Water is the most important thing to have for an emergency as humans cannot survive without it for long. Everyone knows this. But exactly how much do we need to store and keep on hand to be adequately prepared?
You will need to store at the very least one gallon of water per person, per day in your emergency stockpile. That includes an allowance for drinking, as well as sanitation and hygiene.
That’s a lot of water! Now let’s get into the specifics of exactly what you need to do to make sure you will be ready when the time comes.
How Much Water Should You Store for Basic Needs?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that everybody store at least three days worth of water per person. However, this is not even close to sufficient in many scenarios. Two weeks worth of water per person is a more widely accepted minimum for those preparing for emergencies.
In my opinion, everyone should have at least 50 gallons stored away for emergencies. I recommend using a BPA-free storage tank specifically designed for long-term storage, like this one found on Amazon.
However, there are circumstances where you can need more water.
If you live somewhere particularly warm or dry, like desert areas in the southwest, you can need up to twice as much water. You should also consider if someone in your household has a medical condition that might require more. For example, pregnant women and nursing mothers need more water.
Don’t Forget Animals and Plants
You will want to make sure that you have adequately stockpiled enough water for your pets, livestock, and garden. This is especially if you are growing fruit and vegetables that will be useful in a disaster.
You will have to assess how much is required based on your situation. As a rule of thumb, a pet will tend to need about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight.
What’s the Best Way to Store Your Water?
We want to be sure that our method of storage is both clean and well-suited for long term stockpiling.
Types of Containers to Use
The one key thing to remember when storing water is that you should only use food-grade, BPA free containers. Anything else will dramatically increase the risk of contamination which can lead to sickness, especially in survival situations when your body will already be under stress.
Mostly, this will mean plastic containers which are also useful because they are themselves lightweight, but stainless steel is also fine. Don’t use any other metals as they might rust which will contaminate your water. Glass is a possibility but less suitable, because it is very heavy and also breaks easily.
The second key thing to remember is that your containers need to be able to be sealed fully to avoid contamination, for example of large items like leaves or animal waste if stored outside. But even indoors, it is important to seal your containers, to avoid contamination by smaller particles or bacteria.
Where Should I Store Water?
Lastly, you will want to store your water away from direct sunlight and heat. Basements, windowless pantries, underground cellars, or temperature-controlled garages are best. That is because UV rays and heat both affect the plastic of your containers, but also because it encourages the growth of even the smallest amount of bacteria.
What Small Containers Should I Use?
In theory, you can store water in many different containers, including re-using soda bottles. That is because these are rated “PETE/PET” safe, meaning that they do not leak chemicals when exposed to heat up to 80 degrees. You do want to avoid milk bottles or juice bottles as it is not possible to fully clean them from milk and fruit residues that can then provide an environment for bacteria. The FEMA recommends 2L soda bottles as long as they are not used repeatedly.
Using small containers like bottles means that you can store your water in many places around the house, such as under beds, at the back of a wardrobe and in other small unused spaces. For small spaces like that, you can also purchase food-grade, BPA-free water storage containers in a variety of sizes. I prefer stackable containers, like these found on Amazon or these found at My Patriot Supply. They are really easy to hide away under a bed or in a closet.
The advantage of storing water in smaller containers is one primarily of space and the ability to build you stock-pile up gradually. It also means that it is easier to shield them at least from direct sunlight, by storing them under or behind items of furniture. Lastly, using smaller containers also mean that if a container is opened and any contamination enters it, it will be used up before this becomes a problem, or it can be discarded if it has completely spoiled. The rest of your water supply will remain unaffected.
What About Large Containers?
One 55-gallon barrel will supply two people with two gallons a day for just over two weeks. For a family of four, the same barrel will last a week.
The problem with large containers is that once any contamination has gotten into it, it will affect the entire supply. Therefore it is always best to split your supply over at least two containers.
You have to be careful to avoid contaminating your water every time you extract some. This is best done by having a proper siphon or hand pump which is inserted in one of the barrels two bungs (plugs).
It is important to have the correct size so that you can leave the pump or siphon in the barrel, which reduces the possible instances of contamination.
Make sure the top of the barrel is clean before inserting your pump or siphon. You can then extract as much water as you need, for example, 4 gallons to last your family for a day. Smaller containers are useful for this.
Make sure to seal the pump fully so that nothing can leach into the supply. And do not open the lid of the barrel if not absolutely necessary.
How Much Water Should You Store for Specific Disasters?
Your water supply can be compromised at any point, so it is always best to be prepared (overprepared?) for such an event. Even a local E.coli outbreak could leave you without running water for 48h or more if the local water supplies have been compromised.
In worse situations, an entire area’s water supply can be compromised for much longer if toxic chemicals have leaked into supplies, or a natural disaster has affected the infrastructure.
As it is impossible to know how long you might be without water in those scenarios, you need to make your own decision on what levels of preparedness you are comfortable with. However, there are specific events for which you can be prepared in advance. These are tornadoes, flooding, and snowstorms.
How Much Water Should You Store for a Hurricane?
Hurricanes are notorious for wreaking havoc on a water system. Flooding and wind-driven damage can render the local water supply useless.
Sometimes it only takes a few days to get everything back to normal, sometimes it takes weeks.
When preparing for a hurricane you should stock at least two weeks’ worth of water for your household. A good rule of thumb is to stockpile one gallon of water per person for at least 14 days. Also, be sure to add in an extra gallon per day if you have pets or plants to maintain.
