How do you store emergency water in a small apartment AND avoid leaks?
January 30, 2017 8:44 AM   Subscribe

For a family of four, it is recommended to have 28 gallons of water on hand in case of emergencies. This is...challenging in a small NYC apartment. And the water I was storing leaked and rotted out the bottom of the cabinet. How do I solve these problems?

I stored four gallons of water in a low cabinet, didn't check on them for a season or so, and then discovered they had leaked and cultivated an impressive display of mold in one of our low kitchen cabinets. How does one store enough water for a family of four and NOT have it leak? We have limited space (one closet, and kitchen cabinets already very full). Under the bed also crammed with stuff. Any ideas?
posted by pipti to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's necessary to store four gallons of water in any city where you can get to more than 3 stores in under 10 minutes. If a disaster strikes in NYC, it is vanishingly unlikely that you won't have enough warning to fill all your pots and cups from the tap, or duck out to a shop and lug home a few cases of bottled water.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:49 AM on January 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

Rinse out some 2-liter pop bottles. You'll want to replace the water in them every 6 months or so to keep it fresh, but their whole purpose in life is to store liquids for significant periods of time.
posted by praemunire at 8:51 AM on January 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have stored water in 2 liter pop bottles, as praemunire suggested, and in leftover bleach bottles, and none of them have ever leaked. I've thought of using 1 gallon milk jugs, because I go through a lot of milk, but I haven't done it yet. The milk jugs seem a lot more fragile than the pop bottles, but I haven't done any testing.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:58 AM on January 30, 2017

As mentioned above, stored water does not keep indefinitely. Here is some guidance from FEMA.

As an extra measure, you may want to consider purchasing a LifeStraw, because it may be that you have access to water, but not access to clean, safe water.
posted by slipthought at 8:58 AM on January 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

If the tap water in NYC goes bad, I'd very much like to not fight a million neighbors for water at the bodega that day.

If you don't like the re-use idea, canned water and bagged water both exist for just this purpose. I have no brand to recommend, just google /canned water/ or /bagged water/ or /emergency water/.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:59 AM on January 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

You could get five of those 5 gallon jugs and a dispenser. Use 4 filled ones and a plywood top as a coffee table, and one filled one in the dispenser. Use your tap to refill them, and rotate them so the stored water is fresh.
posted by Marky at 9:05 AM on January 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you've got a bathtub you can get a waterBOB, it's a 100 gallon storage bag meant to be attached to a bathtub facet. The plan is you'll have enough warning to fill it up while there's still water, like when the first storm warning comes in. It arrives compressed so it won't take up much room.
posted by lepus at 9:05 AM on January 30, 2017 [17 favorites]

I got a bunch of these Waterbricks (and split an order of ten with some friends). They're stacked against the wall by the kitchen table, and under the desk, with plenty of room for other things (like my feet).
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:19 AM on January 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Agreeing with storage in five gallon jugs; keep a couple and cycle through them regularly.

As for the tub, I use a combo of two heavy duty buckets and a slicing pot lid to keep it filled and plugged without resorting to duct tape. Kept out tub full for two weeks after Matthew (it wA the first time we tried it and wanted to see if it would last)
posted by tilde at 9:22 AM on January 30, 2017

First, another vote that I think storing at least a few gallons of drinking water is worth it - I also live in the city and don't store as much water as you're thinking of but I 100% agree that you do not want to fight all your neighbors for water if there is a water emergency. I did not enjoy the 2010 Boston Water Emergency at all; there was a ridiculous amount of bottled-water hoarding and that was just for a boil-water emergency - water still came in through the pipes.

Second - what were you storing the water in before and do you have any idea how/why it started to leak? What stored water I do have is just the cheapest bottled water from the grocery store; once or twice a year we use it up camping and then replace it. I used to keep a case of bottled water in my car but stopped doing that due to leakage issues; I think that was mostly due to extreme hot and cold temps.
posted by mskyle at 9:25 AM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mskyle: I was keeping one-gallon jugs of bottled water that I bought at the CVS. It's possible I wouldn't have the same problem if I discarded and replaced every six months, who knows. And there are extremes of hot and cold in our apartment too, which didn't help, I'm sure.
posted by pipti at 9:31 AM on January 30, 2017

Rigid water containers - like Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer or Aqua-Pak (which can be stacked). A 7 gallon unit is big enough to be useful but small enough you can still carry it, although heavy at about 30 kilos (65 lbs). 3 units will run you about 60$.

