DIY Files: How to Set Up Drip Irrigation from Rain Barrels (Bubbler Emitters)

Drip Irrigation from Rain Barrels: a How-To Guide

Watch Jesse demonstrate how to install BlueBarrel's Gravity-Fed Drip Irrigation Kit with Bubbler Emitters.

Got rainwater?

Setting up drip irrigation from rain barrels is easier than you think!

If you’re looking for a gravity-fed drip irrigation system suited to your ornamental garden, bubbler emitters may be your best option. These systems allow you to place individual emitters at the base of each plant, allowing for precise control over where water is emitted from the drip line. Each bubbler emitter can also be adjusted for flow to accommodate the water needs of individual plants. 

Read on to learn how to set up our Drip Irrigation Kit for Gravity Feed with Bubbler Emitters. 

(If you're irrigating veggie rows, we recommend our Inline Emitter Kit instead)

These steps will be useful once you have the parts in-hand. If you're looking for more general information about how to think through a gravity-fed irrigation setup, including videos and a number of different gravity system types, start here

The Step-by-Step

Step 1 – After setting up your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, attach a streamlined 100-micron filter to your drain valve (sold separately from our accessories menu). It screws directly on to the drain, no extra parts needed.

 Step 2 – You'll see that the filter has male threads coming off perpendicular to the drain. Attach your no-pressure irrigation timer here (if using). Timers are also sold separately, and add major convenience, allowing you to automate your irrigation cycle with frequency and run-time. Set it and forget it!

 Step 3 – Next comes the swivel adapter. This part has a standard ¾” hose-threaded port on one end and a compression fitting for attaching ½” irrigation tubing on the other end.  Attach the threaded end of the adapter to the timer, or directly to the filter if you are not using a timer. 

Step 4 – Press the ½” irrigation tubing firmly into the compression end of the swivel adapter. Simply push and twist to seal.  

Step 5 – Design the layout for your drip irrigation system. You may wish to create connected rows, a loop, or a single line depending on the placement of your plants.  Use pipe cutters or garden shears to cut custom lengths of  ½” tubing. Run the line of tubing around the garden using ells and tees (compression fittings) as needed to create your formation. Use the stakes to secure tubing to the ground.

Step 6 – If your design is not a closed loop or if it features any offshoots, use the figure 8 fitting(s) to crimp off and secure the end(s).

Step 7 – Now it is time to insert the bubbler emitters near each plant. Securely holding the tubing, push and twist the hand-held hole punch tool to make a hole and then insert an emitter. If you make a mistake, insert a “goof plug” into the hole and carry on! 

Step 8 – Test the system. Turn on the water (or let your timer do that for you) and watch the magic happen! Adjust the flow of water by twisting individual emitters until each plant is happy.

set up drip irrigation filter, timer, tubing
connect filter, timer, adapter, tubing
insert tubing into compression fitting
insert tubing into compression fitting
bubbler puncher
punch bubbler emitter holes in tubing
bubbler emitter
insert and adjust bubbler emitters
drip irrigation bubbler layout
final layout of drip irrigation system

DIY Files: Danny’s 3 BlueBarrel Systems™ from rain barrel kit to install

Get Inspired!

This highlight is from BlueBarrel customer Danny, of Palo Alto, California. He used our custom rain barrel kits to install three separate BlueBarrel Systems™ collecting from four downspouts.

Danny used the tools right here on this website to customize for his site, including extra downspout connections; inlet hose extensions; custom barrel spacing to work around obstacles; and double-row and L-shaped configurations.

Enjoy photos and videos of this project, and read on to get inspired by our DIY highlight of the season!

Barrel Pickup

Barrels in minivan

After placing his order in our online store, Danny picked up his barrels from one of our local BlueBarrel pickup locations.

Danny says: "We could fit seven barrels in our minivan so it took two trips to get all fourteen barrels."

Check out our FAQ for more guidelines on how many barrels fit in different types of vehicles. (Some of our participating barrel suppliers offer doorstep delivery, too!)

System 1: Standard Setup with Extended Inlet Hose

Rain Barrel Kit

This system consists of 5 barrels in a classic single-row configuration against the wall of the home. This space allowed for standard 2' spacing, and the flow from this downspout fills five barrels easily. Danny used our rainwater calculator to estimate how much water comes out of each downspouts, and sized his systems accordingly.

With a downspout more than 2.5' from his barrels, Danny used an extended inlet hose—one of our most common modifications.

Each BlueBarrel rain barrel kit comes standard with an elevated spigot for bucket filling, and a ground-level outlet that can fully drain the rain barrel system, and connect to a gravity-fed drip irrigation line.


System 2: Custom Spacing and L-Shaped Configuration

BlueBarrel rain barrel spacing

This system consists of three barrels, collecting from a downspout that gets less water. While the standard diverter hose is used, Danny spaced one barrel apart from the other two, in an L-shaped configuration, to fit an inset notch at this corner of the home.

While standard spacing requires a simple 2' x 2' footprint per barrel, the beauty of our flexible underplumbed design is that users can increase the distance between barrels to work around obstacles on the site, such as AC units, utility boxes, windows, trees/shrubs, and more.

There is no upper limit to the distance between barrels. That said, all barrels in any one interconnected system need to be level with each other.

BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System
BlueBarrel System with custom spacing

System 3: Double Rows and Multiple Downspouts

BlueBarrel Rain Barrel System with multiple rows

The third system consists of six barrels, collecting from two different downspouts. While one downspout will fill any number of barrels with our unique underplumbed design, connecting multiple downspouts will allow for faster fill. This is an easy upgrade with extra downspout diverters available as add-ons to our standard rain barrel kits.

The photo above shows a standard downspout connection. Below you can see Danny used another inlet hose extension to capture water from a second downspout.

To work around an HVAC box, he separated two barrels from the other four, and used BlueBarrel's Multi-Row Connection (another customization available for our DIY RainKits) to maximize the space by doubling up his barrels.

All of these add-ons and customizations are available in our Tools & Accessories menu as standalones, or as part of the checkout process when ordering one of the full rain barrel kit options in our Online Store.

rain barrels around AC unit
Inlet hose extension for rain barrels

DIY Files: Sarah Sets Up a Rain Barrel Drip Irrigation System—10 Steps to Success!

raised bed with drip irrigation
Step 10 - ENJOY!

Contributed by Sarah DePhillips

In my four years on BlueBarrel's customer service team, I fielded lots of questions about setting up a rain barrel drip irrigation system. Gravity-fed drip irrigation systems pair wonderfully with rain barrels to water gardens, shrubs, and trees. If you're feeling mystified by the irrigation component of your rain barrel setup, you are not alone! In this post, I'll walk you step by step through setting up our inline emitter kit. This is what we most often recommend for watering vegetable gardens.

(See this post for how to set up our bubbler emitter kit, which you might prefer for ornamental gardens.)

These steps will be useful once you have the parts in-hand. If you're looking for more general information about how to think through a gravity-fed rain barrel drip irrigation setup, including videos and a number of different gravity system types, start here.

How to install BlueBarrel's DIY Drip Irrigation Kit for Gravity-Feed, Inline Emitters:

Step 1. After setting up your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System, attach a 100 micron filter to your drain valve. It screws directly onto the drain, no extra pieces needed.

Step 2. The filter has male threads coming off perpendicular to the drain. That's where you'll attach your no pressure irrigation timer (if using), or a hose. If your garden isn't right next to your barrels, you can either run a regular garden hose to the point where you want your 1/2" irrigation line to start, or you can use the 1/2" line itself to reach the garden. In my photos, I used a garden hose to span the distance between barrels and garden.

Step 3. Next comes the swivel adapter. This part transitions from a standard garden outlet (a hose in my case), to the poly tubing in the drip irrigation kit. Depending on your setup, this piece will either go directly onto your filter (or timer if you're using one), OR go at the "garden" end of your garden hose - it's where your 1/2" irrigation tubing will start.

Step 4. Press the 1/2" tubing firmly into the swivel adapter. If your garden has rows, it's a good idea to run the 1/2" perpendicular to the rows. The actual rows of pre-drilled 1/4" drip-line will tee into this 1/2" main line.

Step 5. Using the hand-held punch tool in your kit, punch a hole in the 1/2" main line where you want your first 1/4" emitter-line to begin. Remove the punch and insert one of the barbed connectors, pushing it into the hole until one side is all the way in the 1/2" tubing.

Step 6. Press the 1/4" drip-line over the other end of the barbed connector until the connection feels snug.  Run the line the length of your garden row, staking it in place where necessary.

Step 7. At the end of your row, cut the 1/4" emitter-line. Insert a goof plug to seal the end of the line.

Step 8. Repeat steps 5-7 for each row, or each place you want to run 1/4" emitter-line off the 1/2" mainline tubing.

Step 9. When all your rows are in place, leave a few feet of extra 1/2" tubing at the end and cut it off. (You'll need the extra length to create your crimped end.) Use the figure 8 fitting to crimp it off and secure the end.

Step 10. Turn on the water (or let your timer do that for you) and watch (and listen!) for the magic. There's nothing like the sound of drip emitters "waking up" with their first flow of water.

rain barrel drip irrigation filter
Step 1
Steps 2 & 3
Steps 2 & 3
STEP 5 (punch hole)
STEP 5 (punch hole)
Step 5 (insert barb)
Step 5 (insert barb)
Step 6
Step 6
Step 9
Step 9

Another Example Rain Barrel Drip Irrigation Setup: Raised Beds!

Additional photos provided by BlueBarrel customer Robert in Virginia.

2 barrel system
drip irrigation in raised beds
rain barrel drip irrigation

DIY Gutters and Downspouts: Everything You Need to Know

At BlueBarrel, we specialize in DIY rainwater catchment systems. Gutters and downspouts are an essential part of the drainage system on any home. They are also necessary for efficient collection of rainwater.

In the rainwater harvesting world, gutters and downspouts together are known as the “conduit system,” along with the downspout diverter that takes the plentiful roof runoff into rain barrels or tanks.

For those who like to tackle their own home projects, this article combines a variety of resources for DIY gutter installation, repair, and maintenance.

But first, a few definitions:

Which is Which: Gutters vs. Downspouts

Schematic showing labels for roof gutters (running horizontally) and downspouts (running vertically)

Gutters vs. downspouts: It's common to mix these terms, but it's important to know which element you're talking about when planning a rain barrel system.

Gutters run horizontally across the bottom of each roof segment to catch water running off the roof.

Downspouts are the vertical elements that bring this water to the ground. They either release it onto the landscape, or into a drain pipe.

