Securing The Home Water Supply With A Simple Rain Barrel Collection System

Today’s non-fiction writing contest entry was written by Chuck H

Water has always been an afterthought for me and my prepping. It’s so easy for me to take it for granted when all I need to do is turn a faucet handle and fresh, clean water is made available. But what if power goes down for a significant amount of time and eventually the water stations with it? So I finally decided to store some water for just such an occasion. The most efficient way I could find to do this was by rain collection in rain barrels. For OPSEC reasons I tell the neighbors it’s for watering the garden and yes we use it for that as well. But if the SHTF I have 220 gallons of water available for my family to use.

That’s right, four 55-gallon, food-grade barrels collect rain water. This was quite a process. I Googled it, YouTubed it, and overall did a lot of research. I combined what I thought to be the best way to do it for what I had available. The first step was to acquire the 55-gallon plastic barrels which I got from a local, large-scale food distributor. You’d also be surprised who has these with just a simple Facebook request. You would also be wise beyond your years to purchase a bung wrench to unscrew the caps on these bad boys. It just makes life a lot easier.

Anyhow, the barrels contained salted vodka (not any good…I tried). So I definitely needed to clean them out. It was a matter of putting some hot water and soap in them and screwing the cap back on. Then just have the kids roll it around the back yard a bunch of times, rinse, and repeat as necessary. Once cleaned I chose to spray paint them a color similar to the siding on my house in the hopes it would blend in a little better than the bright blue plastic it was made of. After they were cleaned and painted I moved on to the deck I would build for the barrels.

I read in my research that the higher up the barrels the greater the flow of water due to an amazing scientific discovery called…gravity. So my deck would end up being high enough off the ground for me to fit a watering can or 5-gallon bucket under the spigot (about 4′ off the ground). Using treated lumber I ended up with six 4×4 posts as the legs. They were cut to the appropriate height. Next I used treated 2x4s and framed out the legs as you see in the pictures. I basically framed a wall around the legs like you might frame a wall in your house (header, footer, studs, etc.). Once the frame was fixed to the legs I put the deck on which consisted of a treated piece of plywood cut to the dimensions of the frame. This is what my barrels would sit on. Since my plumbing would be under the deck I also cut a hole for each barrel to be plumbed underneath.

My deck was basically complete for now, so I turned my attention to the plumbing. Now I either got extremely lucky with these four barrels or all barrels are like this, but you’ll notice that one of the bungs is threaded in the middle. A threaded PVC adapter will fit this perfectly. I planned to store rain in my barrels upside down. Since the hole would be at the bottom of the barrel I was all but assured every last drop of water from the barrels. Water will naturally self-level itself so by plumbing all of the barrels underneath the water would enter the first barrel (from the downspout) go to the bottom of the barrel and into the PVC pipes and then rise up into the other barrels.

That is how I planned to fill all of the barrels without extra holes in the top, just let water and gravity do the work for you. It is VERY important that you dry fit all pipes before permanently affixing them to the barrel and each other. So I set my barrels upside down on the deck and began measuring and cutting the PVC pipes. I planned for a shut off valve at each barrel and another at the spigot (5 total) in case anything needed replacing or isolation it would be easier to shut off the water from that barrel. Once everything was dry-fitted I used some clear, silicone caulking and applied it liberally to the two bungs in the bottom of the barrel.

This is where the bung wrench comes in handy to tighten the bungs completely. Next, I applied the same caulking to the PVC adapter that conveniently threaded inside the one bung. I tightened it all the way thus making a leak-proof seal on all my barrels. I waited to permanently affix the plumbing until everything was in place. So now I had to prepare my yard for the deck and barrels.

With the help of my wonderful wife we dug up the sod in the back yard closest to the downspout we wanted to use. We dug a 32” x 115” section of the sod out, about 4” deep, and filled it with crushed rock. Here is where the hardest part of the project comes in. Using an 8” x 8” tamper I tamped down all of the crushed rock making it about the density of cured concrete. Next I placed six concrete piers on the crushed rock and, with the help of a friend, set the deck in the piers.
It was time to put the plumbing together permanently. I sanded the rough edges off the cut ends of the PVC pipe and applied the purple primer to the end of the pipe and inside the pipe I would attach to.

