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SurvivalistFilter: Emergency supplies, and long term fuel/water storage
October 9, 2007 6:03 AM   Subscribe

So I'm preparing a paranoid "keep 24 people warm and happy for two weeks" kit in case of emergency. The kicker is that I'm lazy - so I want the kit to be usable anytime within the next 10 years. (None of that "rotating supplies in and out" for me, nosiree.) But I'm stuck on a few problems.

  1. What's the best way to preserve water? - I've obtained multiple used food grade 55 gallon barrels for this task. Most of the websites seem to address the problem of "how do I clean that water so I can drink it in a few hours", rather than "how do I keep water for 10 years"? I'm assuming that some of these chemical methods to clean water will also serve to keep water clean. But which? Also, if I use a chemical method, is there a way to remove it (i.e. with activated charcoal filter)?
  2. What's the best fuel for heating/cooking/lighting in an emergency? - The 10 year lifespan requirement eliminated a lot of options, but there still seem to be too many options left: Wood? Lump charcoal? Charcoal briquettes? Coal? Kerosine? Or a mixture of each for different purposes? And how much would I need?
  3. Are there any hints that you have available for planning/buying/storing so many supplies? Places to buy emergency supplies on the cheap?
Who knew trying to be lazy would be so much work?!
posted by jytsai to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The water is really not going to be good for 10 years no matter what you do. You'll need to replace it yearly at least.
posted by voidcontext at 6:12 AM on October 9, 2007

Yeah, the water storage thing is not really something you can pull off. Personally, I think the best fuel/cooking option would be some kind of multi fuel stove that uses white gas/coleman fuel and diesel or gasoline. For two weeks, you'd probably need about 3 or 4 gallons of white gas.
posted by Phoenix42 at 6:17 AM on October 9, 2007

Are there any hints that you have available for planning/buying/storing so many supplies?

Open a small grocery or convenience store but build it like a fortress. Pay some kids to run the counter and rotate the stock. You might make a little money on the side, but profit would not be the point.

When trouble comes, kick out everyone but your 24 (24?) chosen people, pull down the steel gates, and you've got enough beer and cigarettes and chips and dip and Juggs magazines (and bottled water and tuna and macaroni and kerosene and charcoal and so on) to last for a long time.
posted by pracowity at 6:18 AM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

A fellow on DailyKos did an exhaustive and well received writeup of disaster preparation techniques a couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina. His discussion of water storage options suggests that you will not be able to achieve the balance of laziness and happiness you seek -- if you want potable water, you're going to have to rotate at least every three years, even if you're putting nasty preservative chemicals in it.
posted by gum at 6:28 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you could set up a still and boil the water and recollect it on a regular basis.

You could regularly refill the tank from your jugs, start the still and get clean water at the other end, rinse- pun intended- and repeat.
posted by spacefire at 6:38 AM on October 9, 2007

If your don't want to change water out, don't try to store water. There are alternatives. Assumming this is a house, keep a rain barrel and some means of cleaning the water on hand (filter, purification tablets, etc...). Have a means of gathering snow (buckets, shovels, etc...).

For fuel, the method I prefer is an alcohol stove. Propane and butane are very convenient, but really aren't safe for use inside. The same is true for liquid fuels like kerosene or white gas/camp gas/naptha. Jellied fuel (sterno) or solid fuels (hexene) work well and are much safer, but are expensive. Alcohol (methanol and ethanol), like jellied fuel, has a soft, blue flame that is hot enough to boil water, but is still easily extinguished and controlled with a pot lid. This is not true of, for example, a Colman gas or pressurized liquid stove.

Denatured alcohol or mineral spirits can be bought for a dollar or two per litre/quart at most hard goods stores and will last indefinitely if you don't open it. I can buy "gas line deicer" (methanol) in 6 packs of 4oz bottles very inexpensively. Each one last for about 1 day of cooking per couple, which makes the buying math easy.

