Rain Barrels for harvesting rain water

Note: This is Clean Virginia Waterways' "Old" rain barrel web page and will not be updated after March 2013. Visit the NEW Clean Virginia Waterways web site!

Clean Virginia Waterways is a leader in water conservation through the use of rain barrels. More than 160 nonprofit organizations and local governments have been trained by CVW to put on Rain Barrel Workshops in their communities. Tens of thousands rain barrels are deployed across Virginia thanks to CVW and its partners. Watch a video about Rain Barrels that was made by one of CVW's partners.
For other Clean Virginia Waterways programs and projects, click here.


Rain Barrel Workshops in 2013
Come learn about water conservation, how to prevent polluted runoff, and the benefits of rain barrels. You will learn how to install and maintain a rain barrel, and how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

April 22, 24 and 26, 2013 in Farmville, VA
"Rain Barrels For Lunch" Noon to 1 PM each day. Location: Clean Virginia Waterways' headquarters on the Longwood University Campus (Stevens #113, Longwood University, 201 High Street, Farmville, VA 23909). To register, send an email to cleanva@longwood.edu with "Rain barrels for Lunch" in the subject line.

May 8, 2013 in Richmond, VA.
"Rain Barrels 101" 6 PM. Location: Maymont in Richmond. Registration is through Maymont.

Would your organization or park like to co-sponsor a Rain Barrel Workshop with CVW? Reservations are now being taken. Call Sandy Miller at 434-395-2602 to learn more.

To receive more information, send an email to cleanva@longwood.edu and put "Rain Barrel Workshop" in the subject line.

"Train-the-Trainer" workshops available: Clean Virginia Waterways staff are available to teach "Train-the-Trainer Workshops" to community groups, nonprofit organizations, and other groups that would like to host their own "Make a Rain Barrel Workshop". Call CVW at 434-395-2602 for details. Also, nonprofit groups that have gone through the CVW training can order recycled food barrels for use in their own rain barrel workshops. Please contact CVW for details.

What is "Train-the-Trainer?"
During Clean Virginia Waterways' popular "Train the Trainer" workshops, employees of nonprofit organizations, churches, schools and local governments learn how to put on a Rain Barrel Workshop in their own communities.


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These workshops are made possible thanks to a grant from the VA Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (which is funded by Virginians who buy the Chesapeake Bay license plate) and the Virginia Environmental Endowment. Additional support for workshops for teachers comes from Altria.  

Positive Reasons to have Rain Barrels:

Your plants will love it
Rainwater has no added chemicals, is usually soft and free of dissolved minerals. This untreated water is great for your indoor plants, your garden and lawn, washing your car, and your birdbaths. (Water that is "softened" with chemicals is bad for plants due to salts that are dissolved in the water.)

You will be conserving water
Drought or no drought, we should all conserve water. Our groundwater and fresh water supplies are limited. So, as more people are using groundwater, we need to use it responsibly.

You will be reducing runoff
If your roof's area is 1,200 square feet (30 x 40 feet), then 1 inch of rain equals more than 700 gallons! You can harvest this rainwater which otherwise would be lost to runoff. To harvest even more rainwater, you can connect several barrels in a series and have 100s of gallons of water capacity.
· Runoff can cause erosion, plus carry fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals into streams where they are very damaging. Rain barrels help you manage peak storm runoff.
· An overflow hose, located at the top/back of the barrel, designates the direction of excess water to flow. It can be replaced with a hose of longer lengths, to divert overflow to a garden or distant runoff area.

Water from rain barrels is easily accessible for various garden chores.
(Also, if you depend on electricity to run your well pump, this water is handy in power outages.)

Save Money
If you get your water from the town, why pay to water your gardens when you can collect hundreds of gallons at no cost?

