Using a Rain Barrel as a Sprinkler System

Using a rain barrel as a sprinkler system is a great idea for two reasons: first, it helps to keep rain water from filling up the sewers and second, it creates a storage container for irrigation water. That way, you won’t see an increase in your water bill when you water your lawn and garden.

Setting up a rain barrel makes sense from an environmental standpoint, too. It will take you an afternoon, but once it is functional, every time it rains you will be saving money.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • 55-gallon plastic rain barrel with lid
  • Screen
  • Length of plastic tube (about 5 inches in diameter)
  • Spigot
  • Hose
  • Drain hose with fitting and seal
  • Five 3-foot 4x4 pieces of pressure treated lumber
  • 2x4 lumber
  • ¾ inch plywood
  • Drill
  • Skill saw
  • Wire cutters
  • Adjustable jaw wrench
  • 1-inch and 3-inch wood screws

Step 1: Build the frame, Cut the pieces

4x4s don’t come in 3-foot lengths, so you will have to purchase enough lumber to cut five pieces that long. Make sure they are evenly cut. Measure the plywood big enough (but not too much bigger) to support the rain barrel. With the skill saw, cut two squares of plywood to these dimensions. Lay one square directly on the other with ends perfectly flush and fasten them together with four 1inch screws (position them away from the edges and not in the center).

Step 2: Assemble the frame

Pre-set four 3-inch screws in the corners of the plywood (not right on the edge–about 1 ¾ inches in) and one directly in the center. Lay the plywood on the up-standing 4x4s and get one leg flush with the edge of the corner, setting the screw as you do.

Do one leg at a time, making sure the plywood is perfectly flat against the four outer legs and flush against the edge before you set the screw. Add a second screw to each outer leg. Fasten the fifth middle leg in the same way.

Step 3: Brace the frame

Measure the distance between each of the outer legs and cut lengths of 2x4 to fit snugly. Lay the frame on its side and fit each of the four 2x4s into position about halfway between the plywood and the bottom.

Make sure they are level and uniformly placed. Drill pilot holes at an angle from both edges of each 2x4 leading into the adjacent 4x4 leg. Set 3 inch screws to secure both ends of the 2x4 into the legs.

Step 4: Prepare the barrel

Stand up the frame where it will sit. It should be directly underneath a downspout. If the barrel needs holes drilled, make one about 1-inch from the bottom. This is for the spigot, so it should only be as big as necessary for that fitting.

Drill a second hole about an inch from the top of the barrel. This is for the drain hose. A fitting here, too, is advisable. Again, make the hole only as big as you need.

Step 5: Attach the fittings

Attach both the spigot at the bottom and drain fitting at the top of the barrel. These should be purchased new and unsullied, so follow any directions that come with them. Make sure they are properly sealed, especially the spigot so no water leaks.

Step 6: Position the downspout or tube along with screen(s)

Before you do this, set the barrel atop the frame and use a stepladder to reach it. You can opt to run the downspout directly to the top of the barrel or dismantle it a few feet above the barrel and attach the larger tube to the end.

If you do that, make it sure the tube is secured to the downspout. Use an adjustable hose clamp. In the lid for the barrel, make sure there is a hole large enough for a hefty volume of water to pour in.

Affix a piece of screen big enough to cover the entire hole and them some to the lid. Either position the end of the downspout or rubber tube atop the screen so the water flows into the barrel or place a removable rubber boot around the end of the downspout to contain it.

The only problem with this is if it the screen fills up with debris, water will run everywhere. To fix this, secure a piece of screen at the top of the downspout where it attaches to the gutter.

Step 7: Attach hoses

Attach a hose or rubber tube with hose clamp to the drain fitting and a hose to the spigot.

After the barrel fills with water, turn the spigot on for use in watering. If it gets too full, it will drain out of the top hose. Because it is 3 feet off the ground, gravity will create a bit of water pressure, making sprinkler use a possibility.