Those who practice rainwater harvesting are well aware of how critical a high-quality rain barrel is.
Many rain harvesting enthusiasts have made the error of purchasing a poorly-made rain barrel only to find water leaking out from underneath it.
Rain barrel manufacturing is no joke. Because of the amount of pressure 50 gallons of water can exert on the inner walls of a barrel, high-quality construction is of the essence.
Cheaply-made, mass-produced barrels made by companies who’ve jumped on the rainwater harvesting bandwagon will soon show their true caliber.
We're focusing primarily on well-constructed, American-manufactured barrels with a solid reputation among rainwater harvesting enthusiasts and that aren't known to cause leakage.
We’ve compiled a list of the best quality, best-reviewed barrels that have proven to be a reliable component of many rainwater harvesting systems. Be sure to read our review at the end of the article.
In this article, we'll cover:
- The importance, major benefits, and practical uses of a good, modern rain barrel
- How to know the difference between a quality rain barrel and a cheap one by addressing the different components and materials
- How to set up and maintain a rain barrel for your rainwater harvesting system
- What are the best rain barrels on the market today, why are they good, and where can I purchase one?
Our Top Pick for Best Rain Barrel
- 58 Gallons
- Made in USA
MiRainBarrel is an independent American manufacturer who specializes in one thing: rain barrels. It is made of 100% recycled, food-grade, polyethylene plastic and holds 58-gallons of water. Read our full review at the end of the article.
How Do Rain Barrels Work?
The act of collecting rainwater through a catchment system and storing it for future use is known as rainwater harvesting. Rainwater is one of the purest forms of water due to the hydrologic cycle – nature’s distillation process.
While it isn’t quite immediately available for human consumption unless water purification techniques are implemented, rainwater has a tremendous amount of practical uses. According to the EPA, the average American household uses 300 gallons of water per day, 30 percent of which is used for outdoor purposes (2018).
With a rainwater harvesting system in place, rainfall that would’ve otherwise been lost to storm drains could be gathered in a rain barrel and stored for later use, ultimately reducing water expenses. On a broader scale, rainwater captured from roof tops can be used for improving storm water management, fire protection, and livestock management.
Rain barrels are also helpful during drought seasons or in regions with water restriction times. With a good rainwater harvesting system in place, rain barrels can be a very effective water conservation tactic.
Though the word ‘barrel’ assumes the traditional wooden construction, rain barrels can be made from several types of materials and can take various shapes and sizes. Essentially, it is a container used in collecting rainwater which can be reused for various household or agricultural purposes.
Rain barrels commonly have a large hole at their top onto which the down spout of the catchment system is connected. Water from the catchment system passes through the down spout and then into the rain barrels.
The rain barrels are usually fitted with taps at the bottom onto which a garden hose could be connected for watering plants or washing cars. Some sophisticated modern rain barrels have connecting systems that transfer water to sprinkler machines and other storage units.
Rain Barrel Benefits and Practical Uses
- Water Conservation - A rain barrel helps in water conservation. According to the SFGate, a rain barrel system can a save a household up to 1,300 gallons of water during the summer months (2011).
- Reduced Water Costs - Using stored water can significantly reduce water costs. According to the Pennyhoarder, one woman’s family saved about $2000 in water spending over a 5-year course of continuous rainwater harvesting (2018).
- Reduced Groundwater Demand – Continuous and wide-scale rainwater harvesting by residential, industrial, and agricultural sectors can reduce the demand on pumping aquifers to access groundwater.
- Clean Water for Irrigation - Rainwater, being distilled, is much safer for gardening as opposed to city tap water due to its absence of chemicals such as fluoride and heavy metals such as lead.
- Water Security - A rainwater storage system provides water security during drought season.
- Reduced Damage to Sewage Systems - Internal pressure and wear in sewage pipes due to continuous use is reduced since a majority of the rainwater isn’t going directly into the drain.
- Reduced Pollution - It reduces pollution of our water bodies since there is less sweeping of debris, fertilizers and other contaminants into water ways.
- Prevents Floods - Large scale collection of rainwater can reduce the likelihood of soil erosion and freshwater contamination caused by floods (Pfaff, 2018).
- Prevents Home Water Damage - Harvesting rainwater can reduce seepage of water into a home’s foundation or basement, thereby preventing possible water damages.
It is important to check with your state's legislature to find out about regulations, if any. While it is completely legal to collect rainwater in most states, there may be some guidelines that will need to be abided by. Read our article on rainwater harvesting laws for each state.
What Makes a Good Rain Barrel?
