One of the most important parts of being prepared for a disaster is to have enough clean water to drink and clean with. Because water takes up space, storing enough water can be a challenge. Because each person in a household will need at least a gallon a day, preparing for the recommended two weeks can mean a lot of water to find space to store – and since each gallon weighs 8 pounds, supporting the water storage is also important.
Bottled water sounds like a great idea – and it is not a bad idea – but a family of four will use so much water that having a lot of individual water bottles will result in a lot of waste. Larger storage options would be a better choice. However, it is also true that bottled water is easy to store in pretty much any nook or cranny – under the bed, in a closet, in a corner of the garage, in a cabinet – there are so many options.
Safety of Stored Water
Remember that stored water does have an expiration date; check purchased water regularly. While water does not spoil, it can become contaminated, even through a sealed container. After the expiration date printed on the water, purifying it as if it were not safe is wise, even though it still may be, since it is difficult to tell by looking and unsafe to taste test, especially if the water has developed bacterial impurities. This is more likely if the storage container is not food grade and if it is clear or translucent rather than opaque, as these factors can result in chemicals or bacteria getting into or growing in the water over time. This is especially likely if the plastic container is stored on a concrete floor where chemicals have been used, such as in a garage; the gasoline and chemicals will leach through the concrete and plastic into the water. Use a few sheets of cardboard or a few wood planks to separate the container from the floor.
Containers for Stored Water
Some liquids containers, such as milk jugs, are not a good option, as it is nearly impossible to get all the milk-related substances out of the jug, meaning the water will be contaminated, and also because they are made to be biodegradable so they will break down eventually. Bottles that contained soda pop or sports drinks may work but remember that plastics tend to absorb tastes and smells, so the water will likely have a faint taste of whatever was originally in the container.
While glass jars seem like a great option, glass is breakable, and this could mean loss of valuable water if the disaster is something like an earthquake or explosion. Glass can be used if needed, but probably should not be the primary storage option. It is also heavier, so transporting it may be more difficult.
It is possible to get water containers that hold more; some jugs can hold 5 to 7 gallons, and there are barrels that can hold up to 55 gallons. Larger containers are good if one is able to stay in place when the disaster hits, but not very helpful if evacuation is required. Having water stored in both large and small containers may be wise.
Some large containers are easier to store when not in use than others, and some are easier to store when in use than others. These are often not the same options. For example, the emergency water storage bag known as the waterBOB fits neatly into the bathtub and holds about 100 gallons. Because it is a heavy-duty bag made of plastic, it folds away neatly when not in use, but takes up the bathtub when in use. However, because it does hold a lot of water, filling it up with fresh water in anticipation of a disaster situation can be handy.
Barrels can be stored out of the way when full, but when empty they take up the same space, which can be inconvenient. Additionally, using the water in a barrel will require a pump and hose meant for it, for safety. When full, barrels weigh over 400 pounds, so they are definitely meant to be kept in one place.
A cistern is a permanent water storage that holds rainwater. These can hold more than a thousand gallons and may hold as much as 12,000 gallons. These are great for situations that keep a household in place, and will provide water for cleaning, though it may be wise to treat it for drinking. These tanks are not generally food grade.
While there are metal containers available, if they are not made of stainless steel, avoid them. Stainless steel will not rust like other metals, and water with rust in it is not pleasant.
Flat, stackable rainwater containers make it so more can be stored in the same area, in a way that can be moved as needed. Waterbricks, stacking square water jugs, hold 3-15 gallons each and are sturdy and stackable.
Where to Store Water
The best location for storing water is in a dark, cool place. Direct sunlight is likely to encourage growth of bacteria in the water and warm locations will do the same. Shaded or windowless areas are best, and temperature controlled locations are helpful. Underground cellars, which are naturally cooler and darker than aboveground areas, are an excellent option; just remember to use a barrier if there is a cement floor to prevent leaching.
Closet floors may have space for water storage; this option is out of the way as well as convenient to access. A finished basement will often have space that can be used for water storage. As mentioned, the bathtub can hold water – even without the plastic bag, it can be used for a short time to hold water for cleaning; be sure to have something to dip it out that will not contaminate it in the process (do not dip out water with bare hands, as this will introduce impurities).
The freezer may be an option for some water, though its space requirements make it a less desirable option; however, if there is space, the frozen water will not only last, it will also aid in keeping the freezer cold for some time if electricity is interrupted.
Water for cleaning, which would still need purifying to make it potable, can be stored in a pool in the yard – it will need a cover of some sort to keep debris out, and it will need to be used relatively quickly due to algae and bacteria. A pond or fountain in the yard also hold water which can be used in a pinch. Waterbeds hold about a hundred gallons of water which, if treated when filling the bed, can be used for drinking water as well as cleaning.