I went a little farther up the pipe with the primer than what I would need so it would be a complete seal. After applying the primer I put PVC cement on the purple primer. Then you push the pipe in the adapter and twist a quarter turn. Hold this in place for 30 seconds and then test your work. This “twist and hold” method is really important because you’ll notice the pipe wanting to push out of the adapter if not held in place. When done correctly it will be pretty solid. Once I plumbed everything together I used metal, nail-on straps to hold them in place (especially at the spigot). I also angled the spigot down a bit to make sure water wouldn’t sit in one place forever.

Now that the barrels were in place and the plumbing secured I built a small fence around the barrels. If you haven’t noticed by now I did a lot of overkill. The decking, the crushed rock, the concrete piers, etc. I wanted to make sure this much weight would hold (220 gallons of water weighs almost a ton!). So the fence keeps the barrels from blowing off the deck when empty.

At this point I’m almost finished with the project. I used flexible down spout extenders to route the water from the downspout to the top of the far right barrel. Then another flexible down spout was used as an overflow. I put them in place and traced around the end where it met the barrel on one end and the downspout from the house on the other end. I cut the barrel and downspout and installed the flexible downspout to the top of the barrel and the downspout from the house.

Since mosquitos love standing water I placed a cut section of window screen around the opening in the barrel (sealed around the edges with the leak-proof caulking mentioned earlier) and around the end of the flexible downspout (attached with an adjustable ring used for dryer vents) to catch particles that washed off the roof. Now water will enter my barrels! As I mentioned I did a lot of research before attempting this project. Part of that research mentioned drilling a small hole in the top of the barrels because of pressure that may build up in them would reduce the flow of water. I was skeptical about this but it didn’t hurt to drill a small hole in each and place more window screen over them. I sealed these with the same caulking.

The overflow spout is a necessary part of the project. If the barrels continued to fill past capacity then the plumbing could be damaged and that would be a nightmare. So at the very top of the same barrel the water entered, I measured and cut a hole to install another flexible downspout that would return to the original downspout from the house and flow away from the house. This part was tricky because I wanted a water tight fit and not to have water spilling out of the hole down the barrel and all over the deck/ground. So I got a large diameter PVC adapter and put it in the hole I had cut. I made it water tight using a metal flange and some all-purpose bondo to seal it to the barrel. Now the flexible downspout fits perfectly around the PVC adapter and overflows to the original downspout on the house and away from the house.

I failed to mention that I also have a small retention basin in my back yard. I drain the barrels before winter so they won’t turn into huge ice chunks. The plan is to use water from the retention basin during the winter if needed. While doing my research I read that rain water off a roof is not potable. So if the need arises we will be filtering and boiling any water used from the barrels (and retention basin for that matter). Also during the winter I take the piece of downspout from the house that I removed and put a couple adapters on each end, remove the flexible down spouts from the barrels, and place the original downspout back in place. This allows melting snow to flow through the downspout like it’s supposed to.

When spring rolls around I just switch back to my flexible downspouts and I’m refilling the barrels with May showers. It took about 2-3 days to finish the project, a little bit of sweat, and a lot of cuss words, but it was finished. What I like most about the rain barrels is the capability to have 220 gallons of water available to me at almost any time.

A body can survive longer without food than without water so knowing we have this stored away gives me peace of mind. In the meantime, my garden loves the water and occasionally my lawn does too. It’s tucked away behind my house and not many people know it’s there. You could add some lattice fence-work around the deck frame to hide it even more if OPSEC is a concern for you. Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit about how to make a rain barrel system and it’s benefits. And that’s really what this blog and prepping are all about…learning new things to help us stay prepared. Stay classy wolf pack.

water barrel 1

water barrel 2

water barrel 3

water barrel 4

water barrel 5

water barrel 6

Prizes for this round (ends Jan 13 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include… Please send your articles now!

  1. First place winner will receive –  A case of Yoder’s Bacon courtesy of MRE Depot, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads and a Survive2Thrive Organic Food Storage bucket courtesy of LPC Survival.
  2. Second place winner will receive –  A gift a gift certificate for $150 off of  Winchester Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.
  3. Third Place winner will receive –  A copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of and copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of


  1. UrbanCityGirl says:

    Did this too, check! Our rain 4 barrel system is one of my favorite projects. I use it for watering my garden. Love it. Though we empty them in late fall because we get well into the negatives for winter. We also have stored tarps, baby swimming pools, and buckets, for additional collection if necessary.

  2. Victor Fox says:

    Very good. I plan to add some filter elements to my plans. I’ll use regular water boxes (don’t know the exact name in English), check this:
    LOL, yes, I own stock of Eternit…
    I’ll be using 2 1000Liters plus filtering elements in a separate container, which will receive the water from a tap attached to the water collection system. Then will probably boil it for safety.

