A rain barrel has been high on my list of garden wants for quite some time, so when I found out my local library was offering a class, I was psyched. The class was taught by Taryn Murray who works for the WV DEP and she not only taught us how to build and install a rain barrel, but also a bit about the problems with storm runoff and the benefits of a rain garden.
I must confess, after seeing how cheap and easy the barrels are to make (I made mine for about $20), I'm a little ashamed that I've spent my summers dragging a 100ft hose up the hill and around the house (swearing and smashing plants as I go) almost every day. Even more shameful is the extra money forked over to the water company every summer just to water my plants when I could have been watering for free.
There are all kinds of ways to make rain barrels and you can see different ways by doing a search for DIY rain barrel. This is the way I made mine. I used the basic instructions that were given in class, but came up with my own parts, using what I had lying around the house and what was available at my local hardware store.
Rain Barrel Tutorial
You'll need a large (55 gallons is perfect) food grade barrel with a lid (keeps the skeeters out).
If the lid comes off, great, 'cause it will make it easier to empty and clean the barrel for winter storage (and if you are a bit OCD, it makes it much easier to check the water level 10 times a day). If your lid is connected, don't sweat it, you can still use your barrel.
After calling every recycling center and business that I could think of with no luck, I finally broke down and bought a 40 gallon barrel at my local feed store. Of course as soon as I got the barrel home, someone called and said they had a barrel for me.
You can paint the barrel to match your house, blend in with the bushes, or if you are feeling creative you can paint your own masterpiece.
Just don't waste your time and money on this fancy schmancy plastic paint. It promised great results without sanding or priming but didn't deliver. It scratched like crazy as I was putting my barrel together. If I had it to do over, I would have lightly sanded the barrel, put a coat of primer on and then a coat or two of flat spray paint.
You don't have to paint your barrel, but if it is transparent I would recommend painting it to keep algae growth minimal.
Next you'll need a 3/4 inch bushing, a spigot to fit the bushing, some teflon tape and some silicone sealant.
Twist the bushing into the hole, creating threads in the plastic. Back the bushing back out.
Wrap a layer of teflon tape around the bushing.
Twist it into the barrel again leaving enough sticking out to attach your spigot.
Attach the spigot to bushing. If you have a spigot with a bib around it, you can apply a bit of sealant to the bib before twisting it on. Sorry, my pictures for this step were blurry. Anyway, once the spigot is attached, squirt some sealant all around the edge where the spigot meets the barrel. You can do this on the inside around the bushing if you have a barrel with a removable lid.
Next you'll need an overflow outlet. I used an old washing machine hose. Drill a hole close to the top of the barrel to fit your hose (you want it to be tight) twist it in and clamp it.
You'll want your barrel to sit up at least a foot or two so you'll get some water pressure. I used bricks, but you can use cinder blocks or landscaping blocks. If you want to attach a garden hose to your spigot, I would recommend putting it up even higher. Once you figure out how high your barrel will sit, cut your downspout.
A few words about cutting your downspout:
The sound of a hacksaw scraping across aluminum will wake the dead, so be prepared.
If you like any of your neighbors you might want to do this part while they are at work on vacation. If you don't like them, do it around the time they all go to bed. Save the piece you cut off because this winter when you empty and store your barrel, you'll need to reattach it.
Another helpful tip and one I learned from experience: if you store any of your tools inside the barrel while you work, remember to take them out before you set you barrel up and it begins to fill with water. :)
Okay, depending on your downspout placement, you may or may not need a downspout extension.
That should do it. Set your barrel up, put the lid on, and stick your downspout into the hole in the lid.
If you are interested in making your own barrel and would like a list of supplies needed, or if my tute is too whack for you, go here. Or check your local Dept. of Environmental Protection for workshops in your area. As a matter of fact, if you live in my area, there's a workshop coming up in Teays Valley next month. You can call the city of Hurricane for details. The cost is $25 and you get the barrel, the parts kit, and some hands on help. That, my friends is a sweet deal.
And if you're interested in learning more about or constructing a rain garden, the designer and architect of the ReStore's rain garden's is speaking at the Capitol Market in Charleston on July 26 at 10am.