How to build a rain water collector
In this instructable, I will show how I made a rainwater collection system to water my garden. This helps to conserve water and make good use of a free and renewable resource.

Note that this involves using many different tools and proper safety precautions should always be taken.

Step 1: The beginning - installing the posts

How to build a rain water collector
To begin, I laid out a 55 gallon drum on the ground and dug a hole on either side in the spot that the poles (4x4 pressure treated lumber posts) were going to go.

Step 2: Installing the posts continued

How to build a rain water collector
With the first post in the ground, I leveled it off with a level and propped it into place with scrap wood. Then, I began to mix the concrete. This entire project took three 50lb. bags of fast-drying concrete. With the concrete mixed to the right consistency, I poured it around the base of the post.

Step 3: Installing the posts continued

How to build a rain water collector
The second post went in the same way as the first. From end to end -including the posts, it wound up measuring 39 inches.

Step 4: Installing the posts continued

How to build a rain water collector
With the front two posts in place, I took a barrel and laid it back into place. This made it possible to judge where the last two posts should go.

Step 5: Installing the posts continued

How to build a rain water collector
Of course, each post got 6 screws in the base to help them stay in the concrete.

All screws used in this project were 2 1/2 inch coarse-thread exterior screws.

Step 6: Installing the posts continued

How to build a rain water collector
With the last two posts in, the concrete is allowed to dry and harden.

Including the posts, the front and back both measured 39 inches and the left and right sides both measured 38 inches. However, anybody attempting this should measure and place the posts in whatever configuration that is best.

Step 7: Building the barrel braces

How to build a rain water collector
While the concrete dried, I began to make the barrel braces. These need to be strong, since they will be supporting the entire weight of the barrels.

For this, I used two pieces of 2x4 screwed together with 5 screws (3 on one side, 2 on the other). The pieces measured 39 inches.

After that, I drilled pilot holes on both sides (centered and 1 3/4 inches in). Into these pilot holes, I drove galvanized lag bolts (with washers) using a ratchet with the appropriate tip.

Driving the lag bolts in ahead of time will make it easier when attaching them to the posts.

Step 8: Building the barrel braces

How to build a rain water collector
For a two-barrel system, I needed to make four of the barrel braces.

This is what a finished barrel brace looked like.

All four of them measured 39 inches apiece.

Step 9: Installing the barrel braces

How to build a rain water collector
The bottom front barrel brace went in first.

I drilled pilot holes into the posts where the barrel brace was to go. The pilot holes were exactly 13 inches up from the ground.

I drove the lag bolts the rest of the way with a ratchet, making sure to check with a level.

Step 10: Installing the pole braces

How to build a rain water collector
The bottom two pole braces went in next.

They went in directly under the first barrel brace and were screwed in after being checked with a level.

These offer nothing by way of support for the barrels. All they do is help to maintain structural stability on the frame.

Step 11: Installing the barrel braces

How to build a rain water collector
Next, the second barrel brace went in. These two will be what supports the bottom barrel.

The pilot holes that I drilled to accept the lag bolts were 23 inches from the ground.

The difference in height makes the barrel tip slightly forward. The angle helps to fit more water in the barrels as they fill and allows the barrels to drain more completely.

Step 12: Installing the barrel braces

How to build a rain water collector
I tested the bottom braces with an empty barrel to be certain that the barrel would fir properly.

Step 13: Installing the pole braces

How to build a rain water collector
Aftet that, I cut out the top two pole braces.

The top pole braces will go on the same angle as the barrels, so it is useful to measure to determine the appropriate length.

Mine were 38 1/2 inches.

Step 14: Finishing the frame

How to build a rain water collector
The last two barrel braces and the last two pole braces went in next.

I drilled the pilot holes for the top two barrel braces exactly 25 inches up from the tops of the bottom barrel braces. I drove them in with a ratchet and checked with a level.

The ends of the last two pole braces went up exactly 26 inches from the tops of the top two barrel braces and are held in with screws.

Step 15: Finishing the frame

How to build a rain water collector
This is what the finished frame looked like.

Step 16: Finishing the frame

How to build a rain water collector
I then tested the frame with two barrels to be sure that they both fit comfortably.

The bottom (and heaviest) barrel is slightly pinched in by the top barrel braces. This adds to the stability of the bottom barrel.

Step 17: Finishing the frame

How to build a rain water collector
With the two barrels in their final places, I attached additional barrel supports in the fronts and backs of the barrels. All four supports measured 39 inches.

I checked the supports with a level, but did not take an exact measurement of their position. They were placed where I felt that they would support the barrels best.

With the four barrel supports in, the barrels are in their final positions and can not slide backwards or forwards.

Step 18: Installing the barrels

How to build a rain water collector
I chose to use barrels with raised lips on the top.

Into the lip of each barrel, I drilled two screws down into the barrel braces. This will help to prevent the barrels from rocking and shifting during bumps or windy days.

Step 19: Installing the plumbing

How to build a rain water collector
I used a barrel wrench to screw the plugs into the barrel bungs.

The plugs that came with the barrels were already threaded to accept drains and other attachments.

The very top bung did not get a plug as this is where the drain will go later

Step 20: Installing the plumbing

How to build a rain water collector
This is what I used to connect the barrels.