  3. Richard J Medicus says:

    Opsec for the rain barrel projects is very important. Given that most, if not all, of the states have banned the collection of rain water. Agenda 21 don’t ya know.

    • For opsec, would it be possible to build a box around the barrels & frame & use matching siding to cover the box? Would build some panels or doors on sides & top, to be able to access the barrels when needed.

    • Tn does as well, though my local city used state funds to give away rain collection barrels…..

  4. Thanks for sharing. Off grid water collection is something that we MUST do, for sustainability. I have NO room on the side of my house, so it must got in the back yard. I would like to pipe the water into the collection drums in the basement. At least that’s the plan now.

  5. This is a really cool albeit elaborate set up. I have been looking for a project similar but have thought about inside storage because of our long cold winters. This I s really well thought out design!

    • I don’t know how cold it gets in your areas, but, you might try just packing around them with hay bales (tightly packed) as a means of “insulation” through your winters. You could then protect the hay bales with inexpensive plastic heavy-duty sheeting or tarps.

      • Solid suggestions, we see night time lows of 20 below often however not sure the hay would suffice plus I fear it would be an inviting rodent haven

  6. Thanks for sharing. We started with 1 barrel this year and dh said ‘why didn’t we do this sooner’ so we’re hoping to add more by the Spring.
    Thanks for mentioning the winter situation, it broke my heart to empty the barrel when it started getting colder.
    Also curious if you get algae in yours, we got some. The barrel is on the backside of the house so it gets no sunlight, which I think might cause that problem.

    • Andi
      The barrel(s)need to be a dark color otherwise the water will start the algae growth. Chuck’s barrels were blue, and he matched the color to the house. I am not sure if he will have algae build up or not, most water storage containers come in blue and white. If they are white paint them green that is has a tinge of black in it. That should help your algae problem, our water storage tanks are a blackish green color.

      • Our barrel is dark brown. I wonder if our algae is due to whatever is in the gutters or the fact we have a cedar roof, who knows. We also get mildew on the back of the house due to the lack of sunlight so I wasn’t really surprised about the algae.

        • Andi
          It is transfer from your roofing material, a little bleach into the water barrel will keep the algae from growing.

  7. First water on each rain will have sand and bird poop in it. You need to put a filter in the system to remove this. One way is a barrel that the rainwater falls into that has a small leaker hole in the bottom of the barrel. First rain fills the filter barrel and by then the bird poop is washed down. Then the filter barrel overflows to the collection barrels. When the rain stops, the filter barrel drains empty and resets itself for the next shower.

  8. Chuck Findlay says:

    Research “First Flush Devices” for filtering out the first 2 or 3 gallons that run off a roof. You can make one out of PVC pipe quite easily. And with a small hole in the bottom it auto-drains out the water when it’s not raining. You still need to clean it out (bird gook, leaves and branches and stuff in it) every so often, but it’s easy to do if you make it with a PVC clean out plug.

  9. Chuck H:

    Thank you for sharing the details and pictures! Well done!

    Having an elevated water supply seems very smart and will be easier to use for us – and it would work well here as we already poured a continuous concrete walkway around the house and raised gardens, and thus have an already-built foundation for the construction.

    Like everyone, water supply is an issue for us, so we have six 7 gallon containers for immediate back up: We built a flatbed platform on a dolly for them so we can roll, fill and empty them without hurting our backs. We stack them 2 containers high: .

    Building a large collection system for rainwater is our goal this year. And filtering via a leak hole in the barrel is a good idea (thanks, RayK!).

  10. Family Prepper says:

    Hello Chuck. Thanks for the article, I have been thinking about installing one of these for a while now. I started researching them a while back and from what I have learned, the water is consider non-potable not only because of the bird and other wildlife excrement but also because of the metals and chemicals that the water picks up as it run over asphalt shingles and through your gutters. Chemicals and metals will not be able to be boiled or filtered out. May want to do a little more research before you use this for drinking water. I think it would be more than suitable for washing cloths, flushing toilets, etc. Some say the chemicals could even be transferred to vegetables if used to water the garden. I am not sure about the vegetable part but there are lots of studies out there that strongly suggest that you do not use harvested rainwater off shingle roofs for drinking water even if it is boiled or filtered due to the chemicals and metals. If you have a coated metal or concrete roof I think you would be safe. I will not be using our harvested water for drinking unless we have no other option but I will be using it for watering the garden, washing cloths, and toilets. I plan to set up a portable plastic sheet system to collect rain water for drinking water collection. Anyone out there who may be putting on a new roof or building a new home may want to look at a safer option than asphalt shingles if they plan on using rain water collected from your roof for drinking water. I am sure it will be more expensive but better than slowly poisoning your family.