Alcohol stoves are easy to make also: the pop-can stove works very well in my experience and is expensive as a can of coke. If you want something more commercial, Trangia makes a line of very nice alcohol stoves. I have one in my kit.
posted by bonehead at 6:48 AM on October 9, 2007

Btw, 24x2 weeks is a HUGE amount of supplies. Normal time limits would be 72 hours, 5 days if you're extra cautious. Why the long time period?
posted by bonehead at 6:51 AM on October 9, 2007

I would think that autoclaved water (in sealed, autoclave safe bottles, of course - your 55 gallon barrels are out) could last for 10 years. I don't know what the largest available autoclave bottles are, though--1 liter is a common size, and you'd need at least 1344(!) of those. It might be theoretically possible, but it would be prohibitively expensive.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:18 AM on October 9, 2007

MY emergency kit is a crowbar and a map to the nearest grocery store.

Seriously, what you are trying to do is impossible, water, certain medicines, and most canned food will not survive ten years. So I recommend the following:

Keep a shelf in your pantry as the "go shelf". The way to do this is to put a plastic bin turned on its side on the shelf.

Stock it in the first instance with enough canned and dry food for 24 people, but use the food up as you normally would, just replenishing as you go. So if you only use a can or two a week, the next time you go grocery shopping, you by two cans. You use the oldest cans in your supply. The point here is that you use the food the same way you normally would. But when it's go-time, you grab your bin, full of cans, out of the pantry and head for the door.

You do this same thing with medicine, etc. Of the normal supplies you use, one shelf is extractable, so at any point, its stocked with fresh stuff and it's easy to grab it and go.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:50 AM on October 9, 2007

voidcontext writes "The water is really not going to be good for 10 years no matter what you do. You'll need to replace it yearly at least."

At that same site they offer a treatment they claim allows for five years non rotated storage.

DevilsAdvocate writes "I would think that autoclaved water (in sealed, autoclave safe bottles, of course - your 55 gallon barrels are out) could last for 10 years."

Water that has been canned (either in conventional cans or glass preservative jars) and then stored in a dark place should last essentially forever. Add the ability to boil water and you should be good to go for your life time. You can buy canned water if you don't want to roll your own.

As far as storage goes I'd build an underground vault but this is only a good idea if you are immune to flooding at that location. An insulated vault below the frost line would ensure an essentially constant low average temperature without the risk of freezing. Build your dorm/bunkhouse for 24 people above the vault to keep your entrance free of snow, water and dirt. Don't forget about sewage handling for that many people.

Many dried foods will last essentially for ever if kept dry and cool. Dry salted meat and dried fruit are widely available or you can dry your own (cheaper, especially if you were to build a solar dryer)
posted by Mitheral at 9:13 AM on October 9, 2007

Depending on where your shelter is consider drilling a well and getting a hand pump.

Also, honey never spoils.
posted by Bonzai at 9:31 AM on October 9, 2007

I've got a case or two of bottled water -- just your normal plastic bottles from Costco -- in the garage, but I see in these links that it's only supposed to keep for a year. Why? What's going to happen to it? I've never noticed bottled water to have an offtaste.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:53 AM on October 9, 2007

Bacterial growth is the big concerned with stored water. It can have undesired consequences.
posted by bonehead at 10:39 AM on October 9, 2007

Comfort for 24 people for 14 days is a pretty big task, and will not be inexpensive. The Red Cross has excellent information on disaster prep, and the Mormons offer seminars regularly. There are US Government publications available free.

I experienced the Northeast ice storm of 1998, a couple of hurricanes, and a couple of big blizzards. Having camping gear, gas grill with an extra tank(outdoors), oil lamp and a lot of canned soup was a big help. What was a really big problem was losing clean water when a water main broke.

You could get a couple water storage tanks and add them, in series, to your water line. Since the water keeps moving through, it would always be fresh. Much of the water you need is for cleaning and sanitation, so it doesn't all need to be drinkable. If drinking water is stored in non-toxic containers, bacteria can be killed with some bleach. The Red Cross site is full of common sense and has the amount of bleach needed to clean water.

There's a lot to be said for having good neighbors. Many of my friends have moved perishable food to a neighbor's who had power or a generator. In the ice storm, neighbors checked on the elderly and helped them to safety or provided wood for the fireplace.
posted by theora55 at 11:09 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Include a hand-cranked radio and flashlight in your supplies.
posted by theora55 at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2007

I think the water storage may be a problem. The only thing I can think of that would still be potable after 10 years would be the absolutely sterile, deionized water sold for laboratory use. But that stuff is EXPENSIVE, and for good reason.

Nothing you're going to do yourself in 55-gallon drums is going to last a decade.

Maybe you could rig up some system that would use the drums as part of your house water system; basically use them as a "buffer" within your normal water supply? You might need to consult a plumber here, but maybe you could work out a way to rig them so that your water flows through them on your way into the house. Then, if disaster strikes and you retreat to the basement/fortress/whatever, you have the water that's in them to use. Assuming you use several thousand gallons a week, that ought to keep it good and fresh.

Personally, my half-thought-out disaster plan always involved going to the basement and after drinking all the bottled water, draining the hot water heater's tank and the wellhead pressurization tank to get 150 gallons of water or so.

Also, when you have an inkling that things are going to get bad, fill up all your bathtubs. That ought to give you a few extra days. Same with the toilet tanks, if you get really desperate.

For fuel and lighting, there are multi-fuel stoves and lanterns around that will burn practically anything: kero, white gas, unleaded motor fuel, diesel, av gas, biodiesel, alcohol ... you name it. I'd get one or two of those lanterns and one of the stoves. For fuel, I'd probably use diesel with preservative in it; I think that's good for a long time. Gasoline is not. Don't know about alcohol. I've heard that Benzene keeps really well, but unfortunately it also gives you cancer. (Didn't stop the Soviets from using it, though.)

If you have a house that uses oil heat, just remember to keep your tank topped off, and you have several hundred gallons of near-diesel right there. As long as you don't run the furnace and burn it -- stick to using it in your camp stove and lantern -- that ought to last you well into the Apocalypse.

Also, keep in mind that if you siphon the fuel from your cars, that's quite a bit of fuel; there may be more burnable hydrocarbons sitting around your house than you realize.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:46 AM on October 9, 2007

Also, honey never spoils.

But it does crystallize.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:50 AM on October 9, 2007

The minimum water storage requirement is 1344 L, a little less than 7 barrels (200L/55 gal.).

I think your best bet is a very carefully designed flow-through system, as theora55 suggests. I'd be very concerned about bacteria build-up in such a system though. If the dwell time of the water in the system exceeds 3-5 days, the chloramine in the minicipal supply ceases to be effective. At minimum, I'd want secondary purification, such as a UV sterilizer. You'll want a pre-filter system on that too, so minimum, you're looking at annual or even semi-annual maintenance. Of course, this will cost several thousand dollars to set up and a few hundred each year to maintain.

On the other hand, you could buy Aquablox, or similar, but that would cost about twice as much. The DailyKos link of gum's above, goes into the pricing in more detail.
posted by bonehead at 12:22 PM on October 9, 2007

Thanks everyone for your answers. Keep em coming! General note: I live in suburban Los Angeles.

Okay, so the consensus is that 10 year old water is probably not potable anymore. But if said 10 year old water is solar stilled, then chem filtered, and then boiled for 10 minutes, would it then be safe to drink? Or is it a "once crapwater, always crapwater" kind of deal?

bonehead: 24x2 weeks for the following reason. I have relatives who live within walking distance, and it's probably safer and more efficient for everyone to congregate at one place. Add in a handful of close neighbors, and it's pretty easy to get up to 24.