As mentioned in the introduction, quality is of the essence. A whole rainwater harvesting system is only as strong as its rain barrel. A leaky, poorly crafted rain barrel can make an entire rainwater harvesting system faulty, no matter how good the rest of the system is.
Material of Rain Barrel
While we recommend using plastic resin (polyethylene) rain barrels for your home rainwater harvesting system due to their durability and ease of use, we’ll discuss a wide range of rain barrel types for your own education.
- Plastic Resin - Plastic resin barrels are by far the most common type of rain barrel and for good reason. They are light weight and easy to clean. They are not biodegradable and cannot be broken down as a result of bacterial action. Plastics are easy to mold into various shapes and designs to appeal to a wide variety of outdoor preferences. Plastic barrels are much less costly to produce as compared to stone barrels and are therefore less expensive. They’re also much easier to move due to the lightweight material. While most plastic, polyethylene-based barrels are UV protected, they should still be kept under shade or away from the sun for longevity. Opaque plastic material won't harbor algae as translucent or transparent plastic would. We highly recommend selecting a plastic resin rain barrel as opposed to any other material.
- Stainless Steel - Stainless steel barrels have most of the advantages of plastic resin barrels and are often used for storing very large capacities for longer periods of time. Typically used as industrial tanks or cisterns to supply small communities, they are more durable than plastic barrels and can withstand UV rays much better. They aren’t as common in terms of rainwater storage for households, and therefore important features such as taps, mesh screens, and overflow protection might be harder to come by.
- Clay or Stone - Clay or stone barrels often come in smaller sizes because of their weight and are often used for decorative purposes rather than for a full-blown water conservation system. Most people who consider a clay or stone barrel aren’t as concerned with the rainwater harvesting aspect as much as for exterior design purposes. Nevertheless, rainwater can still be harvested through them efficiently. Once a location is selected for a stone rain barrel, it is usually a fixed location due to the amount of weight a full stone barrel can have.
- Wood - Wooden barrels have been used throughout history for many purposes including rainwater harvesting. And while they might look attractive, the trouble one would go through in maintaining a wooden barrel for rainwater is quite lengthy. Wood is biodegradable and could easily grow mold and algae and is known to harbor insects. In terms of durability, wooden barrels deteriorate over time and can eventually leak. While it is possible to properly treat a wooden barrel for rain harvesting, most of the issues caused by wooden rain barrels can be solved by purchasing a modern plastic resin barrel.
Rain barrels come in different sizes and can range from 15-gallon decorative barrels to 5000-gallon industrial size tanks. The choice of capacity depends on various factors such as its intended use, the size of the roof, frequency of rainfall, the number of people intended to benefit from it, and the maximum amount legally allowed by the state. A rain barrel of 40-80 gals is optimum for an average household.
Calculating the capacity needed is an important step before making a purchase and there is a formula to do so. One inch of rainfall over a square foot yields about 0.6 gallons of water. Determine the average amount of inches of rainfall you get in a month, multiply that by 0.6, then multiply that by the width of your roof. This will be the number of gallons expected to harvest in one month.
Adding and connecting additional barrels is always an option as your demand for rainwater increases.
Design and function of a rain barrel is a major factor. While most rain barrels generally look and operate similarly, some have features that should be considered. Consider a barrel that is wide at the base, increasing stability when full. Barrels with a smooth back can easily rest on the wall without tipping over. All rain barrels should be opaque in color as to prevent the growth of algae through sunlight. Larger rain barrels should have a secure cover as to prevent animals and small children from falling in.
- Mesh Screen Filter - Mesh screen filters keep insects, leaves and debris from falling into the barrel. Stagnant water is an attractive place for mosquitos to lay eggs and thus a mesh layer is important. Some barrels have a completely covered top with only an opening for the down spout. Barrels without screen filters should consider using mosquito dunks as to prevent the growth of larvae in the water.
- Spigot - The spigot is the outlet which dispenses water from the barrel to the environment and could be used to attach a garden hose or to fill directly into a basin. Brass spigots are most ideal as to prevent rust. The spigot should be located at the bottom of the barrel so that gravity can allow the contents of the barrel to flow through. Some barrels have a threaded bulkhead where a spigot could be attached.
- Overflow Protection - During heavy rainfall, more can be collected than originally anticipated. An overflow valve regulates and diverts excess water when the barrel gets filled to capacity. Overflow valves can be connected to additional rain barrels or to large storage tanks. While older designs might lack this feature, most modern rain barrels are built with an overflow valve.
How to Set up a Rain Barrel
While a rainwater harvesting system is relatively easy and straightforward, there are important factors to consider when setting up the rain barrel.
