how to store water
How to store water in your home
How To Store Water – published on February 28, 2022
Learn how to keep your home hydrated when the tap runs dry
Every home should have a ready supply of water at hand at all times for emergencies. Municipal water systems are a shared resource that many other homes have access to. Additionally, the tanks, pipes, and pumps are vulnerable to earthquakes, severe weather events, and cyberattacks. Even if you have a water source near you, a safe way to store water in your home is essential to keeping your tribe alive. Your storage should be part of a complete water handling system that also includes acquisition and purification.
Sources of water
Surface water is from rivers, lakes, mud puddles, or the gutters on your house. Any water that touches the surface of the earth or a structure is considered surface water and needs to be purified in some manner like boiling, treating with chlorine, filtering, and/or running it through an ultraviolet water purification system.
Back country surface water that does not have runoff from towns or agriculture can usually be purified by running it through an inexpensive hiker’s water filter. These will filter out larger parasites like cryptosporidium and giardia, but they are less effective against smaller viruses like salmonella, cholera, and E. coli.
Rain water that is collected in a catchment system can have toxins from dust and smoke, but it has a very low concentration of pathogens that will make you sick.
Deep well water is surface water that has been filtered down through the sediment layers for months or years without sunlight so that pathogens have been denied the ability to multiply or have been killed. As long as the well water has been tested by a laboratory, it is safe to drink.
Municipal water is usually taken from wells, rivers, lakes, or reservoirs and then filtered and treated with either chlorine or an ultraviolet water purification system.
Commercially bottled water is mostly municipal water that has been further purified, usually with an activated carbon filter to remove the chlorine taste.
All of these sources of water can be stored, but the last two have been thoroughly filtered and (probably) treated with chlorine. Because a lot of the work has been done already, both municipal water and commercially bottled water are superior sources for water storage.
Types of water
There are just two types of water we are concerned with: what we can safely drink, and what we can use for other purposes. Potable water is safe for human consumption. It has either been drawn from a deep well or it’s been purified in some manner like boiling, treating with chlorine, filtering, and/or running it through an ultraviolet water purification system. Rainwater collected in an above ground catchment can also be considered potable. Non-potable water can make you sick if you drink it, but it’s still quite useful to flush a toilet, wash laundry, and water plants. Having an abundance of surface water is a luxury – even if it requires purification to make it potable.
Single kill cycle treatments like boiling or a UV lamp can leave surviving pathogens that will multiply in stored water. Properly administered chlorine treatment creates a persistent kill cycle for pathogens. It stays present in the water to mitigate increases in concentration of virus and bacteria. With many pathogens, the danger is in the dosage. Water stores best when it tastes like a swimming pool. In fact, Ready.gov states that “The water should have a slight bleach odor. If it doesn’t, then repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.”
How much water should you store?
The quick answer is “as much as possible,” but everyone has limitations and you should only store as much water as you can replace with a “reasonable effort” so you actually rotate your stock. Reasonable effort is defined as “something you will not put off when the time comes.” The CDC’s recommendation is to:
Store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days for drinking and sanitation. Try to store a 2-week supply if possible. Consider storing more water than this for hot climates, pregnant women, and persons who are sick.
One gallon per person per day for both hydration and sanitation is not enough. Two gallons is a better minimum. If you have no water in storage right now, a three day supply of commercially bottled water for every family member is a great start. A one week supply in a rotated storage plan is very doable for most households – in both cost and space.
Where to get water
Commercially bottled water is great for short term. It’s very convenient to buy a case and stick it in a closet. Be sure to avoid the “one time use” bottles available that will fail even if you do not stack anything on top of it. These usually have a good crinkly sound when they are empty. The standard issue water bottle for ultra-light hikers is the Smartwater bottle with the flip cap. These bottles can last the entire Appalachian Trail, but they are only one liter. They are great for get-home bags, but not affordable for home storage.
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Municipal water is a viable option – especially if you can smell or taste the chlorine in it. Any other water sources need to be treated with chlorine for storage – more on that below.
Where to store water
You need to find a place in your home that is out of sunlight. Ideally, water should be kept in a climate controlled environment that does not have excessive daily temperature swings. This leaves out the garage. Cool places like under a bed work very well. Just don’t fill a closet from bottom to top with cases of water. Even the containers are on shelves because they can exceed the rated floor load and cause structural issues like sagging floor trusses. Eight pounds per gallon adds up fast.
