Building a Rain Barrel & Self Watering Garden

11:26 AM

My rain barrel
I built this rain water system a long time ago (like maybe 4-5 years ago).  I've been meaning to write a blog about it, but I never got around to it.

Well the barrel started leaking recently and needed a small repair.  That seemed like the perfect time to create a new blog.

Also, because the system has been in operation for several years I can tell you some of the pitfalls and mistakes to avoid.

It should first be noted that rain barrels are illegal in some parts of the country.  Please check local laws before you begin this project.

For this project you will need:

1 - 55 gallon barrel
1- 3/4" threaded faucet
3/4" drill bit
outdoor caulk
teflon tape
water diverter
2 feet of 1" tubing
Power Drill
Down spout Extenders (optional)
cinder blocks (optional)

Disclaimer:  I built my first rain barrel based on information that I found on the internet and trial and error.  Some of the things that I suggest may not work for your particular needs.  I encourage you to use what works for you and skip what doesn't.

The Barrel
55 gallon Barrel
Depending where you live, a barrel may be hard to find.  Make sure you use a food grade barrel.  Some specialty supermarket markets use 55 gallon barrels for olives and other imported foods.  If there is such a store in your area, check with them first.  You might be able to get a barrel for free.  I purchased my barrel off craigslist for $10.  

The Diverter

Rain water diverter
I did not think that I would need a diverter.  Turns out I was VERY, VERY wrong!!  Fifty five gallons seems like a lot of water.  When it comes to rain, it's not!  If you run a downspout directly into your rain barrel, a light/medium rain can fill the barrel in less then an hour.  The rest of the water will spill onto the ground near your foundation.  That's just asking for a basement flood!

The diverter sends some water into the barrel and the rest to your downspout.  Having a diverter will cause your barrel to fill more slowly, but it will also prevent floods.  Once the barrel is full the dirverter will stop sending water to the barrel.

Diverters are available in Home Depot in some areas.  I purchased mine online from For about $20.

The Faucet
Threaded faucet

Once the water is in the barrel you'll need a way to get it out.  Make sure that you buy a faucet that is threaded on both ends.  You'll want to thread it into your barrel. You'll also want to be able to attach a garden hose to get the water out.  There is a wide variety of faucet's available from hardware stores in the plumbing aisle.  Cost is $6-$10.

Putting it all together!

Drill Bit
The first hole you'll drill will be the hole for the water spout.  Keep in mind you'll want the hole high enough so that you can attach a garden hose, but low enough to get as much water from the barrel as possible.  Any water that is below the spout will not come out of the barrel.  I suggest that you make your hole 6-8" from the bottom of the barrel.

Choose a spout location

Thoroughly clean the spout area.  Wrap the threaded end of the spout in teflon tape and thread it into the hole.

Teflon tape on spout
These pictures were taking while I was repairing the broken spout on my barrel.  Here are a couple of spout options that are available.

Old spout on the left.  New Spout on the right.

After the new spout is installed, caulk around the spout for extra leak protection.

Caulk around the spout
Because my spout is fairly close to the ground I tend to use a lot of caulk.  The lawnmower and the kids are likely to bump against the spout which could cause it to loosen or leak.  Allow the caulk to dry for AT LEAST 24 hours.

While the caulk dries you can work on the rest of the barrel.  Just be careful not to bump the spout.

 Place the rain barrel where you want it to be in your yard (near a down spout).  If necessary, elevate the barrel using cinder blocks or a barrel stand.  Because the filled barrel will be VERY heavy, make sure that is it on as steady a surface as possible. 

Installing the diverter
Using a handsaw, cut the gutter to install the diverter.  The diverter slides on and no tools are necessary for installation.  (I cut the gutter in the wrong place and used a flexible down spout extender to fix the problem). The bottom piece of the gutter slips on to the bottom of the downspout. 


Using the 1" bit, drill a hole in the top of the barrel.  Attach 1 end of the tubing to the diverter and the other end should slide into the barrel.

 That's it - You're DONE!  Now, you just have to wait for it to rain!

Self Watering Garden

After the caulk has dried for at least 24 hours, attach a garden hose to the barrel.  

I run a soaker hose into my garden beds.  Be sure to leave enough slack in the hose so that it lays flat on the ground.  In time the grass may grow over the hose and secure it to the ground.

Grass secures hose to the ground.
In the spring, during the rainy season I leave the spout from the water barrel off so that the barrel can fill.  Later in the summer when there is less rain, I open the faucet enough so that the rain water drips from the barrel into the soaker hose and onto the garden.


Mosquitos LOVE water.  To prevent mosquito larva from forming in your barrel, add mosquito dunks.  These little discs last for approx 30 days and are available at hardware stores or online.

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