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This is the Easiest Way to Save Rain Water, from Expert DIYers

Looking for a way to reuse rainwater without using gutters? This easy DIY will show you how to upcycle a trash can into a rain barrel for under $35!

With summer approaching, Eileen was working hard on her flower garden.

She has a DIY planter box close to the house, but she also has a flower garden out in the perimeter of the yard. As I saw her walking all the way up to the house and out to the yard to fill up her watering can several times in a row, inspiration struck.

Why not set up a type of water reservoir by her garden?!

Not only would this eliminate her water laps to the house, but it would avoid the hassle of rolling and unrolling a hose.

Furthermore, I could use a rain barrel system which would fall right in line with our new organic way of life. We’ve made a lifestyle change this year, opting for organic, non-processed foods, and re-using rainwater was a perfect addendum. 

DIY rainbarrel on a homemade stand in the garden, without using gutters

Planning the DIY Rain Barrel 

I did some research on how making DIY rain barrel reservoirs and settled on a design pattern I liked.

A rain barrel reservoir is a very simple way to collect and store rainwater for future use. You first need a large container to store the water.

A typical container used is the blue 55-gallon water drums with bung hole caps on the top. In my research, I actually found out that a lot of cities offer water conservation programs and give out these drums for free.

Also, you can probably even check with businesses or food processing factories to see if they are throwing any away.

   

I opted for a different route though, as I did not need a large 55-gallon container.  I shopped around at Home Depot and found a 20-gallon plastic garbage can for $13 that was perfect.

The lid appealed to me because when I flipped it over, it was deep and round. This meant it would serve as a nice water collection basin for the falling rain (as opposed to a flat surface that I would get with a water drum), allowing the water to pool in the center.

​Here’s a picture of the garbage can I purchased at Home Depot with the deep upside down lid:

Use a trash can to make a diy standalone rainwater collector, without gutters

Constructing the DIY Rain Barrel

Making the DIY rain barrel was super simple. Here are the steps that I used:

Drilling Holes in the Lid

The first step of construction was drilling five large drainage holes in the center of the lid.  I used a hole saw bit for my drill to make these cuts.

Attaching a Screen Cover

Then I placed some mosquito screen for a cover on the part of the lid that would be facing the water, and secured it in place with some waterproof duct tape.

It was important to cover the drainage holes with insect screen to keep bugs out of the water. If the screen wasn’t fine enough, mosquitoes especially would get in and lay larvae in the water.

​Drilling an Overflow Hole

I also had to drill an overflow hole in the top part of the garbage can. This was to allow water to drain out when the container was full to capacity. This hole also had to be protected with insect screen.

Here’s a picture of the 5 drainage holes in the lid, as well as the overflow hole in the garbage can:Use a trash can to make a DIY rain barrel and cover

Below is a picture of what the lid looked like once the insect screen cover was applied with waterproof duct tape (the screen is a little hard to see, but its covering the holes).

This part of the lid would be facing downwards so would not be visible.

How to make the cover for the DIY rain barrel from a trash can

Attaching a Valve Spigot

I needed a valve inserted at the bottom of the can to let water out when needed. I did some shopping online and found a really nice valve spigot with a bulkhead fitting that was perfect for my rain barrel design.

The bulkhead fitting was the piece that let me attach it to the wall of the garbage can without leaking.

To install it, I first drilled a hole at the bottom of the can. Then I inserted the inside part of the bulkhead fitting. This piece came with a rubber ring that would form a tight seal when pressed against the can wall.

Next, I attached the outside part of the fitting. It just screwed onto the inside piece from the outside, and then I used a wrench to make a tight connection.

Finally, I screwed on the actual spigot into the outside bulkhead fitting.  I used some Teflon tape on the spigot grooves to ensure a watertight seal.

​With the spigot tightly installed, I partially filled the can with water (just high enough to cover the spigot) and checked for leaks.  No water came out, so it was good to go.

