Part of the goal of our farm is to tread as lightly on the Earth as possible. Part of that means being careful of how much water we're using, especially during dry spells when our somewhat shallow well can bottom out. One of the first things we added to our farmhouse's gutters when we moved in was a rain barrel. Used to store excess rain water during wet weather, the barrel has a hose connection at the bottom so that the water can be used when it dries out again. For years, it always bothered me seeing that bright blue barrel clashing against the side of the house, but no more! Our outdoor DIY project for today delivers low home maintenance performance while dressing up a plastic rain barrel to create a beautiful feature for your home's exterior.
Get Some Outdoor DIY Time Hiding a Rain Barrel
Tools and Materials
- We found a 55-gallon food grade plastic barrel at our local agricultural store, but they're also very common on Facebook, Craigslist, and other selling sites. Check that it hasn't been used for chemical storage - you don't want to kill your plants!
- The barrel I used was about 24" across and took 13 cedar fencing boards. I chose these due to their natural rot resistance, but almost any thin, solid-wood board would work, as would 6"x48" vinyl plank flooring or, for a shorter barrel, 6"x36" ceramic plank tiles would work well.
- To secure the planks to the barrel, I used 50' of nylon rope, but you could also use 15' of lightweight metal banding or copper pipe that has been pounded flat. If you use rope, nylon rope as pictured lasts much longer than biodegradable sisal or jute.
- A small box of 1-5/8" outdoor deck screws held the top of the boards in place. I used 15 in this project - one per plank plus two for the hose bib.
- To plumb the bottom for hose use, you'll need a 3/4" hose bib, a galvanized steel nipple about 1-1/2" to 2" long, a galvanized steel coupler and plumber's Teflon tape. Almost every hose on the market accepts a 3/4" fitted iron pipe connection.
- A tiny amount of a waterproof silicone sealant or caulk was used to create a solid seal from the inside of the barrel to the outside of the planks as well as with the coupler to help prevent leaks.
- To get as much water out of the barrel at one time, I added a couple 4" landscaping blocks to act as a riser and raise the barrel up.
- There are any number of options for the planter at the top. You can find a very large plastic bowl or staple some pond liner to a frame that will fit the top of the planks. I personally used a water garden element that was about 26" across, allowing it to slide into place at the top. Don't forget to pick up some potting soil and bedding plants!
- To add the plumbing at the bottom and hold the planks in place, a spade bit, driver bit and drill are needed. For ceramic or vinyl planks, you'll need an appropriate bit for the screw holes as well as a masonry bit for the ceramic tile's plumbing connections at the bottom of the barrel.
- A circular, saber, or jigsaw to cut the planks to size. If you use ceramic planks, you may need a tile saw.
- A plumber's wrench.
Prep Your Planks
You'll need to start by measuring your barrel and planter to determine how tall your planks will need to be. With the water garden insert I purchased, I placed it on top of my barrel and measured from the top inside lip of the insert to the ground.
Once you have your measurements, it's time to cut the boards to the right length. If you carefully match up your edges, you'll be able to cut multiple planks at a time.
After you've cut your planks, it's time to fit them to the barrel. Pay close attention to how you place them. Solid wood boards often cup, and we're going to take advantage of that natural curve. When I lay the board in place with the cupped edges outward, they create sharper edges.
By simply turning the board around, the curve can more closely follow the curve of the planter and barrel. This creates a tighter, neater fit.
Lay your planks around the barrel. If the last one doesn't fit into place, you may need to cut or rip it carefully to the right width.
To start, pass the rope around the barrel and tighten it so everything stays in place. Measure until you've just passed the barrel's top lip, driving a screw into the plank. If you're using vinyl or ceramic planks, you should pre-drill the screw holes. Don't drive the screws very far into the barrel's interior. The screws will push the plank away from the barrel rather than digging in, so start by setting all the screws into the planks, then go around the barrel again to fasten the screws into the barrel.
Now it's time to wrap the barrel. After using a couple inches of duct tape to stabilize the rope ends, make a loop that will stick down approximately 3" under the top wrap, leaving the end of the rope sticking out at the top. Wrap the rope around the barrel several times--until it's too short to finish another round. Pass the rope's end through the loop.
Next, pull on the rope's upper end to draw the lower end behind the wrapped rope.
Now you can tuck in the ends.
Making it Hose Ready
At this point, you'll need to make a couple holes and add the plumbing fittings so the water can pass from your gutters into your barrel and out again through the overflow or hose. Cut one of the boards shorter and cut into the barrel, checking the fit with the gutter elbow until it's right for your system.
Once the cut is completed, try the lid to make sure you have a solid fit:
Next, check that your spade or masonry bit will fit the galvanized steel nipple that is going to pass through the barrel and wood to connect water in your barrel to the hose on the outside. I ended up using a 1-1/8" spade bit and a 3/4" nipple.
Now you can measure into the inside of your barrel to the point where the barrel's side starts curving into the barrel bottom. The bottom of your hole will need to be above that point for a tight fit.
Measure down the outside of your barrel to that point. Take care to ensure the entire drill bit falls above that measurement, then start drilling your hole. For ceramic planks, keep the drill site damp with water or oil to prevent the bit from burning out. For vinyl planks, go slowly to prevent tear-out.
After the hole is done, wrap the plumbing nipple with Teflon tape. This prevents some corrosion on the outside and while delivering a stronger seal to the threads of the coupler and hose bib.
Now you can screw the plumbing nipple onto the hose bib, then insert it through the hole. After it's been turned to a relatively level position, hold it in place with a couple of screws to prevent it from rotating. Don't forget to pre-drill the holes when using vinyl or ceramic planks.
Add waterproof silicone caulk to one side only on your coupler,. Use the side that will face the inside surface of the barrel.
Screw the coupler onto to the end of the steel nipple that sticks through the inside of the barrel. Tighten it down with a wrench, then add a layer of caulking to the connection at the barrel wall. Use your finger to smooth the caulk and push it further into the joint. Caulk over the ends of any screws that have passed through the barrel!
Put the barrel on top of your riser blocks, if used. Put the lid back in place, and then lay the planter on top and add potting soil to it.
Now you can add your plants, screw on a hose and go! Over time, the wood boards will weather to a gentle gray. You could also stain and seal them to preserve their natural beauty. Vinyl or ceramic planks will retain their appearance without much home maintenance. With just a few short hours, you can add a beautiful feature to your home while conserving water.
Cathleen Vought is a dedicated DIYer, writer and artist living with her family on their sheep farm in southwest Missouri. With over 26 years of experience in contracting and advanced DIY, she loves helping people find their inner artist and style. She's an active member of the local arts scene creating beautiful glass and fiber artwork, and also volunteers in a range of emergency response roles in the community.
Read about some of Cathleen's other projects for our affiliate - Surplus Warehouse: