by the author of The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide
and the online course, Build a Better Pantry on a Budget
One of the most common questions I get from folks who don’t live on a large property in a rural area is how to store a lot of water for a long-term emergency. First, let me give you a harsh reality check. If the crisis goes on long enough you will run out of stored water. So this is only a portion of your water preparedness plan. You also need to know how to acquire and filter more water. But that’s beyond the purview of this article.
Let’s talk about how to store a lot of water in a smaller space and how much water you need.
How much water do you need for emergencies?
There’s a “rule” that preppers often quote that suggests you need one gallon of water per person and pet per day in the event of emergencies. That is a decent basic guideline but there are other variables to consider too. Some pets, for example, certainly aren’t going to require an entire gallon of water while larger livestock will need more than a gallon on hot days.
This amount doesn’t take into consideration things like the climate, whether people will be doing strenuous work, or if certain health conditions are in play. It also doesn’t cover the water you’d need for personal hygiene, sanitation, or your garden. The best way to calculate how much water you truly need is to go without running water for a weekend and jot down every drop you use from your stash.
For more information on calculating how much water you’ll need for emergencies, check out this article and this one.
How to store a lot of water
Below, find some options for storing a significant amount of water.
I live in an apartment building as of the writing of this article, and there isn’t a whole lot of extra space for water storage. I purchased a 65-gallon food-safe barrel for $15 from a lady on Facebook Marketplace. The barrel had initially held pickles long ago but she’d used it in her garden to collect rainwater for quite some time, so by the time it got to me, any residual pickle-y smell was long gone.
I keep it on my patio and opted for a color that blends in with the brick of my building. Nobody has paid any attention to it in the year and a half I’ve had it. The bonus to something like this is that I have a second top for it with a screen that I could use for water collection if things went really sideways.
To wash a barrel like this, if you don’t have a hose, visit a DIY car wash and bring your own dish soap. To fill it, I simply filled a 3-gallon container in my kitchen and walked it out until the barrel was full.
Mine doesn’t have any bells and whistles. I’d need to dip water out with a clean ladle if it came to using this for consumption. But if you have the money to do so, you can get “upcycled” water barrels on Amazon that have spigots and water catchment conversion kits delivered to your door within a couple of days. You can also pick up rain barrels at many local hardware stores. Just make sure it comes with a solid lid you can put on for storage and you’ll be all set.
Please note that water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon. That means that my filled barrel weighs almost 540 pounds, not including the weight of the barrel. Be sure that the place you plan to keep your barrel can withstand the weight.
Bathtub water bladders
Another place you can store water in a smaller space is the bathtub. I suggest a Water Bob (100 gallons) or an Aqua Pod (65 gallons) for this. These are BPA-free plastic bladders that attach to the faucet of your tub to fill with water. Once the bladder is full, then you detach it from the faucet and put on the cap. This closed container keeps your water safe and free from contamination.
Obviously, you need to know the emergency is about to happen to use a bathtub water container. These are great if a storm is blowing up or some other type of crisis is imminent.
Another option, if you have the space and an area that can hold around 2500 pounds, is a food-grade IBC Tote. These are large, 275-gallon plastic cubes that come in a metal cage for added support. They’re not cheap but you can sometimes find a reconditioned one. I kept a couple of these when I lived in California. The unit itself weighs around 150 pounds.
This company sells them new for about $450 at the time of publication.
Make absolutely sure that you look for one that is food grade if you’re getting this to hold water for human consumption. The others are not made for potable water but might be fine for livestock or sanitation, assuming it hasn’t held something toxic in the past. Be aware that many refurbished ones that are not food grade have held things like fuel or antifreeze and you should not use those for any survival water purposes.
A good place to store these is in a basement (if you have an entrance big enough), a garage, or a back patio. If you live someplace where the water might freeze, leave plenty of room for expansion.
How do you store large amounts of water?
Do you have a water strategy not mentioned here that would work in smaller spaces? Are you using any of these methods for water storage? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.
Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand Survival.com You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.
