February 13, 2017
Ever wondered to yourself why water storage is such a big deal? What’s so important about having a water supply on hand?
A big storm or earthquake hits your town. Your house is spared structural damage, but the power and water are out. According to news reports, the grid is down in your area and several water mains are broken. Conservative estimates are that it will take crews at least a week to get water service back on.
Would you have enough water in your home for you and your family to last until the water came back? Or if you live in the southwest, would you have enough in a situation where your city just plain runs out of water?
The general rule of thumb is that you’ll need one gallon of water per person per day. Half a gallon is used for drinking and the other half is used for hygiene. That number will go up depending on a whole host of factors. If you live in a hot climate or have pregnant or nursing women in your group, you’ll want to store more water.
Alright, so a gallon a day per person is the general rule.
So the question becomes, how many days without water should you prep for?
Well that depends on how prepared you want to be for varying degrees of disaster.
FEMA recommends that everyone have enough water to last three days should your regular water source be disrupted. Three days of water should be enough to get you through the periods of water shut-off or contamination that can happen during natural disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes, and ice storms.
Three days is a good starting point, but even during run-of-the-mill disasters, water access can be down for much longer than that.
After spending hours reading prepper blogs and forums, it seems the general consensus is that you should have at least two weeks worth of water on hand. So for a single person, that’s 14 gallons of water. For a family of four, that would mean you’d need 56 gallons of water.
Whether you decide to go above and beyond the two-week minimum is up to you. For lots of people, finding space in their home or apartment to store enough water for two weeks is a stretch, so trying to find room for a month might not be in the cards (though with a bit of creativity, you’d be surprised how you can arrange things in your house to make room for large amounts of water and food storage ). Even if space isn’t an issue, the upfront costs for long-term water storage can be prohibitively expensive.
My recommendation would be to start off with the two-week supply and slowly build up to larger amounts as space and money become available. Right now I have about a month’s worth of water for my family. The funny/scary thing about prepping is that it can become a weird obsession. Once I filled my two 55-gallon barrels with water, I immediately wanted more. Now I’m shooting for a year supply .
Long-Term Water Storage SolutionsSo you’ve decided to start building your emergency water supply. You’ll need a safe container in which to store it. The general guideline is to use food-grade plastic bottles. You can also use glass bottles so long as they haven’t stored non-food items. Stainless steel is another option, but you won’t be able to treat your stored water with chlorine, as it corrodes steel. Finally, no matter what you store your water in, make sure you can seal it. You don’t want any bacteria or other contamination mucking up your drinking water. Below, we highlight several water storage options and some other useful facts you should know.
Two-Week Water Storage OptionsStore-Bought Bottled Water. The easiest (but slightly more expensive) way to reach your water storage quota is to simply buy pre-packaged bottled water. It’s clean, well-sealed, and comes in food-grade plastic bottles. Moreover, bottled water is highly portable, which comes in handy if you need to bug out. This is a great option if you have limited space in your home or apartment. Just buy a bunch of packages and store them under beds. For example, one 35-count package of half liter bottles provides about 4.6 gallons. That’s enough water to last one person four days. If you want two weeks of water, you just need four packages.
Empty Soda/Water/Gatorade Bottles. If you want to save some money, you can just refill empty soda/water/Gatorade bottles with water from your tap. Just make sure to thoroughly clean the bottles first:
- Step 1: Wash each bottle using water and dish soap.
- Step 2: Sanitize each bottle and cap inside and out with a bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach mixed in 1 quart water). You can use this same solution to sanitize other types bottles. Rinse the sanitized bottle with clean water.
- Step 3: Fill each bottle with tap water. Add 2 drops of standard unscented household bleach (4-6% sodium hypochlorite)
- Step 4: Empty and refresh your water storage once each year.
5-7-Gallon Water Jugs. If you’re a regular camper, you might already have a few of these in your garage. They’re made from sturdy, food-grade plastic. The plastic is usually a dark blue which restricts light and helps prevent algae growth. I think the blue is also to remind you that “Hey! This is for water only!” The jugs are typically stackable, so they make for easy storage, even in the tightest of spaces. Their smallish size also makes for easy transport in case you need to leave your home base.
One Month or More Water Storage OptionsIf you’ve read The Road, you’ll likely remember the scene where our protagonist begins to fill up a bathtub immediately after seeing flashes that signal an impending apocalypse outside his window. He knew the city water would be shutting off soon, and he wanted to store as much as he could before that happened. While filling up a tub will give you 100 gallons of water, the problem is that it’s not very sanitary for a couple of reasons. First, when was the last time you cleaned your tub? And if you did clean it recently, did you use harsh chemicals to do so? Either way, you probably don’t want to drink water straight from it. Second, water in your tub has no covering so it’s susceptible to all sorts of contamination.
