Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrel

Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrel

Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrel

Hello everyone! Welcome back to The Green Swan.  Today we are going to learn how to garden like a boss!  Gardening can be a fan favorite for many frugalistas.  You can generate some pretty significant savings off your grocery bill depending on how big your garden is.  On top of that, the grocery store can’t compete with homegrown freshness and deliciousness!  And any of the fresh produce you don’t eat right away can often times be canned, frozen and/or made into sauces and consumed over the winter months.  But that isn’t the only way to save with your garden.  Today I will show you how to supercharge your savings with the use of a rain barrel!

Gardening can generate some decent savings on the grocery bill, but there are also some incremental costs.  One of the major incremental costs is the increased use of water.  My wife and I have seen our water bills go up by over $25 – $50 / month with the increased water consumed by the lawn and garden.  That adds up over the summer and can easily wipe out your savings, doh!  So we looked into getting a rain barrel to help alleviate the costs of watering the lawn and garden.

Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrel
My garden, not much action yet

Rain Barrels

My wife and I researched rain barrels extensively when we started looking into the possibility of getting one.  Ultimately, what we came away with was three possible scenarios in terms of acquiring a rain barrel.

County Giveaways

Some counties offer discounts or even free giveaways of rain barrels.  Why would they do this you ask?  Well rain barrels do more than just help cut the water costs for homeowners, they also help provide some important environmental benefits.  Rain barrels can help with a big problem for many counties by reducing the amount of storm water entering storm drains which can overwhelm the sewer systems and water treatment facilities.  Other benefits of using a rain barrel include reducing runoff pollution and preventing land erosion.

So first check out if your county has a rain barrel program allowing you to get one cheap or free.  This would be a very easy route to get you started saving on your water costs.

Turn-Key Solution

If you have no such luck finding a free or cheap rain barrel program near you, another option would be buying a fully assembled and ready to go rain barrel.  You can buy these almost anywhere and we looked into this extensively.  The problem we ultimately kept coming back to was finding one that was cheap enough to make it financially worthwhile while also finding one that was big enough (55 gallons or so) that we’d actually be able to get some good use out of.

Amazon had a lot of great options to choose from including rain barrel one, two, three and four, which was my favorite.  As you can see, when you are paying over $100 for these rain barrels it will take a couple years for this investment to pay off.  Plus, after buying the rain barrel, I’d still have to install a diverter from the eave spout to the barrel.  So it wasn’t truly a turn-key solution.   And, the bottom-line is I didn’t want to shell out that much right away, I’d rather find a cheaper option first to see how I liked using the rain barrel to begin with.  So I kept searching and found a third option.

Build Your Own

I learned from a friend that I could actually build my own rain barrel.  She is pretty industrious and had actually done it herself already.  I searched a number of YouTube videos to see how others had built their own rain barrels too in order to try to find the right setup for myself.

What I ended up settling on was perfect for what I was looking for, a combination of being a cheap rain barrel and a DIY project that I could actually do myself (I’m handy but I still have some limitations…).  So here are the easy step by step instructions to getting your own DIY rain barrel.

Step 1: Find a 55 Gallon Drum (Free!)

I remember when I first started on the lookout for barrels I began to find them everywhere.  It is funny how you start noticing things when you begin to actually look.  And my wife had a good time making fun of me for a while because I would be driving and pointing left and right as I looked for barrels on the sides or in the back of businesses.

But there is actually an easy trick to getting a free barrel.  Many car wash businesses get their soap products delivered in big 55 gallon drums and these work perfect for rain barrels.  Call up some local car washes to see if they have any because they often just throw them away once they are empty.  A car wash near me told me just to stop by and I can grab one.  And don’t worry, the barrels with soap delivered in them are food grade so they are perfectly suitable for a rain barrel and to water your garden.  I’d just recommend rinsing it out a few times when you get home and you’re set.