Installing Gutters and Downspouts

Whether you're building a new structure, or living in a home that doesn't yet have gutters and downspouts, this is a project you may consider doing yourself. This is a simple way to save money on an important home project, so let’s take a look at the process for DIY installation.

Our friends at Next Modular have provided a how-to guide for standard gutters and downspouts, including materials needed, and site prep:

Cleaning Gutters

well-designed rain barrel system is a low-maintenance addition to your garden. Keeping your gutters clean is the most important thing you can do to keep your inlet screening from clogging. For a self-cleaning system like The BlueBarrel System™, gutter cleanout is virtually the only maintenance the system will need.

If you're not a fan of getting on the roof, take these tips from the experts at Frazier Roofing. Learn how to clean gutters without a ladder!:

Repairing Gutters and Downspouts

If your gutters leak, it will limit the amount of water that gets into your rain barrels or tanks.

Repairing your own guttering may seem like a daunting idea but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Not with these tips from our friends at Bespoke Guttering, anyway:

How to Divert Roof Water Into Rain Barrels

Now that you're ready with gutters and downspouts (thanks to our expert roofing and guttering collaborators!) our team here at BlueBarrel can help you with your rainwater harvesting project. Browse this very site for all you need to know about DIY rain barrels.

A well-designed downspout diverter is the key piece that takes water from your downspout into rain barrels. BlueBarrel's specialty design includes a diverter that handles system overflow automatically as an additional benefit.

Read all about downspout diverters for rainwater harvesting:

Virtual Garden Tour: See a BlueBarrel System Demo

Join us on the Eco-Friendly (Virtual) Garden Tour:

Thinking of adding a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™ to your landscape? Curious about the ins and outs of a harvesting rain on your property? This video—part of an eco-friendly virtual garden tour series—is a great opportunity to view a live demo of a BlueBarrel System. Jesse will show you around her home garden and explain the process (fairly simple) and benefits (many!) of rainwater harvesting.

Three separate rain barrel systems collect from the downspouts of the 1,350 square foot home in this residential neighborhood. These include: an interconnected 3-barrel system, 7-barrel system, and 8-barrel system. This amounts to a total of 18 barrels and 990 gallons of water storage tucked discreetly along the sides of the house. And with continual drawdown and recharge during the rainy season, the total water savings is substantial. Jesse estimates it is upwards of 3,000 gallons annually, especially when there are dry-stretches between rainstorms.

virtual garden tour: bluebarrel near house
vegatable garden

Ready to get started?

Beginners can get started with just a few barrels and add on gradually. You can surprise yourself with just how much water is available when prepared to collect it, even in drought years. You will get over 600 gallons of high-quality irrigation water with every single inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square-foot roof surface. It's easy to size and site your System, and our easy-to-follow instructions and videos make this a great project for DIY-ers looking to conserve water in the landscape. Plus, your plants will thank you!

Take the Full Virtual Garden Tour!

Many thanks to the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership for producing the 2021 Eco-Friendly Garden Tour with 14 high-quality virtual tour-stops! This tour features gardens in northern California, but many of the eco-friendly gardening techniques (ahem, rainwater harvesting!) are universal. Join us from wherever you are, at your convenience!

How to Make a Composter

To Compost or not to Compost?

If you are reading this article you are likely already convinced of the many benefits of composting, so we’ll start with inspiration for how to make a composter out of (you guessed it!) a blue plastic barrel

If you’re completely new to composting, we’ve included some tips below for how to create your own “black gold.” Compost is a rich, regenerative resource made from kitchen and garden scraps, naturally!

hands with compost
Compost: it's called black gold for a reason!

How to Make a Composter

A compost set-up can take on many forms from a free-standing mound on the ground to a fancy, pricey compost contraption with all the bells and whistles.

Our suggested composter at BlueBarrel? Well, a blue barrel, of course! 

A 55-gallon recycled plastic drum is an ideal receptacle for composting, and with a few DIY modifications you can build a rotating, aerating, compost-making tumbler of your own. (And, yes, we can help you find recycled barrels near you.)

There are many custom designs out there for a rotating DIY composter. Whether you re-use materials on hand, or make a trip to the hardware store, the basic design elements include:


A frame elevates the barrel off the ground and supports the rotation pole. An elevated composter also allows you to place it on a deck or patio—a great option for urban composters!


A rotating pole and optional handle or crank is the key to keeping your compost in motion. Tumbling the compost incorporates newly added materials while aerating the mixture and accelerating the aerobic decomposition process.


Drill holes into the drum to further aerate the mixture. Holes can be screened if they’re large enough for debris to escape. 


A hinged door for adding ingredients and accessing the finished product. This is also an entry point for water—an essential ingredient in any compost recipe. 

Example DIY Composter

barrel composter

Here is one example from BlueBarrel customer, Andrew, of Columbus, Ohio. A simple wood frame provides elevation for easy rotation and allows for convenient deck placement right outside the kitchen door. 

Can you identify all of the above elements in Andrew’s home composter design?

Click here for a similar example, including a step-by-step from Instructables.

We love learning about all the creative ways our customers use our recycled blue barrels. Thanks for sharing, Andrew!

This is actually a great case-study in “upcycling,” or repurposing used items into something of even greater use.

How is that for a great segue into compost itself, which re-imagines kitchen and yard “waste” as a valuable resource for nourishing any garden. Because we know there is no such thing as waste in nature’s design.