Preparing for Tornadoes
If you live in an area prone to tornados, for example, you will have a tornado plan in action, and a place to shelter for the duration of the storm. It is prudent to have water stocked up there but you will not need your entire water supply there, as the storm itself will not last that long.
However, you will want to make sure that your water supplies are stored somewhere protected, like a basement, to avoid them getting damaged.
Living in a Flood Zone
You can take similar precautions for other natural disasters which can be anticipated, such as flooding which can contaminate local water supplies but will leave you with access to plenty of water that you can purify and filter.
In that scenario, you will want to store your supplies away from areas that might flood to avoid contaminating them, so basements are less ideal. You will also want to stock up on purifying and filtration systems to a larger extent.
In Cold Climates
In areas prone to snowstorms and cold conditions, you will want to make sure your water supplies are accessible, for example in the house rather than an outbuilding, as well as being insulated to avoid them freezing and becoming inaccessible. Smaller containers are easier to thaw in those conditions.
If your area is prone to natural disasters, it is best to check with local authorities and organizations on what their recommendations for emergency preparations are. This will allow you to make the most efficient preparations to aid your family’s survival.
How Long Can You Store Water?
Unlike food, water does not inherently go bad. If you store your water properly, it will not have an expiration date.
However, it is virtually impossible to keep all microorganisms and bacteria out of your supply indefinitely, so it is recommended that you cycle your water supplies at least once a year, if not every six months. It is better to be safe, and have suitable water in an emergency, even if this is a bit more effort.
Rotating water means that water that has been stored for longer should be used for things like bathing and washing dishes, rather than drinking. That means you don’t need to discard the water, but just make sure you have sufficient water that has not been stored as long.
How Do I Know If Stored Water Is Unsafe to Drink?
Stored water will always taste a bit different from what you may be used to, as it has lost much of its oxygen content. However, unless it has a putrid taste or smell, that is not necessarily an indication that there is something wrong. The water should not be cloudy or discolored and it should not have a smell.
What Type of Water Should You Store?
In most areas of the US, regular tap water is of sufficient quality to store and it is safe to fill containers straight from the tap. If you are unsure if your area has safe-to-drink tap water or you live in a country outside of the US, it is best to check with your local water provider.
You can also store bottled water you have purchased, but this can also get very expensive and is not the most efficient way of storing large quantities of water.
How to Recycle and Purify Water to Make You Stocks Last
A regular maintenance routine should be implemented to ensure that your water supplies will be optimal when a disaster strikes.
You can filter or purify water from some sources to be able to use it again, but the easiest way to recycle water and make your stocks last longer is to use water for several purposes.
Only the highest-quality water is suitable for drinking, but if you have used water for washing yourself, that same water can be repurposed for watering vegetables, or even flushing toilet systems. Just make sure you are not adding more chemicals than needed, for example by using soaps that are suitable for then using the water on plants
Ensuring you repurpose your water as often as possible will make your supplies last as long as possible, meaning you and your family will make it through any emergency in better shape.
Filtering and Purifying
It is important to stock up on a range of water purifying methods so you can ensure that your water is always safe to drink. Water filters come in a range of sizes and capacities, including pump filters and gravity filters. They can come in very small sizes, and are often very portable, but can filter up to 100,000 gallons of water. I recommend keeping a lightweight, portable water filter pump like this one found on Amazon.
Water is crucial for survival, especially in emergencies when you are under more stress than usual. But if you just follow a few simple rules regarding supply amounts, storage, and maintenance you can have peace of mind that you have done all you can do to prepare your family for life’s unforeseen calamities.
Recommend Emergency Water Preparation Products
Here are a few Amazon links to products that will help you be prepared for a potential disaster or temporary loss of potable water.
- 3.5 Gallon Stackable Water Containers– I recommend keeping a few of these stored in random places around the house. They could be a lifesaver if you are cut off from your main water supply.
- 5 Gallon Stackable Water Storage Containers– These are great for keeping in the garage or back of a vehicle. Storing at least 1 per person as backup drinking water wouldn’t be the worst idea ever.
- 55 Gallon Water Storage Tank- I feel like every family should have at least one of these full and ready to go at all times.
550 Gallon Water Storage Tank– If you live in a desert or just planning for worst-case scenarios, this is something to consider. However, if you live near a natural freshwater source, it might be overkill.
- Water Purification Tablets– These are an important backup solution if your water supply ever became contaminated during a disaster.
- Water Drum Siphon Pump– If you have a large storage tank, this is a must-have. It will help prevent contamination.
- Small Portable Stove– Another backup plan in case your water source is contaminated. Boiling is the best way to purify water.
Recommended Food Storage Products
Besides stockpiling water you will also want to set aside some emergency food for long term storage. I highly recommend the products at My Patriot Supply. Rice and beans are a great place to start, even if you store nothing else.
Af you want to learn how to store dry foods for long-term storage yourself, check out my article on Storing Rice and Beans for the Long Term, which covers a sound methodology that can apply to almost any dry food.
Can I drink hot tub or pool water in an emergency? Most pools or hot tubs contain chlorine, which is not safe to drink. So, unless you purify and dechlorinate the water, it should be completely avoided.
How little water can a person survive on? Studies show that the baseline minimum for a person of about 155 pounds is 32 ounces per day. However, this does not account for water loss through perspiration.
Can you drink toilet tank water? While toilet tank water is usually safe to drink, you should only do so as a last resort. As a precaution, be sure to purify any water not taken from a verified safe source by boiling for at least 10 minutes.
For more, don’t miss Can You Drink Pool or Hot Tub Water in an Emergency?.
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