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This is a re-post of an article I published earlier in September of 2013. The actual experiment was done then. I simply updated it and made it easier to read for this Prep-101 series.
Welcome to Prep-101! This is Month #2 (Emergency Water), Chapter #6. You can find links to lots of other posts on emergency water here and details on the entire course here. You can also follow me (and others) as we progress through this course by joining the Prep-101 Facebook group.
Nothing! Just read my story below (it is long, so just reading it is an assignment in itself). If you feel a need to adjust anything in your emergency water plans, do it!
Wow! So, I turned off our running water for 48 hours this week as one of my challenges for National Preparedness Month. I honestly didn’t expect to learn too much. I’ve had water stored forever and felt I knew quite a bit. HA! I’ve been humbled! I actually learned a lot more than I thought I would!
My original goal was really just to see how much water we used (you can find that info at the very end of this post), but I learned a lot more than that. I’m so, so glad I did this. I highly encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already!
Warning: When I say I learned a lot, I really did! This post is a bit long b/c of it! But I’ve tried to make it easy for you to scan through it and find the info that most applies to you, so don’t get too overwhelmed!
What I Learned:
1. Anxiety is a REAL Issue!
My kids really will experience anxiety in an emergency situation! I did not tell my kids that this was a “test.” I just told them our water wasn’t working. One of my 6 year old twins started crying and asked what we were going to do. He said something like this:
“Water is my favorite drink and I really like baths. And I think my teeth will fall out if I can’t brush them. What are we going to do Mom?”
Seriously? I was actually rather surprised at his strong reaction (and my other kids followed suit).
What I will Do:
First,this re-affirmed my desire to have enough water stored that I can keep our lives relatively normal in the event of a water shortage / contamination. My son quickly realized that he could still drink as much water as he wanted to. We had a bath (although we used much less water than usual) and he was even able to brush his teeth! He was just fine after seeing that our life didn’t really change that much.
Second, I am so grateful that he has now been through this “crisis.” If we ever truly have to face a long term water shortage, he will be much more prepared and confident in our ability to do so. There will be just a bit less anxiety in our home than there would have been without this practice. I’m excited and even more determined to practice more things this month (as part of National Preparedness Month) and in coming months!
2. Laundry will be a challenge
I am actually a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t ever really considered how I would do laundry in an emergency! The night before we started this challenge, my son asked if I could clean a shirt for him to wear to school. I told him I wouldn’t have it clean by the next morning, but that I was planning to do laundry the next day, so he could wear it the day after. Then, I woke up to my water off and couldn’t do all that laundry!
What I will do:
First, I think that instead of having one laundry day where I do all our laundry, I will try to do a load a day or so. That way, we always have some clean clothes and could get by for a few days to a week with doing no laundry.
Next, I added a bit of water into my totals (listed at the end of this post) for the amount of water I would expect my family to use each week.
Also, I will keep my kid’s “too small” clothes just a bit longer. In an emergency situation, I’d be totally fine with them wearing slightly high water pants! I’d just be grateful for the additional clean clothes! I will still donate them to family, friends and thrift stores eventually, I’ll just keep them a bit longer first in storage.
Last, I will be doing a bunch of research on how to do laundry in an emergency to come up with a solution that will work best for our family. I will actually try out different methods and share what I learn here on the blog. *Update: I have done this. You can read the results here: Which Powerless Laundry System is Best?
3. My Kids go to the Bathroom a LOT!
Seriously! WAY too often! We didn’t flush every time they went, but anytime it was “stinky,” we did! We filled up the back of the toilet with our stored water and we flushed it. But about half a day into it, I realized that in a true emergency, it wouldn’t just be our water that was off, and we wouldn’t be able to flush!
So, again, a bit embarrassed here, but I’m just now realizing how important it is to have some way for us to dispose of / take care of that type of waste in an emergency. Had we not be able to flush, it would have been a serious issue in just those two days. Not only would it have been unpleasant, but it would have been unsafe and unsanitary. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like for weeks or a month!
My husband said, well, why not just dig a hole in the backyard and go there? Well…..that would quickly become a serious issue. Untreated raw sewage can pollute fresh ground water supplies. It also attracts flies and promotes the spread of awful diseases.
What I will do:
First, in a short term emergency where the plumbing is still working, we will use “grey” (dirty dish / bath water) to flush. I will keep the grey water for this purpose instead of dumping it.
Second, I will be investing in a bunch of these toilet waste bags. These bags are 100% biodegradeable and are solid sturdy bags that can be placed in a bucket or even in your real toilet (all for keeping things as normal as possible, right?). Each bag comes with a bio-gel application that turns fecal matter into an Enviro-Friendly material meaning you can dispose of it with your normal trash. I will likely purchase some of the deodorant product too.
Next, I will be investing in this bucket seat cover. We go through a lot of 5 & 6 gallon buckets at my house. I usually just give them away, but I will be keeping one and putting this cover on it (and the waste bags in it) in case we need to leave home and don’t want to pollute other areas!
Last, I will also be investing in a few more sanitizing wipes (like Clorox wipes) to make keeping our hands, toilets, floors, counters safe and clean a bit easier without depleting our water supply.
4. I think dish water is gross!
I know that all you true “survivalists” will laugh a bit at this and I admit it is a 1st world problem. I’m spoiled!
But when I wash dishes (with running water), I get the dishes just a bit damp and then put a drop of soap on each. I use a wet rag to wash them and put them clean (but soapy) in the sink. Then, I spray / rinse each dish individually and dry them. I feel like this gets them truly clean and I like things to be clean.
But that processes uses more water than I was willing to use in our mock emergency situation. So, I put about a gallon of water in the sink with soap in one side of the sink and a clear gallon (no soap) in the other side. I washed and rinsed all dishes in the same water. And by the time I was done, both sides of the sink looked GROSS! It just felt so unsanitary to me! Yuck. I was washing / rinsing dishes in dirty water!