Here’s a picture of the spigot (left) and bulkhead fitting (right), straight out of the box:

Use a spigot and a trash can to make a standalone rainwater collectorHere’s a picture of the installed spigot from the outside (notice the white Teflon tape around the spigot groove to make a waterproof seal with the bulkhead fitting):

Make a DIY rainwater collection system for the garden

Below is what the bulkhead fitting looked like from the inside:

DIY rain barrel irrigation systemSecuring the Lid

Next, I had to secure the upside down lid to the garbage can so that a gust of wind wouldn’t send it soaring through the air.  I came up with a simple technique of drilling 16 small holes around the perimeter of the lid penetrating the can below.

Then I inserted 6 inch U shaped strands of electrical wire into the holes, twist tying the bottoms.  The wires held the lid tightly to the garbage can.

Here’s a picture showing the wire strands holding down the lid on the DIY rain barrel:

how to make a DIY rain barrel cover without gutters

Building a DIY Rain Barrel Stand

The DIY rain barrel was now finished.

However, the project would not be complete without a proper rain barrel stand. The barrel needed to be elevated about a foot off the ground to allow buckets and watering cans to be placed under the spigot.

I came up with a simple but very sturdy design for a stand using wood left over from my shed project.

​It was important to use pressure-treated wood for the stand as it would be in direct contact with the ground and be exposed to bugs. I constructed the stand as outlined in the pictures below.

Cutting the Wood

I cut 2’ lengths of 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s (pictured below) and 1’ length of 4 x 4s (not pictured):

How to Build a Stand for a DIY Rain Barrel for rain collection system

Then, I attached 4 of the 2 x 6s to 4 vertical 4 x 4s:

diy rain barrel stand for the gardenNext, I attached 2 of the 2 x 4s to the top of the 4 x 4s. These were to serve as the supports for the stands platform:

How to Build a Garden Stand for a DIY Rain Barrel (Made from a Trash Can)

Finally, I attached 4 of the 2 x 6s to the top, completing the rain barrel stand:

Constructing a Rain Barrel Stand to Water the Garden for the standalone rainwater collectorSecuring the the Rain Barrel to the Stand

With the stand and rain barrel now complete, I found a good location near to Eileen’s garden and set it up.

I also made sure there were no tree branches above to block the rainfall.  At this point, I realized I forgot to properly secure the rain barrel to the stand.

A strong gust of wind would knock over an empty barrel. So I screwed in 2 metal hooks into the stand and tied the garbage can handles to them with some carabiner style bungee cords.

​Here is a picture of the final setup of our DIY rain barrel:

How to Water Your Garden with a DIY Rain Barrel Trash Can - rain water collection system

Here’s a close up of the hook for the bungee cord, securing the rain barrel to the stand:

How to Secure Your DIY Rain Barrel to the Garden Stand for the gutterless rainwater collection system

Testing our New DIY Rain Barrel

I was excited for Eileen to start using the rain barrel. Now I just had to wait for rain.

Luckily it rained the next day, and I ran out after the skies cleared up to check out the rain barrel.

My simple design worked pretty well. I opened the spigot and water came pouring out. Though, it wasn’t that much water for the amount of rain that fell.

The garbage can lid only has so much surface area to collect water and yielded a small amount of water. So, it would take several large rain falls to collect a usable amount of water. However, it still saved Eileen trips up to the house and back.

So although the basic design for the rain barrel was complete, I was already envisioning upgrades to improve the water collection efficiency.

​Updates to come in future blog posts!

As for time and cost, the materials for the DIY rainwater barrel cost $35, and it took about an hour to make.

3 Year Rain Barrel Update

Our DIY rain barrel has been working out great. It has saved us so many trips from the house all the way out to the garden hauling watering cans.

Depending upon how much it has rained, sometimes we need to fill up the rain barrel with the hose, but then the rainwater will continue to maintain it again.

It’s much easier taking the hose all the way down the yard a once a year or so – than every watering.

DIY Rain Barrel from a Trash Can - tutorial for using a trash can to collect rainwaterDIY trash can rain barrel with a homemade wooden stand, serving as a gutterless rain collection system Using a trash can as a DIY rain barrel stand for a rainwater irrigation system 20 gallon trasn can on a wooden stand serving as a gutterless rain barrel system

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102 Comments

  1. Thanks for the nice article with step-by-step instructions. Where did you get the spigot and bulkhead fitting and how much were they?

