Emergency water is important but before treatment we need to ensure that it is properly stored. There are as many storage containers as there are treatment methods, and knowing which one to use will help improve the quality of your water both for daily use and emergencies.
The lack of preparation in most homes in terms of emergency water is unsettling. A poll revealed the majority of households don’t even have the 3-day water stockpile that FEMA recommends. Droughts, storms, floods and other natural disasters can cause water shortages.
As you can imagine, living without running water is a huge challenge, particularly if there’s more than 2 or 3 people in the household, and especially if you have toddlers. Homesteading accidents happen all the time, and sickness is a constant, and so both of these situations require clean water.
Where to Store It
Water is best stored using the following guidelines:
- In cool, dark places.
- Away from toxic chemicals, cleaning agents, solvents, gasoline and other liquids.
- Some say you should never store water directly on cement floors.
- Part of your stockpile should be in containers you can easily transport in an emergency.
- In an easily accessible place.
Can I Store Water in Any Container?
The short answer is no. Drinking water needs to be stored in food-grade containers only.
There’s a big misconception that any plastic container works. Take a look at the label and let’s see what the acronyms mean.
Plastics safe for food and drink:
HDPE– a hard, opaque, food grade container certified by the USDA, FDA and NSF. Food grade blue water storage barrels and containers are typical examples, but it’s also used in milk cartons and baby toys.
LDPE – thermoplastic made of petroleum that is generally used to make shopping bags, juice and milk cartons.
PP – Highly resistant to heat and moisture, these containers are used to store: yogurt, margarine, microwavable plastic containers, and kitchen containers among other things
Plastic water bottles and soft drink containers:
PETE – Contains antimony, a toxic chemical that is released when the bottle is kept in the heat for a period of time. It is intended for one-time use only and is typically used to store:
- Household cleaning agents
- Salad dressing
- Soft drinks
- Peanut butter
Plastics that are unsafe:
PVC – Made using phthalates which allow the plastic to be soft and flexible. Because of this, it’s hazardous to human health. It is used to make shower curtains, waterbeds, pool toys, and clothing.
PS – A petroleum-based plastic not suitable for water storage. It is normally used to make egg cartons, CD cases, disposable cutlery and cups. Avoid using containers made from this material, as long-term use has been attributed to be a cause of cancer. Plastic cups and restaurant packaging should be avoided.
BPA Plastics – These are not considered safe for human consumption. Such containers should be avoided for water storage, but if that’s all you have, make sure you boil or use some other way to purify it.
Water needs to be stored in either:
- Metalized bags
- BPA-free water storage barrels
- Food grade plastic containers
Larger quantities can be stored in:
- Poly Tanks
- Ponds or other reservoirs,
- Swimming pools
All water should be purified and filtered of any chemicals, sediments, toxins, bacteria and viruses.
Watch these videos on how to check which containers are fit for water storage use.
Water does not expire but improperly properly stored it can become contaminated. They key here is storing water in a cool, dark place, where there’s the least amount of chance that bacteria could develop.
Commercial bottled water does have an expiration date, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should believe it will keep indefinitely. There may be toxins leaking in the water but, again, that may or may not be the case.
Water purification methods include:
- Reverse osmosis
- UV treatment
- Chemical treatment
- …and more.
If you’re storing water in food safe containers, then you should certainly purify it before sealing.
If you store water in containers that may not be safe to drink then there is no point purifying it as it will become contaminated when you want to use it. Instead store it as is and then purify it before drinking. A good example is using your swimming pool to store water. So purify swimming pool water only when you’re ready to use it, since it’ll get exposed to bacteria and other toxins anyway.
A couple of great videos below that speak about water purification in relation to storage.
Ok, now that we got all of that out of the way, let’s talk about all the different ways you can store your water.
Bottled water is easy to store as it is already packaged and machine sealed to avoid contamination. It also has an expiry date and you can check from time to time in order to rotate your stored bottled water stock. General water storage rules i.e. those mentioned in ideal conditions for water storage should be adhered to when storing bottled water.
Purchasing bottled water meant for long-term water storage is a good idea, because they the bottles are lightweight, shockproof and mobile.
Here is a video with more bottled water tips:
Water bricks are specifically designed for long-term water storage. Most water containers are either too fragile and their irregular shaped making it a challenge to stack them on top of each other.
5-gallon containers are opaque blue to deflect UV rays and prevent bacteria growth. They are made of food grade plastic so you do not have to worry about any chemicals from the plastic contaminating your water.
Water bricks aim to solve these and many other water storage challenges:
- They have a capacity of 3.5 gallons. That is enough water for one person to cook, drink and maintain sanitation for about 4 days in cold weather and 2 days in hot weather.
- Water bricks are made from industrial heavy-duty certified food grade, HDPE plastics. The service life of this plastic is 15 years. Also due to the rugged nature of this plastic, it can withstand rough handling and harsh conditions.
