Converting Wine Barrels to Rain Harvest Barrels




Introduction: Converting Wine Barrels to Rain Harvest Barrels

Hello from Sonoma County, California! Since we live in wine country, and wanted to install a rain water harvesting system to downspouts in several locations around the house, my fiance and I decided to forgo the plastic bins at the hardware store and find some used wine barrels in good condition to repurpose. This is much more complicated than buying a prefab barrel, but we were very happy with the results and for us it was worth the effort. Here's how we did it, I hope it inspires you to make the best possible use of natural resources in and around your home - and to use your imagination repurposing existing materials.

Materials (per barrel)

Used wine barrel in good condition (no leaks, cracks, extreme oxidation or dryness of wood), with a bung stopper

4-6 feet of 1" garden hose, cut into needed lengths (measure to fit during install)

downspout diverter (you can call the company and order just the diverter dam, without the whole kit:

rain gutter guard/screen

hole saw drill bits: 2 1/8" for downspout holes, 1" for barrel holes, 1/2" speed bore or spade bit

3/4" plumbers tap for attaching spigot


(1) 2' long x 2" diameter

(1) 2" end cap OR 2" Spigot x Cleanout Adaptor with Plug

(1) reducing coupling, 2" x 1"

(1) small round coupling, 1"

(1) reducing adapter, 1" to 3/4"

(1) reducing tee, 2" x 2" x 3/4"

PVC glue

3 'U' shape metal connectors (3" or 4") & 6 x 1 5/8" screws to attach

brass spigot

white plumbers tape

2' x 2' pond liner

river/decorative rock or similar for filling in top

box of finishing nails

8 landscaping bricks OR 4 single tall cinder blocks *if you are placing the bricks on an earthen surface, you'll need to prep that (see step 7)

sodium percarbonate

citric acid

General Tools


bucket and funnel


socket wrench

Optional (for external cleaning and sealing, keeping aesthetic value)

deck cleaner & scrub brush

soy-based sealant

metal urethane

paint brushes, painters tape

steel wool

dish soap

electric hand sander

Tips and Tricks

- If you clean and seal the outside of the barrel, set aside time to complete this in a weekend, or at least remove the painters tape from the metal. Do NOT leave the painters tape on for more than 48hrs. After that point it tears off in small shreds the size of a quarter, and you will hate your life.

- Simplify any filtration. We originally used a stack of pea gravel, sand, and activated charcoal in the constructed PVC debris catch, to avoid buildup of sediment or contaminants in the barrel. After the first couple of rains, a mere 1/4" of fine grit and sand rendered the whole thing useless as it compacted atop the pea gravel (and grew a weed sprout). The design was such that the water just backed up into the diverter hose and reversed flow into the downspout, so no harm done, other than slight waste of time and money and having to re-do the PVC catch.

- Clear plastic hose connecting the downspout to the barrel looks nicer, but grows algae. You don't want algae near or in your water harvest, and there goes the aesthetic value anyway.

- This is a heavy project. I could not have done it without my very strong fiance who is in the weight room at the gym by 5am every day (thanks Don!!). Lifting a barrel into place on it's platform, moving it around for cleaning, and hoisting it on/off a truck for transport could be a new form of competition at the Scottish Highland games. Your brick or gravel 'foundation' under the barrel will not be super light either, though it is manageable as smaller weight to carry around. Each barrel weighs appx. 125lbs when empty, and measures 3.5 feet tall. So if need be, recruit your favorite helper(s) for the lifting/moving/cleaning, please don't hurt yourself.

- I found that information about safe uses for rooftop harvested rainwater on edibles, depending on the type of roof you have, can be inconsistent - with varying degrees of scientific data to back it up. I make no claims whatsoever about the purity of the water harvested from any roof, or collected from a repurposed wine barrel, as documented by this Instructable. Step 12 demonstrates the results of a home water quality test that we did after the water was sitting in the barrel for about 3 weeks, as the scientist in me was quite curious to see the unseen. (Spoiler alert: it was awesome.)

Here is my one of my favorite sites with information about reuse of greywater and harvested rainwater, one of the only resources I found that refers to municipal codes and standards:

About 22 minutes into this talk, the speaker explains it is against CA state regulations to use greywater on vegetables grown beneath the soil. Noting that greywater was originally treated water, but taking this information as a rule of thumb for harvested rainwater as well: we plan to use it for landscaping, fruit trees and bushes, and various other above ground garden bed veggies such as tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, beans; avoiding use on root vegetables. To note: we do not have moss preventative chemicals on the roof; if you do, the recommended usage is limited to decorative plants (no edibles).

