Garden Hack of the Month: Use A Rain Barrel

April 10, 2018

With our rainy spring weather hitting us in full force, many of us are probably in the mindset that we don’t need to worry so much about watering our plants right now. But what happens in the middle of July or August when the summer heat really sets in? While your plants might not need extra water right now, they will in the future so it’s a good time to setup a rain barrel to collect rain water while you can.

Benefits of Rain Barrels:

  • Use it to water plants
  • Use it to wash your car, tools, etc
  • Provide water to your farm animals
  • Help reduce storm water runoff into streams and nearby water bodies

Rain barrels can be purchased at your local garden center, hardware stores, co-ops, and various other places. You should also lookup if your state or county offers any kind of rebate or program for setting up a rain barrel and if you’re required for have a permit. Snohomish County does not require a permit as long as you’re collecting water on the same property where you’ll be using it and not planning to harvest the water to use as drinkable water.

Snohomish Large Rain Barrel

Large Rain Barrel

Buy a Rain Barrel Kit or DIY Rain Barrel?

If you’re a resident of Snohomish County, you can purchase a 55-gallon rain barrel kit for $50+tax which includes the barrel plus other pieces, like the spigot to connect a hose to and an overflow spout. In King County, rebates are offered for both rain barrel cisterns and rain gardens but is dependent on your location within King County and you must use a RainWise contractor to install it.

Newly Installed Rain Garden

If you’re on a larger property and want/need more than one rain barrel or if you’re just feeling crafty, DIYing a rain barrel may be cost effective for you. Once you buy the initial supplies to make your own rain barrels, you’ll be able to make as many as you want.

Supplies Needed:

  • A clean 55-gallon (or bigger) plastic drum (you can also use a plastic garbage can)
  • A spigot
  • Hose clamp
  • Hose
  • Fine wire mesh or screen material
  • 2 Rubber washers
  • 2 Metal washers
  • Watertight sealant or Teflon tape
  • Drill with large bits and/or hole saw attachment (or some way to cut holes in your barrel)
  • Stable, level, and elevated base that can support a full, heavy rain barrel that is located under a downspout
  • PVC pipe (optional)


For the Bottom Spigot: Make sure you place this low enough to use the majority of the water in the barrel but high enough so it’s easy to attach a hose to the spigot

  1. Near the bottom of the barrel, drill a hole that’s smaller or same size as the faucet you have chosen
  2. Before inserting the spigot into the hole, place a metal washer and then a rubber washer over the threads followed by a ring of watertight sealant over the rubber washer. Place spigot in the hole you just drilled.
  3. After the watertight sealant has dried, place another rubber washer and then a metal washer on the threads on the inside of the barrel.
  4. Use a hose clamp to secure the spigot in place.
  5. Attach garden hose to spigot when you want to use your harvested rain water.

For the Entry Hole: This hole needs to be located directly beneath your chosen downspout and big enough for water to flow into

  1. Using a hole saw attachment on your drill or an X-Acto knife, carefully cut out a hole on the top of your barrel
  2. Cut a large piece of fine wire mesh or screen material that is big enough to completely cover the hole you just cut out on the top of your barrel with a little bit of extra to secure it. Using gorilla glue/some other kind of waterproof glue to attach the material over the entry hole. If you’re using a garbage can, you can cut a piece that is larger than the entire opening when you lift the lid off and then place the screen over the whole opening and simply set the lid on top to secure it. This will prevent any mosquitos, pests, leaves, and other materials from getting into your rain barrel and clogging it up.

For the Overflow Hole: The overflow hole will make sure your barrel won’t get overfilled on heavier rainy days.

  1. Using a hole saw attachment on your drill or an X-Acto knife, carefully cut out a hole (or 2) near the top on the side of your barrel.
  2. If you have another clean plastic drum or garbage can available and you don’t want to waste any overflow water, you can run a piece of PVC pipe from the overflow hole you just made to the second barrel to get the most water from those rainy spring days.
  3. If you don’t have another barrel for the overflow water to go to and you don’t want that excess water near your house, you can also use a piece of PVC pipe to reroute the overflow water to an adjacent garden bed.

Placement of Your New Rain Barrel:

  1. When you’re placing your rain barrel, you want to make sure it’s on a stable surface (such as a crushed gravel pad or concrete pad) that can support your rain barrel when it’s completely full of water.
  2. The entry hole at the top of the barrel should be placed right underneath the downspout that you want to use
  3. If you can elevate your rain barrel, this will help with water pressure and allow you to fill up watering cans easier

Final step: Enjoy those rainy days and just think of all the water you’ll be able to use in the future!

Just a quick note to think about, especially in our area. Rain barrels do help people save money on their water bills but it’s still important to remember that it may take a while to re-cooperate the cost you put in to buying or DIY-ing a rain barrel. You also should keep in mind that during our really hot months when we aren’t getting rain, you may still have to water plants with your hose since we won’t have any rain to harvest. A rain barrel is not a fix-all solution but it can definitely help with storm water run off and supplement your hose watering.

Have you tried making your own rain barrel or did you have one installed on your property? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!

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