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DIY vs. Store-Bought Rain Barrel System

DIY vs. Store-Bought Rain Barrel System - Rain Barrel collecting water
Steve Thompson
Steve Thompson
January 20, 2023

A rain barrel system collects water so you can build up a supply of off-grid water for gardening, cleaning your decks, washing your car, and other purposes. You can either buy rain barrels from a store or make them yourself from scratch, saving money. Maybe you have large containers in your garage that take up space when they could be used as rain barrels. Here's a look at the advantages of a DIY vs. store-bought rain barrel.

Methods to Collect Rainwater

Rain Barrel

Not only can a drought create dry conditions that threaten plant life, but it can also lead to uncomfortable water restrictions. In California, for example, several counties have adopted a policy of limiting lawn watering to 3 or 4 days per week due to drought. This limitation means many homeowners must settle for spotty or brown instead of green lawns. Collecting your own rain barrel water prepares you for intermittent dry conditions.

Many people visit a hardware store to purchase a rainwater barrel when water becomes scarce. But various alternatives can help lower costs, such as contacting a local food distributor, bottler, or vineyard to see if they want to sell used barrels at a discount.

You can also catch rain as it falls from the sky with trash cans or buckets. Even though rainwater is unsafe for drinking, you can convert it into potable water using a water filtering system that includes NSF/ANSI Standard 53 or 58 certifications. You can also create safe drinking water by boiling it for about 3 minutes to destroy viruses, bacteria, and parasites, then letting it cool off.

In the DIY vs. store-bought rain barrel comparison, the main downside of purchasing a store product to collect rainwater is that it's a more expensive method. Rain barrels typically cost about $100 or more. All you really need is something that holds water, like a plastic trash can that costs much less.

Keys to Rainwater Harvesting

Before investing in materials or installing a rain barrel to your drain pipe, you should plan what you intend to do with the collected water. If you have a large garden, you may need to store water for emergency watering purposes.

You should choose a location for your rainwater collection that's near a roof corner where there's already a drain pipe. But you don't necessarily need a drain pipe or gutters to harvest rainwater. You can place containers that hold a gallon of water around your home to see where most water is concentrated. Otherwise, you'll need to take extra steps in preparing for installation. To determine what size barrel you need, consider your roof size (measured in square feet) and the average rainfall (measured in inches) for your area.

You should also find out if your state has any regulations on rainwater harvesting. Colorado and Utah are the main states with such restrictions. In New Mexico, you may need a rainwater storage system permit. At the same time, the state offers incentives for people to store rainwater as a conservation strategy. Other states like Texas encourage this activity with tax incentives for investing in rainwater harvesting equipment.

Meanwhile, the federal government has no regulations on rainwater harvesting but allows states to set their own rules. Generally, most Americans are allowed to collect rainwater as long as it falls on their property.

Components of DIY Rain Barrels

When designing your own rain barrels, starting with a base that can support the weight of about 55 gallons of water or whatever amount of water you plan to store is a good idea. A stable base is essential to avoid the container tipping over and to flood your yard. The two main tools you'll need are an electric drill and a fine-toothed hacksaw. Here are the basic components you'll need to craft your rain barrel:

  1. Base - Set the barrel on a flat base about 6 inches from the ground
  2. Container - A large plastic or metal trash can with a lid works fine
  3. Lid - Your rain barrel needs a lid with a hole in it that water passes through
  4. Spigot - This device is the same as a faucet, releasing water from the container
  5. PVC pipe - A 10-foot pipe with a downspout should be sufficient to collect water
  6. Screen - The top of the barrel needs a screen to block bugs and debris
  7. Overflow valve - This device ensures water is directed away from your home

Now that you know the components involved, you can decide if you want a hybrid model of store-bought products and homemade solutions. It's easier, for example, to buy a spigot and overflow value from a hardware store than to construct these items yourself.

If you live in a region with hurricanes or strong winds, the most secure type of base to use is made of heavy-duty materials. But for milder climates like Southern California, the base can just be a box of sand or gravel that's a few inches in depth. The bottom line, a DIY vs. store-bought rain barrel system is usually less expensive, and there are more customization options.

Steps to Installing a Rain Barrel


The first step in your rain barrel project should be installing a spigot. The simplest way to do this is to drill a one-inch hole in a plastic garbage can. You can place a 3/4-inch spigot in the hole, securing it with metal and rubber washers. Then apply silicone sealant on both sides to ensure the barrel is waterproof.

The next step is installing the overflow valve on the same barrel side as the spigot. For this device, drill a hole that will house the valve a few inches from the top of the barrel. Connect the overflow valve with a PVC pipe or hose that allows you to control where excess water goes. Place a window screen or fabric at the top of the barrel to filter debris from the water.

The final steps conclude by installing a rain diverter, then cutting and connecting the downspout. A rain diverter involves cutting a small hole in the gutter so water can drain through a pipe. Cut the downspout with a hacksaw. Ensure the downspout is not near any wiring, such as for an energy system. You can develop even greater sustainability if you go solar today.

Once you've put all the rain barrel components together, follow these three steps:

  1. Select a location for your rain barrel.
  2. Place the barrel on a solid foundation, which can be an elevated platform.
  3. Make sure the spigot and overflow valve point away from your home.

That's pretty much all you need to do besides maintain the rain barrel, which should sit directly below the downspout. Be sure to inspect your drainage system periodically to spot leaks early.

Rain Barrel Maintenance

Once your rain barrel has been put into commission, it's wise to inspect it once a week and make sure it's not collecting strange particles or tiny insects. If you find a leak in the pipe, you'll need to fix it as soon as possible with sealant. Even though water can be stored in a barrel for years, it's best to use the water within a week of its collection to prevent exposure to harmful bacteria.

After a week, you might want to empty the barrel if you don't plan to use the water for anything. You should also dump the water if you expect freezing temperatures. Ideally, you'll be able to keep your rainwater barrel in the same location year-round.

Cleaning the barrel at least once a year is essential to maintain sanitary conditions. Use antibacterial dish soap and water when you clean and rinse the barrel. Then let it dry in the sun. When reconnecting the barrel to your system, check to see that the seals are watertight; otherwise, apply silicone sealant.

Contribute to Sustainability

Sustainability Concept Lightbulb

Due to climate change causing both severe droughts and storms, it's advantageous to collect rainwater when you can. The DIY vs. store-bought rain barrel debate comes down to your preferences and budget. The more sustainable solution is to make your own container that collects excess water to reduce the runoff onto other properties and the sewage system.

When you waste water, you're working against sustainability. When you store water for short-term purposes, you're achieving sustainability. To learn more about sustainable solar systems for your home, contact Ivan The Solar Guy. We are happy to answer your questions about saving money with a home solar system.