Maryland's Wild Acres

Greening your Landscape - Rain Barrels

rainbarrel.jpgDid you know that up to 40% of total water use during the summer can come from watering lawns and gardens? That’s a lot of water! During heavy rain storms, a lot of water generally runs off of roofs and into storm drains which can impact local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. One way to reduce stormwater run-off while also conserving water is to use rain barrels in your backyard. Rain barrels are an effective way to capture rain water to use in lawns and gardens.

Make Your Own Rain Barrel

Rain barrels are relatively easy and cheap to make, and most of the supplies can be found at local hardware stores. The most important part of a rain barrel is a 55 gallon water drum. Many times, you can find used barrels for sale at local beverage bottling places or places which process food. Be sure that you purchase food grade barrels from the vendors, and if it is used, then scrub the barrel with some soapy water before you make the rain barrel. The following list of materials and directions were obtained from the Maryland Environmental Design Program.

Materials Needed:

  • 55-gallon plastic drum (be sure to get a food grade drum)
  • 3 1/2ft vinyl hose (3/4" DD x 5/8" ID)
  • 4" diameter atrium grate
  • ½" PVC male adapter (will be attached to bottom of rain barrel)
  • 3" vinyl gutter elbow
  • Waterproof sealant (i.e. plumber’s goop, silicone sealant, or PVC cement)
  • 3/4" x ½" PVC male adapter (will be attached to end of hose and readily adapted to fit standard garden hose)
  • Fine mesh window screen
  • Teflon tape
  • Drill with 3/4" bit (or use hole saw to cut 3/4" hole)
  • Router, jig saw, or coping saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Cinder blocks (to elevate barrel)

Attaching Adapters

  1. Using a measuring tape, measure about 1 inch above the bottom of the barrel where the curvature along the bottom rim ends and the barrel side begins to rise toward the top. Use a 3/4" bit (or hole saw) to drill a hole through the barrel.

  2. Screw the ½" PVC male adapter into this newly drilled hole. The hard PVC threads cut matching grooves into the soft plastic of the barrel.

  3. Un-screw the ½" PVC male adapter from the hole. Wrap threads w/Teflon tape tightly. Coat the threads of the coupler with waterproof sealant. Screw the coated adapter back into the hole and let it sit and dry for 24 hours.

  4. Attach 3 1/2 foot vinyl hose to the PVC male adapter.

  5. Using the atrium grate as a template for size, mark a circle at the center of the top of the drum (Locating the rainwater inlet in the center of the barrel allows the barrel to be pivoted without changing the position of the down spout).

  6. Drill a ½" hole in the inside of the marked circle. Use a router, jig or coping saw to further cut within the marked circle until the hole is large enough to accommodate the atrium grate (the atrium grate is used to filter out large debris). Make sure not to make the hole too big–you want the flange of the atrium grate to fit securely on the top of the barrel without falling in. Placing a scrap piece of fine mesh window screen inside or outside of the grate will provide filtering of finer debris and mosquito control.

  7. Using a ½" bit or saw, cut out a notch at the top of the barrel rim (aligned so that it is above the outlet at the bottom of barrel). The notch should be large enough so that the coupler will firmly snap into place.

  8. The rain barrel is designed to take advantage of gravity. Water will flow from the vinyl hose when the hose is below the barrel. Therefore, place the barrel on cinder blocks at least 15 inches from the ground.

  9. Modify the down spout with a gutter elbow to divert water into the barrel.

Helpful Notes

  • Do not use collected water for drinking, cooking or bathing. Also, it is recommended that you do not use rain barrel water on edible plants due to potential rooftop contaminants.
  • Ideally, you should have rain barrels stationed at downspouts around your house, but if you have to choose a location then place rain barrels near areas you will use water the most. For example, place rain barrels under downspouts closest to your garden.
  • Rain barrels can freeze, crack, and break in the winter. They are typically removed in winter and re-installed in spring.
  • Rain barrels empty via water pressure; however this pressure is usually not high enough to utilize with a commercial soaker hose. Consider modifying a soaker hose with larger holes to assist with drainage.
  • Instead of using adapters to attach to a hose, you can substitute in a faucet adapter to give you flexibility on when to empty the barrel (see image below).
  • Small, electric or solar pumps can be purchased and used to help drain rain barrels quicker.
  • Be creative! Paint your rain barrel with different designs, or place a flower pot on top of it.

Rain barrel with faucet adapter by Claud E. Kitchens Outdoor School 

Ready-Made Rain Barrel Suppliers

Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard!

For Additional Information, Contact:

Sarah B. Witcher
Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Avenue, E-1
Annapolis, Maryland 21401