  2. You old take this a step further by using a downspout diverter and planting flowers or herbs in the inverted lid to weigh it down as opposed to tying it down with wire. Thi would allow you to lift the lid to check the water level while still giving the lid enough weight to prevent it from blowing away.

  3. I like how sturdy that stand is. Many might not know that a gallon of water weighs 10 pounds – thus this when full could weigh close to 200 pounds! I think I would put that overflow hole as high as possible though.
    Thanks so much!!

    1. Thanks for the useful info! 20 gallon garbage cans are the smaller variety too – most people usually use larger ones, so a sturdy stand is very important. Yes, the overflow hole could have went higher. The lid of the garbage can does concave inwards though, and i wanted to leave a comfortable gap between the lid and the water surface (especially with the mosquito screen and duct tape inside the can – even though the duct tape is waterproof, i wouldn’t want it resting directly in the water)

      1. Would you be able to take the lid and invert it or turn over so the water hitting the lid would run more into the can rather than to the ground, there collecting more. In NM with our harsh sun during spring/summer/fall even, I wonder it this would work here. Plus plastics tend to dry out so fast due to the beating of the rays.

  4. Do you put anything in the water to keep it or do you just let it start stinking? how do you keep the water from going “bad”?

    1. Hi Monique – We haven’t noticed any odors with ours, but we do go through it pretty quickly. As soon as its low, we get a good rain and it fills up again. You could always empty your barrel when the water is low and give it a good rinse. Thanks for reading! :))

    2. I have done something similar for years now. I have begun gardening on my deck in containers. I have a large garbage can, but don’t use the lid. I fill it up with water, allowing it to sit without the lid hoping the mosquito’s lay eggs, because then I go get a few goldfish and put them in to feed off the mosquito’s! I keep open containers around to catch rainwater and mosquitos, then dump them into my rain barrel. After a few years, a crack developed in the barrel, so that became my compost worm bin! The next one will become an insert into the ground for a mint bed, or an in-ground root vegetable storage bin.

  5. While I like the DIY aspect of the article – I question it’s usefulness. As anyone who has ever left an empty garbage can in the rain will tell you, even after hours of heavy rain a garbage can will only collect a relatively small amout of water due to it’s limited collecting area. It would take a few days of rain to fill – and if you’re getting that much rain…why do you need a rain barrel? Most roofs, on the other hand, have enough collecting area to fill that barrel in a few hours which is why most collectors are tied into the gutter. Just something to think about.

    1. Hi Bill, Thanks for your comments. You are correct – the rain doesn’t collect a large amount of water, but it does suit the needs of our garden. This type of rain barrel is perfect for areas that aren’t near gutters because it’s easier than lugging a watering can or dragging a hose all the way out from the house every day. In the event of a drought, you could always pre-fill the can with the hose, and then use the rain barrel as a remote water tower. Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. How large or small of holes (in inches) are drilled in this barrel….for the top lid and spiggets and overflow….you didn’t include that into the specifications….great article btw…a poor man’s guide to water collection…

    1. Hi, I cut all my holes to 1.25″ This was really just out of convenience though, as that was the hole size required for the spiggot’s bulkhead fitting, and I didn’t feel like swapping out the hole cutting bit for another size. The 1.25″ works fine though, although some people might prefer slightly bigger holes for the top lid and overflow, depending on how much water is expected to come.

  7. Ash, you are are sweet and talented man. Eileen, you are blessed yo have a man who sees your need and supports your gardening.

  8. Why do u waste water from the overflow drain? Why not connect multiple rain barrels like u made underneath a roof line via the drain holes?

    1. Yes, thats a good way to re-use the excess water coming out the overflow. We didn’t need that much water storage though for our needs, so one barrel was adequate.

  9. I thank you for creating this project. This is my first time, so I’m a beginner gardener. My plan is to create enough food for my family and my neighbors. I also want to be a survivalist. If I have to live off the grid so be it.

