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Frugal Rain BarrelMake Your Own Rain Barrel

With the cost and availability of water for gardeners, many have considered purchasing a rain barrel so that rain water could be captured and used for plant watering. What most have discovered, however, is that rain barrels aren’t cheap. And with current economic conditions demanding that we live more frugally, I decided to develop a simple and inexpensive alternative that would save both rainwater and money. The following instructions will allow you to construct “The Frugal Rain Barrel” for about $30.

While many construct rain barrels from plastic 55 gallon drums, suitable drums are often difficult to locate for a reasonable price. I’ve made a couple of these, and, if you can locate one, they do make a good, strong rain barrel. However, the most affordable solution, and a great substitute is to use an inexpensive, but sturdy plastic garbage container.

The least expensive and acceptable one that I’ve found is a 45 gallon plastic garbage can manufactured by Pioneer Plastics and sold at Wal-Mart for about $15. Wal-Mart also has others that range in size up to 60 gallons, but the price is significantly more.

Parts list:

  • Garbage container (must be sturdy and watertight)
  • ½” hose bib, ¾” metal washer, ¾” rubber washer or “O” ring, ½” electrical locknut
  • 1” PVC ell, w/male threads on one end and female glue joint on the other, 1” electrical locknut
  • 1” PVC ell, w/both ends female glue joints
  • Small container of PVC cement
  • Approx. 30” of 1” PVC (length determined by height of container)
  • Tube of silicone caulk
  • Plastic colander (used as water filter on homes with no gutter covers)
  • Flexible downspout

Begin by drilling a ¾” hole about 3” up from the bottom for the faucet or hose bib. Apply silicone caulk to the threads and insert it into the hole, turning it as you push it in will thread its way into the plastic. Once the faucet is screwed firmly in place, install a rubber “O” ring or washer (either is acceptable) on the faucet threads inside the container. Then, place a ¾” metal washer on the faucet and tighten with a ½” locknut, available in the electrical section of home centers.

Next, drill a 1-1/4” hole about 2” down from the top for the overflow pipe. The location will vary depending upon the shape of your container. Place it as high as possible without compromising the strength of the container. Screw a 1” PVC elbow in into the hole, applying silicone caulk to the threads, just as you did with the faucet (male threads on one end, and female glue joint on the other). Apply silicone caulk around the fitting on the inside of the container and secure with a 1” electrical locknut.

You’ll need a short piece of 1” PVC—the overflow pipe/approx. 30”—nearly long enough to reach the ground from the drain ell (the length will vary depending upon the height of your container). Then add a glue-on elbow to direct the water away from your container, and you’re almost done.

55 Gallon Rain BarrelThe last step is to cut a hole in the top where you’ll insert your downspout. If you have effective gutter covers that keep debris from your gutters, you can run the downspout directly into the rain barrel. You’ll need to cut the existing downspout with a metal cutting hack saw (I recommend cutting about 1’ higher than the container and using a flexible downspout to divert the water into the container. If you do not have gutter covers, you’ll have to install a screen on the rain barrel to keep debris from clogging the hose connection. I recommend using a plastic colander, cutting the hole so that the rim of the colander fits snugly against the top.

Finally, make sure the ground is level or the platform upon which you place the container is secure. Water weighs about 8-1/3 lbs. per gallon; a 45 gallon container will weigh almost 400 lbs!


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