Rain Barrel System Build

Rain Barrel System

Rain Barrel System

Here at our place we go through a period of time in late June through July where it usually does not rain. Sure, we could water with our well water we have on site, however if that system ever failed we would be left with some very dry veggies.

We are really mindful of the amount of water we use. While we do opt for perennial plants and natives adapted to our area that require little or no watering, our annual vegetable gardens are not so.  They require far more water to thrive and provide us with a good crop. We started looking at rain water harvesting systems to collect rain water. Most homes are equipped with roofs and gutters that direct rain water down away from the home. This is perfect for someone looking to collect and store water.

Rain water coming from the roof is not inherently potable(drinkable) and would require filtering. For our uses on the garden, water collected from the roof does not need to be potable and is perfect for watering our garden.

We developed a small system to buffer ourselves from the period of no rain we experience during the summer.

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Our system collects the rain water off a corner of our roof through one gutter. Below we’ll go through the steps we did to put this system together, be sure to check out the parts list at the bottom as well if you are interested in taking on something similar.


Before you start, some measurements are in order, we need to measure the height of the totes compared to the bottom of the gutter(the extended elbow that feeds the downspout that mounts to the side of the house), the totes cannot be taller than the extended elbow or water will not flow into the totes.

It is important to note that the base of the bottom tote should be above what you plan to use this system for or plan on wiring a pump to move the water up slope.

Note: With the cages, the totes stacked two high are approximately 92” high.


Cheap large rain barrels or containers are pretty impossible to find, but doing some research we came across others using IBC Totes. “Totes” are used to transport liquids of all kinds of food-grade liquids and non-food grade chemicals.  We scored a deal on ours through a craigslist selling a few new and picked up two 275 gallon totes with the goal of stacking them on top of each other for a total of 550 gallons of storage.

Note:  IBC Totes are often used to store toxic chemicals and you don’t what to spray your crops with toxic water. At minimum find ones that had liquids that are food grad(usually corn syrup), from a seller you trust, and check the label to assure they did have something safe in them.  



Wrapping the totes in black plastic prevents light from entering the totes, which will discourage algae growth. The first thing to do with these was to remove the plastic totes from their cages and wrap them in black plastic (or any other opaque material). 

Grab your roll of 10ft x 50ft roll of 4mil black plastic. Unroll the plastic and cut a 14 foot length for each tote. 

You can now unwrap the plastic and set the first tote upside down with the bottom outlet parallel with the 14 foot length. Use a strong tape like duct tape to wrap the totes just like a present, making sure all the flaps are arranged in a way that they shed water. Water should not be allowed to find its way on the inside of the plastic. Repeat for the second tote.

Cut out the holes for the inlets and outlets, then reinstall the totes back in the cages just as they came.


We need to create a foundation for these totes to sit on.  Remember, the full totes are going to weigh 4,500 pounds so the foundation needs to be solid. We used (18) 4x8x16 solid concrete blocks found at local hardware stores to make the foundation.  Our totes have a 48”x40” base. Start your base by leveling and arranging the blocks in a 2 layer alternating pattern so that no joints sit atop others.


Note: This will create a perfect 48” x40” rectangle, we spaced all of our blocks one inch to allow the tote to sit solidly on the blocks without overhang.  This also water drain out from under the totes.


Place the first tote on top of the block foundation. You will now need to work on the connection point between the two totes, not having the second tote on top makes this much easier.

We used 2” PVC fittings are easily found to adapt to the inlet and outlets. Here are the parts you will need,

Cut your piece of 2” 2 feet Schedule 40 pipe into 4 pieces: 4 inches, 5 inches, (2) 7.5 inches. Run the blade of a utility knife on the inside and outside of the cut pieces to remove the burrs of plastic. Assemble the pieces using the diagram below(do not assemble the flex coupler just yet).


Once the glue has dried, screw the right(in the diagram) piece to the top inlet lid of the bottom tote, then slide the flex coupler with the clamps over the end. Lift and set the second tote on top of the first, install the left pipe(in the diagram) to the bottom outlet of the second tote and connect the flex coupler. You should now have something that looks like the diagram above.  Water will now come in through the very top, and flow through to the bottom tote.

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The purpose of the flush system is to catch the first bit of rain water that may include bird poop, sticks, leaves, rocks, etc. off your roof. This keeps all that stuff from going into the totes and creating a problem. We opted for a 4” version and got ours from https://www.rainharvest.com, you will also need some additional parts as well to complete the system.

Remove the downspout, but only the piece attached to the home, leave the “S” elbow that feeds the downspout. The length of pipe you will need will vary based on how high your gutter is from the ground. Measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter elbow to the ground level.  Subtract a few inches on either end to allow for the downspout adapter fitting and clearance on the bottom of the first flush to remove the filter/fittings(important!). Assemble the first flush to the length measured and install the downspout adapter on the top(you may need to trim a bit off the tabs to make it fit).

Installation will look something like this,

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Mounting will depend on your home, we used some homemade wood brackets and large 4” diameter worm clamps to attach the system to the side of the house.  Keep in mind that this pipe will fill up with water and will get heavy!

How it Works:

The gutter pours into this system and when the pipe is full a ball floats to the top and seals off the area below the Tee diverting the water through the Tee into the rain barrels.


We used 3” PVC to the inlet between the First Flush and the Tote. Here are the parts you will need,

Remove the lid from the tote. Take the 3” PVC Male Adapter, trace the outline of the threaded portion of the fitting on the lid. Cut out the hole, being careful to check fitting you want a tight fit. Insert the Male Adapter through the top of the lid and use the other female adapter to tighten the lid between the two.  You may need to sand the threads a bit to get the fitting to go on all the way. A small bead of silicone around them is optional.

Cut a piece of 3” Schedule 40 pipe about 4” long, use your utility knife to remove the burrs on the inside/outside.  Glue this piece into the top of the lid piece you just made. Attach a 3” Sanitary Tee to the top of this pipe, make sure the tee is arranged in the same orientation as the image below.

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The remainder of the connection to the totes from the first flush system will vary greatly depending on your placement of the totes in relation to the gutter. It is important to leave room for the pipes to move. Once the totes become full they grow a bit and will push the inlet to the tote upward. Leave two connections unglued in your system between the first flush diverter and the totes to allow the pipes to move(they move a good 4″ vertically).

These two connections are not glued on our system,

Here is how we ran ours:

We also installed an overflow using the gutter we replaced with the first flush system!

All that is left is to adapt to your hose, pump or spigot you are going to use.

We used this setup for one year with great results. Our garden was just below the level of the bottom outlet and it produced good flow.  However, it did take a bit longer to water and when the top tote was not full the pressure really dropped.

IMPORTANT! Remove the bottom of the first flush drain(the big cap) during the winter/freezing weather. It WILL freeze and crack the pipes(We know first hand). Drain the totes out completely as well.

See the Parts and Tools list for this project below, Thanks for reading,

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