What is a Rain Barrel?

A rain barrel is any above ground container modified to receive, store, and distribute rooftop runoff for non-drinking uses. The typical size of a rain barrel is 55 gallons. The main components of a rain barrel are a connection to the downspout, a filter to prevent mosquitoes from entering, a faucet to allow for regulated usage, and an overflow pipe to divert the excess water.

What are the benefits of rain barrels?

  • Rain water is naturally soft, oxygenated, and more acidic than tap water.
  • Rain water is free of chlorine, fluoride, salts, and other minerals from tap water.
  • Saves water for dry spells.
  • Reduces runoff and stormwater pollution.
  • Can reduce your water bill, especially in the summer.

How can the water collected be used?

The rainwater collected can be used to water lawns and gardens or wash cars and bicycles. Rainwater collected within the barrel is safe for plants because the typical minerals and pollutants trapped in the rainwater are filtered out by plant roots. Rainwater collected in the rain barrel is not for drinking; rainwater is more acidic than tap water and may contain particulate matter from air pollution.

How much do they cost?

Rain barrels cost anywhere from $20 to $300. The fancier the rain barrel, the more the cost. Costs can be reduced if the barrel is installed by the homeowner. In the summer, lawn and garden watering account for 40% of average household water usage. By adding a rain barrel, the need for municipal water is reduced. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a rain barrel can potentially save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months.

Are there different colors, designs, and types of rain barrels?

Rain barrels come in essentially any design or style. However, most regular rain barrels are usually black or blue plastic. Since only a ½ inch rainfall on a 160 square foot roof will fill a 55 gallon rain barrel, some people choose to get a tandem barrel (2 barrels at 1 downspout) or another barrel at a different downspout.

A rain barrel is used to collect and store rooftop runoff A rain barrel is used to collect and store rooftop runoff

What type of maintenance is required?

The barrel will require periodic cleaning. A safe cleaning solution is 2 teaspoons of castile soap and 2 teaspoons of vinegar per gallon of water or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice per gallon of water. In the winter, the barrel will need to be emptied and disconnected from the downspout.

Thinking of installing a rain barrel?

Let us know! We'd be interested in your comments, the success of your barrel, and pictures. Please send information to Erin Kubicek, Watershed Management Division, Public Works and Utilities Department, 949 West Bond Street, Suite 200, Lincoln, NE 68521, 402-441-4959 or ekubicek@lincoln.ne.gov.

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Step-By-Step Guide: How to Build a Rain Barrel

Obtain the Parts

  • Food Grade Barrel
  • Overflow (on side):
    • 2 – 90° 1 ½" PVC pipe elbows
    • 1 – 10 ft. 1 ½" PVC pipe sections (Only need 5 ft., but pipe is sold in 10 ft. sections)
    • 1 –1 ½" PVC male threaded adaptor union
  • Overflow alternative:
    • 1 – 90° 1 ½" PVC pipe elbow
    • 1 – 1 ½" PVC male threaded adaptor union
    • 1 – 6 ft roll of 2" backwash hose
    • 1 – 1 ½" 2" metal worm clamp
  • Rainwater Entry (on top):
    • 1 – 6" NDS green grate
    • 1 – 6-7" metal worm clamp
    • 1 – 12" square of aluminum window screen
  • Spigot (on Front):
    • 1 – ¾" brass spigot
  • Paint
Rain barrel parts for assembly Rain barrel parts for assembly

Drill the Holes

For the average rain barrel, you will need at least 3 holes:
  • 1. Rainwater entry, on top of the barrel cut with an electric saw
    Trace circle for rainwater entry grate Trace circle for rainwater entry grate Cut hole for rainwater entry grate Cut hole for rainwater entry grate
  • 2. Overflow, on side of the barrel, cut with a 1 7/8" hole saw
    Drill hole for overflow Drill hole for overflow
  • 3. Spigot hole, on front, lower side of the barrel, cut with a 1" spade bit
    Drill hole for spigot Drill hole for spigot

Attach the Spigot

  • Obtain the 0.75" brass spigot and screw into the drilled spigot hole. Once the barrel is painted, you may want to seal the threads with silicone sealant or teflon tape.
    Attach the spigot Attach the spigot

Assemble the Rainwater Entry Grate

  • 1. Gather the parts
    Gather parts for rainwater entry grate Gather parts for rainwater entry grate
  • 2. Fold the 12" window screen around the outside of the grate
    Fold screen around outside of grate Fold screen around outside of grate
  • 3. Fit the metal clamp around the window screen and the grate.
    Fit clamp around screen and grate Fit clamp around screen and grate Completed entry grate Completed entry grate
  • 4. With a partner, tighten the clamp with a screw driver
    Tighten clamp Tighten clamp
  • 5. Set completed rainwater entry grate in top hole of the rain barrel
    Set entry grate on the top of the barrel Set entry grate on the top of the barrel

Assemble the Overflow

  • 1. Find the PVC threaded adapter
    Find the PVC adapter. Find the PVC adapter.
  • 2. Screw the PVC adapter into the overflow hole
    Screw the PVC adapter into the overflow hole Screw the PVC adapter into the overflow hole
  • 3. Attach PVC Elbow. Attach a PVC coupling here if you are assembling the barrel to overflow into another rain barrel rather than the ground.
    Attach the PVC elbow Attach the PVC elbow
  • 4. Fit 3' section of PVC pipe into elbow
    Fit the PVC pipe into the elbow Fit the PVC pipe into the elbow
  • 5. Attach the second PVC elbow
    Attach the second PVC elbow Attach the second PVC elbow

Finish Barrel

  • Spray paint for plastics should be added after the barrel has been washed and sanded
  • To elevate the barrel for use, this picture displays 2 cement blocks
  • The PVC pipe can be cut to different lengths depending on where the barrel is located, what's underneath of it, etc.
Unpainted Unpainted Painted Painted

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Rain Barrel Classes

The City of Lincoln offers a Build-Your-Own Rain Barrel Class at Southeast Community College, all supplies are provided. If you are interested in joining us, classes are being held in the spring!

Below you will find the class description. To register, please visit the SCC Continuing Education website or contact Southeast Community College at 402-437-2700.

Rain Barrels of Fun: Making the Most of Your Rainwater (non-credit)

Have you always wanted a rain barrel but didn’t know where to start? This build-your-own workshop will teach you the basics of rainwater harvesting and how to use a rain barrel for your lawn or garden. We’ll also go over downspout diverters, overflows, connecting multiple barrels, and seasonal maintenance.

$49 tuition covers the cost of the rain barrel (a $110 value) to build in class and take home.

Finished Rain Barrel Finished Rain Barrel
Date Time Room
Wednesday, March 22, 20176-8 p.m.CEC, 102
Wednesday, March 29, 20176-8 p.m.CEC, 102
Wednesday, April 26, 20176-8 p.m.CEC, 102

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