What I will do:
There are lots of solutions to this issue (just read the comments below for some suggestions), but this is what I will do:
First, I will store more paper products. We can burn them in our fire pit when done using them, so I feel fine about it environmentally. It will save time / stress in a true emergency and I won’t have to wash my dishes in dirty water!
Second, I will accept the fact that I like to clean / wash my dishes individually and store more water accordingly. Even with paper products, I will still have pots, pans, serving spoons etc that will need to be cleaned.
I know not everyone will agree with me, but I think this solution will work well for our family!
5. Bathing takes less water than I thought
The #1 reason I’ve pushed for storing WAY more than the recommended 1 gallon / person / day is because I felt like bathing would take a LOT of water! But really, it didn’t. I bathed with about 2 gallons of water. And I bathed my kids in about 4 gallons total (the boys shared and the girls shared). So, if we bathed every other day, that is only about 110 gallons for our family for an entire month. I was happy to find that out.
Plus, it didn’t take that much hot water to make the baths comfortably warm!
I did learn however, that I really don’t like sponge baths for the same reason I don’t like washing dishes in dirty water. I prefer showers. So does my husband. I know that many families would be able to use less water by sharing their bath water, and again, true “survivalists” will laugh. But for me, I’d rather store more water and have my own 2 gallons! (-:
What I will do:
First, I will decrease the amount of water I’ve planned to store for bathing / showering.
Second, I will be purchasing a solar shower that we can hang outside to get warm (if it is sunny) and then move and use in our regular shower. As a bonus, this could also be used if we had to pack up and go for any reason.
6. Different sized water containers are a good thing!
I’ve always taught that you should have lots of different sized water containers. But now that I’ve actually lived it (kind of), I’m even more convinced that it is important. It was nice to be able to quickly grab a water bottle to drink while working out or going to soccer practice etc.
The 55 gallon drums were a convenient way to store lots of water.
Moving the water from them to the 5 gallon jugs was simple with our siphon pump. We only had to pump it 3-4 times and then the water just flowed right out. My problem was getting it to STOP! I ended up spilling a bit each time!
What I will do:
Even though we have quite a few different sized containers, I will still be making a few adjustments:
Second, I will be purchasing an additional siphon pump in case ours breaks. It made transferring water from one barrel to the next SO easy, I do NOT want to be without it!
7. I am Blessed!
Last, and most importantly, this experience taught me to be more grateful for my running water! What a blessing it is to have this convenience in my home every day! Having running water saves me time (meaning I can do other things with that time…like play with my kids), makes it easier for me to protect my kids from disease, makes cooking simpler / easier etc. Here are a few interesting facts from Water.org:
- 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water: that is more than 2 1/2 times the entire population of the United States and over 10% of the entire world’s population!
- 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.
- Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water related illness. In fact, lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
- An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day
Those of us with running water are very privileged indeed! Living without running water complicated my life. It made keeping my house clean and sanitary more difficult, it made cooking more time consuming. It increased the stress in our home (and my grumpiness toward my kids and husband). And I still had access to plenty of clean water and so did all my neighbors etc. I wasn’t at any true risk like those who live without clean water are every day. This small experience was eye opening to my ingratitude and lack of appreciation for this incredible privilege.
So, I’ve decided to do something small. I have donated to water.org. I would encourage you to find something you can do as well! Even if you aren’t able to get involved financially, there are plenty of way you can help solve the water crisis in the world.
How Much Water We Used:
The original purpose of this entire experiment was to determine how much water we used so that I could feel more secure in the amount of water we are storing.
Well, over the entire 48 hour period, we used 34 gallons, but I need to make a few adjustments:
- 10 of those gallons were used flushing toilets. I will no longer be storing water to flush toilets as we will use grey water and or the bio-treatments.
- I’m adding 1 gallon “extra” b/c in an emergency we will likely get dirtier, and possibly have wounds etc to clean. This just makes me feel a little extra safe.
- I’m adding 2 gallons extra for dish cleaning water, b/c I’m spoiled and like my dishes really clean. (-:
- I’m adding 2 gallons for drinking water. I realized on day 2 that we were drinking lots of milk and OJ…stuff from the fridge. I want to be able to have enough water if we have nothing else to drink.
- I’m adding 3 gallons (10 gallons / week) for laundry based on my powerless laundry experiment. This would allow me to do about 1/2 of the laundry I currently do. We’d just wear our clothes twice as long.
So that is 32 gallons total for 2 days or 16 gallons per day.
How Much Water I Will Store:
In order to maintain a somewhat normal routine in the event that our running water was shut off, our family would need 2.67 gallons per person per day.
So, we’d need:
- 48 gallons for a 3 day supply
- 112 gallons for a 1 week supply
- 224 gallons for a 2 week supply
- 480 gallons for a one month (30 day) supply
Personally, my goal is a one month supply. I plan to do that in the following way:
- 12 Five gallon jugs (60 gallons)
- 12 water bottle 24 packs (38 gallons)
- 7 Fifty-five gallon barrels (385 gallons)
As of today, Feb 22nd, 2015 (the day I updated this post), I have all but the last 55 gallon bucket! YAY!!!
In addition, I would like to have the ability to filter / sanitize water for our family of six for six months. That is about 3000 gallons for our family. If you are interested in a similar goal, you can find lots of ways (some free) to filter / clean water here: Making Water Safe to Drink: Water Purification vs Water Filtration.
How About You?
I’d love to hear from all of you! Did you take my challenge as part of National Preparedness Month? Or have you ever lived without running water for a period of time? What did you learn? How much water do you have stored for your family?