How to Build a Rain Barrel




I love my rain barrels. I have 4 barrels setup around the house. After many changes, I settled on this rain barrel design. It is well designed and very useful. There are many questionable designs out there. Learn from my mistakes and build your own rain barrel.


Step 1: Parts and Tools

Here are the parts I use in my rain barrels. I get my barrels from a local barrel recycler. Other good places to find barrels are car washes, soda bottling plants and online classified websites. Make sure they are food grade barrels.

Step 2: Cut a Hole for the Downspout

I use a 9" screened basket in my barrels. It keeps the mosquitoes and debris out of the barrel. Open top rain barrels encourage mosquitoes to breed. Make sure you seal off their pathway to the inside of the barrel.

Measure and cut a 7 3/4" hole in the top of the barrel. A jigsaw or a spiral-cut saw (Rotozip) work best for cutting this hole.

Note: The 7-3/4" hole is for the 9" basket. Baskets of all shapes and sizes can be found wherever pond supplies are sold. Adjust your hole accordingly.

Step 3: Cutting the Overflow Hole

A good rain barrel has a good sized overflow. Don't use anything smaller than 1-1/2".

A 2-3/8 circle will be used for your overflow hole. Determine what side of the barrel you want your overflow hole to be on. Measure down from the top of the barrel approximately 4 inches. The bottom of the 2-3/8 circle should be slightly below this mark.

Again, using an appropriate saw, cut out the circle you just traced.

Note: The 2-3/8" hole is appropriate for the 2" PVC male adapter. It will be too big if you use 1-1/2" fittings.

Step 4: Cutting the Hole for the Spigot

Locate a 1-1/2 hole near the bottom of the barrel. This will be the hole for your spigot. Make sure the hole is oriented properly in relation to your overflow hole. (If you want the spigot in front and the overflow to the right, check the alignment before you cut this hole.)

Cut the 1-1/2 hole using a hole saw or a spade bit.

Note: You have some wiggle room here. The bulkhead fitting can be used for a range of hole sizes.

Step 5: Cleaning the Holes

Using a utility or pocket knife, clean the plastic shavings from the holes you just cut. The 1-1/2" spigot hole, in particular, needs to be smooth so that the bulkhead fitting will seat properly.

Step 6: Install the Overflow Connection

Thread a 2" PVC male adapter through the barrel and onto a lock nut to secure the connection for your overflow pipe.

Step 7: Install the Bulkhead Fitting

The best way to make sure you have a leak proof connection for your spigot is to use a bulkhead fitting.

Insert the threaded end of the bulkhead fitting through the outside of the barrel. (The thick rubber washer should be on the outside of the barrel.)

Using a pair of long handle pliers and an assistant, place the thin, hard plastic washer onto the bulkhead fitting followed by the large nut. Tighten securely. (Note: The word tighten on the large nut faces the inside of the barrel.) These are reverse-threaded bulkhead fittings. Turn counter-clockwise to tighten.

Step 8: Install a Threaded Adapter and Hose Connection

A bulkhead fitting has pipe threads and my hose connection has garden hose threads. A threaded adapter fixes this problem.

The threaded adapter has one end with closely spaced threads and one end with wide threads. Wrap several layers of Teflon tape around the narrowly spaced threads.

Insert the threaded adapter into the bulkhead fitting. (The teflon taped, narrow threads go into the bulkhead fitting.) You can tighten this with an open end wrench or a pair of pliers, if necessary.

Thread the garden hose spigot onto the adapter with just enough pressure so that the washer seats on the adapter. Do not over-tighten as this will cause damage to the rubber washer.

This hose connection has a much larger hole than most and will give the highest water pressure possible from a rain barrel.

Step 9: Make an Overflow Pipe

It is necessary to have a good overflow for your rain barrel. I use a 2" PVC pipe.

Mark and cut the 2" pipe into 3 pieces:
2", 18" & 26".

Using PVC cement (or similar), glue the 18" and 2" sections to a 90 degree elbow as shown.

Next, cement the 26" section of pipe to a 45 degree elbow.

The 2 sections of pipe do not need to be glued together. They will stay together using friction.

Step 10: Insert the Basket and Install Your Barrel

Place the round basket into the top hole.

Locate your barrel on a secure base under a downspout and attach the overflow pipe (no cement). A full barrel weighs over 400 pounds. Make sure you have a good base.

Your barrel is now ready for rain!

Step 11: Other Options

I have installed more than one spigot on barrels and also installed more than one barrel in a single location.

If you need any help you can contact me through my website: Atlanta Rain Barrels

I also have parts available and free instructions available for download.



  • Colors of the Rainbow Contest

    Colors of the Rainbow Contest
  • Classroom Science Contest

    Classroom Science Contest
  • Arduino Contest 2019

    Arduino Contest 2019

26 Discussions


2 years ago

I would suggest purchasing a rain water diverter kit to make things easier during the install. They are less than 30 bucks and work great. They help with run off when your barrel is full. I found this article helpful


5 years ago

BY FAR the most helpful rain barrel instructable GEEZ the others...