  11. excellent article & great pics!

  12. Nice article, thank you.
    I read somewhere that pvc does not really need the primer, so my last pvc project I didn’t use it and it worked just fine.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      I do a lot of plumbing work (home repair business) and I quit using the purple primer years ago and have gotten NO calls for leaks.

      But most times today I try to use PEX for supply lines, but I still have to do a several PVC repair jobs every year.

      So no primer is not needed. I know someone will post how I’m wrong, but my counter to that is years of no primer use and no leaks says otherwise.

      I think PVC primer was invented to get people to buy another product that is not needed.

  13. Looks like you live in a warm climate

  14. Nice setup, but limited. Don’t get too much ‘peace of mind’ from 220gal unless it rains a LOT where you live. More POM could be gained from moving to a location where you control your source of water…..a well (with appropriate pumping backup), or ideally, a gravity fed spring (which is my method, along with 3000gal of storage constantly refilled)

  15. Northernwolf says:

    Great idea if you don’t live on Washington state,for us it is illegal to collect rain water. Don’t know but you can thank the Eco/agenda 21 people

  16. Did my original rain barrel 3 years ago.
    Added a second barrel 2 years ago.
    Made my own “first flush” system out of PVC pipes that flushed the first rain & junk straight down into 12 ft of 4″ PVC with a screw on cap. This dumped most of the bird droppings and dust into it and kept the barrel input filter relatively clean. The bottom cap on the first flush pipe has a small drain hole to empty it after the rain stops.
    Was going to add more barrels, but that might be too conspicuous. And being 78 now it might be too mu
    Have pictures of the setup, but don’t know how to send them.

  17. Without a reliable source of water,all your other preparedness efforts are temporary. Water is life. This a nicely built setup. Very sturdy looking. As time and resources are avaikable,you might consider adding several more barrels. Better to have more than you need than not enough. Great pictures as well !!!

  18. riverrider says:

    mine is two 550 gallon tanks. problem is they freeze in winter. so i store 6 or 7 6gallon jugs inside too. i figure they’ll hold me til a warm day or another rain that i can set out buckets to collect. one day i want to put a system in my shop loft. it never freezes in there. then gravity feed it underground to the house.

  19. The Wiseman says:

    I worry about:
    1. Radiation fallout in the event of a nuclear bomb.
    2. Smoke particles from massive burning of city and forests.
    3. bird droppings, leaves, insects, windborne fertilizer.

    Rainwater is not pure; plus, your roof surface is heavily contaminated. If you’ve got a driven well with a standard electric pump, of course the pump won’t work when the electricity goes off. However, you can easily install a hand-pump down inside your well and pump right into your home’s pressure tank. Google “SimplePump”. My 220′ well insures clean water; the SimplePump does not interfere with the operation of my electric pump in any way. But when I lose electricity, I still have all the pure water that I need.

  20. Snake Plisken says:

    A very well thought out and built system for rain water collection.

    I’ve been using ( 2 ) 55 gallon plastic drums for collecting my rain water for the last couple of years but only use the water for the garden. This spring I am going install a spigot on both barrels and elevate them becuase it seems to take forever to water all the raised beds with a watering can and this should make life a little easier.

    I do store lots and lots of fresh drinkable water inside the house though.

    Merry Christmas!

    Snake Plisken

  21. Thanks everybody for the great feedback. There are definitely some things I could do to better my system. I’ll definitely look into the first flush system. Living in a neighborhood with HOA I don’t see me digging a well (as much as I’d love to). I also have the retention basin to purify for drinking water. Hopefully I’ve helped somebody make a difference in their preps and community. Hang in there!

  22. This is on my “To Do” list. Which seems endless. I had an idea about the OPSEC concerns raised above. Instead of just a fence, how about one of those small plastic “sheds”? They come in all shapes and sizes. Get the tall ones. Cut a hole on the top or back side for the downspout and one on the bottom for the overflow hose. Close the door. You could possibly place a small space heater inside for winter. Hook up a solar panel, timer and battery…

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