This is a good option for folks with limited space. Just bust it out whenever you think you’ll need to use it. The downside is that when you think you need it, there might not be any water to fill it up.
Water Barrels. If you have the space and you’re looking to have at least one month of water storage on hand, you can’t go wrong with 55-gallon water barrels. They’re made from sturdy food-grade plastic and have bungs at the top that can be sealed super tight in order to protect your water from contamination. The plastic is also BPA-free and UV-resistant. Two of these babies will give a family of four about 27 days worth of water. This is what I have right now for my water storage solution.
There are a few downsides. The first one is space. If you live in an apartment, you probably won’t have room for a 55-gallon water barrel. The second is price. Each barrel will set you back about $90. You’ll also need to buy a pump and a specialty drinking water hose to fill them up. Finally, they’re not very portable. A full barrel weighs in at 440 lbs. You’ll definitely want a more portable option available in case you need to bug out.
If you’re looking to store more than a month of water, you might consider getting one (or more!) of those 320-gallon water storage systems. I’m looking to add one to our garage later this year.
Rain Barrels. In addition to storing tap water, you might consider adding some rain barrels into your system. Simply place a rain barrel at the bottom of your gutter pipe, and whenever it rains your barrel collects the water. Rainwater harvesting is an eco and budget friendly way to create a long-term water storage reserve. Because it comes from the heavens, and it’s sitting in a barely-protected barrel outside, you’ll want to filter and sanitize rainwater before drinking it. Some preppers just use rainwater for hygiene and save their stored tap water for drinking. Although it’s a myth that some states have made rainwater collection illegal, some drought-prone states have regulations on methods and require permits, and some states (like Texas) actually give a tax credit for buying rain collection equipment. Be sure to check the regulations for your state.
Water Cistern System. Water cisterns are a big step up from rain barrels. They’re basically giant holding containers that you use to capture rain water. Water cistern systems can hold anywhere from 1,400 gallons to 12,000 gallons of water. If you’re planning for end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it events, water cisterns are where it’s at. You’ll need space where you can place a giant water tank and you’ll need to develop a system of pipes to deliver rainwater to the cistern. Also, the tanks used in cistern systems usually aren’t food friendly. You’ll want to treat the water before drinking it or use cistern water primarily for hygiene purposes.
Back-up Water SolutionsIn addition to having stored water, you’ll want to have options to filter and purify water in case you need to use water from rivers, streams, or lakes to supplement your supply. I recommend having three options on hand to produce clean drinking water: filter, chemical, and boiling.
- Water filter. I have a Katadyn Hiker Pro Filtration System in my bug-out bag. You can produce about 1 liter of clean water per minute with it. You definitely can’t rely on it for your primary source of clean water. It’s just a supplement.
- Purification tablets. I have some iodine and sodium chlorite tablets for purification as well.
- Fuel and stove to boil water. Finally, I have a small stove and fuel in my bug-out bag so I can boil water to purify it.
Common Questions About Water StorageDo I need to rotate my water every year? This is probably the most common question and the most common answer is, yes, you need to change your water out at least once a year. But after looking into it, I found that this isn’t necessarily true. First, it’s important to understand that water doesn’t have an expiration date. If properly stored, water doesn’t spoil. What makes water go bad is contamination that gets into it. If you take proper precautions in sealing and storing your water so that bacteria or other contaminants don’t get into it, your water could theoretically stay good forever. In fact, I’ve read lots of blog posts from folks who’ve imbibed five-year-old stored water without any problems. So, as long as you take proper precautions, no, you don’t need to change your water out every year. However, if you’re worried about contamination, then go ahead and do it.
Do I need to treat my water with chlorine before I store it? A few prepper sites recommend that you treat your water with chlorine before you seal its storage container. But if you’re using tap water from your city to fill your water storage, it’s unnecessary. Tap water has already been treated with chlorine. If you properly seal your bottle or drum, you shouldn’t have to worry about bacteria or algae growth. If the day comes that you have to crack open your water source and you’re worried about contamination, feel free to add chlorine. The proper amount is 1/8 teaspoon of chlorine per gallon of water. To make it easier, just buy some water treatment drops. They tell you exactly what you need to add.
Do I need to boil my stored water before I drink it? If you have reason to believe that your water has been contaminated, then boil it. If not, don’t. It’s a waste of fuel.
Why does my stored water taste funny? Is it contaminated? Stored water will often taste flat and weird because there’s no oxygen in it. To get rid of that weird stored water taste, simply swish your water around your cup a few times before drinking.
Do I need to store my water off the cement? If you plan on storing water in 55-gallon barrels, you’ll likely come across recommendations to not store the barrels on your garage’s cement floor and to instead place them on wooden pallets. The reason given is that chemicals in the cement can cause a chemical reaction with the plastic storage container and possibly contaminate the water. Looking into this a bit more, this seems to be more of an old prepper wives’ tale. I couldn’t find any scientific research to back up this claim. A few prepper sites claimed that storing your water on cement only became a problem when your cement gets really hot.
To be on the safe side, I went ahead and put my water barrels on a pallet. Didn’t cost me much more and didn’t take up much more space. You can also use carpet or flattened cardboard boxes too.
I have a swimming pool. Can’t I just use that for my emergency water? If you have an average size swimming pool out back, you have around 20,000 gallons of water at your disposal in case of an emergency. It’s certainly drinkable. You just have to be smart about it. Because of the chlorine and pump/filter, pool water is typically free of contaminants like algae and bacteria. Don’t be freaked out about drinking chlorinated pool water. The recommended chlorine levels for pools is 2 parts per million. Water with chlorine levels below 4 parts per million is safe for humans to drink.
The problem with relying on pool water for a long-term water solution is that in a grid-down situation in which water and electricity are out for more than a week, that pool water is going to go bad. First, chlorine levels will drop in a few days unless you keep adding chlorine to the pool. If you don’t have enough chlorine on hand, that means the water will become an algae and bacteria breeding ground in a short while. Second, without electricity, your pool’s pump and filter can’t clean out the gunk. So after a week, your pristine drinkable pool water will start to “spoil.” With that in mind, you might consider having several collapsible water carriers on hand and filling them up with pool water if you think the power will be down for more than a week. Fill as many as you can and put them in your garage. You should boil or chemically treat any pool water before drinking it just to be safe.
What about saltwater pools? Well, that’s a bit trickier. There’s a lot of mixed info out there on the topic. A few people make the case that salt levels in saltwater pools aren’t as high as you’d think they’d be, and are arguably in the safe range for drinking. On the other hand, their levels are still pretty high and too much salt consumption in a survival situation can be detrimental to your overall well-being, so you’re better off not swigging the stuff. It’s better to play it safe by avoiding drinking the saltwater from your pool. If you do have a saltwater pool and would like to use the water, consider using it only for hygiene purposes.
Also for people living around salt water you should consider some hand pumps and a desalinator because for some reason or another at some point you will be forced to move around and even if you have a huge supply of drinking water you will not be able to take it with you. KATADYNE is a good place to start looking for water pumps and filters.
Myths and Facts of Water StorageWater Storage Myth: Treat your water and then store it.
Water Storage Fact: Actually, if you use regular tap water, it’s already treated. There’s no need to add any additional chemicals to it when it’s just going to be sitting in a container. If your water needs treatment, do so at the point of using it, not prior to storing it.
Water Storage Myth: Don’t store your water barrels on cement.
Water Storage Fact: Actually, there’s always a missing component to this myth. The key is not to store your water barrels on HEATED cement, and even that’s questionable advice. To store your water in your basement on the cement floor is just fine. There’s no need to make your barrels less stable by putting them on 2 x 4s. Cement only leaches chemicals when it gets hot. If you’re going to store your water in your garage, where the sun heats up the connecting driveway cement, then yes, I’d consider raising your barrels up on floor boards or such.
Water Storage Myth: Stored water tastes bad.
Water Storage Fact: Stored water is merely lacking oxygen. You can get it back to tasting great simply by pouring it back and forth a couple of times between a couple of pitchers, or glasses. This will infuse oxygen back into your water.
Water Storage Myth: I’ve got a pool out back for our water storage, so I don’t need to store any otherwise.
Water Storage Fact: One who has this opinion is taking a big risk, one which I would not venture to take. It’s presuming that no animal waste, nuclear waste, or other biological poisoning will enter the pool water. Also, if there is a water shortage in your area, and your big pool is out there for all of the desperate folks to see, you’re simply begging for some dangerous self-defense scenarios. You might as well leave your car doors unlocked with your wallet on the front seat. In the event of a real emergency, I would ALWAYS recommend that families store water as well as presuming that their pool water supply will be available, thus preventing it from outdoor contaminates and ensuring that you have water to survive in the event of all possible scenarios.