Also keep in mind that your hot water heater contains between 35 and 60 gallons of fresh clean water that is constantly exchanged every time you turn on the hot water faucet.
In an emergency simply turn off the power or gas to the unit, shut the in-feed valve, and use the drain valve at the bottom to access your water. Be sure to turn on the hot water somewhere in the house to allow air into the top of the tank.
When the emergency is over and municipal water is available again, open the in-feed valve and let it flow in the sink or bath until the air stops coming out of the faucet. Then just turn the electricity or gas back on and you’ll have your hot water back in an hour or so.
I got a food grade IBC tote, and when I got it home I removed the plastic container from the metal cage. I then painted the plastic container black. This does not let sunshine into the water, and prevents mold.
Aqua bricks, a bit pricey but stackable and easy to use. I rotate the water every six months.
Also Water Bricks, they’re also stackable. One holds 3 gallons, the other holds 3.5 gallons. I have some as both.
Obviously, you don’t need a water bladder to store water in your bathtub. Just fill it will water!
One thing to remember in a water cut is to separate drinking water from washing water. You only need to store relatively small amounts of drinking water in a good quality container that will keep it drinkable. Washing water, on the other hand, doesn’t have to remain drinkable, so any sort of container that is covered with any bit of plastic that you have should be good enough.
The point of the water bladder is to keep out contamination. It has nothing to do with how clean your bathtub is or not. It’s a far better way to store water you’ll be drinking or cooking than open in your tub. 🙂
I got a foot fungal infection once.
Yeah, not so much using the tub for drinking water.
For flushing the toilet, sure.
Daisy, what a great article, full of useful information. Thank you.
I recommend, if home owners can afford it, to get an in ground swimming pool and a cover for it. When my wife and I lived in Las Vegas we had a 14,500 gallon pool. Yes, it was chlorinated, but if TSHTF the water could be dechlorinated simply by leaving it exposed to sunshine for a few days. Then we could run it through our AquaRain 404 water filtration/purification device to get potable drinking and cooking water from it.
There are also above ground cisterns (tanks) with 1,200 gallon and up capacities that wouldn’t cost nearly as much as a pool.
Daisy, I clean forgot to mention that it’s a good idea to store water in mason jars in your pantry. Any dried food, like pasta, rice or beans–and many canned foods–require water to properly prepare them. Storing the water they need, next to them in your pantry is one sure way to have it on hand with you need it.
There are multiple reasons to justify using Water BOBs in your bathtubs for foreseeable emergencies. Often the water stopper in the tub is leaky. Because lots of people take showers instead, they are unconcerned about the leaky stoppers. Then the emergency arises, there’s also the issue to super-sanitize the tub before filling it with water fit to drink. Do people consider that need to sanitize the tub first? Likely many won’t. And there’s the matter of possibly not having the time before the emergency hits. So having Water BOBs handy so they can be quickly filled with drinkable water that won’t leak away is a much better strategy.
With the bathtubs Water BOB occupied, it’s worthwhile to practice taking sponge baths (in something like a moveable rectangular plastic tub from your big box store) with as little heated water as you learn to use. It helps to put a non-skid pad inside for foot comfort and safety whether you take your bath standing up or sitting down on a over-turned bucket with a padded bottom (hospitals often give seated baths to avoid slip and fall risks).
Regarding harvesting rainwater from your roof, it’s worth having a fine wire screen on top of the rain barrel to keep mosquitoes and other bugs out. Over a century ago when Yellow Fever was a prevalent threat, they learned to use such fine wire screens to block that method of the spreading disease. Today if you’re harvesting rainwater from your roof, you need either to have gutters designed so that leaves and other trash just roll off OR have fine wire screens installed over your gutters to block the problem that way. If you are renting and your landlord disagrees with you on rainwater harvesting, you have a problem.
I’m seeing multiple ads lately for DIY methods of extracting water from atmospheric humidity. In South America centuries ago the natives installed blankets on a slant on humid mountain sides so they could extract water that had condensed. In our era I’m seeing claims that various military organizations use a fancier version of the DIY method I mentioned above to accomplish the same water acquisition.