    1. Hi Judy, you are so welcome! Wishing you the best with your garden! Living naturally is definitely the way to go:)

  10. Brilliant! I had to leave my barrels when we moved and I love the idea of creating our own this way. Thank you for sharing your project!

    1. That would work well too, Tim. We had our garden all the way in the back of the yard, too far away from the house to use the gutter water. But if you garden is close to the house, that’s definitely a smart option 🙂

  11. Think it better to place rain barrel reservoir directly under roof water drain – it will be filled quickly for 30 minutes of rain (or less).
    Thanks for sharing great DIY recipe!

    1. Thanks! We thought of that, but being that our garden was out in the back of the yard, it wasn’t applicable to our situation.

    1. Thanks Charles! It worked out really well and I didn’t miss hauling water out to the back of the yard:)

  12. What a great idea! Today on my blog, I shared a DIY planter my parents repurposed from a 55 gallon drum. I guess Spring is inspiring us both! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the good point, JV. In our area, conserving rainwater is viewed favorably and local towns have programs in place to help support conserving rainwater.

  13. What a great idea. Your stand is very sturdy, it will get heavy with all that water. I have a rain barrel, but here in Florida in the summer, it can’t hold all the rain and I can’t drain it fast enough.
    Thanks for sharing at Over The Moon Party,
    Bev

  14. We’ve been wanting to make a rain barrel for years! I made ‘self watering’ planters a while back, but they have their own limitations, too. You’ve got me thinking about ways to incorporate those systems together. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thanks, Leslie! There’s lots of great ideas out there 🙂 Good luck with your garden this year 🙂

    1. Thanks! The gutter is a great idea too but our garden was way out in the back of the yard 🙂

  15. What a great idea! Those trips back and forth with a watering can are killer sometimes. Thank you for sharing with us this week at Celebrate Your Story, have a great week.

  16. Thanks so much, Sandra! Yes, those trips back and forth weren’t too bad at first – but they got old fast 🙂 Have a nice week too 🙂

  17. What a great idea! This would be perfect for our small garden. A great way to conserve energy (in trips to get that hose!) and resources!

    1. Thanks Carlee! It’s perfect for a small garden- although I think I packed it with too many plants last year. And yes saving trips back and forth was huge!:)

  18. That’s a really nice tutorial. Love green ideas!
    Thanks for sharing at Funtastic Friday!

  19. This is a great idea, especially during the dry season here in Florida…now, if I could just get my husband to agree to it! Thanks so much for sharing with Celebrate Your Story!

  20. good tips here. I’m looking to set up my water collector this weekend so this has helped alot, thanks.
    Mainy

  21. We should all be living green. Your tutorial is excellent. Thank you for sharing at Vintage Charm.

  22. Hi, this post made the most-clicked list on the Blogger’s Pit Stop. Congratulations. Be looking for a feature on Friday.
    Kathleen
    Blogger’s Pit Stop

  23. My neighbor has a similar setup, but she doesn’t use the lid. Instead, she covers the entire opening with window screen material and secures it with bungee cords. She has it on the side of her porch so the runoff goes into the bin. it works well for her small garden.

  24. Just letting you know I’ll be including your rain barrel in a round up at tonight’s Funtastic Friday Link Party 🙂

  25. Another way to do this, is to tie it into the gutter system. Cut a rectangular hole the size of your down spout, put the down spout into the lid, then use the waterproof duct tape to join it together. I would then use the mosquito screen around the bottom of the downspout.

    That would allow more of the water to fill the barrel.

    1. Thanks for the great tips – especially the mosquito screen at the bottom of the downspout. We were thinking about tying it into our gutter system but our garden is so far from the house. The rain barrel is working great now – it just doesn’t collect a large amount of water.

  26. Such a good idea! I’ve been wanting a rain barrel that wasn’t expensive so that I could put the water from our dehumidifier into it rather than dumping it down the basement sink each time it’s emptied. I’m hoping my husband will make one for me. Thanks for the instructions.