My barrel plugs came already threaded to accept various attachments.

I chose these hose bibs because they were a little longer than a standard boiler drain or hose bib. However, most anything would work. To make them fit the plugs, I also needed to use a bushing to adapt them.

Wrap the threads with thread tape and snug with a wrench.

Other parts can be substituted at this point, such as two pipe elbows instead of hose bibs.

Step 21: Installing the plumbing

How to build a rain water collector
These are the barrels with the hose bibs installed.

Note that the middle hose bib is upside-down to accept the connector hose.

Step 22: Installing the plumbing

How to build a rain water collector
I made the connector hose out of clear tubing and two female hose ends.

The hose ends were in the garden department as replacement parts for mending broken hoses.

Make sure that the hose ends properly fit the hose bibs when shopping for parts, otherwise additional adapters may be needed.

Step 23: Installing the plumbing

How to build a rain water collector
This is the completed connection.

With both hose bibs in the fully open position, water will be able to drain from the top barrel into the bottom.

Step 24: Testing the system

How to build a rain water collector
At this point, I decided it was a good time to check for leaks. I filled up the system through the top bung and waited to see if any water leaked out.

I did notice that the top plug was dripping, so I tightened the plug a little more and all was fine.

Step 25: Testing the system

How to build a rain water collector
I then tested all the hose bibs to make sure they worked properly

Step 26: Testing the system

How to build a rain water collector
I attached a garden hose to test if I was getting an acceptable amount of water pressure.

There really is no pressure to speak of, since this system is gravity-fed, but the barrels should be installed high enough to get a constant flow of water.

Step 27: Testing the system

How to build a rain water collector
Next, I drained the system and washed it out an additional time to be certain that I flushed out any small debris.

Step 28: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
Anybody attempting this may want to consider installing gutter guards like this.

They help to keep debris from clogging the system by just allowing the water in and dropping debris from the roof.

Step 29: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
Detach the gutter and measure the width of the spout.

You will need to know this when shopping for parts.

Mine happened to be two inches.

Step 30: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
These are the parts that I used to drain water from my gutters into the barrels.

I used a 2 inch to 1 1/2 inch rubber reducer and various pieces of 1 1/2 inch ABS pipe.

The bungs on the barrels are 2 inches wide and the extra half-inch is to allow water to drain out when the barrels reach capacity.

Step 31: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
This is the new gutter drain.

The reducer was clamped on to the spout and the ABS pipe clamped in.

This is what all of the pieces will be built off of.

Step 32: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
Dry-fitting all the pipes and various fittings is useful to determine exactly how a drain will be put together.

A person attempting this may want to experiment with what works best as not every setup will need the same parts.

Clean the pipes and fitting and apply ABS glue to cement into place (those using different types of pipe such as PVC will want to use the appropriate type of cement as well).

Step 33: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
Make sure the pipe fits and rests comfortably on the barrel. Also, I used a piece of wire nailed to the barrel brace to hold the new drain in place.

You will want to use piping that is less than the size of the bung, otherwise water will not be able to leak out and will back up your gutters, potentially causing flooding problems for a basement or crawlspace.

An optional thing I did was to select a 90 degree bend with an additional outlet. Into that, I cemented a thread and cap. This will act as a temporary override during a storm if the system were to become clogged with debris and cause the gutters to become backed up with water. Simply remove the cap and the excess will spill onto the ground.

Step 34: Installing the drain

How to build a rain water collector
This is the completed drain.

Note that it is simple with the least amount of parts used and rests comfortably in the barrel.

Step 35: Finishing touches

How to build a rain water collector
I used a reciprocating saw to cut the tops of the posts off, using the top pole braces as a guide.

Step 36: Finishing touches

How to build a rain water collector
I then screwed on the roof to the frame.

The roof measured 45 x 45 inches of 1/2 inch plywood.

Step 37: Finishing touches

How to build a rain water collector
This is the completed system.

All the instructions from this point on are pretty much optional, since the decoration is up to the builder.

Step 38: Decoration

How to build a rain water collector
I chose to remove the roof and hang plastic lattice on the sides and back and used 1 1/4 inch finishing nails to hold it in place.

Step 39: Finishing touches

How to build a rain water collector
I began using a reciprocating saw to trim the lattice, but later switched to a hand saw because it made more even cuts.

Step 40: Finishing touches

How to build a rain water collector
I re-attached and shingled the roof to protect the plywood and make it more attractive. I used 3/4 inch roofing nails for this step.

Step 41: Finishing touches

How to build a rain water collector
This is the project completed.

However, I would like to paint the wood with a low- or no-VOC exterior paint at some point to match the house.

Step 42: Final thoughts

How to build a rain water collector
This is it.A few final thoughts:
  • The hose that drains from the top to the bottom barrel would benefit from being wider. Water can only pass through as fast as the smallest opening can handle. If I were to re-do it, I'd try to drill or cut a wider hole to accept wider fittings and tubing.
  • There is most likely a way to pressurize the system with an air compressor for applications that need more pressure than gravity such as sprinkler systems.
  • The bottom barrel would most likely benefit from a small hole drilled above the water line to let out air as it gets replaced with water. This will allow the top barrel to drain into the bottom barrel faster and at a more steady rate.
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