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Rainwater Harvesting With Barrels & Chains

It’s easy to keep a steady supply of rainwater on hand for your garden or lawn with these DIY projects…it’s not only a frugal method to irrigate your garden, it also helps conserve water.

Rainwater is considered “greywater” which means it’s not fit for human consumption, but fine to use on plants (including food-bearing) and grass. An added benefit is that it’s not treated with chlorine, something plants are happy to do without.

When I was growing up, the setup my grandparents used was simple with an open barrel sitting underneath a downspout (similar to the image on the right) and a bucket was used to scoop out the water they needed. This will do the job just fine, but covered containers with small (or sealed) openings will keep out debris and prevent insects (such as mosquitoes) from laying their eggs in the water. Landscaping fabric or fine mesh screen can be used to cover the top hole for added protection and a spigot attached towards the bottom will provide access to the water.

Rain chains are a decorative feature and a lovely piece of garden art, but they also serve a purpose by directing the flow of water into a collection vessel. Cup varieties will handle heavier rainfalls better but link versions are adequate for most homeowners needs. They are attached to the gutter and hang down, ending just above the collection vessel or they can be longer and pass through the top opening and into the container.

The barrel setup can be simple and low-cost to make, especially if the product is sourced locally. Wooden ones might be tougher to find but they can be purchased online (try searching for wine or whiskey barrels). Reach out to local restaurants, food distributors, breweries or grocery stores (especially if they have an in-store deli) and they should have large food-grade plastic ones available for just a few bucks. If all else fails, a plastic garbage can will do the trick just fine.

Ready to get started? Here are a few different ideas to check out…

DIY Projects


Plastic Drums [1]: These are made with plastic garbage cans or drums (with lids), PVC plumbing and electrical conduit fittings.

Recycled Food Containers [2]: (check local restaurants or food distributors) Rests on concrete blocks so the spigot can be near the bottom (height is needed to fit the bucket underneath the tap).



Garbage Can [3]: You’ll need a tube of watertight sealant (or Teflon plumbing tape), rubber washers, metal washers, hose clamp, spigot, landscaping fabric (to keep out debris) and a drill.

Wooden [4]: Here’s how to convert a wine barrel (found online or locally if possible) with a rainwater collector, drill, flat wood drill heads, screws, a handle and an old piece of wood.



Copper Rings [5]: These are made with soft copper tubing, PVC pipe, diagonal cutters, lead free solder, a blow torch and a few other supplies.

Galvanized Steel Buckets [6]: Made with small buckets, a length of 1/2″ chain, S-hooks, eye-hook, an aluminum downspout outlet and assorted tools.



With A Catch Basin [7]: This allows the water to gently spill over to prevent ground erosion, can also be set above a cistern for collection.

Aluminum Funnels [8]: An easy project made with 2″ aluminum funnels, galvanized chain, 1/2″ nuts and bolts.


Tip: Although plastic barrels aren’t as nice as wooden ones, you can position them near shrubs or tall flowers and plants to hide them.