Getting Started with Composting

Compost enthusiasts may find the process and its results magical, but composting is not magic, just nature. In other words, anyone can do it! Below is a brief introduction to the best practices and benefits of composting...have fun and good luck!

Reduce waste and utilize your organic “trash” to make “black gold” (a.k.a. compost!)

You’ve got the coffee grounds, the vegetable peels, the grass clippings, and the fallen leaves so don’t go shipping them off to the landfill! Keep this organic matter on site and turn it into food for your garden—the ultimate in upcycling.

Don’t have a garden per se? Scatter finished compost on the lawn, beneath trees, or in your neighbor's garden...share the wealth, it is black gold, after all. 


Browns and Greens

There is a method to this magic and it has to do with proportions and ingredients. The millions of micro and macro organisms breaking down the organic matter into compost have some requirements: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen. Accordingly, the organic matter should include a mix of carbon-rich "brown" materials and nitrogen-rich "green" materials (check out the handy Browns and Greens list below for details.) A very basic approach to proportions is 2 parts green to 1 part brown. Water can be added as needed to keep the mixture moist, and the tumbling action and ventilation holes introduce oxygen to the process to keep those hard-working organisms happy. 


There is no wrong way to compost

Are there better methods than others? Sure.

Again, a well-aerated and turned pile with the right combination of brown and green materials will result in hotter, faster, and more “standard” compost (i.e. that earthy, crumbly black gold). But the recipe for aerobic decomposition (the biological process transforming your scraps into compost) is as easy as organic waste + air + water. You may have to tinker with your recipe and make adjustments over time, but the organic matter will break down, and you can be proud that you’re sending it back to its rightful home, completing the cycle of nature. 


Make your plants happy(er)

Adding compost to your garden increases the organic matter in the soil which improves soil structure, increases beneficial microorganisms, and provides essential nutrients for plant growth. Decomposed organic matter is one of the original fertilizers provided by mother nature and it works, naturally! Since we are a rainwater harvesting company, may we also add that rainwater is another amazing and natural way to make your plants happy

compost infographic on carbon and nirtrogen
from Stacey Murphy and

Article by Olivia Loughrey, BlueBarrel staff writer, MS ecological design. 

DIY Files: Flora Noble Installs a DIY Rain Barrel System

We love hearing from our customers about their DIY rain barrel experience. This post was submitted by Flora Noble Plant Studio in Milwaukee, Oregon: a full review of their experience installing a two-barrel BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System.

The Flora Noble Story: Installing a Rain Harvesting System

Setting up a rain harvesting system has been on our garden to-do list for a while. Collecting rain water has many benefits including reducing stormwater runoff, water conservation and lowering of water bills in drought months.

Our online research found many DIY rain barrel setups that are affordable but not very easily expanded. Pre-made systems were more expensive and similarly inflexible. If we’ve learned anything in the garden it’s that the best plans are the ones that can be adjusted as we go!

Using a rain calculator to work out the amount of water runoff from your roof is a good place to start but the size of your system will depend a lot on rainfall and the water needs of your yard. We’re starting with a two barrel system that can hold up to 110 gallons and adjust as needed.

DIY Rain Barrel System
spoiler alert: the finished BlueBarrel System

On Board with BlueBarrel

We ended up going with California-based BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems as a good mix of DIY and pre-built. BlueBarrel sells upcycled plastic barrels and a kit (the DIY RainKit™) with the pieces to construct their system. New barrels can be added easily if needed. We purchased a full system including the barrels (paid up front, picked up at local supplier) + the materials and tools we didn’t have. These were all available via BlueBarrel's website, making it super convenient and one less trip to the hardware store, win.

plastic blue barrels
upcycled food-grade barrels
how to Install a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System
DIY RainKit™ supplies and instructions

Because of the current demand the supplier was weeks out on barrels. We contacted BlueBarrel and they quickly found us a new supplier. Fast and responsive customer service!

The barrels were cleaned, as in their former lives they were filled with agave syrup. An area near the downspout was prepped and leveled.

Tyler prepares a level foundation for the cinder blocks
Tyler prepares a level foundation for the cinder blocks

Weekend Warrior: DIY Rain Barrels

With all the tools and materials in place the process was very straightforward. It took Tyler two evening sessions to set up and put together our DIY rain barrel system, so this is a perfect weekend project, in between sips of beer or your refreshment of choice.

One trip to the hardware store was needed for pipe and cinder blocks.

Since it's summer now, we’ll have to do an update on how the system holds up during the rainy season. So far the testing we’ve done has been positive, and we’re excited to be able to use rainwater for plants and ducks very soon!

man Install a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System
a duck near a bluebarrel rainwater catchment system
Epilogue: The ducks approve of the new BlueBarrel System!

Hole-y Barrels! Patch or Plug Holes in Plastic Barrels to Re-Use Them Yet Again

As a company that specializes in converting used barrels into rain barrels, our customer service team often answers questions from folks who want to convert an existing rain barrel to a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™.

The trouble is, a typical rain barrel has at least one hole drilled into the side for a spigot. Often there is a second (and even third!) hole used as a drain and/or overflow port.

Whether this is your situation, or your simply messed up and drilled a hole you don't need, we've got some great solutions for you!

This article will teach you how to patch or plug holes in plastic barrels for a watertight seal. Whether you need a removable or a permanent solution, read on for expert advice!

Single Rain Barrel

How to repurpose this...

Jeffs BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

...into a multi-barrel BlueBarrel System!

The BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System is a completely closed design, which keeps water very clean. Our unique, underplumbed linking solution allows the user to drain every last drop of water through the provided drain valve.

But if barrels need to be all closed up, what can you do with hole-y barrels? The good news is, we’ve discovered a great plug solution, for a water-tight seal on pre-existing holes.

The Plug-and-Play Solution (Removable)

rain barrel plug

We carry twist plugs in our online store to seal holes that have been drilled in barrels.

Now available in our Online Store, these rubberized twist plugs insert into holes around 1″ to 1-1/2″ in size. The plugs are tapered to work with holes of varying sizes. Insert until it feels tight, then twist the knob to expand the rubberized plug head for a water-tight seal. It’s brilliant!

The 1″ version will work in many spigot holes. We also carry a 1-1/4″ version for larger spigot holes (such as those drilled for the EarthMinded rain barrel kits). The larger 1-1/2″ version will plug the inlet hole in a BlueBarrel System. These are perfect for those who need to disconnect downspouts in winter. They can be easily removed when it's time to reconnect in Spring!

The Quick Patch Solution (Permanent)

Quick Patch Barrel Patch

Quick Patch is a newer product that provides a permanent stick-seal solution for holes in barrels, downspouts and more!

Quick Patch is a newer product that instantly repairs almost any hard surface. Simply peel it and seal it! Quick Patches adhere to all types of piping, glass, fiberglass, metals, wood, polyethylene, and more. Use this product for sealing unwanted holes in barrels or tanks, fixing ruptured PVC, patching gutters/downspouts and more!

Quick Patch is as pliable as a Band-Aid when you take it out of the package and as hard as fiberglass with just 10 minutes of exposure to UV. This product cures in the sun outdoors, or with a UV flashlight indoors. See our video gallery for a product demo.

Available in two sizes in our online store, the 2" x 3" Quick Patch Mini will permanently patch unwanted spigot holes in your barrels, and small ruptures in your PVC line. The larger 3" x 6" version will permanently patch your downspout if you mis-drilled the hole, or wish to move (or remove) your rain barrels. Quick Patches can be cut to size easily with regular household scissors.

Threaded Insert Tap Seals

Threaded Insert Tap Seal

Also available in our online store, threaded insert tap seals provide a watertight seal for your spigot or drain.

If you have leaks around your tap or spigot, you can tighten up the connection without plugging the hole and starting over. For this, we recommend our threaded insert tap seal. Unlike bulkhead fittings, which are two-part fittings that require you to get inside the barrel to screw them in, threaded insert tap seals easily insert from the outside.

Similar to the tapered twist plugs, these fittings have a tapered shape that help them seal. They create a watertight port for any standard 3/4″ tap, spigot or drain valve. When the valve screws in, it tightens the tap seal beautifully against the barrel wall.

See our Online Store for these parts, as well as high-flow spigot and drain valves to pair with them. Our high-flow valves will improve your output for gravity fed drip irrigation (or just faster bucket filling!) while you’re at it.

An Example From the Field

Twist Plug Patching a Hole in blue barrel

Simply insert the plug and twist for a water-tight solution for hole-y barrels!

As a case in point, I had a conundrum while setting up a BlueBarrel System for a friend. She already had two 55-gallon blue barrels that were configured as single rain barrels. While they were the right kind of barrel, they already had spigot holes drilled in the side. They also had an overflow hole drilled on the sidewall toward the top.

After learning about BlueBarrel’s unique system design, my friend decided she would much rather have a 2-Barrel BlueBarrel System than two singles. I had a chance to test the twist-plugs and they worked great to plug holes in plastic barrels!

Furthering Our Sustainability Mission

Many BlueBarrel customers are attracted to our company not only for our unique rain barrel system, but also because we stand by our environmental values of creating a lighter footprint. If you’ve read about BlueBarrel’s history, you’ll know it all started with a desire to create a rainwater harvesting system that uses upcycled food-grade barrels destined for the landfill. We make them available locally to our customers, thus reducing the costs and impacts associated with manufacturing, storage, and transportation.

The products highlighted in this article help us take our mission further by giving yet another life to barrels that may have already been repurposed. Now you can patch or plug any barrel holes to prep them for another use. Turn a single rain barrel back into a sealed barrel suitable for reuse in the BlueBarrel System!

Furthering your ability to recycle, reduce, and re-use, re-use, re-use, we are proud to offer these simple and inexpensive solutions.

As always, we love to hear your stories from the field, so please keep them coming!

Article contributed by Beth Auerbach, BlueBarrel staff writer, MS ecological design.

DIY Files: Custom Downspout Diverters for Rain Barrels

Custom Downspout Diverter"I built a trellis to carry the water from the roof to my BlueBarrel System location. The instructions with the RainKit were well written and easy to follow. I made one adjustment that I thought I would share: using a 2" ABS drain pipe (pictured) to the barrels. A 2-1/4" kitchen strainer fits perfectly between two MIP and FIP couplings."

- Robert | San Luis Obispo, CA

Leave it to our customers to come up with creative twists on the standard BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System design. One of the benefits of our multi-barrel design is that it's all figured out from top to bottom, but also easy to customize to fit the particulars of any site. Thanks to Robert in San Luis Obispo, CA for sharing his solution for a custom downspout diverter.