- A word about downspout diverter kits with 'everything included': there are a lot of parts there, but they are mostly useless for this particular build. The tubing width could not be accommodated unless we drilled into the top of the barrel, which we didn't want to do. If you have metal downspouts, the included drill bits are useless and wear themselves down within seconds. Literally just scratched the surface and took the paint off, so we had to buy quality ones. The plastic spigot included assumes you can reach into the barrel and attach a washer set on the inside to secure it, which I think works okay if you get a plastic rain barrel with holes ready for install. Didn't try it though, and not sure how durable that is over time. Instead you can order the diverter dam that goes inside your downspout all by itself, to avoid wasting everything else in the kit.

- When drilling: if you have a cordless, make sure it is fully charged. It won't hurt to recharge between steps if you are working through the project in one day, because the metal downspouts and barrel oak both give your drill a solid opponent.

Step 1: Prep Barrels: External Refinishing (Optional)

If your wine barrel is relatively new or in good condition, some finishing touches will keep it's beauty for a few more years by protecting against further oxidation and rust.

For the metal rings: using good quality rubber gloves to protect your hands, take a steel wool pad and scrub with a bit of dish soap and water to get rid of dirt, debris, and small rust spots. Any overlap from your washing pattern will leave a ring of grime on the wood, but that sands and washes off easily in the next steps.

For the oak: using a hand sander, make your way around the barrel sanding off any superficial spills, dirt, light oxidation, etc. Use just enough pressure to get the wood to a clean state. We used 200 grit sandpaper, but feel free to pick your favorite.

Next, a natural deck cleaner will wash off any remaining residue, dust from sanding, etc. We used Duckback Composite Cleaner, and it worked great.

Let the barrel(s) dry, and tape over the metal rings with blue painters tape before applying a soy-based (all natural) wood sealer.

After the sealer is set (depending upon your weather temps and direct sunlight), you'll want to remove the painters tape ASAP. The longer it stays on the metal rings, the harder it is to remove.

Using a clear polyurethane and steady hand, apply a coat to the metal rings to help minimize rust and future staining of the barrel. Tip: we placed the barrel upright on a couple of parallel 4x4s, to make it easier to paint the bottom most ring.

Step 2: Prep Barrels: Internal Washing

You can find these barrel cleaning supplies online, as well as bung stoppers if you need one. These folks were extremely helpful and had good pricing:

You'll need to do the internal wash in 2 stages, and total time required is around 4 hrs minimum. You'll want both solutions to sit in the barrel for at least 2 hrs, after sloshing it around quite a bit. If you can let it sit for longer (overnight for example), even better. Luckily we have a section of our yard that is pea gravel, which was good for turning the barrel on it's side and rocking & rolling it to get the solution dispersed evenly. The alternative is to keep the barrel upright and fill it completely with each cleaning solution, and then drain it. We decided turning on it's side from the get-go, and using less solution was preferable - because the barrel will be EXTREMELY HEAVY when completely filled with liquid, and you'd have to turn it on it's side to empty it entirely anyhow. If you don't have sand, soil, grass, pea gravel, or something similar that won't jeopardize the barrel as it rolls around, you could use a couple lengths of 4 x 4 set parallel a few feet apart and VERY CAREFULLY roll the barrel on them i.e. train tracks. Again, these start at 125lbs empty, adding liquid makes them even heavier, so take care.

First stage is a wash with sodium percarbonate. Don't worry, this is not a toxic chemical: Mix 5/8 cup (or a little more, no less) of sodium percarbonate in 5 gallons of water, and pour into the barrel (using a funnel is easiest). Place the bung stopper firmly, then rock and roll the barrel to get the solution to cover the inside of the barrel as completely as possible. Wait a minimum of 2 hours, then empty the contents.

Second stage is a wash and neutralization with citric acid. Mix 10 tablespoons with 5 gallons of water and repeat washing - pour solution into the barrel, place the bung stopper firmly, rock and roll the barrel to disperse the solution, wait a minimum of 2 hrs, then empty.

Before setting up for rainwater harvesting, we then rinsed the barrel with 2 gallons of clean water.

Step 3: Prep Barrels: Drilling

Between the top two rings of the barrel, drill holes for the intake and overflow hoses. Use the 1" drill bit, with an inch or more between the holes.

For the spigot, you will need to drill a hole just large enough to tap. Since the plumbers tap and spigot are 3/4", we used a 1/2" speedbore and tilted while drilling to widen the hole. Take care that it doesn't become too wide, or you'll have a leak around the spigot.

Step 4: Prep Barrels: Tapping & Securing Spigot

After you have drilled the hole for the spigot, you'll need to use a socket wrench and 3/4" plumbers tap to thread the wood. Then apply white plumbing tape around the spigot to create a good seal, and screw it into the barrel.