The reason 2 weeks was selected is during Katrina, aid didn't get to some parts for a week. I want an extra safety buffer. (But at the same time, I figure if _something_ is causing aid to be delayed by more than two weeks, it's time to head out of the region or die.

The corpse in the library: Most water bottles and milk cartons are now made with somewhat biodegradable plastic. Good for the environment, not so good for long term storage, cuz it will leak after a while.
posted by jytsai at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2007

jytsai writes "Okay, so the consensus is that 10 year old water is probably not potable anymore. But if said 10 year old water is solar stilled, then chem filtered, and then boiled for 10 minutes, would it then be safe to drink? Or is it a 'once crapwater, always crapwater' kind of deal?"

Solar stilling[pdf] is all you need. Heck, dirty ditch water contaminated with human sewage is safe to drink after being filtered for sediment and then distilled. Water from a known safe source (your tap ten years ago qualifies for sure) doesn't even have to be distilled just pasteurized. Personally I'd go with a chemically powered machine though (alcohol, wood, charcoal etc). You wouldn't want to be caught out in a weather disaster that involved heavy cloud cover.
posted by Mitheral at 1:34 PM on October 9, 2007

Buy 2-gallon jugs of distilled water. It's shelf-life is well over ten years. It can develop mold if it is not packaged well, but in an emergency it will be more than sufficient. You should, however, have several distillation kits as well.
posted by MaxK at 2:42 PM on October 9, 2007

Water from a known safe source (your tap ten years ago qualifies for sure) doesn't even have to be distilled just pasteurized.

That's absolutely true. It strikes me that we're going about this wrong. The figures we've all been giving in the thread are for immediately potable water, water you don't have to treat. How about storing non-potable water in the barrels (after first sterilizing it to keep growth down)? Purify at point of use, not at point of storage. You need far less infrastructure, just a filter (maybe) and some treatment option. A few bottle of household bleach would work, maybe a shallow tray and cling film for a solar still.

So, clean your barrels, sterilize the water, cap 'em and store them as dark and cold as you can. Then, come need, add the sterilizer. Much cheaper costs, but requires a little more thought and preparation on the use end.
posted by bonehead at 2:52 PM on October 9, 2007

I also live in suburban Los Angeles, and just invested in some emergency supplies, so there must be something in the air! :) I bought one of those 55 gal food safe water barrels and the tablets to keep the water good for 5 years. The darker the environment your barrel is in, the better. You could also buy one of those gravity-fed water filters to run any water through (from the barrel or not), which allows you take advantage of whatever water supplies you find. Another alternative is an ultraviolet water purifier which also gives you on the fly purification. Aside from the portable version I linked above, you can buy larger versions intended for installation in a house - you could perhaps hook one up to your multiple barrels and run the water supply from barrels through the UV filter to a faucet.
posted by Joh at 2:53 PM on October 9, 2007

Oh, and I found this site to be a pretty helpful resource, since they have lots of helpful information alongside the products they sell. Also their customer service was great. I called with a question about the 55 gallon barrel I bought from them, and they happily answered my queries.
posted by Joh at 2:59 PM on October 9, 2007

Propane and butane are very convenient, but really aren't safe for use inside.

Huh? Are you saying my propane range is unsafe for inside use?
posted by bricoleur at 5:40 PM on October 9, 2007