- Water bricks can be used for multiple storage purposes. It has another compartment that can be used to store dry food and ammunition.
- The seal is a heavy-duty gasket that prevents leaking. Leaking is a major problem for other water storage containers.
- Water bricks are designed to be portable. In an emergency, it is easy to throw a couple of them in the back of a truck without fear of damage.
- For easy decanting, water bricks have a wide spout and can be fitted with other accessories like a plastic tap or spigot.
- You can store other things inside, such as food and even ammo.
At 1 gallon of water per person per day (that’s the minimum you should have for emergencies), these containers can provide you with a 5 to 6 days’ supply. 8 bricks will store 40 gallons of water, handily solving your immediate water stockpile needs.
You can buy a spigot for these bricks from Amazon
The only real disadvantage of water bricks is the cost, but it goes down when you buy in quantity.
I’d also like to see this product with a larger capacity. Unless you have many of these water bricks, it is not a very practical long-term water storage solution for a great quantity of H20.
Instead of storing water in bottles, hydration backpacks are great for hiking, camping, and bug-out situations.
- Most backpacks can be fitted with a bladder with adequate drinking water requirements for the day. Larger capacity of the backpacks bladders makes them more convenient than water bottles.
- Hydration backpacks also have some cool features like the ability to keep liquids cool for about 5-6 hours.
- The easy-to-use drinking pipe lets you drink while on the go instead of having to stop and reach for your bottle every time.
- They are made not to leak. When your pipes are connected properly, even while carrying out a vigorous activity you should have no leaks. Bottles, on the other hand, are prone to leaking.
- The backpack can also be used to store other things like a flashlight, matches, and food rations.
- They are expensive compared to water bottles.
- Loosely connected pipes could leak and damage the rest of your contents, not to mention you’ll be left without water.
- They are difficult to clean, and will readily host mold, mildew and bacteria if not scrupulously cleaned and dried.
Pillow tanks come in various sizes, from 25 gallons all the way to 250,000 gallons. Before you buy one know the following:
- Pillow tanks are made to either store drinking water or grey water. Grey water being the kind you wouldn’t drink, but could use to water your garden, flush the toilet and so on.
- Store your tank on a flat service where there is no danger of anything falling on it.
- Pillow tanks can be stored outside and can withstand extreme temperatures between -58F to 180F, making them ideal for outdoor or wilderness survival.
- Placing a liner or plastic under these tanks before storage increases their lifespan.
- Because they are wide, they can be stored in tight spaces such as underneath furniture. Taller water tank solutions like barrels cannot be stored this way. It also makes it easy to carry in the car if you have to bug out.
- You can sleep on them if need be.
If you need water from a large pillow tank, use a water suction pump; some models can dispense up to 340 gallons per minute.
An average size bathtub holds about 100 gallons of water. It’s already meant to hold water, so the main concern that can be raised here is contamination.
If you are storing water for bathing, cooking and cleaning then a bathtub does not need any special protection or liner other than a cover if you want to be extra cautious.
You will also need to test your bathtub in advance to ensure that it can hold water for a prolonged period, and fix any issues, such as replacing the stopper. Because bathtub stoppers will let some water seep into the drain, making or installing a liner for your bathtub is a good idea. This will also improve the quality of the water.
To make a bathtub liner follow these steps:
- Using clear plastic sheets cover your bathtub letting the cut ends protrude out of the bathtub.
- Next stabilize the plastic with heavy objects.
- Fill your bathtub as usual.
- You can add another layer of plastic to as a cover. This will partially protect your water from debris, dust and bacteria.
- Remember to always treat your water with chlorine before storing long term.
A waterBOB is a form of plastic water storage bag specifically designed to be used inside the bathtub, and solves our issues with bacteria on the tub itself. Some key points:
- It can hold up to 100 gallons in your bathtub, safe and drinkable.
- Simply attach the plastic inlet to the tap and fill with water.
- The waterBOB takes only 30 minutes to fill and it is reasonably price.
- It already has a siphon pump built in.
- The plastic inlet and outlet are sealed with airtight lids which means there’s almost no chance of your water being contaminated.
- It is made of food-grade plastic so you do not need to worry about your water contamination.
A word of caution on waterBOBs:
- They are made to only be used one time.
- They are easily damaged. A slight puncture in the will result in a leak.
In times of emergency, products like the waterBOB become scarce on Amazon and elsewhere, and as I write they are currently out of stock due to the number of fires and natural disasters America has been experiencing.
An alternative to this solution can be garbage bags, discussed later in this article.
During times of water shortage, one of the most difficult things to do is get a decent shower. Portable showers overcome this challenge and are a great way of storing and dispensing water to ensure you maintain good hygiene during a water crisis or a shortage.