Before we dive in, let us note that our DIY RainKits (with all the parts for building your own BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System) come with a choice between three sizes for an easy-install downspout diverter that balances inflow and overflow automatically. In most cases, we recommend simply using the diverter provided.

However in Robert's case, he built an awning to collect rainwater and carry it to his barrels, which inspired him to create a custom downspout diverter solution for his inlet.

Robert writes:

"The instructions with the RainKit were well written and easy to follow. I made one adjustment that I thought I would share using a 2" ABS drain pipe to the barrels. A 2-1/4" kitchen strainer fits perfectly between two MIP and FIP couplings" (pictured below).

He is also familiar with the particulars of his climate zone. With California's Mediterranean climate, Robert knows roughly when the rain will fall. During the dry season, he can remove his inlet pipe completely, replacing it when the rainy season returns:

"Our rain cycle here on the central coast of California is easy to predict so I cut the ABS pipe short enough that it's easy to lift out during the spring and summer months."

Important Considerations for System Overflow

Please note, that if crafting your own inlet, a separate overflow of at least the same size will be required. This is why our first recommendation is to stick with our standard diverter that handles overflow automatically.

Whether your tanks are large or small, for proper ventilation and overflow handling, you need to have an overflow equal to or greater in size than the sum of all inlet ports. To make that simple, this 2" inlet requires a 2" overflow port on the same vessel.

The larger your inlet, the more the overflow port takes out of your storage capacity. Multiply that loss for a multi-barrel system. In addition to uncontrolled overflow, this is another reason we do not recommend full diversion for smaller systems.

You will need to consider where to direct that overflow. While a prefab diverter handles overflow automatically by design, a custom-crafted full-diversion will need to be paired with a carefully-designed overflow management system.

Consider that overflow rates will be irregular and sometimes very high. Direct overflow to an infiltration basin at least 15' from any structures, or to another place where it can safely infiltrate.

DIY Files: Can I Stack Rain Barrels? Everything You Need to Know

Vertical Stacked Rain Barrels

This isn’t an approach we’d recommend. Do you know why? Read on!

It’s one of our most frequently asked questions: Can I stack rain barrels vertically?

The quick answer is yes. But there’s a but. A big one.

While the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System in its classic form consists of one long line of barrels (you choose how many), some people have spatial constraints that lead them to seek space vertically. 

Barrels can be stacked to maximize space, but with each barrel weighing upwards of 500 lbs when full, it’s not feasible to support the weight of one barrel directly on another.

As a second point, if you wish to enjoy the advantages of an under-plumbed design like BlueBarrel’s, you’ll need space between each layer to allow for the plumbing, and proper ventilation.

To illustrate our recommendations for a successful stacked-barrel design, we’ll highlight an example, sent by customer Michael Nunn of Daytona Beach, Florida.

Thanks for sharing, Mike!


How to stack rain barrels

With Mike’s well-detailed diagrams, we were able to work with him to refine the plan and make sure he received all the necessary pieces in his custom-packed BlueBarrel DIY RainKit to build his custom design.

Vertical rain barrels

This diagram, provided by BlueBarrel customer, Michael Nunn, shows the key features of a safe and efficient vertical rain barrel setup.

Here are the key features of his design:

  • Each layer of barrels is supported by its own foundation. At 500 lbs per barrel (when full), a structurally sound foundation must be built to support the weight of each barrel.
  • Each layer has its own downspout connection. The specialty downspout diverter included with BlueBarrel’s DIY RainKits is designed to handle inflow as well as overflow. If installed with a level hose, as shown in Mike’s diagram, water will divert into the barrels until they are full. When barrels reach capacity, excess water will fall through an internal spillover to exit the downspout as normal. There’s no on/off switch for this – it happens automatically with this simple but brilliantly designed piece. In Mike’s case, the second diverter will catch most of this overflow to fill the bottom row of barrels. 
  • There is a shutoff valve between levels. Each barrel in a multi-barrel system must be vented so that air can escape as barrels fill with fresh water. If all barrels are connected via the underplumbing and served with one diverter at the top, water from upper levels will push out through the vents on the lower levels, keeping them from filling. Note the placement of the isolation valve. The valve will remain closed while barrels fill so that both levels can hold water. As Mike uses his water, the top barrels will drain first. Once the top set is empty, he can open the valve to access the water from the lower level. (Another possibility is to have a separate outlet on each level, so that no valve is necessary. In other words, build two separate BlueBarrel Systems, one on top of the other.)

Compliments to Mike for a job well done, and for sharing images with us as well. Here’s his finished project, now keeping his koi fish pond topped up with clean fresh water between Florida storms: 



Why not lay rain barrels on their sides?

stack rain barrels

What’s wrong with this picture?

Here is a design that is commonly found on the internet. Why not do it like this?

There are a number of reasons we recommend the underplumbed design instead:

  • With the bung openings offset a few inches from the edge of each barrel, laying drums on their sides leaves a substantial “belly” in the bottom of each barrel where water cannot be accessed. Multiply that loss by the number of barrels in your stack and that’s a lot of inaccessible water.
  • In addition to leaving water inaccessible, this belly will collect a sludge layer that can create turbidity in the barrels, leading to a heavy load of particulates in the water at the outlet. An underplumbed design flushes most sediments in real time, leading to naturally cleaner water. (Click here to learn why you want those little organic particulates to get to your garden rather than collecting in your barrels!)
  • With no ability to vent any barrels but the top one, and a narrow connection from barrel to barrel, it is unclear whether the bottom barrel will fill smoothly. A vent hole is necessary to allow air to escape as water enters, but unless carefully monitored and controlled, a vent hole in the bottom barrel would allow water to escape, preventing upper barrels from holding water.