Water Storage Myth: I have iodine tablets and I know where the river is.
Water Storage Fact: You and everybody else. Just how long do you think that river supply is going to be available to you and your family? How useful will that river supply be to you in the event of a flood? Iodine tables don’t do too well with cleaning out home and body parts. How much vital physical energy will it take you to fetch enough water for you and your family to survive long term? People who have this attitude sure are taking a huge gamble. Remember that conserving your own physical energy should be your first priority in an emergency. So purposefully putting yourself in a situation in which you need to work hard for water is short-sighted. Also, you’re assuming that your iodine tablets will take care of whatever is in the outdoor water, regardless of what it’s been exposed to. (See previous myth/fact example) If you have water stored in quality containers in your home, you can save your physical energy for other more important tasks, and you will ensure that your water supply is protected and is YOURS. Not only that, but chemical treatment of water is not the safest. Heating your water, such as boiling it, is by far the safest method of treating your water.
You’re also assuming that you won’t be quarantined and that the streets will be safe to travel.
Water Storage Myth: Boil your water for 10 minutes in order for it to be safe.
Water Storage Fact: Actually, you do not need to boil your water. Boiling the water is actually a waste of precious fuel. Water boils at 212 degrees. However, getting your water to a heat of 160 degrees for 30 minutes will kill all pathogens, and 185 degrees at for only 3 minutes. This is true even at a high altitude. (Note that my preferred way of heating water is in a solar oven. No fuel waste!)
Water Storage Myth: You only need 2 weeks worth of water for your family.
Water Storage Fact: Two weeks is only enough to get you from one point to another. Long-term survival will require a year’s supply of water. The magnitude of a disaster which would create a long-term water shortage, would also require 3.5 years of repairs in order for you to have the kind of water access you are accustomed to now. So really, a one year supply of water is still a minimalistic “get-us-through-until-we-can-find-a-good-well-or-other-water-supply” kind of storage. And besides, if you’re not storing a year’s supply of water, no one else is. So now let’s compound your problem exponentially in your community and discover just how fast the “native get restless.”
Water Storage Myth: I don’t need to drink a gallon of water a day!
Water Storage Fact: The recommend amount of one gallon per person, per day is not just for drinking. It’s for bathing, (as hygiene is critical), sanitation (you gotta manually flush your stuff in an emergency, folks), medical (some instances require more drinking water than others), cooking, and cleaning. Next time you think one gallon of water a day sounds like a lot, measure how much water you put in the pot when you boil water, wash your dishes, or wash your clothes. It’s a LOT more than you think!
Also, your kidneys process the equivalent of 400-500 gallons of water per DAY! If you don’t feed your body new water, then the old water ends up looking like nasty oil in a car that hasn’t been changed in 10,000 miles. When times are tough, you don’t want to try and use that kidney of yours as a commercial slime filter, do you?
Water Storage Myth: Food is more important than water.
Water Storage Fact: Nope. You can go several days without food. You cannot live without water for longer than ONE day without seriously beginning to tax your body. It only goes downhill from there. Without water, your muscles lose their elasticity, your organs shut down, and your senses are dulled. None of these are situations you want to occur during an emergency.
Water Storage Myth: I don’t need water. I’ve got a year’s supply of Gatorade.
Water Storage Fact: Liquid intake is not the same as water intake. The moment you add ANYTHING to your water, your body no longer takes it in as water. It has to process it, filter it, and THEN use what water is left in the liquid before it benefits from it. If your body has to work hard to process the liquids it takes in, it’s using more vital energy. In a perfect world, your water drink for refreshment would consist of distilled water, as that’s what you body can use the most readily.
Water Storage Myth: I’ve got 2-liter bottles, old milk jugs, and juice bottles full of water. I’m set.
Water Storage Fact: Ok. This is better than nothing. But if it’s water than you intend on saving your life, I would definitely consider more sturdy and durable containers. In my opinion, even the water that is sold in the stores is insufficiently packaged for long-term storage in most cases. The plastic is too vulnerable for rugged use and access. I also don’t advise storing drinking water in used containers. And whatever you do, stop storing water in the old milk jugs. Those are the WORST in terms of chemical leaking and plastic breakdown.
Water Storage Myth: I’ve got ten 55 gallon drums full of water. I’m set.
Water Storage Fact: It’s great that you’ve got that much water. However, consider also having some water that’s more portable as well. It will make your life physically easier in surviving a long-term emergency situation. And by all means, make sure you’ve got the hardware necessary to get your water out of those big drums such as a hand pump, wrench, etc.