The benefits of portable showers:
- They come in different sizes and therefore you can store between 3-15 gallons in their tanks. This should give you about 1- 2 minutes of shower time per tank.
- Some portable showers can be hooked to a 12-volt battery for hot water, while others come with their own batteries and power supply.
The downsides are:
- The small tank capacity makes it difficult for several successive people to shower.
- Some may need a separate power source to operate.
You can watch a video here how these portable showers work
Water barrels are meant to hold larger quantities of water than the 3 to 5 gallon containers we talked about. The usual sizes are:
- 15 gallons
- 30 Gallons
- 55 Gallons
- 160 Gallons
Purchase quantities and sizes according to the number of people that you have in your group or family. Again using the rate of 1 (or even 1.5) gallons per person per day, these tanks are meant to store water for at least 14 days.
15 gallons – 1 person
30 gallons – 2 people
55 gallons – 3-4 people
160 gallons – 12 people
Water barrels are usually blue, anti-bacterial and UV resistant. Their hard plastic material and cylindrical shape makes it possible for them to be rolled on the ground. Like other plastic containers, they should never be stored directly on a cement floor. Instead keep them on metal or wooden pallets. Because they are so heavy when filled, they should be handled with care.
These barrels also have great accessories that accompany them. Getting the water out can be a pain because of their size and shape, and because the hole is located right at the top. For this reason, get a pump. Water can be pumped from these barrels to refill smaller 5-gallon containers for easy distribution.
Here is a great video that talks more about water barrels, including about how to keep them clean and sanitary:
Rain barrels are an excellent way of storing rainwater. For every 1 inch of rain that falls on 500 square feet of your roof, you can collect 300 gallons of water. In most areas, you will be able to collect between 800 to 1200 gallons every year, which translates to enough water for a family of 4 for over 2 months.
- Rain water is 100% free, so it’s an obvious money saver.
- Once your rainwater harvesting system is set up, you just sit back and watch how the rain water starts collecting into the tanks.
- It reduces the amount of soil that is washed away from your property, thus you reduce the chances of a mudslide.
- Rooftop caught rainwater may contain bacteria and debris. Rainwater therefore needs to be filtered and purified before drinking it, though some people report being able to drink it without doing that. Better safe than sorry!
- It could be costly to install a rain collection system if you do not have rain gutters already in place.
Here is a video of making a 220-gallon water barrel rainwater collection system. You can extend or reduce the number of barrels depending on your water requirements.
You can also buy readymade rain collection barrels.
Poly Water Tanks
Poly water tanks are made of polythene, a material which has many advantages:
- They are lightweight, and easy to move around in case of an emergency.
- Poly is much cheaper than steel.
- They come in different shapes and sizes, therefore you can find one that will fit perfectly in your storage area.
- Some translucent tanks allow you to see the water level inside.
- Poly tanks are durable and will last a long time.
- They have no seams or joints, so they typically won’t leak if not damaged.
- Poly is rust and corrosion free.
Poly horizontal tanks are available in different lengths and sizes, and are easy to move about when empty. Here is a video explaining the different types:
The Romotech horizontal tanks come in capacities from 65 to 550 gallons depending on your needs. It is made from translucent plastic and is clearly marked with the amount of water in the tank.
Pick-up Truck WaterTanks
A pickup truck tank is made to fit into the back of a pickup truck. Useful if you need to move water over a long distance, like when you expect to bug out with your vehicle for a longer period of time. You need to make sure that your truck is able to bear the weight of the water before installing a water tank, as water is very heavy!
Vertical water tanks
These tanks stand upright and come in different shapes and sizes and for various uses. Here are some features of vertical tanks
- Vertical tanks have an outlet that is right at the tip of the cone to ensure all the water is drained.
- Induction cone-shaped tanks also do not need any type of pump to draw the water out since the force of gravity will allow the water drain on its own.
- Because the seal is at the bottom, it’s difficult to close
- Its cone shape does not allow it to stand independently, so it requires a tank stand.
The most common vertical tank is the induction cone bottom tank.
A video talking about them:
IBC water tanks
IBC or industrial bulk containers can also be used to store water. The main advantage they have is that they are normally placed in a steel- cage. This makes them easy to lift using a forklift.
These tanks can be used for multiple purposes but are not normally food grade. They therefore should only be used to collect untreated and unpurified water.
If you are buying one-second hand, make sure that it has not been used to store chemicals or fuel (as this is their main use) and such a used container is never suitable for potable water storage!
Stainless steel tanks can also be used for water storage. They come in different shapes and sizes. One that suits your homestead should be selected carefully as they are not cheap.
Why you would want to use stainless steel tanks:
- Stainless steel tanks are more durable than plastic ones.
- They are fire resistant and an ideal way to store water in places that are fire hazards.