Got a special situation, or need help customizing your BlueBarrel System? The knowledgeable team here at BlueBarrel is happy help you for a successful experience with rainwater harvesting. Give us a holler! We’re here to help. 

DIY Files: Creative Twists on the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System

The least I could do in exchange for the great service I got from BlueBarrel was to document the construction of my systems. Hopefully, my “innovations of necessity” give you ideas for what is possible for your own. – Erik

Thanks to BlueBarrel customer Erik – of Moreno Valley, California – for sharing photos of his BlueBarrel System™ installation, including some very creative embellishments. Read on and get inspired by our DIY highlight of the season!


In southern California’s dry climate, we need lots of water storage to get us through a long dry season. Erik installed 27 barrels for nearly 1,500 gallons of capacity, to keep his suburban lot green.

He installed nine barrels in the front yard, two in the back, and he managed to fit 16 along his narrow side yard corridor – an ideal place to hide a long string of barrels.

Before he began, Erik painted 11 barrels for the front- and back-yard installations. He didn’t bother painting the remaining 16 barrels for the hidden side-yard system.

Under themed headings, we’ve highlighted some of Erik’s creative customizations:


Double Duty Downspout Diverters

With nine barrels in the front yard, Erik spanned enough space that he could easily collect from two existing downspouts. He ordered an extra downspout diverter for his 9-Barrel RainKit™ to accomplish this.


Look closely to notice one of his downspout diverter hoses is installed level, and the other descends from a higher point on the downspout down to the barrel.

This is a subtle detail, but one worth noting for those who are connecting to multiple downspouts: Our standard downspout diverters are designed to be installed so that the inlet hose is level. This allows water to get into the barrels when they have capacity. But when barrels are full, water will back up the inlet hose and escape down the downspout as it normally would. Erik wants to send all of his overflow through the front-most downspout, so by installing the second diverter higher, he forces his overflow to the downspout of his choice. Pretty clever, Erik!


Custom Curves and Spacing

Look more closely at the 9-barrel system to notice Erik used custom spacing to work around small obstacles (an existing irrigation manifold and standpipe). He also rounded a corner to mimic the curve of his home.

Per the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System design, barrels are spaced at 24” on center for the tightest spacing possible, but one of the biggest benefits of our design is the ability to customize to work around such obstacles, and it’s a customization that many of our customers make. We do offer a flexible link in our accessories menu to make it easy to round corners with any BlueBarrel System.


Leaf Eaters

Notice Erik used leaf eaters (also available in our online store) on every downspout to keep leaves and debris out of his BlueBarrel Systems.

Leaf eaters (also known as debris excluders) are simple screen filters that are recommended over first flush diverters in most cases. They are effective in keeping debris out of a rain barrel system without obstructing the flow of water or nutrients into the barrels, and they are very easy to service.

The top screen is easy to remove, shake off and rinse, and snap back into place.  If installed at eye-level (as Erik has done), this can be done without a ladder.


Double-Stacked Downspout Diverters

In the back yard, Erik had less space for barrels, but he managed to fit two right next to a corner downspout.

Here again you’ll see Erik doubled up on diverters, but this time in a different way.

As discussed above, our downspout diverters send overflow down the downspout as normal when barrels are full.

The rubberized diverter head that inserts into the downspout seals off the interior to divert water into the barrels, but it has an internal spillover so that excess water falls down the normal course of the downspout when the system is overwhelmed. Likewise, if the flow of water down the downspout exceeds the capacity of the inlet hose, small amounts of water will discharge down the downspout as the barrels fill.

Erik installed a second diverter below the first to capture as much of this overflow as possible into his two-barrel system.


Spanning the Distance

Erik really made use of the space in his narrow side yard. With each barrel occupying only a 2’ x 2’ footprint, even an extremely narrow side yard can accommodate a long line of barrels while leaving a passable circulation corridor. Notorious for becoming “junk storage” space, narrow side-yard corridors are ideally suited for rain barrels. Notice again Erik used custom spacing to install barrels on either side of a window-seat bumpout. As all barrels in a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System are plumbed along the bottom, all 16 barrels will still fill and empty at the same rate.

While Erik had one downspout descending within range of this side-yard system, he wanted to grab water from an un-tapped downspout farther away to service these 16 barrels with as much water as possible. This is easy to do with BlueBarrel’s extension hose, which we sell by the foot in our online store. Many people have a great place for barrels that doesn’t happen to be near a downspout. As Erik demonstrates, this does not need to be a limiting factor.


Fun with Funnels and Filters

Many of our customers ask us how to get water from other sources into their BlueBarrel Systems. This is easy to do because the vent pieces in our DIY RainKits are fitted with a screened hose-swivel, and the user can simply connect a garden hose to fill barrels when there is no rain.

Many drought-conscious California residents keep a bucket in their shower to capture “warm-up” water… or that water that normally flows down the drain when one waits for the shower to heat up. This water can be added to rain barrels using a funnel through one of the vent pieces.

Leave it to Erik to come up with an improvement on the funnel idea. Noticing that a standard two-liter soda bottle is threaded just like a garden hose, Erik cut the bottom off of a Coke bottle and painted it to match, for a very attractive funnel that screws securely into the vent on any of his barrels. A standard stainless steel coffee filter fits perfectly as a fine-mesh filter for water that he pours into his rain barrels from various sources.