Step 5: Prep Downspout: Clean Gutters & Place Debris Filter

Make sure your rain gutters are clear of leaves, and any other debris, before attaching the downspout diverter. To prevent future debris from clogging up the works, you can purchase and install inexpensive wire baskets. They simply sit at the top of the downspout where the gutter is connected. Alternatively, you could install a device that acts as a leaf catcher, but those were more costly, bulky to install, and did not fit our rain gutter + downspout configuration.

Step 6: Prep Downspout: Build Sediment Catch (or Buy a First Flush Filter)

Most information I found about rooftop rain harvesting suggested a first-flush filter, which is designed to collect the first bit of rainwater that is washed off your roof. This is to rinse away bird poop and other biological debris, so-called "other chemicals and pollutants", and any stray/decayed roofing materials. If you want a first-flush diverter, you'll need to create (or buy, ie. ) something different than what's described here. The sediment catch we built does not prevent or separate the first few minutes of rain from being collected. We are rebellious like that, and decided not to worry about bird poop and the like.

We did want to catch the small particles of sand/clay sediment that could be washed off during rain showers. Since the repurposed wine barrels do not have a lid that can be removed to dump any sediment that might collect over time, our goal with this step is to try and catch that stuff before it makes it into the barrel.

The basic principle is that the length of PVC and flow of the water allows for solid particles (small pebbles, rocks, dirt) to collect at the bottom, as clean water runs through a hose connection at the top. It's expected that we will need to replace these every 3-5 years as sediment builds up if capped, or just use the PVC Cleanout adapter with removable piece and clean them out once a year. It's not perfect, but it has worked well thus far.

Carefully, using PVC glue - outside or in a very well ventilated shop:

1. glue the 2"x2"x3/4" transition tee to one end of the 2'x2" PVC pipe.

2. glue the 1" coupling inside the 2"x1" transition coupling

3. glue this piece to the open side of the 2"x2"x3/4" tee.

4. glue the end cap (OR Cleanout Adaptor) on the open side of the PVC pipe.

5. wrap the hose connector threads with white plumbers tape

6. screw the hose connector into the 3/4" opening on the tee

Step 7: Installation: Setup Raised Platform & Barrel

You will need your barrel to sit at least 6-8" off the ground to be able to access the spigot. This will also keep the bottom of the barrel dry. Some of our barrels are positioned on concrete that is already flat, or minimally angled, so that we didn't need to level out the foundation. In those cases, we used landscaping bricks under the barrel to create a sturdy elevation. Since the barrels weigh 125lbs empty, and we do not live in a extremely high wind area, we had no concerns about the barrels being knocked off the blocks somehow. If you are considering use of plastic barrels, you will want to refer to some other Instructables where the raised platform also secures the barrel around it's sides. One example: (Even plastic barrels weigh hundreds of pounds when they contain water, so make sure your platform can support whatever type of barrel you choose.)

If you are placing the barrels on earth, grass, or other natural foundation, you will want to make sure it is level and prepped to handle the weight of the barrel. Here's a nice, concise description:

Once you have the foundation and blocks ready, set the barrel evenly in place.

Step 8: Installation: Rainflow Diverter

Get a good drill bit for this one, especially if you have metal downspouts.

Mark the location for the downspout diverter about 3 feet above the height of the barrel. It doesn't have to be exact, the space is to allow room for the sediment catch (or first flush filter if you prefer) to be below the diverter output hose, and above the rainbarrel, without crimping the hoses. Once the location is marked, simply drill into the downspout with the 2 1/8" hole saw drill bit, and install the diverter dam.

You'll be amazed how fast the barrel fills when it rains, so plan on routing the barrel overflow back into the downspout. Measure about 6" below the the height of where the hoses are attached to the barrel, then drill a hole for the overflow hose to drop into.

Step 9: Installation: Connect Sediment Catch & Hoses

The hose we used is a standard 1" garden hose, cut to appropriate lengths, between 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 feet in most cases. We found garden hose was the right size and material; note that some of them are only 3/4" and would leave a gap in the intake hole. Since you don't want bugs getting into the barrel, don't compromise on the size of the hose - it should fit snugly into the drilled holes between metal rims, into the pvc sediment catch, and into the small pvc adapter connected to the diverter.

Use 3" or 4" U-shaped connectors to hold the debris catch up on the downspout. Whether you'll need 3" or 4" depends what the downspout is connected to. In some cases there was a 1x4 between the downspout and the wooden trim on our house, so take a good look where you will be securing the catch and measure if need be.