- These tanks are the healthiest way to store water. No rust, algae or other unwanted bacteria can grow or contaminate your water. For this reason, it is used to store water for medical purposes.
- Because stainless steel tanks are heavy, they are harder to steal if kept outside.
- The finish ensures that the temperature of the water remains constant even when exposed to direct sunlight.
- They can store purified water for a longer period of time than other types of tanks.
On the other hand…
- Stainless steel tanks are difficult to handle and install.
- Stainless steel tanks have a high initial cost investment compared to plastic tanks.
- In most cases, you will want to place your tank on a stand which is another added cost.
A video that explains the difference between stainless steel water bottles and plastic water bottles:
Even though water from your swimming pool is not safe to drink, it can be a very good storage place for large quantities of water.
Converting your swimming pool into a rainwater tank
Some people decide to convert their swimming pool into a rainwater tank to collect and store water. When their kids are out of the house, they seldom use the pool and it is more useful as a water collection and storage facility.
If you decide to do it, here are some tips:
- Remove all unwanted pool systems like filters, coping, diving boards and electrical lines.
- You will most likely need a professional tank expert to check if your pool needs lining, leveling or sealing to be able to hold water more effectively.
- Pipes may need to be installed that will channel collected water to the swimming pools from collection points like your roof. In this case, your roof will also need to be inspected and cleaned.
- You may need to install pumps to collect rainwater from underground and to pump it up to your swimming pool.
- A pool cover may need to be installed to prevent debris from falling into the pool. It is common practice to pour a concrete slab or place steel sheeting over your pool. A garden or lawn can be grown above this so it does not look out of place.
Figure out how much water your pool can hold. This calculation method is not restricted to swimming pools. You can use it to determine the size of other water storage solutions like tanks, dams, plastic and metal containers.
Multiply the length by width and by average depth. This will give you the total number of cubic meters of your tanks. Each cubic meter can hold 7.5 gallons. When you multiply the total cubic meters by 7.5 then you will get the total holding capacity in gallons.
Other water storage ideas
Here are a few unconventional water storage ideas that can be used as a last resort, or in an emergency.
Mainly used for storing feed and water for livestock, if you have such a tank you could convert it into a water storage tank. You may want to line this tank with plastic similar to the method used to line a bathtub. You need to be careful to ensure that if you have animals you build a barrier around your stock tank to prevent them from trying to drink your water.
To get an idea of what a stock tank is and what it is used for please watch the video below.
Water can also be stored in garbage bags. Remember that water is heavy and you may only want to fill then to about ¼ of their capacity. Trying to move these garbage bags filled with water may also be not a good idea, as they will easily tear from the weight. This method is only suitable for short-term water storage. Tying your garbage the mouth of your garbage bag with sting will also ensure that you don’t lose your water.
Here is a video that also mentions how you can store water with garbage bags
Glass jars and containers
Water can also be stored in garbage bags. Remember that water is heavy and you may only want to fill then to about a quarter of their capacity. Trying to move these garbage bags filled with water can be challenging, as they are cumbersome and will easily tear from the weight. This method is only suitable for short-term water storage. Tying the mouth of your garbage bag with string will also ensure that you don’t lose your water.
Here is a video that also mentions how you can store water with garbage bags.
Kiddie pools are also a good idea to store water. Because their plastic is not made from food grade material, these pools should only be used for storing untreated water. You may want to consider covering your pool with landscape fabric to keep debris away. I would recommend filling several water bobs and storing them in your kiddie pool.
Already designed to store water, a geyser or water heater can be a good source of water. You may want to consider turning it off after you use the water stored inside as leaving it on will burn the water-heating element
Since water is heated in your geyser, it will kill bacteria. Further purification may be needed if in case of chemical or heavy metal contamination.
Here is a great video that speaks about your water heater in relation to emergencies and water storage.
An unusual place to store water is in a waterbed. The water in these beds needs to be replaced every 6 months. Adding a cup of chlorine to it will ensure that it remains safe for use. In an emergency, you may have to resort to using this water so keeping this in mind may come in handy.
Canoe or Kayak
Canoes and kayaks can be used to store water because they are waterproof vessels by nature. Be sure to purify the water before use and support the vessel from tipping over with some type of stand or bracing. Adding a plastic liner will allow you to have better quality water. You may also want to place a cover over this makeshift tank. This method of water storage can be used in extreme situations and emergencies.
A cooler is also a good place to store water as it can keep it cool for a longer period of time. Get one that’s BPA free and whose plastic is made from food grade material.
Storing water is something that every homesteader should do. Remember to always keep at least a 2 week supply of usable water, and always have a reliable source of water as a back-up.
I hope that you will find solutions described above both practical and helpful. Not all the methods that have been described above will be suitable for every household. Pick the ones that are suited for your unique situation and budget.
How are you currently storing water? How much of do you have on hand? Let me know in the comments!