Emergency Water Storage – Cheap Homemade Rain Barrels

Building an emergency water storage system is cheap and easy.

Collect good, clean rainwater for free with your own homemade rain barrels.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

Commercially-made rain barrels are too expensive. So I made my own and spent $34.56 for 64 gallons of storage.

To buy a 55 gallon capacity, ready-made rain barrel from the store, it would have cost around $100.

Anyone can do this. There’s no special carpentry skills or tools required. And all the materials are available at any hardware store. Plus, it takes about a half hour to complete. If you’re handy, you can have it done in minutes. Really, it’s that simple.

Now, these rain barrels are basic. There are no fancy hose fittings or complicated overflow valves.

But there’s also less that can go wrong (not to mention easier to construct and less expensive). To use, I simply lift the lid and dip in a pitcher. And without a spigot at the bottom, there’s no way for my barrels to leak.

With this method, there’s virtually no limit to the amount of water you can collect. Just keep adding barrels as space permits.

Emergency Water Storage

Without getting too trite and sappy, fresh water is our most precious and unappreciated resource. (After our children, of course. Awwwwwww…)

By harvesting rainwater, you can not only ensure your plants survive, but that you can too. It may sound far-fetched, but in the past, during severe droughts, towns in America have run out of water. The pipes literally went dry.

Sewage treatment facilities malfunction. Cities like Milwaukee (and many others) have given boil orders because tap water was contaminated with cryptosporidium.

Well water can also become contaminated by fertilizers, oil or become too alkaline to drink.

Collecting rainwater for emergency water storage is simply insurance against all that. And after set up, the maintenance costs are minimal.

Rain Barrel Maintenance

Primarily, you want to prevent mosquitoes from turning your rain barrels into their own personal Playboy Mansion Grotto. You can buy larvicide tablets, but a cheaper solution is to pour in some vegetable oil. This creates a barrier, preventing mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water.

You also should clean out the barrels at least once a year. Leaf detritus and granules from asphalt shingles can turn your barrels into a veritable swamp. Ever smelled the gunk from stagnant gutters? Nobody wants that.

Materials Cost

To get set up with a single barrel, you just need a trash can and a couple of downspout elbows.

But if you want to gang (connect) additional barrels, you need some pipe. (If you're serious about building an emergency water storage system, use as many barrels as you can.)

I used Schedule 40 PVC because I had some scrap lying around. However, you can substitute just about any type of pipe you like; low pressure PVC, CPVC, PEX, copper, galvanized, landscape pipe, garden hose, or any other flexible tubing.

NOTE: Using rigid pipe (that doesn’t collapse or compress) to gang barrels allows you to get by without using fittings. Simply drill the connecting holes a little smaller than the outside diameter of the pipe and it will fit snugly.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

I also had a spare gasketed fitting from a water heater drip pan, which I used to connect the PVC to the main barrel. It is unnecessary, as the hole where the PVC enters the second barrel doesn’t leak without a fitting, so I didn’t include it in the material cost. If you’d like to purchase a similar fitting anyway, it would run about $10.

The material cost below is from my local home improvement store. Also, because most downspouts already have an elbow at the bottom, you may only need to buy one more. My situation required a special side bend (see picture above), so I bought two new elbows.

Cost for a Two Rain Barrel Setup

$5.96 – Two 3” Downspout Elbows ($2.98/each)
$3.64 – One 10’ stick of 1” Schedule 40 PVC Pipe
$24.96 – Two Economy 32 Gallon Trashcans with Lids ($12.48/each)
$34.56 – Total Materials Cost

That said, if you’re only using one barrel, it’s possible to get set up for less than $16. (The cost of one trashcan and one additional downspout elbow.)

Required Tools

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels - Tools
  • Hacksaw
  • Utility knife
  • Tape measure
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Power drill
  • Spade drill bit

For a single-barrel setup, all you really need is a screwdriver for removing the downspout straps, a utility knife (or any sharp blade) for cutting the holes in the trashcan and a hacksaw for cutting the downspout to length.

If you don’t have one, a serviceable hacksaw costs around $5.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels - Hacksaw

For multiple-barrel, emergency water storage setups, you will also need a drill with a spade bit for drilling the holes for the connecting pipe.

If you’re having trouble fitting the elbows to the downspout, a needle nose pliers is helpful for crimping the ends.

How to Make Homemade Rain Barrels

Here we’re going to discuss the multiple-barrel setup.

1. Position the first barrel, with the lid on, underneath the downspout. If you’re going to place the barrel on bricks or a stand, put those in place first, then place your barrel on top.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

2. Make a mark on the downspout about 18 inches above the top of the lid.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels - Downspout strapping

3. Remove the connecting screws and bend back the strapping to remove the downspout from the wall.

4. Cut the downspout at your mark with a hacksaw.

5. Reattach the downspout to the gutter, replacing the connecting screws. Wrap the strapping back around the downspout, securing it with the screw. You can completely remove the lower strapping (near the ground) from the wall; you don’t need it anymore.

6. Slide the first elbow over the cut end of the downspout. If the downspout won’t slide into the elbow, crimp the ends of the downspout with a needle nose pliers. Then slide the second elbow over the bottom of the first elbow.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

NOTE:  Crimped ends should ALWAYS point down. This allows water to flow through without seeping out.

Assembling the two 45 degree elbows this way will “jog” the downspout away from the wall, allowing it to enter the barrel easier.

7. Lift the lid of the barrel straight up and trace around where the bottom of the elbow touches the top of the lid. A felt tip marker works well. This will be where the downspout enters the barrel.

Remember, as my grandfather would say, “This ain’t no jewelry box.” If the cutout in the lid is not perfect, you can adjust the position of the barrel later.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

8. Cut the hole for the downspout in the lid with a utility knife.

9. If necessary, from the leftover section of downspout, cut a length so it extends inside, a few inches below the rim of the barrel. Then slide this downspout section over the bottom of the second elbow.

10. Remove the barrel from under the downspout. Align the cutout in the lid with the downspout and slide the lid up. Replace the barrel with the downspout inside and slide the lid down, covering the barrel.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

11. To connect another barrel, drill a 1.25 inch hole approximately 4 inches down from the rim, in the same spot on the first and second barrels.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

12. Cut a 12 inch section of 1 inch Schedule 40 PVC pipe with a hacksaw and thread it through the 1.25 inch holes in both barrels. It will be a tight fit. The PVC pipe should extend a few inches into each barrel.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

13. Finally, drill 2-3 overflow holes in the second (or last) barrel approximately 2 inches from the rim. Make sure the overflow holes are ABOVE the PVC connection holes between the two barrels.

Emergency Water Storage – Homemade Rain Barrels

Done! Sit back and wait for the next rainstorm.

To use, just lift a lid and dip in a pitcher to water plants. Simple, cheap and effective emergency water storage.

You should filter the water before drinking. Check out my review of the Royal Berkey Water Filter here.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.