Alabama Rain Catchers


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Make a Rain Barrel

Introduction | A Few FAQs | Containers | Catchment | Getting The Water In | Getting The Water Out |
Dealing With Overflow | Sunscreen For Your New Friend | Locating Your Barrel | Mosquitoes | Daisy Chains

Getting The Water In

There are two general options for getting water into your barrel:

  • An Open Top fed by:
    A gutter directed towards the top of the barrel; or
    A barrel under the eaves/ dripline

  • A Direct Downspout Connection

The Open Top

Not Directly Connected to Downspout


  • Overflow sizing less critical
  • Gutter backup not possible
  • Easier to install


  • Splashing water
  • Less efficient

One simple way to do this is to remove the top of you barrel, leaving the rim intact, and covering the opening with fiberglass screen, secured with a bungee cord. This is dangerous. It has been observed that cats think of the screened top as a hammock. Great until the bungee or screen fails. A person in New Mexico recently drowned while trying to retrieve a cat from a rain barrel. Don’t even think about curious kids.

Keep the opening large enough for rain, but small and secure enough for safety.

A Few Options for the Open Top:

One opening:

Cut a hole in the top, the hole can be any size or shape. Cover with screen and hardware cloth. Affix with screws with washers. This is easy, but means a little more trouble (you’ll have to back out the screws that attach the screen) to access the inside for periodic rinsing.

  • Do leave the barrel rim intact, as it gives more structural integrity to the barrel.
  • Be sure that the cover is secure, to prevent accidental drowning of small animals and curious children

The Polka Dot

Cut a series of large holes in the top, using a hole saw or large spade bit. It will still need to be covered with screen, to exclude mosquitoes.
This design is very safe, but means difficulty in accessing the inside. It is also harder to rinse out the plastic shavings that are produced when you drill into plastic.

Notes: The screws used should be for outside use, otherwise they will rust. Washers will keep the hardware cloth more secure, and help to keep the screen from tearing. There are screws made for metal roofing that come with neoprene washers.

Cut a hole in the top sized to accommodate a flower pot, hanging basket, aquatic plant basket, large plastic plant saucer, colander or whatever your creativity provides.

The insert should:

  • Allow for water to pass thru quickly
  • Exclude mosquitoes and debris (you can line with screen and/or gravel)
  • Have a lip/flange that will allow it to hang easily. A larger lip will mean less precision when cutting the hole.
  • Be sure that the level of your overflow is below the bottom level of your insert. If it isn’t, the insert becomes a funky tea bag when the barrel is full

We like an insert that is commercially available. It is shallow, so that the level of the overflow can be high, therefore, you don’t lose capacity. It has a wide flange, so the hole can be less precise. It is easy to remove for cleaning, and is large enough (11 ¼”) to provide pretty good access to the inside of the barrel.

The 12” Rainwater Collection Screen is available for about $15.00 from RainHarvest Systems. Shipping costs vary. http://www.rainharvest.com

Direct downspout connection

If you have gutters, you can connect a downspout directly into the barrel.


  • No splashing around the barrel, or on your houseToo much water around the barrel can cause the barrel platform to erode or water seepage into your foundation.
  • More Efficient, no water is lost


  • Water can back up into your gutters. This can result in property damage.

  • More attention to sizing the overflow. You must have an adequately sized overflow valve

    If you have a tight connection between the downspout and the barrel, and your overflow valve isn’t large enough, excess water can back up into your gutter system. That excess will find the weakest point to escape.

    There are ways around this, but it must be considered. It is not a problem in areas will low rainfall intensity, but folks in Alabama know that rain can come hard and fast. Do plan for overflow.

  • More parts and labor for installation

Using a direct downspout connection is the best way to connect a larger system, and just fine to connect a rain barrel, but be aware of the consequences if you don’t plan for overflow.

Making Direct Connections between the Downspout and Rain Barrel:
The downspout is likely too close to the house to feed it straight down into the barrel. Depending on your situation, the downspout may be cut or a section of downspout can be removed. The downspout can be cut with a hacksaw or reciprocating saw. It can also be temporarily removed and cut with a chop-saw.

A visit to the local hardware store or gutter supply house will yield many options. Before you shop, measure the length of connection needed. It is helpful to take photos to the store.

Note that all downspouts are not the same size. Most are 3 x 5-inches, but have a look at yours before you visit the store.

The fittings described below can be attached directly to the barrel, or used to direct a downspout into an open top barrel.

Gutter Elbows
This will be a rigid connection, so you’ll need to be more careful with measurements.

Flexible Downspout Adapters
You’ll find at least two variations of flex adapters. Both will extend to greater length. The label will tell you how long it will reach.

One type of flex adapter will be found with the gutter parts. Those that are locally available can be inserted directly into the downspout. For some, you might need an adapter in order to join the flex adapter with the downspout. This type of flex adapter can be fed directly into the barrel, or you might find a round adapter that would give a neater junction.

The other type of flex adapter is designed to connect with a 4-inch corrugated pipe. This is the kind of pipe used for French drains, and these flex adapters are often found with the 4-inch corrugated pipe. This type of flex adapter needs an adapter ring to join it with the gutter downspout. This type of adapter can be fitted with a 4-inch atrium grate, which will catch some of the debris before it enters your barrel. The atrium grate can be covered with a panty-hose knee hi, to provide extra filtration.

All barrel connections should be tight enough to exclude mosquitoes. Screen can be added to provide mosquito exclusion and provide extra filtration. Fiberglass screen is easier to cut and handle than metal screen. It is not recommended to seal the connections with caulk, as you will want to remove the connection for periodic rinsing of the inside. You might try Magic Tape, if you need to seal an opening.


Introduction | A Few FAQs | Containers | Catchment | Getting The Water In | Getting The Water Out |
Dealing With Overflow | Sunscreen For Your New Friend | Locating Your Barrel | Mosquitoes | Daisy Chains