Step 2: Buy and Install the Diverter Kit (~$30)

Now that you have a barrel, you will need to install a diverter to catch the water from the eave spout and move it into the barrel. This can be done fairly easily and cheaply by buying an all-in-one diverter kit. As you can see by clinking on the link, this kit includes all the necessary parts to turn your 55 gallon drum into a fully functioning rain barrel including the faucet and the drill bits (you will need a power drill for this step).  This kit will take you less than a half hour to install completely.

Step 3: Buy a Soaker Hose and Misc Optional Parts (~$17 for basics, up to ~$85)Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrel

Your rain barrel will not provide the water pressure as a normal outdoor faucet, so a regular hose and sprinkler wouldn’t be feasible.  Alternatively, you can just fill a watering can which is what I did initially, but obviously that is pretty inefficient.  So instead, I’d recommend buying a couple soaker hoses and construct a simple watering system.  It all depends on how pimped out you want to go with it, but you can get a pretty nice setup if you want.

First, buy the ½ inch soaker hose, the tubing adapter to connect it to the faucet, and the hole punch which you’ll use to literally punch holes in the tube for the water to drip out of.  You can stop right here if you wish, this is a simple solution but it gets the job done.  You can roll the hose out along your garden, to a tree, or through bushes and punch the holes wherever you want to water.

Second, buy the ¼ inch soaker hose which you can connect to the ½ inch tubing and more precisely wind through your garden for watering.  If you want to go this route, you’ll also need emitters to connect the two tubes and then additionally, if you wish, you can by these sprinkler emitters to put at the end of the ¼ inch tube.  I’ve bought the sprinkler emitters and they do work, but they are a bit unnecessary, at least for my needs.

And the last option you can choose to really automate your lawn and garden watering is this snazzy water timer.  I’ve elected to go this route because I’m fairly busy and don’t want to forget to water or forget that I turned on the water and haven’t turned it off which has happened multiple times.  It’s a bit expensive but if you go this route you will really get the most out of your watering system.

Step 4: Protect against Mosquitoes (~$6)

Mosquitoes breed in open water so your rain barrel would be potentially a great breeding ground.  You obviously don’t want this so you can do one of two things.  1) Seal the top of the barrel.  The barrel filled with water will have no practical entrance for mosquitoes to breed with the diverter kit above installed properly, Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrelexcept if there is a hole in the top of the rain barrell (how the car wash got their soap out to begin with). So you can seal this entrance with a cut out from a milk jug or some other creative way, or 2) buy mosquito dunks and put one in your barrel.

Step 5: Find Your Perfect Location

Ideally you’d want to put the rain barrel at the eave spout closest to your garden or where you’ll be utilizing the water.  The other main consideration my wife and I made was that we wanted to put it in the back where it wouldn’t necessarily be visible from the road (don’t want to detract from our curb appeal).

When you are setting up your rain barrel, you’ll want to make sure the ground is very level.  Once this barrel is full it will be very, very heavy, so you don’t want it to tip over and start rolling away on you.  As you can see in the pics, I went a step further.  I leveled the ground, put some nice paver stones underneath, and then elevated my barrel on a couple cinder blocks.

Why the cinder blocks? For the same reason water towers are “towers”.  The added elevation, even by a couple cinder blocks, can add to your water pressure considerably. A rain barrel elevated 1 1/2 feet will discharge water at about 1 gallon per minute, while a rain barrel elevated 2 feet will flow at nearly 2 gallons per minute.  This is by no means necessary, you will have fine water pressure without blocks, but I wanted to give my pressure a bit of a boost.

Step 6: Do Your Rain Dance

Boom, you’re done! Just sit back, wait for the rain, and your garden watering will be automated and cheap.  At this point you may be wondering how fast your rain barrel will fill up.  The short answer is very fast.  The long answer is that 1 inch of rain on a 1,000 s.f. roof will generate 600 gallons of runoff.  Say a quarter of that will flow down the eave spout your rain barrel is connected to and you have 150 gallons…your rain barrel is full.