- Look out for places with maximum overflow on your roof to site your barrel and ensure the spigot is easily accessible. Once the barrel is placed, it will be difficult to move once it starts to fill.
- Elevate the barrel by placing it on concrete blocks to increase spigot access and to decease the distance between the downspout and the barrel opening.
- Ensure you connect a down spout directly into the barrel inlet to avoid the water from flashing through the roof into the barrel. This could cause foundation problems or unnecessary noise and vibrations.
- Run a test by passing water through the system to check
- Kills and prevents mosquito larvae in your rain barrel
- 100% organic and completely harmless to humans, animals, and plants
With the possibility of mosquito larvae growing in stagnant water, it is advisable to protect your rain barrel with mosquito drops. These drops are 100% organic and safe, made up of a bacteria only toxic to mosquito larvae. Each drop lasts up to 30 days and covers up to 100 feet of surface area.
Maintenance and Cleaning
- Check for debris on the roof tops that could hinder the passage of water
- Prune trees with elongated stems towards roof tops which can add to debris collection
- Check gutters and downspout for leaks and repair them
- Empty rain barrels regularly to prevent buildup of algae
- Wash the internal and external parts of the barrel and discharge its contents with the hose
- Check for leaks around the barrels and ensure the over flow in good condition
- Be aware of mosquito larvae growth and utilize mosquito dunks if necessary
Rain Barrel FAQs
How Much Water Pressure Can I Get From a Rain Barrel?
The higher the rain barrel is elevated, the greater the water pressure is at its lowest point of discharge. In order to produce 1 PSI of water pressure, the water level should be 2.31 feet above the exit point which would typically be the end of a hose attachment. For example, in order to achieve 5 PSI of water pressure, the top of the rain barrel should sit at 11.55 feet above the end of the hose. While that does seem quite high, a tall vertical rain barrel resting atop a stand several feet off the ground should be tall enough to produce enough water pressure for discharge.
How Quickly Do Rain Barrels Fill Up?
It certainly depends on the size of the barrel, but rain barrels can fill up pretty quickly especially in places of consistent rainfall. Every inch of rain that falls on 1 square foot roof will collect about 0.6 gallons of rain in the barrel. For example, a 10 foot by 10 foot rain catchment will fill a 60 gallon rain barrel with 1 inch worth of rainfall.
Can Rain Barrels be Left Out During the Winter?
It is best practice to empty the rain barrels during cold seasons as the water can freeze and potentially damage parts of the barrel. Most barrels are made from high density polyethylene and can withstand harsh temperatures, but the brass spigot and attachments might crack should the water be turned to ice.
In What Ways Can Rain Barrels Be Disguised?
While some rain barrel manufacturers consider the aesthetic factor of having a rain barrel in the yard, most rain barrels stand out significantly. Some rainwater harvesters build wooden enclosures around the barrel so as to add discretion. Another popular idea is to wrap chicken wire around the barrel and allow vines and foliage to grow alongside it, ultimately covering it.
Is Rainwater Drinkable?
While rainwater itself is naturally distilled, it is not advisable to consume it directly as it can collect unknown contaminants on its way from the roof to the barrel. Rainwater collection is mainly meant to be used for gardening and cleaning purposes. If rainwater must be consumed for emergency purposes, be sure to purify the water completely, either by boiling, filtering, or disinfecting.
What are the Best Rain Barrels I Should Buy for My Harvesting System?
Our Top Choice
- Recycled food-grade plastic
- 41”H x 21 “ Diameter
- Brass spigot
- Overflow valve
- Twist off lid with mesh screen
- Sealed with waterproof caulk
- Made in the USA
MiRainBarrel is an independent American manufacturer who specializes in one thing: rain barrels. They've recently expanded into manufacturing other rainwater harvesting accessories and garden products but their best selling product is the MiRain Barrel.
It is made of 100% recycled, food-grade, polyethylene plastic and holds 58-gallons of water. The inside is sealed with waterproof caulk as to prevent leakage. It features a brass spigot, overflow valve, and mesh screen filter.
The MiRainBarrel is created with durability in mind. It is quite well known that many cheaply-made rain barrels on the market don't hold up well under high volumes of rainwater. The extra precautions that the manufacturers have made in ensuring its stability have certainly paid off. The MiRainBarrel is an excellent choice for rainwater harvesters who need a decent sized rain barrel which will last for many seasons.
