New rain barrel

by Richard Perkins

rainbarrelThis week I finally installed a rain barrel. It probably would have been better to install it when we were still getting rain… I know.

At least we have it now. I looked for an affordable ready built unit for several months. With the asking price for the few I did find was hovering around $100, I decided to make my own.

I started with a 20 gallon trash can for $17. After adding a washing machine valve for $3, some ABS pipes fittings for $7, a roll of sliding door mesh screen for $10, four cinder blocks for $5, and a flexible storm gutter joint for $2, the whole system cost me less than $40.

Funnel meshI cut two holes in the can and one hole in the lid. As you can see above, I mounted the washing machine valve as close to the bottom of the barrel as I could get it. I then turned the lid upside down and glued a square of the nylon mesh screen over the hole using ABS plumbing cement. This will keep mosquitoes out of the rain barrel while the inverted lid acts as a funnel to catch rain water from the down spout. I set the barrel on a platform of four cinder blocks, which raise it high enough to get my garden watering cans under the tap.

overflowTo finish the barrel, I mounted a 1.5 inch ABS overflow up at the top of the barrel, just below the lowest point of the inverted lid-funnel. This way, in very heavy rains, when the barrel reaches maximum capacity it will drain down into the previously existing gutter. Although you can’t see it too clearly in the picture, I mounted another screen of nylon mesh in the overflow spout to keep the critters away from the water.

Unfortunately, rain is pretty seasonal here, and I’ve already missed the rainy winter months. But the best part of my new system is that we can use it collect recycled water in addition to rain water. Let me explain. “No… there is no time… let me sum up.”

We use the shower a lot more regularly than it rains here. Ideally we’d have a gray water system installed to capture and treat shower water for irrigation or toilet flushing purposes. But we rent, so that’s not really an option for us. ;-)

What we can do is recycle our daily cold water blast without too much effort. My readers from cold weather climates will be familiar with the phenomenon. You turn on the shower first thing in the morning and have to wait 10, 20, sometimes 30 seconds or more for the water to heat up before you can get in. And even if you have a “water saving shower head installed, it still puts out 1.6 gallons per minute. That’s 0.3 to 0.8 gallons of drinking quality water you just sent down the drain to the waste water treatment plant without even using it. I could go into the amount of energy you consumed heating that water up and then just dumped into the uninsulated interior walls of your house while it sat in your pipes. But that’s a topic for another rant. :-o

We don’t waste that water and you don’t have to either. You can catch it in a bucket. Any bucket will do, as long as the rim is wide enough to catch the spray of your shower head. Leave the bucket in your shower so you don’t forget to use it. Put it under the shower head before you turn on the shower in the morning and wait for the water to heat up. Once the running water is warm enough, remove the bucket, set it aside, and shower as usual.

Use the bucket to water house plants or an herb garden. Or do what we do: dump it into your rain barrel and use it to irrigate your vegetable garden. It’s just one more little thing you can do to make your lifestyle more sustainable.

18 Responses to “New rain barrel”

  1. Great post Richard
    I have been looking into a similar rain-collector set-up.

    With the advent of water soon becoming the next gold rush for the utility companies, when they decide water is scarce and their customers must therefore pay premium rates, now is the time that we educate ourselves on sustainable energy devices on not have to rely on these rip-off conglomerates.

    Down with plutocracy, up with people power.

    Take care

  2. Thanks Sol. We got water wise after living in Australia for two years in the middle of a ten year long (and counting) drought. Even though we face similar challenges in California, the average consumer is not nearly as water conscientious as the Ozzies.

  3. I really like your way of thinking! you beat me to the trash can idea for a rain barrel. Good job! I guess your previous experience has helped you tremendously.

  4. Thanks Linda! The new system is working great. We got some late season showers today and the barrel is full. I probably could have gone with the 34 gallon trash can instead but it seemed like overkill at the time. I should have water for the vegetable garden for weeks now.

  5. hey richard,

    This is an ingenious idea! very earth friendly and practical! So, do you own the rights to this invention yet? :)


  6. Zorlone – Thanks, I’m pretty happy with how it came out. I could have been even more earth friendly (and saved some money as well) by using a recycled barrel. You can find places to buy used food grade barrels if you do a little digging. For me, the convenience of the hardware store down the street was hard to beat.
    Sadly, this isn’t a new idea: you can actually buy refurbished rain barrels online that use a very similar technique. So I won’t make a buck off this barrel, but at least I can water my garden with a clear conscience.

  7. Oh! Just market it differently “RAIN BARREL PERKINS Ed.”
    Anyway, at least you had a hard days work and mental exercise in designing and making this little project of yours. The only project I’ve done so far is an improvised study lamp, which I posted in my multiply site. LOL.

    Cheers indeed!


  8. living in a cold climate I am quite familiar with the delayed dash into the’s either that or the wet cold water hop for a minute or so..:)

  9. Early – yeah, if you’re a die hard you can use the cold water to shower in… provided that your neighbors don’t mind hearing a high pitched shriek first thing every winter morning.

    Zorlone – there’s only so much you do with creative advertising.

  10. Hi Richard,

    You’re a great writer. Congratulations for winning the Nanowrimo with your several novels. I wish you could be among the contributors to my book. All the best.

  11. Thanks for the (entirely undeserved) compliment Jena! Full disclosure: I have only written one novel in its entirety: The Renegade’s Door. Which hasn’t been read by a single publisher yet, I might add. Doormaker’s Fall, the first novel I attempted to finish turned out to be more of a giant world building exercise than a book. But it helped me establish the framework for Renegade, and Voices of the Deep, which is more of a short story than a full length book.
    And again, the only place any of this stuff is published right now is here on my own website. It’s a bit premature to call me a great anything. But I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    What’s your book about? I take it you’re working on a compilation of works from multiple authors?

  12. Richard,
    So, marketing is not your cup of tea. Well, at least you can call your rain barrel as your own. One of your pet projects, if I may add.
    Looking forward to your next “top secret” works.


  13. corection: *”top secret” work.


  14. Cheers to you to Z! Congratulations on winning WOOF last week.

  15. Thanks! Good luck with the book. Hold on, I am commenting on a different post. Wait… I’ll go there.


  16. Hi Richard,

    Yes it is a compilation of articles from different bloggers. It will be a self-published book, so it won’t be as “polished” as those highly commercialized ones. But it would be a start. Who knows? a big publisher might come along and notice it. Kindly send me a PM in the EC dashboard if you opt to accept my invitation. I will PM you my email ad then. Thanks. I look forward to your contribution.

  17. I found your blog through CMF and I’m glad I did! This post was great.

    I’m in an apartment in Japan and I use the “cold water” from the shower to do laundry. My washing machine has a pump that I can put into the tub (which we don’t use often).

  18. sixmats – welcome to the site! If you’re looking for more apartment friendly green suggestions check out my vermicomposting article. How do you like living in Japan? We lived in Australia for two years and loved being ex-pats. Happy reading!