  27. Thank you for the tutorial! How sweet of you to figure out a way to save Eileen trips back and forth lugging the water ? You are also very patient to answer all the people who didn’t bother to read the article and want you to hook it up to the downspouts–which of course would defeat the purpose of saving trips back and forth to the house which is not convenient to the garden. Nicely done!

    1. Haha thanks Liz! Ash is very sweet and thinks up some awesome projects 🙂 We are looking forward to our garden again this summer! Have a lovely day 🙂

  28. Have u considered collecting water run off collecton from your new shed roof? Since this would be closer to your garden? Just a suggestion…nice job!

    1. Hi Michael, Yes we did actually! Our shed has a bunch of trees over it and it would have involved more gutter work – but great idea:)

  29. About three years ago I purchased a 121litre wheeled garbage bin to catch rain water from an eave. When it’s getting too full I start transferring some of the water into 45gal recycled plastic barrels that have the tops cut out. These barrels are then covered with window screening to keep critters, etc, out. The advantage of the the wheeled can is it can be moved to a different location if the need arises and it’s not too heavy to move. I have never used a drop of tap water on my yard since starting to collect rain water. It’s free; it’s unchlorinated.

  30. I do think I read this entire article. Is there a reason this isn’t placed beneath a rain spout? That would help So much in collecting water.

    1. Hi Patricia, the reason we didn’t put it under the gutter spout is because the garden isn’t close to the house. It’s out in the wide open area. If the garden was close to the house, the gutter spout would be a great idea.

  31. I love this!
    Our city (Worcester, Massachusetts) now offers rain barrels through a manufacturer at a discount and I just ordered one. It will definitely go under the rain gutter. Along with the barrel you get an attachment for the downspout so the water flows directly into the barrel.
    That being said, I will also be making one per your plans for the other side of the house. It’ll be the same size as the one in your tutorial as I have fewer plants there. Lugging the hose is inconvenient because that part of the yard is outside the fence.
    Thanks so much for posting this and for being kind and patient with folks who post the same questions that you’ve already answered several times. (Read the comments, folks. It’s likely you’re not the first to ask your question :).
    Kelly

    1. Awww Kelly thanks so much for your kind comments! That’s wonderful that your city offers them at a discount! Haha yes I love the one we have in the back of the yard – I couldn’t lug the hose or make so many watering can trips anymore. It was a great solution for us, and I’m so happy it will work for you too! Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your garden!:)

  32. Thank you for these detailed instructions. I need a way to collect rainwater without collecting it from the roof with downspouts as our garden is in the back of the property far from our apartment building and there is no outside faucet. I was so excited our landlord agreed to let me garden there last year, but it was quite time consuming and laborious lugging watering cans from our kitchen to the garden! This is just what I was looking for: doable, simple, and cost effective. Thanks! Did you ever find a way to collect more rain water?

    To all the commentators who mentioned downspouts: the whole point of a system like this is to collect water in an area that doesn’t have downspouts or roof runoff. There is a lot of information available on collecting rainwater from your roof but it’s hard to find info on collecting water in an area without water, downspouts, outside faucet or electricity.

    1. Hi Sherri, You’re so welcome! That’s so great that your landlord agreed to let you have a garden! Hope this rain barrel helps you so you don’t have to lug all that water! Sometimes we fill the barrel with the hose if we haven’t had a lot of rainfall. We also started it off by partially filling it up with the hose and then letting the rain maintain it. Maybe you could lug some water out to give it a head start – maybe you could load a bucket of water up on push cart? So happy you found our post helpful 🙂 hope you have a great garden:)

  33. Great instructions for a wonderful item. I am making four of these due to a large yard. Tired of dragging the hose that kinks up. Love that it gathers all that rain so I can not only save dollars on my water bill but also save water and not put any chemicals on my plants. I am in Ohio but will be making at least one for my son and his wife who are in Utah. I have three young grandsons who will, hopefully, being not only helping me put this together but also learn how easy it is to conserve. My husband will do the spigot since he is a plumber. That will at least get him involve too. Thanks again for sharing.

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