You know I’m all about being prepared. Today we’re going to talk about water storage. You’ll get lots of options and ideas for putting together emergency water storage for your family, including how you can do it virtually for free.
But first, why is water so important? Don’t we all have it coming out of our faucets?
Why store water?
Yes, we are blessed to have clean water coming out of the tap 99 percent of the time. BUT in times of natural disaster or a disruption or contamination in your water supply (whether you have city water or a well), having water is CRUCIAL to your family’s survival and well-being. Water is even MORE important than food. You can live a lot longer without food than you can without water.
Water storage comes in very useful even without a major disaster. We’ve lived in our house for about three and a half years, and during that time there have been four times when our city water supply has been compromised and we were advised to either not use the water at all, or to use it only for emergency and essential purposes. Each time was for a period of 24-48 hrs. One of those times was even during one of those days-long power outages that PG&E plans.
What would you do if you couldn’t use your tap for two days? Are you prepared with an alternate water supply or would you be running from store to store hoping to find one that still has water on the shelves?
And by “alternate water supply” I don’t mean anything fancy. In those four instances where our tap has been unavailable we just used water that we had stored in a few empty gallon juice bottles. It was easy to store, easy to use, and we had plenty of water until we could use our tap again.
Even more often though, we will grab a gallon or two of stored water when we go on a trip in the car, or to the park, or on a picnic. It’s quick and convenient, a great way to rotate our water storage, and it doesn’t cost us anything!
How much water should you store?
While you can pretty easily store a few months, or even a year, of food, storing that much water just isn’t possible for most people. Water takes up a lot of space!
And if we aren’t carefully monitoring our water usage we can use A LOT of water. Just go and check your last water bill to see how many gallons of water you used last month!
If you can’t go look up your bill right now, I’ll give you our numbers. We’ll go back and use the month of March, since that was before we started watering our garden. In March we used just over 23,000 gallons of water. We are a family of 8, but we also have an Airbnb rental on our property that usually has 1-2 people in it. If we divide 23,000 by 10 people, we find that we used 76 gallons per person per day!
Crazy, isn’t it!
The standard recommendation for emergency water storage is to store a MINIMUM of 1 gallon per person per day and store a MINIMUM of 3-day’s supply.
Going from 76 gallons per day to 1 gallon per day is pretty drastic. That would cover drinking water and food preparation, and not much else. If your water shortage also involves high temperatures, physical exertion, sickness, injury, or cleaning, you will definitely need more. So we are much more comfortable planning for 2 gallons per person per day.
Let’s say you have a family of four and you want to be prepared with 2 gallons per day for each person for three days. You’re looking at
4 people x 2 gallons x 3 days = 24 gallons
For our family, we’ve decided we want more than a 3-day water supply. We are aiming for at least two weeks of water. For us that means
8 people x 2 gallons x 14 days = 224 gallons
Options for Emergency Water Storage Containers
So how on earth do you store 24 or 224 gallons of water? Since we were newlyweds we’ve always kept a few gallons of water on hand, just in case. We started very simply and only recently got a little more involved with a larger family and longer water supply.
Soda and Juice Bottles
I’ll start with an option that’s literally free. The cheapest, easiest way to store water is to recycle plastic juice and soda bottles. We don’t buy juice very often, but when we do, we always wash out the bottles and refill them with water. There have been a few times that I’ve even bought juice especially so that we could reuse the bottle for water storage. You can get 2 half gallon bottles of apple juice for less than $2.50 from Walmart.com and get free delivery to your house with a total order of $35. Drink the juice, then wash out the bottles and refill them with water. Bam! You have water storage!
Find somewhere in your house or garage to store them. A closet. A high shelf no one uses. Under the bed. There are very few things that will be as valuable to you as emergency food and water when you need it. It is worth making space for!
These bottles are super convenient for bringing water on a picnic, a car trip, or to grab and go in an emergency. During each of the four times when our tap water was unavailable, we’ve simply used water from our juice bottles.
Disposable Water Bottles
But you don’t need juice bottles. If you regularly buy bottled water, then buying a few extra cases for emergency storage would make sense. Pay attention to how much water you are actually storing, though. It takes quite a few small water bottles to equal a gallon of water.
We don’t use this method for our family because we drink tap water and don’t generally use bottled water at all. In California especially, where we would pay an extra deposit for each water bottle, buying a lot of small waters bottles seems wasteful. But if you’re already buying water bottles, it’s easy to buy a few extra cases and keep them on hand for an emergency.
Empty Mason Jars
If you are a canner like me, then at any given time you have dozens (or hundreds) of empty glass canning jars. The unused jars take up the same amount of space whether they are empty or full, so why not store water in them? When you need to fill them with produce, you can easily empty the water from the jars.
You might want to get plastic screw-on lids rather than using the normal metal flat lids and rings. You can use flat lids and rings, but if you’re like me, you don’t have nearly as many rings as you have jars, and getting extra lids and rings isn’t as convenient as a simple reusable plastic lid. The metal rings will also rust sometimes if left on a jar and exposed to water or humidity.
I love that this method doesn’t require any extra storage space. You’re already storing the jars. The water stays clean and safe and it’s really easy to rotate the stored water as you use your jars to can.
55 Gallon Drums
Large plastic barrels are a great option for storing a larger amount of water. They often come in 55-gallon sizes, so they make an efficient use of space. You can sometimes find these used from restaurants or food suppliers. Be sure they are food-grade plastic and were previously used for foods or beverages, rather than chemicals, and be sure that you can clean them adequately.
You can also buy these barrels new specifically for water storage. I found the best deal on new barrels at Sam’s Club. We were actually planning to buy some there when an older couple from church who was moving out of state asked if we were interested in adopting their 55-gallon water drums and some other food storage items. What a huge blessing!
