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Do-it-yourself rain barrel saves water, money

4. Screw the hose bib into the hole you made in the barrel. 
5. Drill a hole in the top of barrel so it doesn't hold water and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 
6. Place a piece of screen under the barrel's top to keep mosquitoes out of the  barrel, then cut the excess screen with a knife.
4. Screw the hose bib into the hole you made in the barrel. 5. Drill a hole in the top of barrel so it doesn't hold water and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 6. Place a piece of screen under the barrel's top to keep mosquitoes out of the barrel, then cut the excess screen with a knife.

Looking for a weekend project that is relatively inexpensive?

Want to do your small part to improve the environment?

Looking for a way to keep your outdoor plants watered this summer without having to rely solely on treated water that you're buying from the water utility?

Rain barrels save some of the rain that otherwise would wash off your roof and down a driveway to a storm sewer and eventually a creek, picking up pollution including pet waste, automotive fluids and fertilizer along the way. The water captured in the barrel is available when it's not raining and your plants need a drink.

Rain barrels have been gaining in popularity for several years. They have long been available online, and some sell for hundreds of dollars. They are increasingly showing up in Sam's Club and Home Depot for less than $100. Lexington-Fayette County sells Lilies, which are rain barrels topped by a planter. And Bluegrass Pride sells plain and artist-decorated rain barrels.

But you can make your own. Here's how we did it:

Our project started at Lexington Container Co., which, strangely enough, is at 140 Dewey Drive in Jessamine County. They have a wide selection of recycled barrels and other containers (see them at Lexingtoncontainercompany.com).

We chose the terra cotta-colored olive barrel, described as holding 55 to 60 gallons, for $20. It has a stamp on it that says it's from Greece, and showing the profile of a Grecian woman picking olives. It also smelled faintly of olives, but that will be washed away soon by repeated Kentucky rains.

Our next step was the Internet, where we bought a universal water diverter set from Homedepot.com. Alas, Home Depot doesn't sell them in stores. With tax and shipping, the cost was $31.39. The diverter is the type that attaches to the downspout at the same height as the top of the rain barrel. When the barrel fills with water, rain just continues down the downspout as usual.

(A cheaper but less elegant solution is to attach a flexible downspout to your regular downspout. But if you do that, you also need another to handle overflow from the rain barrel, which can fill quickly).

To get the water out of the rain barrel into a watering can or soaker hose, you need a faucet, called a 3/4-inch hose bib ($4.94 at Lowe's). To attach the faucet to the barrel, we used a rubber washer called a #18 O-ring ($2.27 for a package of 10 from Home Depot's plumbing department), and a ¾-inch conduit locknut (91 cents for a package of four at the same store's electrical department).

We also used a little pipe thread tape (you can pick up a roll for $1 at hardware and home-supply stores) and silicone caulk (a small tube is $2.97 at Home Depot).

To raise the barrel high enough to get gravity working for us and to slip a watering can under the faucet, we also bought four concrete blocks ($1.30 each at Home Depot, $1.50 each at Lowe's).

The total cost was about $65.

Here's how to put it all together:

■ With a 1-inch drill bit, make a hole near the bottom of the barrel. Use a knife to remove any hanging pieces of plastic so you have a smooth opening.

■ Wrap pipe tape around threads of faucet and screw it into the hole. Reaching inside the barrel, slip on the rubber washer, then the conduit locknut. Tighten the locknut with pliers. Put a little caulk around the outside of the faucet.

■ Our barrel had the kind of screw-on top that will be nice for holding a potted plant. We drilled a one-inch hole in the top so it doesn't hold water and breed mosquitoes. We also placed a piece of scrap window screen over the hole to keep mosquitoes out of the barrel.

■ Now is the time to decide how many blocks you want under the barrel. It's important to get them in place and level before attaching the diverter.

■ The instructions that came with the diverter explain how to cut a 2-inch section from your downspout at the same height that you want water to come into your rain barrel. Sawing the downspout is not easy, but once that's done, you just insert the diverter and run the short hose (it's supplied) from the diverter to the barrel.

That's it. There are other ways to make a rain barrel. You might want to compare several with an Internet search. This was the third rain barrel we've made, and it took about an hour.

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