Safety Notes
It is recommended that you cover the top of the rain barrel with metal hardware cloth or something similar to keep small children, pets and wildlife from falling into the barrel. As an alternative, you can drill large holes (1 to 2 inches in diameter) in the rain barrel’s lid. This will allow water to enter the barrel, but will prevent animals or children from falling through the screen.

Avoid Mosquitoes
PLEASE do NOT breed mosquitoes in your rain barrels! Always cover the barrel with fine screening to keep mosquitoes out. If you empty your barrels every 7 days, you will not have a mosquito problem--remember, rain barrels are not meant to be long-term storage. If you are concerned, use small portions of Mosquito Dunks (available in hardware stores and on-line). These dunks slowly release the active ingredient, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills mosquito and black fly larvae for 30 days or more, and will not effect plants, people or wildlife. The dunks are made to cover 100 square feet each, so you do not have to use an entire dunk in a barrel. OVERFLOW -- you must have an overflow hole on your barrel that will keep the water level below the screen. If your rain barrel is full to the top, mosquitoes can breed in the water between the screen and the top of the water surface. Mosquito control employees in Henrico County, VA found that Asian Tiger Mosquitoes had entered a rain barrel by way of a hose that was attached to a manufactured rain barrel. So it is recommended that you attach screening to the end of hoses that are attached to your overflow. One fellow we know put a tiny screen onto the overflow fixture using a hose clamp.


· Power drill with hole bit (1/16 inch smaller than faucet insert) and pilot drill bit. (A ¾" faucet measures 1" on outside, so you need 15/16" hole bit)
· Pliers to tighten washers
· Paper towels (for excess caulk)
· Utility knife or small saber saw to cut lid
· Scissors to cut screening
· Hacksaw to shorten downspout
· Screwdriver for hose clamp


Barrels — Finding an adequate barrel to convert to a rain barrel is the HARDEST PART of this project! Best are the 45 to 60 gallon heavy-duty plastic barrels that are used to ship olives, peppers and other food stuffs to this country. Clean Virginia Waterways uses food barrels wth two-part lids for our workshops and the workshops held by CVW's partners in Virginia. Plastic trash cans are usually too thin to be good barrels. Water is heavy, and most trash cans cannot handle the weight. Some soft-drink bottling companies have barrels available at a small cost -- contact your local bottlers to learn if they have any available.

· A ¾" faucet (measures 1" on outside). Our favorite are the "quarter turn" faucets shown at right. They are easy to open, and you can see from a distance if water is flowing or if the faucet is closed. Spend the money...you won't regret it.
· 2 Washers and 1 lock nut for the faucet
· Caulk (clear plumber's)
· Screening (buy a roll that is used to repair screen windows. Nylon or fiberglass fabric-like netting is easier to work with than the metal type)
· Metal Hardware Cloth (This metal mesh will keep children, pets and wildlife from falling into your barrel)
· Hose adapter for your overflow (many options here, depending on where you want your overflow to go). We use nice brass adapters.
· Lock nut needed for the adapter.
· Hosing (short piece) to connect one barrel to another or to direct your overflow to a nearby garden. Hose clamps as needed.
· Bricks or cinderblocks to raise your barrel above the ground (this will improve water pressure)
· Low flow sprinklers.


STEPS (Illustrated below with photos. If you are using a different type of barrel, you will have to adapt these directions):

1. Drill hole near bottom of barrel
2. Caulk around outside of hole
3. Screw faucet in (use washer)
4. Caulk inside, then put on lock nut with washer (use pliers)
5. Drill a hole near top for overflow
6. Put in a hose adapter for overflow. Use washers. Use pliers to tighten. You MUST attach a hose to the overflow, or you will breed mosquitoes.
7. Cut out center of lid (or drill several 1 to 2 inch diameter holes into lid)
8. Cut screen and hardward cloth (metal mesh) larger than lid and put in place on top of barrel.
9. Level the dirt under the rain barrel, then add some sand
10. Rain barrels need to be higher than ground level—use bricks or cinder blocks
11. Measure and cut off part of downspout
12. Put the barrel in place
13. Connect the overflow from one barrel to the next, or have overflow hose divert excess rain to a garden or distant area of your choice, away from your home's foundation. Attach a small section of screen to the end of the hose using a hose clamp -- let's keep the mosquitos out!!