What to store water in
Use only plastic containers that are certified by the FDA as being safe for food and water storage. Another option is to use glass or stainless steel. Glass containers can break in an earthquake and stainless steel containers are expensive. A good solution is to have a combination of water containers and sources such as commercially bottled water and treated tap water in food grade five gallon water containers. Commercially bottled water in durable bottles is relatively expensive, but convenient. Treated tap water is inexpensive, but it requires some effort to treat and fill the containers. Five gallon water containers will weigh over 40 pounds when filled. They are relatively inexpensive and are a one-time capital investment that can be used many times if properly stored. The seven gallon Aqua-Tainer is an old stand-by that is an inexpensive way to add storage capacity. They should be stored upright and never stacked.
If you have limited floor space, then stackable water containers are the way to go:
Short term storage
Some situations can be anticipated and having the means to significantly ramp up your storage capacity can extend your preparations. Severe weather that is inbound to your position is one example. Food grade five gallon buckets are relatively inexpensive and will nest when not in use to save space. Here is a container that uses your bathtub for structure. It will allow you to rapidly increase your stored drinking water without worrying about how clean your bathtub may be:
Treating water for storage
If your water is cloudy and has particulates, you must filter it before purifying. Particulates can protect viruses from ultra-violet light and they may contain larger parasites. You can filter the water through a cotton cloth like a cheesecloth or towel to remove large particulates. These instructions apply to clear water that is not contaminated with chemicals or radioactive materials. Either of these are deal breakers for potable water because they cannot be purified with normal household supplies and equipment.
Step one: sanitize the containers as per the CDC guidelines:
- Wash the storage container and rinse completely with water.
- Sanitize the container with a solution made by mixing 1 teaspoon of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water. Use bleach that contains 5%–9% sodium hypochlorite.
- Cover the container tightly and shake it well. Make sure the sanitizing bleach solution touches all inside surfaces of the container.
- Wait at least 30 seconds and then pour the sanitizing solution out of the container.
- Let the empty sanitized container air-dry before use OR rinse the empty container with safe water (water that has been treated).
Step two: add a water treatment to the empty containers. Whether you are using bleach or a commercial water preserving treatment, add it first so that the treatment will mix with the water. We need an even distribution of the solution. The easiest way to be accurate with the treatment is with commercial water purification drops like this:
The least expensive treatment is to use unscented liquid household chlorine bleach that contains between 5% and 9% of sodium hypochlorite. Use the following CDC recommended concentrations:
One gallon: 8 drops or just under one-eighth teaspoon
Five gallons: 40 drops or one half teaspoon
Most bleach sold in America 5 to 9%, but if you find some that is 1% sodium hypochlorite, use five times the amount shown above.
Step three: fill the containers with water. If there is a possibility of your water containers freezing, only fill to 90% of the volume of the container. If they will be in a climate controlled environment like your home, top them off.
Using your stored water
Water is heavy. It’s best to tool up to handle it more efficiently by having a landing pad for large containers of water in your kitchen and bathrooms. A chair or a stool is a good height to set your storage containers. From here, they can be tipped to decant the water into smaller containers for dispensing. Having food grade 2 and 5 gallon buckets will make moving water and flushing toilets much easier. Many commercial water containers like the Aqua-Tainer shown above incorporate a valve to dispense the water when the container is laid on its side. It is common to have these valves leak after some use so be ready to pour the water into another dispenser such as a pitcher for drinking and a small bucket for flushing toilets.
One way to maximize your water storage is to make the most of every drop. A few items stored with your water supply will make it go much farther. Use spray bottles to wash dishes. They will evenly distribute water onto a surface of a dirty plate. Lay you dishes out on the counter, hit them with the spray bottle, wait a few minutes, and you have “soaked” your dirty dishes without filling the sink. They also work well for bathing with limited water. Baby wipes will also save water when bathing when the taps run dry. A one or two gallon bucket will work very well for pouring water into the toilet bowl to flush it.
A water management system
With some planning and investing in a few items, you can set up a backup water management system. Whether you are on a well, spring, or municipal water system, your home should have the tools to purify and store surface water. You might already have many of these items:
- 5 gallon or 7 gallon water containers
- Food grade 2 gallon and 5 gallon buckets
- A large funnel and cotton cheese cloth for filtering out large particles
- A hiker’s water filter for purifying back country surface water
- Some water purification drops for purifying surface water near civilization
- A countertop water dispenser that can also handle 3 gallon and 5 gallon jugs
You may already have some of these items. Use the 5 gallon buckets to store them in your water storage location. If you get surprised with an imminent threat to your primary water system, you can quickly tool up to handle your stored water.
Why to store water
This should be obvious, but just to be sure that everyone understands the stakes, we are going to leave you with a picture of a gentleman keeping his tribe alive very nicely under difficult circumstances. Notice the case of commercially bottled water in the right foreground. He was prepared to keep his home hydrated. Stay safe, everyone!
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