What happens after it is full? The diverter kit is set up to allow backflow once the rain barrel is full so any extra water will continue down the eave spout as normal.Garden Like a Boss! Use a Rain Barrel

Final Thoughts

One option you can elect to do is go the cheap route and set up the barrel for $50 with the diverter kit, soaker hose, etc, and see how it works for you.  Then over time, if it is working well and you are getting good use out of it, you can elect to go a little further and buy a few more of the optional pieces to help fully automate and adapt your watering system to your needs.

So now that I’ve laid out exactly what you need to do to get your DIY rain barrel for under $50, or up to ~$120 for a fully automated watering system, are you ready to save on watering costs this summer?  Do you currently have a rain barrel?  If so, tell me how you acquired it.  I hope I have addressed most of the questions you’ll have, but if not don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach


share on:


  1. Our water bill has been pretty insane with new sod the end of last year (plus we just put a garden in as well)

    Great tip on the car wash – when I was looking for pallets to build our coffee tables I did the same thing (pointing out pallets at every business as a potential target)

    1. Yeah definitely, rain barrels are the way to go. I hardly ever use the outside faucet for water anymore.

      Good idea with the pallets!

  2. You have one of the greenest houses I know! I truly understand the reason behind your name now ;). Was interesting to learn about the benefits of these barrels and also the reason some states may give them away, would never think about reduction of storm water. Hopefully it rains frequently enough to prove this a worthwhile investment! I suspect it will repay itself very quickly and leave you with lower water payments. All the best with the garden!

  3. Nice! I like it. I was just talking to the wife the other day about picking one of these up and putting it to good use. Now I know how to make one as well!

  4. Nice tips! I’ve been thinking about a rain barrel for a while, but haven’t jumped on it yet. I may need to look into it a bit more, especially now that the garden is so close to a downspout. I love those timers you got! We used those extensively at our last hosue that didn’t ahve sprinklers, so that we could set it up with a mini sprnkler and have it water our plants every day/every other day and not forget. It works great and ours is still ticking after almost 6 years now, so it lasts as well!

    1. You bet, best of luck finding the perfect rain barrel for you.

      Yes I’m very excited about the timer. It will make things so much easier and convenient!

  5. I was thinking about a rain barrel for our house (currently a rental.) There are mosquitoes so a dunk would be necessary for us. We have plenty of rain in the winter and almost no rain in the summer so I’m not sure how useful the rain barrel will be. I need to do more research locally.

    1. Yeah that’s tough circumstances. Have you seen many rain barrels at the neighbors or anything? The good thing is that they fill up quickly. Here in Charlotte I have rarely used the entire barrel before it rains and fills back up.

  6. We are building our house & really haven’t thought about rain barrels yet (let alone where we will locate the garden). But both our parents use them & love them, so we will probably get some of our own.

    1. That’s great and exciting about the house. I’m sure you are busy with lots of decisions on the house now, the barrels can wait.

  7. I have been thinking about doing this, especially since we doubled garden this year. We have a bunch of neighbors that utilize rain barrels so I guess I need to get with it! I will definitely be saving this post for when I finally do it!

  8. I don’t know why I spend about 10 min researching about water tanks lol. Our water cost is minimal to even spend $20 extra. We have a well at home so, we do not get charge for water, only the cost of the 1/2 hp motor pumping out the water. I use this water for everything except for drinking ( technically we could drink it, but we rather spend an extra $20 per month on clean* water) even though I use the well’s water to make coffee every morning. Maybe we think is cleaner after its boiled to make the coffee.
    Either way, I was looking at the 1200 gallons, which seems awesome to refill the pool, but I would fill those 1200 gallons in less than 30 min of rain ( according to these websites) and I live in florida its raining for hrs and every 2 days.

    Plus I don’t even have gutters yet. ( that will come anyways in the future)

  9. This is a cool idea JW and I’d love to be able to do it to our house. However, that’s the problem, it’s not our house – we rent, our water is free, we don’t have much that needs watering and it rains enough in Melbourne 🙂

    However, when we do get our own place, we will definitely look at getting one of these. It’s a shame you can’t plug the toilet water into this as well.


    1. That’s great Tristan! Yeah I too wish there could be more uses. Haven’t been bold enough to looking into an outdoor shower either…:)

Leave a Reply