Attach one length of hose from the downspout diverter to the top of the PVC debris catch. Attach another length of hose from the PVC outlet to the barrel. Attach the final length of hose to the second opening in the barrel, and drop the other end into the hole you've drilled into the downspout for overflow.

Step 10: Installation: Add Top Liner & Filler

The top part of the barrel needs to be covered and filled in with non-absorbent material, so there's no room for stagnant water and the mosquitos that follow.

Measure the diameter of your barrel and cut an appropriate square of pond liner, should be about 2' x 2'. It is easiest to fill the liner before nailing in place, as the rock naturally and evenly settles the liner down. Then hammer finishing nails around the edge, every inch or so, around the entire barrel; it helps to pull the overlapping pond liner tight across the top of the edge as you go. Then carefully use a pocket knife or box cutter to trim the excess liner. These photos show white landscaping rock as filler, you can use your imagination with colors, larger river stones, or introduce a light succulent bowl.

Step 11: Enjoy Watering Your Garden!

This is the fun part (besides guessing how much water is collecting as it rains)! I found a variety of recommendations about how quickly to use the harvested rainwater. Even common sense tells you if you use it, there's more room in the barrel the next time it rains. We happened to have an El Nino year where it rained nearly every day for 2 weeks straight. Since the ground was soaked enough to wait a few more days before watering, this is a picture of beautifully clear harvested rainwater water that had been collecting for 2 weeks, and sitting in the repurposed wine barrel for another week after that. It looks potable, but there will be some residual bacteria and it is NOT for drinking.

Step 12: Water Quality Test Analysis (Optional)

Overall we were quite happy with the results from the do-it-yourself water quality test kit. This was the only one at the hardware store, so it's not a specific recommendation - just what we could find for a baseline chemical analysis. We wanted to determine if the collection process introduced any heavy contaminants, from either the roofing materials or the barrels. It did not. We knew there would be some minor amount of bacteria from the wine barrels, which was indeed present in the tests, and makes the water unsafe to drink. *And no Boston Terriers were harmed in the making of this Instructable, we did not give him any of the water. He was simply doing his job as project supervisor. :-)

Outline of the test results, visible in photos

Lead: Negative

Pesticides: Negative

pH: 5, normal rainwater

Alkalinity: Low at 40, (80-180 was marked as ideal for drinking water, but if you have alkaline soil like we do, low is probably better for plants)

Chlorine: safe at level 1

Hardness: between 0-50, soft-ideal

Iron: 0, low (0.3 was marked as ideal for drinking water. depends which plants you are watering if this is preferable)

Copper: 0, safe

Nitrate: 0, safe

Nitrite: 0, safe

Bacteria: positive, bacteria are present - nonpotable

Thanks for reading and good luck with your rainwater harvesting!!

1 Person Made This Project!


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9 Discussions

Snake Eater 5th
Snake Eater 5th

3 years ago

I just finish making one also. One difference is I used a rain chain from my gutter. I have not been able to get the bung installed into the wine barrel. When I try to install it, it keeps falling out. Is there a trick to this?


Reply 3 years ago

Awesome!! Ah, we had the same conundrum with the bungs. There were 2 styles we tried - one that was the same depth as the wood of the barrel, and one that is roughly twice the depth. Due to the material of the bung, if you try to hit either one with a hammer, lets say, the hammer just kinda bounces off and the force does nothing to secure it - right? :-) So we sort of twisted the larger ones a little as we pushed it in by hand, and surprisingly it stays ok when the barrel is upright and full. The one that is the same width as the wood also stayed in place ok. There might be other solutions to this as well.

Sorry for the delayed reply, was getting married and totally immersed in wedding planning. One note I would add about using the water, is if you have young fruit trees or shrubs, they seem to be more sensitive to the ph and any residual biologicals that are present in the first few cycles of filling & emptying the barrel. We have a 2 year old fig sapling that showed very droopy leaves after watering from a newly assembled barrel, bounced back when we watered from the hose. Our mature apricot trees did just fine with it though.


4 years ago

Great job! Can you believe in some places it's illegal to catch rain water? Ugh.. Nice 'ible though :)


4 years ago

Your water tests show that your rainwater is a great emergency drinking water supply.Since all you have is bacteria in there, all you need to do is leave a clear plastic bottle I the sun, or add a few drops of bleach and you are good to go.


Reply 4 years ago

thanks, good tip!


4 years ago

Turning wine into water is so much more interesting to me than turning water into wine! :)


4 years ago

These are such a nice alternative to those big blue barrels, great first instructable :)


4 years ago

Your first Instructable!!! Such a great job documenting and sharing your process. The wine jugs are definitely a beautiful alternative to plastic bins!


Reply 4 years ago

Thank you! It feels quite fitting to give our grapevines a drink with the water. :-)