Agreed that storing water for 10 years is no problem if you can purify it before drinking. There is no need to chemically treat AND boil AND distill. Chose one.
Distillation will give you 100% quality, but would require lots of time or energy.
Boiling will give you very close to 100% safety, the only possible contaminants would be chemicals in the original supply (metals) or that leach out of the storage containers, but I would bet boiling would sort out the leachates and municipal water will have few metals.
The downside is you woill need a lot of fuel to boil so much drinking water (obv don't worry about water for other uses) and it is difficult and dangerous to handle hot water.
My preferred solution would be a bit of chlorine to chemically sanitize the water. This can be from unscented bleach, but I would be dubious about 10yro liquid bleach. Instead, buy a small container of granula pool chlorine. It is stable indefinitely in cool, dark, dry conditions.
All the fancier preps mentioned up thread are for people who expect their city to be Katrina'd but have no inconvenience. Yes, you could spend money and effort so you don't have to drink flat tasting water, but with luck you will never have to try! I agree the lazy way is a better option.
As others have mentioned, there is typically a lot of fuel around a normal house, just make sure you have a way of using it for cooking and lighting (like multi-fuel stoves & lamps).
Finally, I am curious about what you are doing for food storage. While canned food will still be reasonably nutricious (minor vitamin degradation) and safe if the can is not damaged, everything I have read indicates palatability will suffer after a decade.
Also, non-canned food with any fat content will be long rancid. What will your big crew be eating? Or is long pig on the menu, hence the big crew ;-)
posted by bystander at 6:59 PM on October 9, 2007

bystander wrote "Finally, I am curious about what you are doing for food storage. While canned food will still be reasonably nutricious (minor vitamin degradation) and safe if the can is not damaged, everything I have read indicates palatability will suffer after a decade."

Food is less of an issue as water and fuel. First of all, aside from a few of our elderly neighbors, most of us are healthy and won't be hurt by reduced caloric intake. Secondly, most people have about 1 week's worth of food in their house, in the form of perishables, canned goods, and dried goods. (In our case, there's a pretty big selection of garden vegetables too.) To supplement this will be MREs, nitrogen packed, and freeze dried foods.

Perishables will be consumed first (along with MREs as needed), and then then we will move on to the nonperishables. Since we have such a large party, we can efficiently use the large "serves 12" sized MRE entrees, saving considerably on cost. Add to that a sprinkling of personal sized MREs, in case people need to trek out to do stuff, and need food on the go. MREs will last about 5-7 years based on my storage conditions. Not quite 10 years, and kind of expensive, but it's of such high tactical value that it's worth it. (I would imagine that MREs would be great for buying goodwill/help or for bartering a few days after things go south.)

Nitrogen packed staple goods, such as grains and pastas, can be stored for surprisingly long periods - on the order of decades - if it is kept cool and dry. That will be providing the bulk of our calories. As some have mentioned above, honey will be pretty important too. A 5 gallon bucket of honey (surprisingly cheap; I found a place that sells it for $65) will provide filler calories and good taste as well. Plus honey never goes bad, due to antimicrobial chemicals and low water content. People can live with crystallized honey. There are also freeze dried, nitrogen packed foods from a variety of suppliers (1, 2, 3) that sell products that last for 10-30 years. We're talking about stuff from eggs, powdered milk, veggies, fruit, a wide selection of entre├ęs, and even meats (I think I saw a #10 can of freeze dried pork chops in there some where). Of course freeze dried means it just makes the water consumption greater.

If I had more information, a bigger budget, and more storage space, I'd probably get all LDS on the food issue.
posted by jytsai at 8:08 PM on October 9, 2007

Huh? Are you saying my propane range is unsafe for inside use?

No, I'm saying that mobile propane/butane camp stoves and barbecues aren't particularly safe indoors. During the 1998 icestorm event, we had a number of house fires in Ontario because of barbecue use indoors.
posted by bonehead at 8:16 PM on October 9, 2007

Generally it's a really bad idea to use portable stoves indoors, as they can kill you by carbon monoxide poisoning.
posted by Jakob at 3:57 AM on October 10, 2007

It's a bad idea to use portable stoves for heating indoors. But I can't see how a propane camp stove is going to generate any more carbon monoxide than its kitchen-range counterpart, provided both are used solely for cooking. I would not hesitate to use a propane camp stove to cook in the house, if it was situated in a safe place.

As to the house fires bonehead mentions, I don't think the important causal agent was the propane. More likely, it was the usual: human stupidity. Some idiot probably backed the grill up against a wall or the drapes. Those things aren't heat shielded like a kitchen range is.
posted by bricoleur at 6:03 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

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