the Hose Bib

This is the most important part of the Instructable to do correctly, but it should not be too difficult if you are patient and follow the instructions

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

Insert the screw driver into the exposed end of the 90 degree fitting, inside of the barrel, and use the large adjustable wrench to tighten the hose bib until it is positioned correctly. I usually only have to make 3 or 4 turns with the wrench until the washer has bent in slightly. Do not over tighten or the threads of the hose bib can shear right off.

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

Wipe up any excess silicone that has squirted out of the sides of the washer, and then replace and tighten the screw plug using the barrel wrench. 

Step 14: Finish

Pop in the flexible down spout adapter into the top of the barrel and you are done!

Step 15: Installation and Rationale

To install the rain barrel, you just have to place it on two cinder blocks (bare minimum, can stack many more), measure the height of your downspout adapter to the downspouts on your house, trim your house's downspouts to meet the barrel adapter, then slide the adapter over your downspout. Hook up garden hoses to the spout and overflow adapter and the barrel is ready to go. 

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.