How should I store water at my house?
October 4, 2017 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I want to store at least 60 gallons of drinking water at my house, for earthquake or other emergency prep. What's the best way to do that?

This is aside from water found in toilet tanks, the hot water heater, etc. Right now I have a whole lot of plastic bottles, which is annoying because they take up a lot of room and they last only a few years. I'd like something that's refillable with a garden hose (I would be fine emptying it yearly).

It occasionally freezes in the winter where I am, so I would think that storing the water outside wouldn't work -- but some neighbors I spoke to said they keep theirs outside in a big tank and it's fine? I don't see how that's possible; any thoughts on that? Being able to store it in the yard would be great, if possible. Otherwise it'll be in the garage.
posted by The corpse in the library to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I go to Home Depot or the grocery store, since it's a common thing around here, and buy a bunch of 5 gallon water bottles. They're sealed, they're ready to go, and you can put rocks in your garage to store them. Use them up regularly, and replace them regularly, take one out use it, replace it.

You'll have to pay deposit on the bottles and usually can only exchange them where you bought them, that is, another Home Depot.

Alternatively, there is a food chain called firehouse subs. They sell used food grade 5 gallon buckets sometimes with lids, for a two dollar donation each.

I only keep for five bottles around, and change them out every June 1. At the start of our hurricane season. They fit in the bottom of the closet. Very big closet, but a closet.

If you're going to be refilling the water, I get a small hose that runs from the sink. You're not going to be perfect with garden hose water. But I'm also paranoid. Either way if you want to have a way to disinfect them as well.
posted by tilde at 10:29 AM on October 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

You could also just install a tank somewhere in your water system, ideally toward the top
of your house. Something like this would be a basically maintenance free way to have a additional water storage.
posted by rockindata at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Emergency Essentials website is a great place to see the different options and has pretty good prices. Water storage options are here.
posted by saradarlin at 11:26 AM on October 4, 2017

neighbors I spoke to said they keep theirs outside in a big tank and it's fine? I don't see how that's possible

You just leave enough empty space for it to freeze as it expands. If there's lots of water, it will take some time to freeze solid.

You can get 30-50 gallon barrels many places. Keep in mind that water is heavy so once it's even partially full you won't be able to move it, so put them where you want them indefinitely and have a pump to put it into more manageable containers. Also, if it's frozen solid, it won't do you any good for drinking water - you need to have some inside as well if you're getting very low temperatures.

You'll want to sanitize your barrels when you empty them.

Are you certain you need 60 gallons? The usual rule of thumb for emergencies is 1 gallon/person/day.
posted by Candleman at 11:37 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lead is common in garden hoses. Something to keep in mind.

The larger the body of water, the longer it's going to take to freeze. Water in an icecube tray will turn into icecubes long before all the water freezes in a large tank.
posted by aniola at 11:42 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: > Are you certain you need 60 gallons? The usual rule of thumb for emergencies is 1 gallon/person/day.

I've heard from more than one source that we should be trying to get a month's worth of supplies here as earthquake prep, and I've got a family of four plus an elderly neighbor. Sixty gallons seems like a good compromise. I'm open to other ideas.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

15 gallon food-safe water barrels. If you're going to keep them outside, don't fill them all the way. The same company sells 55 gallon water barrels, but they'll be hard to move. Be sure to get the tap hardware.
posted by anastasiav at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2017

This is a minor fix, but if you can seasonally, you can fill the clean jars with water and store them as you empty them -- they take up just as much space empty and full, and when you're canning again you can use the stored water for processing.
posted by clew at 12:25 PM on October 4, 2017

These are what my wife and I store our emergency water in. We change it out twice a year, and rotate through them when we go camping. The spigot is handy.
posted by Sternmeyer at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

My family in PR used a large outdoor tank and it is the only thing saving their part of the neighborhood. A++ would recommend.
posted by corb at 12:49 PM on October 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

Something to consider doing is, if you have a partly full deep freeze, put a flat or two of 500ml disposable bottles of water in the bottom of it. It will give you a few extra gallons and will also extend the length of time the deep freeze stays cold if power is lost, giving you time to eat or move the contents. I buy a few extra cases of bottled water when I see it on a deep sale (usually less than 2$ for 24 bottles), and store it in a dark cool cellar I have. I try and rotate it as we do use some bottled water, but consider it just a cheap investment in having on hand if needed. For 45$ or so, you could have 60 gallons of it on hand in presealed small containers, with a multi year shelf life (it tastes plasticy after years, but FDA suggest its safe to drink basically indefinitely)
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 12:54 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

You could put in a food grade water barrel, and have water coming in to it at the top, and going out, so that it would always be fresh. basically inserting the barrel in line. Water doesn't really go bad, it just gets stale, but most people do refresh water supplies at least annually. I store some water, not a lot, in 2 liter soda bottles. You might be able to get the crates they store them in at the warehouse. You can squeeze them, then seal, to give water room to expand when it freezes. It expands a fair amount. I rely on having bleach in case I need to purify water, but, honestly, I'm hoping I have adequate beer.

Another thing to consider - water is a heat sink. If it's in an area of the house that is kept cool or heated, you are also cooling and heating the water. Some people in Maine use bottles of water to store solar heat during the day, releasing it at night.

Part of your prepping is for an elderly neighbor. Might they have some storage space?
posted by theora55 at 2:03 PM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

perspective from someone who lives in a state with a hurricane & tsunami track record and has conducted intro-level trainings on disaster preparedness with the red cross: for most disasters you have some lead time (hours if not days) so for 60 gallons+ you can fill up a water storage bladder as needed (the one that the red cross staff recommended could be kept in a bathtub, here are examples of larger options). it's a good option for people who don't have a lot of room for tanks.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:54 PM on October 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've heard from more than one source that we should be trying to get a month's worth of supplies here as earthquake prep

Tap water is cheap enough that it's not problematic to be overstocked with it as long as you have space, but if that's a scenario you want to be prepared for, you might also want to consider stocking enough gas that you could drive out. If things are truly that fucked, you're going to want to evacuate if you can. That's trickier though, as gas does go bad faster and can't safely be stored in or near the house.

If you do go the water barrel method, what I use to sterilize them is Starsan. You can find it at homebrew stores.
posted by Candleman at 2:55 PM on October 4, 2017

I wouldn't be comfortable keeping the entire drinking water supply in one container, if something goes wrong with that container it's all gone. What if something falls on it in the earthquake?

5 gallon bottles are small enough to lift, which is nice. I have one that I've had for about 15 or 20 years now. Store plastic in a dark place if you want it to last -- if your outdoor container is plastic, it will get brittle in the sun and break.
posted by yohko at 3:52 PM on October 4, 2017

I use the WaterBrick for my emergency water supplies. They hold 3.5 gallons each, so you'd need 18 of them for your 60 gallons. They stack very nicely for storage.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:00 AM on October 5, 2017

If you anticipate having access to a non-potable source of water like a pond or municipal water from a broken line, a Lifesaver Jerry Can or a Katadyn Pro can filter huge amounts of water, takes up much less space than 60 single gallon jugs, and is also portable in case you have to evacuate.
posted by muirne81 at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2017

I also use WaterBrick and they fit under my couch, under my bed, and in various other places so that I can keep them in the house rather than in the garage. I found them easy to wash and fill and they are very space efficient. I've been pleased with the purchase.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:07 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

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