How NOT to Build a Rain Barrel

How NOT to Build a Rain Barrel

When my husband and I first moved into our home in Brisbane, one of our first DIY projects was to install our own rain barrels. We looked up a bunch of online tutorials, took the advice that we found there, and after finding a good deal on two used olive oil barrels, we created our rain barrels.

The advice we had found online told us to do certain things for safety of both the water and ourselves. The first thing we needed to do was to securely attach the rain barrels to the house so they couldn’t fall over. The second was to install both a spout on the lower side of the barrel as well as an overflow tube that would let out water if the barrel became full. Both of these things were not a problem.

Securely attached to the house, overflow and spigot in place, no problem.

The last piece of advice was to make sure that mosquitoes could not find their way into the water to lay eggs. We found a lot of tutorials similar to what we eventually created, which was a screen on top of the barrel, built into the lid, that would allow water in but not allow a mosquitoes to land on the water to lay their eggs.

What that advice did not take into account, however, was that sunlight can cause its own kind of damage. As you can see from the picture below, while our rain barrels are mosquito larvae free, they are encrusted with algae. The algae is so thick we can’t actually use the spout anymore, and our only recourse at this point is to fully empty our water barrels with a siphon (using the water for gardening, of course) and create a direct connection from our gutters to the barrel without allowing sunlight in at all. 

Algae has formed anywhere the sunlight penetrates, including around the spigot (not shown), so we can’t get water that way anymore.

There are a lot of rain barrels that are already built completely without letting sunlight in. Right now, there are in fact a lot of rebates in the Bay Area to get yourself a hold of one. At the time we installed a rain barrels, we did not know about any of these rebates, if they even existed at the time. We were excited to create our own rain barrels, and while most of the advice we found online was correct, that algae is way more trouble than we could have anticipated.

With the state of California and a lot of the country in severe drought this year, a rain barrel would be a great project or purchase to get into place while rebates are in effect and before the rainy season starts, so you can start collecting rain when the first drops fall.

Rebate Programs

Flows To Bay, A Program Of The City/County Association Of Governments Of San Mateo County (C/CAG)

The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA)

Rain Barrels for Sale

Be sure that any barrel you buy has a DIRECT CONNECTION to the barrel from your gutter system (not just screening), and that it has a spigot as well as an overflow system.

The Urban Farmer Store (free barrels for SFPUC Customers)

Gardener’s Supply Company (an employee-owned B-Corp)


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