Belated Eco-Saturday: DIY rain barrel

Sorry I’m late with this. We had to wait for the weather to warm up so we could finish this project.

One quick way to reduce your water consumption is to collect rainwater for the garden. You can buy prefabbed rain barrels, but most of them are ridiculously expensive, and it’s easy to make your own for less than $50 worth of materials. Here’s how to do it:

Large plastic trash can with a lid
3/4-inch hose bibb (a.k.a. spigot)
3/4-inch metal washer
Two 3/4-inch female-threaded unions
Three-inch-long, 3/4-inch male-threaded nipple
Teflon tape
Small tube of silicone caulk
Bungee cord(s) long enough to stretch around the top of the trash can
Cheap mulch cloth*
Three 18-inch square pavers
Flexible downspout extender

3/4-inch hole saw bit
Tinsnips or utility knife

Start by using your hole saw bit to drill a hole about 4″ from the bottom of the trash can.

Wrap the threads on the barrel end of the spigot with Teflon tape. Slip the washer over the threads, put a bead of caulk on the washer, and push the threads through the hole as far as possible.

Reach into the trash can and screw one of the unions onto the threads from the inside.

When you’re done, caulk around the washer just to make sure you’ve got a good seal. I’d have used clear caulk instead of white, except I’d already screwed up and tried to seal it with pipe dope a week earlier after I discovered all my old caulk had dried up. I forgot that pipe dope never dries. Oops.

Caulking around the outside is probably overkill, but I wanted to make sure it wouldn't leak.
Yours will look better, because you won’t have pipe dope residue smeared everywhere.

Drill another 3/4″ hole about 2″-3″ from the top on either the left or right side of the barrel, depending on where you want your overflow pipe.

Teflon tape helps make a tighter seal.
Teflon tape helps make a tighter seal.

Wrap one end of the nipple with Teflon tape, insert it into the hole, and screw on the other union from the inside. Use caulk on both sides to make a watertight seal.

Once the caulk cures, cut a piece of cheap mulch cloth big enough to cover the top of the trash can, with about 4″-5″ draping over the sides, and secure it with bungee cords. (You may need to cut a small hole in the cloth to accommodate your overflow pipe.)

An extra pair of hands helps with this part.
An extra pair of hands helps with this part.

Drill a 3/4″ hole in the trash-can lid. Using the tinsnips or utility knife, enlarge the hole until it’s big enough to accommodate the downspout extender.

Put the lid on the barrel. Stack your pavers next to the downspout, set the barrel on top, and cut the downspout off about a foot above the top of the barrel. Install the downspout extender and direct it into the hole.

This lid was a pain in the arse, because it was convex. If you can catch a sale on one of those huge contractor trash cans with the flat lid, I'd recommend getting one. It will save you a lot of hassle.
Fact: Convex lids are a pain in the arse to work with.

Finish by attaching a hose to the overflow pipe and directing it away from the house or into another barrel.