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

For gravity systems such as this you get around 0.43 PSI for every foot of head, which is the distance between the top of the water level and the spigot. So if the water is 2 feet deep you'd get a little less than 1 psi. Not much but enough for hand watering!


7 years ago on Introduction

Where do you get a screen like the one shown? What are they used for or what should I be asking for?


1 reply

I have 2 different types of screens listed under the rain barrel parts section of my website:

I have had a hard time finding them for a good price at retail stores. Sometimes pond supply stores or places like Pike Nursery have baskets if you want to look at a local retail store.


7 years ago on Introduction

What is the screen you are using called or what is it for and where would I find one?


8 years ago on Introduction

How can you get the rain barrel water back into your house to use for washing and flushing?

I tried building one of these myself. It ended up that it would be about the same price as these: but wouldn't look as nice. So I bought one.


10 years ago on Introduction

Nice instructable. I saw on your web site that you sell painted barrels. Care to share some painting tips? What kind of paint do you use? I painted my barrel with exterior house paint that was supposed to stick to vinyl siding, but it has started to flake off after getting wet. I suspect that the plastics these barrels are made of are significantly different from the siding so that may explain the flaking. Any suggestions?

2 replies

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Correct, Krylon is the way to go... More than likely your tank or barrel is polyethylene. Not much sticks to the polyethylene , but the Krylon paint has been reported by a few of our customers to work really well. If you don't like painting we can always make you something in almost any color at , check us out if you get a chance..


I have been using the Krylon Fusion spray paint. It is supposed to be specially formulated for plastic. You can find it anywhere that sells spray paint. I make sure I wipe the outside of my barrel well with denatured alcohol (or something similar) first to get all the label residue and everything else off the barrel. It should take 1-2 cans of paint to get good coverage. Let the paint dry well before moving the barrel. The paint will still chip fairly easily if you bump it but it touches-up very well once you get the barrel where you want it to go.


8 years ago on Step 7

Buying in bulk over the phone is the way to go if you don't have anything locally. Visit us at for sizes and prices. If you need more than one be sure to order over the phone (toll free 866 310 2556), there is a large discount on freight for more than one. This is the recommended way to order bulkhead fittings. We keep them in stock and can ship them immediately. If we can we'll direct you to a local supplier so you can just go and pick up directly, saving time and cost.


8 years ago on Introduction

You also may want to look into a rainwater diverter kit to keep away algae and keep the misquitos out. This website has a few different ones: has them.


10 years ago on Step 7

Is this bulkhead fitting a common hardware store item? I wasn't able to find one at my local hardware store.

2 replies

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I live in the midwest and I found the bulkhead fitting at a farm supply store called Orscheln. I have also seen them at Rural King (another farm supply store). In the bin they were labeled as 'tank fitting'. Orscheln has the better price at about $5, and Rural King was priced at about $7.50. Good luck!


I was never able to find them locally and they can get pretty expensive on some websites. I buy them in bulk and sell the extras on my site ( and you can also probably find them for a reasonable price on ebay. Make sure the interior is threaded and not smooth (slip), which is made for glue.


9 years ago on Introduction

Thank you for the information, it saved my house from flooding for the third time this spring, plus it gives me a great way to water the yard this summer. I connected the main spigot to a small hose and connected that to my underground soaker hose system. Just a few notes: I could not find the bulkhead fittings described in the timely manner needed to save me from flooding, so the hardware store suggested a water-tight connector used for outside electrical work. It worked beautifully. I inserted it into the rain barrel and screwed a 3/4-inch spigot onto it. (I did have to adjust the size of my drilled holes to accommodate the different fittings. I used a 1-inch drill bit) I also added a clean out valve to the base of each rain barrel so that cleaning will just mean a flush with a garden hose in the future. My barrels came with lids that have a metal clamp to hold them in place, so I drilled a few small drainage holes in the lid to avoid standing rain water in the lids and added a layer of mosquito proof screen which I just put in place by clamping the lid down. I added the screening to my overflow drains also to make them bug proof. I used three layers of 8x16x4-inch blocks (leveled and staggered) to make my base. Great project. Thanks for the help. I now have 4 working rain barrels.


10 years ago on Introduction

the foundation block in the first photo may be for illustration purposes only, but if not, it seems it might be a bit unstable. I use four 8" x 16" x 1" capstones, sometimes also called pavers. they're also available in a 4" thickness. I interlock them into a square pattern to form a stable platform as some full rain barrels can weigh about 400 pounds. or, you could use what is commonly referred to "earthquake strapping" to tie it to the building. it's just a metal band with perforations every few inches to place a nail through for securing. they're common for water heaters as well. and also for your design, I'd think it might be good to make sure the overflow outlet lip is below the bottom of the inlet basket. otherwise, once full, the waterline will be up inside the basket allowing mosquitoes to breed in that water and wiggle through the basket screen openings. looks good. thanks for sharing.