families standing by rain barrels outside house

Rain Barrel FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Rain Barrels 

  • Easy to install, easy to use
  • Collect free water by the barrel
  • Rainwater is great for gardens, houseplants, auto cleaning, window washing, and many other household chores
  • It provides a source of water during droughts and periods of water restrictions
  • It reduces stress on the municipal storm and sanitary sewers
  • Prevents rain water from becoming pollution that harms our rivers and Lake Michigan

Rainwater is not suitable for human or animal consumption.

The rule of thumb is that a 1000 square foot roof can provide approximately 600 gallons of water during a 1" rainfall, 300 gallons in a 1/2" rainfall, or 150 gallons in a 1/4" rainfall. It's common for about 1/8" inch of rain to fall each hour during a moderate rainstorm. That means that a 500 square foot roof can fill a properly installed 50-gallon rain barrel in about one hour.

MMSD's rain barrel includes a diverter kit that has everything you need to install the barrel to your downspout. The kit includes a hole saw enabling you to drill a hole into your downspout that the diverter piece fits in. Once in, the diverter is able to begin capturing some of the rainwater from your downspout, while allowing it to still function as it normally would.

Right now, the diverter kit that comes with our barrel only works with 3"x4" and 2"x3" rectangular downspouts.

The diverter kit that comes with the barrel includes all the parts you need to install it to your downspout. The tools you will need are:

  • Pencil
  • Level
  • Measuring Tape
  • Drill
  • Pilot hole bit
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Hole Saw (included with Kit)
  • Shovel
  • Don’t forget your safety gear (gloves and eye protection)

It's important to place your rain barrel on level, solid ground so that it remains stable — a full 50-gallon rain barrel weighs about 500 pounds. The collection hose that comes with your kit extends to approximately 30 inches. Before placing the barrel, be sure to level the surface. If needed use crushed gravel to level. Place some pavers or cinderblocks on the level surface beneath the barrel to improve water pressure and ensure you can hook your hose to the spigot.

Installation is EASY! Follow the instructions on the user guide included in the diverter kit. It has step-by-step instructions for getting the barrel installed. To make drilling easier, look for a corrugation spot near the center of the downspout that will help to center the hole saw on your downspout. If you have the standard 2 x 3" downspout drill into the center of the FRONT of your downspout. If you have the larger 3 x 4" downspout, drill into the center of the SIDE of your downspout.

When drilling apply even pressure, holding the drill firmly, horizontally, and square to the face of the downspout as you drill. Be careful not to push too hard to avoid damaging the opposite side of your downspout. Continue to drill until the hole saw cuts completely through the front wall of the downspout, then remove the drill by slowly pulling back. Always wear your safety gear while drilling (glasses and gloves)

No, MMSD does not promote using old MMSD Barrels with the new diverter kit. If you have questions about whether a diverter kit would work for you, please call the Fresh Coast Resource Center at 414-225-2222 or submit a request on the contact us form.

Consult an electrician before installation. If there are heating cables in your downspouts, there is a risk of electrocution or fire hazard during installation. Also, contact an electrician if you don't know whether or not you have heated gutters.

Rain Barrel Use and Maintenance

Yes, the threaded spigot allows for garden hose attachment. Water pressure from a rain barrel will not be sufficient for use with sprinklers, but is effective with soaker hoses.

You can clean your rain barrel using a mild soap and a pressure washer or garden hose.

When temperatures fall below 40°F (4°C), winterize your rain barrel by removing the barrel and diverter from your downspout and placing the winterizing cap over the hole. Then, disconnect, drain, and store your barrel inside. If left outside, the barrel should be covered with a tarp or turned upside down to prevent water accumulation.

Select a flat and solid surface for your barrel so that it remains stable. You should make certain that children and/or animals do not climb into or onto the rain barrel. In addition, ensure that no people or animals drink water from the barrel.

Rain barrel Troubleshooting

The water seals are designed to be tight to prevent water from leaking. The seals are flexible and can be pinched into a "U" shape before inserting in the hole. Using a little soapy water on the threaded fitting and cuffs of the fill hose will reduce friction and make insertion easier.

First, take off the diverter by removing the two screws and slowly extracting the diverter with an upward-lifting action. Then, clean the diverter, remove any visible debris, and reinstall the diverter. If your gutters are regularly clogged with leaves or debris, consider putting a filter screen at the top of your downspout or on your gutters.

If your hose becomes clogged, remove it from the diverter and the rain barrel. Then, carefully dislodge any debris by using a blunt end rod or stick, such as a broom handle, or by flushing the hose with water. Do not insert sharp or pointed objects as they can tear or damage the hose.

There are three reasons why water may not flow into the barrel: The barrel is too high, relative to the diverter hose. The hole on the back of the barrel should be level with the diverter hole in the downspout. The downspout is clogged — see above. The fill hose is clogged — see above.