There is a surprisingly comprehensive and better than average emergency guide over at Sweethome that covers water storage and more.
posted by zenon at 9:33 AM on January 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

What about storing the bottles inside a hard sided cooler or even a Rubbermaid tub that fits in the cabinet? It doesn't need to keep them cold, just contain the water until you notice it.
posted by soelo at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Red Cross recommends soda bottles. I have used them in come cases for years, no leaks. I don't change out the water,stale water is okay.
posted by theora55 at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Milk-type jugs will leak. I bought grocery-store branded spring water in those HDPE jugs and had the same leakage you did. So don't do that.
posted by pupsocket at 10:08 AM on January 30, 2017

Could you rig up some way to store them on top of your bathtub or above a sink? That way if they do leak the water'll just go down the drain.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2017

slicing pot lid

SILICONE pot lid
posted by tilde at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2017

One gallon vinegar jugs (saved from pickling and cleaning) are very sturdy. They are several years
old and have never leaked. Every six months I use the water for laundry and refill them.
posted by Botanizer at 11:46 AM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I store water by buying the 24/500ml bottle flat packs. The advantage there is that even of 1-2 leak, it is not a catastrophic loss. They are stored in the bottom back of a closet, and although they may get a plasticy taste, they are safe to drink for a Loooooong time. I have yet to have a bottle leak out the bottom. If you are concerned about leakage place them on top of something like a boot tray, which will catch 1-2 bottles worth of leakage. This isn't the cheapest/densest way to store water, but its a fairly simple one.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 11:50 AM on January 30, 2017

Depending on the construction of your bed you can put a layer of bottled water (the PET plastic, 500ml size still in the case wrappers) between the foundation and the bottom of the mattress. This is how I stored my earthquake supply when I was renting a bedroom in a share house.

Commercially bottled water in the 500ml size generally has an expiry date several years out if kept away from UV. The water itself doesn't go bad instead the bottle degrades during that time. Personally I wouldn't sweat drinking water several years past it's expiry date if it was kept in a cool dry place.

Really you can stack cases of bottled water up anywhere you have room: a layer on the bottom of the closet; on a sturdy shelf above the toilet; under the kitchen sink; etc.

I've never seen a PET bottle leak and I've stored thousands of bottles for up to six months at a time in warehouses (I worked at a resort stocking vending machines and we used to buy pallets of water at a single time to last us through the summer or winter).

And as emergency water the 500ml size is easily portable and distribuatable. You also don't lose multiple litres/gallons at a time is a single container leaks or gets tipped over.

NYC is undoubtedly different but here the cheapest place to buy them are home improvement borgs in the spring and summer. They often go on sale for as little as $3 for a 24.
posted by Mitheral at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2017

Same thing happened to me with 1 gallon jugs (supermarket house brand). I now use crates of small water bottles and they've been fine so far. That, or the large jugs you can get for water coolers (PET type material, I think).
posted by The Toad at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2017

And there are extremes of hot and cold in our apartment too, which didn't help, I'm sure.

I was going to say... do you have a drip catcher for condensation? That'll contribute to rot, too.
posted by clawsoon at 12:16 PM on January 30, 2017

"I don't think it's necessary to store four gallons of water in any city where you can get to more than 3 stores in under 10 minutes. If a disaster strikes in NYC, it is vanishingly unlikely that you won't have enough warning to fill all your pots and cups from the tap, or duck out to a shop and lug home a few cases of bottled water."

This is a bad attitude. The idea that you shouldn't be prepared for emergencies with even basic supplies because "oh, the stores will always be open" is going to bite you hard if that's what you're expecting. After Hurricane Sandy tons of people had no power, no heat, no gas, no lights. If their water was running, there was no way to ensure that it was clean. Gas stations were empty. It was bad.

FEMA suggests:
Having an ample supply of clean water is a top priority in an emergency. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts (half gallon) of water each day. People in hot environments, children, nursing mothers, and ill people will require even more.

You will also need water for food preparation and hygiene. Store at least one gallon per person, per day. Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.

If supplies run low, never ration water. Drink the amount you need today, and try to find more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.
posted by I-baLL at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

However you decide to store water, you can make a very simple leak sensor to give you some more peace of mind. (I like leaving these around under all my plumbing, in fact.)
posted by clew at 2:09 PM on January 30, 2017

Put a tray under the water bottles to catch any leaks in the future? Replace every 6 months.
posted by Toddles at 8:58 PM on January 30, 2017

Slipthought mentioned the LifeStraw above. Check your local outdoor outfitter or other general stores with camping supplies for water purification methods, since clear water does not equal clean water when taken from sources outside municipal water supplies. Also, check chemical purification methods, such as regular, unscented household bleach.
posted by TrishaU at 10:18 PM on January 30, 2017

Thanks everyone. All of of these answers were helpful--I'll use some combo of solutions, starting with waterbricks for at home and the water pouches referenced in the Sweethome article for the go-bags. Empty soda bottles and bleach are probably good to have in the go-bags too. Thanks all.
posted by pipti at 6:05 AM on January 31, 2017

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