- 100% polyethylene food grade plastic
- 100 gallons
- 42” H x 30” Diameter
- 12” stainless steel mesh strainer
- Screened overflow assembly
- ¾” bulkhead for spigot installation
- 1.5” bottom bulkhead
- Made in the USA
Poly-Mart is a trusted plastic tank manufacturer based out of Austin, TX and know for their durable, industry-standard water containers and tanks. As an American company, Poly-Mart prides themselves in the quality of their craftsmanship and being a leader in supplying water tanks to a variety of industries. All of their tanks come with a 5-year warranty. In terms of durability, Poly-Mart rain barrels are at the top of the line and excellent investment for the rainwater harvester.
The 100 Gallon Rainharvest Tank by Poly-Mart is one of the best we've seen on the market. Made from 100% UV-protected, food-grade, BPA-free, polyethylene plastic, this rain barrel is as durable and reliable as they get. It features a 12" stainless steel mesh strainer at the top opening to filter debris, a strainer at the overflow assembly, and two bulkheads for spigot installation and drainage.
Standing at 67" high with a 250 gallon capacity, this rain barrel is much larger than the more common 50-60 gallon barrel for home usage. But for the serious rainwater harvester, Poly-Mart's rain barrel is the top of the line.
- UV protected polyethylene plastic
- 54 gallons
- 35”H x 23” Diameter
- Overflow valve
- Double screen filter
- Threaded brass spigot
- 365-day Warranty
- Made in the USA
Combining expert American rain barrel engineering and beautiful aesthetic design, the Spruce Creek Rainsaver has been a failsafe rain barrel for countless rainwater harvesters across the country. Sand casted from a real oak barrel and rotationally molded to withstand prolonged internal pressure, this not only proven to be durable but also looks great in the backyard.
Made from UV-protected, polyethylene plastic, this 54-gallon barrel is an ideal size for a single family. It features a double screen mesh filter to block debris, an overflow valve, a threaded brass spigot. For those looking for a very reliable and beautifully crafted rain barrel, the Spruce Creek Rainsaver is the perfect choice. Each purchase comes with 1 year warranty.
- UV protected polyethylene plastic
- 39” H x 24” Diameter
- 3/16” thick walls
- Overflow fitting
- Adaptable spigot
- Screw on cover
- Made in the USA
The Great American Rain Barrel has received favorable reviews among rainwater harvesting enthusiasts for its versatility, reliability, and ease of use. Made from recycled shipping barrels, this UV-protected, polyethylene barrel has thick, 3/16" walls to support its 60-gallon capacity. It features an interchangeable spigot attachment and overflow valve to connect multiple rain barrels.
- UV protected polyethylene plastic
- 45 gallons
- 33” H x 24” diameter
- Mesh screen filter
- Detachable hose
While decorative design and durability seem to be at opposing ends when it comes to rain barrel manufacturing, the Urn Style barrel by Yimby seems to have combined the two. Manufactured by Forest City Model and Pattern, this Canadian company strives to create quality garden products with a creative strategy and design.
At a 45-gallon capacity, the UV-protected, polyethylene barrel is much smaller than most rain barrels and less likely to bow at the amount of pressure a larger barrel can exert. Among the more decorative rain barrels, the Yimby barrel ranks higher in terms of reliability and ease of use. It features a detachable hose, mesh screen filter, and planter space at the top of the barrel for flowers and plants.
Rainwater harvesting continues to prove an efficient method of water conservation that any person living in a wet enough climate can participate in. The benefits of using a rain barrel for collecting rainwater don't only apply to the individual doing it, but to the community as a whole. Be wise in selecting a rain barrel – choose the right size and consider all the features. Take care of it well and you'll definitely reap the benefits.
Thank you for taking the time to read our article on the best rain barrels. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. If you've found this article to be useful and are interested in learning more, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
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EPA. (2018, February 5). How We Use Water. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water
Mother Earth News. (n.d.). How to Ensure Your Rain Barrel Has Enough Water Pressure. Retrieved from https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/how-to-ensure-your-rain-barrel-has-enough-water-pressure-zbcz1801
Rain Barrel Man. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.rainbarrelman.com/faq.htm
SFGate. (2011, May 25). How Much Water Does One Rain Barrel Save? Retrieved from https://homeguides.sfgate.com/much-water-one-rain-barrel-save-78360.html
Town of Dewitt. (n.d.). A Guide to Rain Barrels. Retrieved from http://efc.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/DewittRainBarrelBrochure_6.12update.pdf
Pfaff, M. (2017, June). Rainwater Harvesting Advantages - Disadvantages. Retrieved from https://www.aloaqua.co.nz/blogs/news/rainwater-harvesting-advantages-disadvantages
Pope, K. (2018, June 8). If We Knew How Much Money You Could Save Collecting Rainwater, We'd Have Started Years Ago. Retrieved from https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/life/rainwater-harvesting/