Well done, Erik, and thanks for sharing your inspiration for our DIY-Files series.


Stay tuned for our next customer highlight.


The DIY Files: Site Prep for a Rain Barrel System

This feature highlights some of the details involved in prepping a site for a BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™. BlueBarrel customers, Judy and Mike, have shared some photos of their site prep process!


How to Prep your Site for a Rain Barrel System

Site prep is quite simple, really, but there are some important details to understand before you dive in.

SIte your System

Mike chose this downspout to feed his system - in a nice, flat, shady spot near his garden beds. (Did you notice the barrels are painted? We'll highlight barrel painting in our next blog post - stay tuned!!)

The first step is to identify the best spot for your rainwater system. You're looking for a place that is near an existing downspout, near your garden (if using the water for irrigation), and ideally in the shade. See our siting guidelines for more detail.

Next, your site needs to be leveled if it isn't already. If you are building a multi-barrel system like the BlueBarrel System, all barrels need to be at the same level. Some ask us whether they should install their barrels on a slight downslope to encourage the flow of water towards one end. The answer is NO! If barrels trend downward, the system won't fill any higher than the top of the lowest barrel. Every barrel must be vented, so water will escape through the vents on the lower barrels before the higher barrels are able to fill.

Water is heavy, and a 55-gallon barrel will weigh nearly 500 pounds when full. For this reason, you want to install your system on a stable surface that the barrels won't settle and go wonky. If you have concrete or asphalt in place already, you're ready to go. But you don't need to install more hardscape if it's not there already!

This downspout will feed the BlueBarrel System. The downspout diverter inserts into the downspout and sends overflow down the normal course of the downspout after the barrels fill up.

This downspout will feed the BlueBarrel System. The downspout diverter inserts into the downspout and sends overflow down the normal course of the downspout after the barrels fill up.

The foundation pad is a simple frame filled with compact gravel - a solid surface for the cinder block footing and barrels.

The foundation pad is a simple frame filled with compact gravel - a solid surface for the cinder block footing and barrels.

If your site is bare soil, simply add a layer (about 3" thick) of a base rock material and compact it until it is firm and level, using a tamper.

Crushed base rock is an ideal material (a.k.a. base rock, road base, blue shale crush, or simply crush). This material is inexpensive and will compact nicely. Any jagged-edged gravel will do (Judy and Mike used decomposed granite), but be sure to avoid round substrates like pea gravel or river rock. If you're not sure, pick up a handful: if you can roll it around nicely in your palm, it won't compact. Find something jagged!

You can frame your foundation pad like Judy and Mike did, but this is not necessary. A frame adds a nice visual touch, and can add a little elevation for gravity flow if you build it above grade and back-fill with gravel. If you are building a frame for a large (i.e. long) system, a cross-member helps so that your frame doesn't bow out over time.

The last step for building your foundation is laying the cinder blocks. Cinder blocks are an important component of the BlueBarrel System design, creating a lane for the underplumbing that makes our system so unique. The spacing in the cinderblocks also allows for an isolation valve between every couple of barrels (another key to the BlueBarrel System design, included with our DIY RainKits), and add 8" extra elevation for gravity flow.

Whether or not you are building a frame, you can find the dimensional details for a BlueBarrel System foundation here!

Well done, Judy and Mike, and thanks for sharing your photos with us!

7-Barrel Rainwater System

The DIY Files: SoCal’s most Water Conscious Resident (and Potable Rainwater!)


Rob Greenfield and BlueBarrel

Rob Greenfield: SoCal's most water conscious resident?

Meet BlueBarrel customer Rob Greenfield: tiny-house homesteader and water-conservationist extraordinaire.

Rob lives in sunny San Diego, California, where "normal" years boast 12" of rain on average. Of course in the face of California's worst drought in recorded history, recent years have seen much less rainfall than average.

But Rob lives in abundance, employing a handful of techniques to allow him to live on just 5 gallons of water per day. And where does that water come from? From the roof (his neighbor's roof, mind you!), collected into his BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™.

In his short video, Rob even explains how he treats his rainwater so that he can drink it! Potable rainwater is something many people ask about. In our FAQ's we emphasize that untreated rainwater is strictly non-potable (although perfect for garden irrigation and other non-potable uses). Pay attention to Rob's techniques for treating rainwater! A valuable emergency preparedness tool for many, for Rob its a way of life.

Click here for a variety of reliable drinking water treatment options.

The DIY Files: “Introducing My BlueBarrel System!” – Notes from a DIY rain barrel customer

Ever wonder what it’s like to build a BlueBarrel System? Wonder if you have the skills? Follow the link to read this post by BlueBarrel customer Melissa, blogger and homesteader extraordinaire, on her blog, Forgotten Skills: Introducing My BlueBarrel System.

Melissa built her 15-barrel BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™  all by herself over a couple of days using BlueBarrel’s RainKit™   (our customizable DIY rain barrel kit) squeezing the project into stolen moments before work. The system collects from her chicken coop, and will fill with just 6″ of rain falling on the coop’s 200-square-foot roof.

Melissa did a fantastic job, and her garden (and chickens!) will thank her!

Click here for more photos, and to read about her experience installing her 15-barrel system!

BlueBarrel Rain System Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 12.55.25 PM