While today’s article is focused on water storage methods for short term emergencies, if the emergency turns into a much longer (however unexpected) outage, then one’s access to water filters, decontamination methods, distillation, etc can mean the difference between using non-municipal water sources … or not.
You might want to do a bit of research on those government/military water system which use evaporative cooling similar to a de-humidified. Basically, distilled water, you still need minerals. I believe the government supplies pills to their servicemen/women to return the minerals needed from drinking distilled water. I remember looking into this years back. Decided that wasn’t for me as I believe that one can actually die from drinking only distilled water.
I collect rainwater after a roof wash system, (55 gallon drum up on blocks that overflows to a 55 gallon drum below. Currently I store in six – 275 gallon totes for watering the large garden. If need be, I could convert to draw water for personal use. Consider 10 micron sock filters from McMaster-Carr, large plastic 55 gallon liner bags. One package of pool shock would create bleach could treat up to 10,000 gallons of water to kill the bugs. Eventually 1 micron sock filter for particulates, can use for bathing and Big Berkey for drinking/cooking water.
* 3 minutes with oxygen
* 3 days without water
* 3 weeks without food
* How about critical medication, how long without that?
* How about heat? Consider a coal stove, no smell, no smoke, Tractor Supply 40# bags of coal stores forever in your wooden barn
* Deep cell batteries, small solar array and inverter
* Plenty of double aught for the 12 gauge.
Prepping is a state of mind, go slow at first and expand your capabilities. I currently can live off the grid for 2 years unless someone drops a nuke on my head. I’ve been at it for 8 years now.
Another option is those water canisters designed to be used upside down in a water cooler. They hold about 5 gallons each, and mine were about $10 each from Home Depot. You can buy a kit to manually pump water from them, sterilize, fill with filtered water, and store in a clean dark place away from light (to avoid green algae). Under a house can work. You can rotate the water with fresh water every 6 month.
The downside is they don’t stack and refill is a hassle. But at least they are reusable unlike the Water Bob (which I have too).
I want to get some dehydrated water so it takes up less space.
I’m looking into getting a freeze dryer. I’ll give that one a try and let you know how it turns out.
Dehydrated water is now obsolete, freeze dried water is the current technology and stores for 25 years. Or you could move to the country and have a well (with generator backup) and be near a river like me. Don’t forget stuff like a Sawyer Mini, bleach or other items to purify the water if you are consuming surface water.
We live in Florida so I will fill one up if a storm looks as though it will hit us. Very handy and they are not too expensive. We keep several with our prepper stuff.
I stored water in a plastic barrel through winter. The water froze and broke the bottom of the barrel. I had to throw it away.
Storing water is so very important but it needs to be stabilized with Chlorine Dioxide for long term storage.
3 months water for 3 people stored. 1 gallon per person a day for drinking plus more for cooking/cleaning. Stored in cases of 6 -1 gallon jug cases. Stacked 5 high in storage areas and underneath beds.
Also Reliance brand 7 gallon containers work well. I rotate the Reliance water every year and treat with bleach.
Picked up some 55 gallon food grade barrels today also. Water is heavy and difficult to store in large quantities in an apt.
Also have a Berkey and several other purifiers and filters for water collection.
I am lucky enuf to live in a steep hilly area with lots of year-round streams. If stored water runs out, I can walk half a block to a good place to get at the stream and use a pot or something to fill a couple of jugs. Those would need to be boiled and filtered before using the water, but I am not likely to run out.
Think outside the box for storage. Along with my 800 or so gallons of water in tote & barrels, we have decorative pots in our front yard. We have saved the thicker plastic bottles and have them full of water and nobody knows it’s there.
One of these days I’ll get gutters up for rainwater collection. In the meantime I’ve got 20, 5 gal buckets sitting under the eaves for whenever the next rainstorm comes along. Garden watering only; these buckets were last used for hauling horse manure, so we’ve got compost tea! Use up the water before the mosquito larvae start hatching and it works ok. And, buckets are already here, so they’re free.