Tips for using your rain barrel

· Do not use collected water for drinking, cooking or bathing.
· Keep the lid secure so children or animals cannot fall into the barrel.
· Disconnect the barrel during the winter to avoid constant overflow during the rainiest months & freezing. Attach it in the early spring to fill it for use.
· Most recycled barrels need to be cleaned before first use.
· If a moss killer has been used on the roof let a couple of rainfall events go by before collecting the roof runoff.
· Elevate your rain barrel slightly to make access to the spigot easier and to increase water pressure.
· The screened top will prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your barrel.
· Consider joining multiple barrels for additional capacity!
· Use the collected water within a week --between rainy days.


Rain barrels need faucets, washers, caulk and other items you can buy at any plumbing supply store.


To drill holes in your barrel, you will need a drill, hole bit and a pilot drill bit. Hole bits come in various sizes -- make sure you know the faucet's measurements before you buy a bit.



First, a faucet goes near the bottom of the barrel. Use clear caulk and washers on the inside and outside of the faucet. A lock nut is used inside the barrel to hold the faucet in tightly.


You will need to crawl into the barrel to attach the lock nut. Take a flashlight, rag, caulk, washer, plyers, and lock nut with you.



Then, you will need to provide for the overflow from the barrel. This allows you to connect a hose, so the overflow goes to a garden. Or, you can connect one barrel to another.

If you use a hose-adapter for your overflow, you need to protect the threads as you screw it into place. Protect the threads by using a rag or pipe cap before you use pliers.

You MUST put in an overflow -- otherwise, your barrel will fill to the top, and mosquitos could breed on the water surface. Be sure to hook a hose to the overflow so it doesn't become an entrance for mosquitos. Attach a small section of screen to the end of the hose using a hose clamp -- let's keep the mosquitos out!!


Some barrels have solid tops, while others have screw-on rings that are open in the center. If your barrel top is solid and made of soft rubber, cut the center of the top out using a utility knife. Leave the lid in the sun first to soften it.



    If the lid is made of hard plastic, you can drill larger holes (3" or so) into the lid so water can enter the barrel. You will, of course, still use a screen to keep out mosquitos!



Later, you will put a piece of screen over the barrel to keep mosquitos and leaves out of the water. You can use metal or fiberglass screens. The top will hold the screen in place. Secure metal hardware cloth over the top to keep children, pets and wildlife from falling into the barrel.

Replace the screen every two or three years. Let's NOT breed mosquitos!



Build a base for your barrel. Bricks and cinderblocks work well. Remember-- a gallon of water weighs over 8 pounds, so a full rain barrel will be heavy. Make sure your base is big and strong enough -- you don't want your rain barrel to tip over because of an inadequate base.

Measure & cut off a portion of your downspout. Keep the downspout piece that you are removing -- you can use it in the winter when your rain barrel is in storage.


The higher the barrels, the more water pressure you will have.


These barrels will both be full with just 1/5 of an inch of rain!

Fill your watering cans, or hook a hose to the faucet. Look for "low pressure" sprinklers if you want to water a garden. Use the water within a week or so -- this is not meant to be long-term water storage. Replace the netting every two or three years to keep mosquitos out.

THANKS... Clean Virginia Waterways thanks the VA Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (which is funded by Virginians who buy the Chesapeake Bay license plate) and the Virginia Environmental Endowment for their support of this program. Additional support for workshops for teachers comes from Altria.

To learn how you or your business can support our programs, please contact Clean Virginia Waterways' executive director, Katie Register (phone: 434-395-2602 Email: registerkm@longwood.edu )


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