When you store water in a 55-gallon drum, you will need a way to use the water. Some barrels come with a bung and spigot installed, or you can retrofit one onto an existing barrel. If you don’t have a spigot, the simplest way to get water out is with a siphon made of a hose or plastic tubing, but a hand pump is also really convenient when you go to use the water.
You’ll want to store the pump disconnected so that it doesn’t get dirty or broken, but keep it close to your drums so you don’t have to go searching for it when you need it. These barrels from Sam’s Club actually come with a siphon hose and hand pump, but if you are able to get recycled or second hand barrels like we did, you can also just get the hand pump on Amazon.
Not everyone has a garage or basement to store large barrels like this, but they can actually be stored outside as well. Dark is best, so you’ll want to keep them out of direct sunlight if you can and cover them with a dark tarp. Once you clean and fill a barrel, you can add 2 tablespoons of liquid bleach to the 55 gallons of water and it will last for many years without growing algae or bacteria.
The downside of barrels is that they are extremely heavy when full, like 480 pounds of heavy. We put each of our barrels on a rolling base so that we would be able to easily move them around in the garage when we need to. I ordered the bases from Sam’s Club. Mike made some heavy-duty rolling bases for his mom’s water barrels years ago, and it actually cost more to buy the parts than it costs for the Sam’s Club kits.
Another thing to remember is that you won’t be able to take these big water barrels with you if you have to evacuate. The barrels are best used to refill smaller containers after you’ve used up the more convenient water stored in those.
Water Boxes and Bricks
Water storage comes in all shapes and sizes. You can get heavy duty plastic “bricks” that hold several gallons of water. They tend to be better priced at Walmart or Sam’s Club than at Amazon or a preparedness specialty store, but you can do your own research and find the size and shape that works for you.
We even have some 5-gallon water “boxes” that are sturdy cardboard with a mylar liner designed to hold water. The box keeps it a more “shelfable” shape, though they definitely aren’t as sturdy or stackable as the plastic bricks.
The benefit of smaller containers, around five gallons or less, is that you can easily carry them into the house when you need to use them or bring them with you if you have to evacuate.
How NOT to Store Your Emergency Water Supply
There are lots of good ways to store water, but there are also some things you shouldn’t try.
- Don’t use milk-type jugs to store water. Although you can buy distilled water in milk-type gallon jugs, this plastic does not hold up over time. It will start to seep water, making a mess that won’t make you happy.
- Don’t store water in a recycled container that previously held anything you wouldn’t normally consume. For example, bleach bottles or containers that held other cleaning products are not a good idea for water storage.
- Empty containers. It sounds silly, but we waited two years before we actually filled up our water barrels. My in-laws had empty water barrels in their basement for many years before actually filling them up. They were waiting for rolling platforms, which Mike built back when lived with them. You can’t count containers as part of your water storage until you actually put water in them!
- Finally, don’t store gasoline or other chemicals near plastic water storage containers, as chemicals may leach through the plastic.
Get Started on Your Water Storage Today!
Whatever methods you choose, start now! Don’t make excuses. It doesn’t have to cost anything. It can be as simple as not throwing away that empty two liter pop bottle or washing out that juice bottle and filling it with water. Don’t be overwhelmed. You don’t need big barrels to get started! Emergency water for three days for a family of four is about 20 gallons. That’s easy and doesn’t take a lot of room.
Water is essential for life–even more so than food! Now more than ever, we’re seeing that we can’t rely on anyone else to provide for us during an emergency. Do your future self a favor (that could possibly save lives) by getting water stored for your family now.
You can do this!
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Karen Woodall says
I am very interested in purchasing water barrels. I am looking for 55 gallon barrels or more. Will they fit through a door?
Our water storage situation is pretty sad right now…as in, I think we have a couple flats of bottled water and that’s about it. The challenge here is space (always, always space). Where did you store water when you were living in a small basement?
Hi Tara! When we were in my in-laws’ basement we kept our food storage (which included some bottled water in juice containers) on one side of the kids’ bedroom (literally stacked floor to ceiling), but we also relied on their water storage when we needed it (which was any time the power went out since they are on a well with an electric pump). That was one of the reasons we wanted to get their 4 empty 55 gallon drums filled up while we were living there!
That makes sense! The more I consider our space (a small basement), the more aware I become that vertical is the only way we’re going to be able to store much of anything! I don’t usually mind living in a smaller space, but it does create a few challenges when it comes to the storage situation!
Water is a precious commodity. Please, if you do the canning jar method, please please please do NOT just dump it down the drain when you need to empty the jars for canning. Also, water conservation is important. That’s a lot of water per person per day, especially for a dry climate like California – please look at ways to conserve water!
Don’t worry– we wouldn’t dump water down the drain! We would absolutely use it! We are actually pretty water conscious by American standards, though of course we have room for improvement (thanks for the reminder). The average water usage in the US is 80-100 gallons per person per day, so we are below average, but I’m sure Australia’s water use is much lower than in the US.
It has to be. We are entirely dependent on rainwater or tanker trucks for our household water supply. If we used that much water, we’d have to get the tanker truck in every 3 days! There’s nothing like having to make-do to teach you just how little you need.
Is a lot easier if you live near large quantities of fresh water. I’ve got 800 acres of wooded wetlands behind my house, with creeks, swamps and lagoons. We have some backpacking water filters and if we ever lost water, hasn’t happened ever here, at least not in the last 42 years, we can make an infinite supply much cleaner than tap water. But that’s probably not an option for city dwellers.
Wow! Sounds like you’ve got this one well covered then! What a blessing!