Living Without Running Water: A Practical Guide

WowLiving Without Running Water...A Practical Guide

Wow!  So, I turned off our running water for 48 hours this week as one of my challenges for National Preparedness Month.  And I actually learned a lot more than I thought I would!  I really just wanted to see how much 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!

And if you did already join me in the challenge, then I’d love to hear how it went for you.  I know that one great reader, Vicki,

Living Without Running Water: A Practical Guide

Carrying Water Up From the Basement

has already left some helpful comments on the intro post for this challenge.  I’d love to hear from more of you below!

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 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).  So, what will I do with this information?

First,this re-affirmed my desire to have enough water stored that I can keep our lives

Living Without Running Water: A Practical Guide

Our Makeshift Faucet

relatively normal.  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.  And then, I woke up to my water off and couldn’t do all that laundry!

So…..I will be making a few changes:

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!

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.

3.  My Kids go to the Bathroom a LOT!

Seriously!  WAY to 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.

So, I will again be taking action! 

First, I will be investing in a bunch of these Gotta Go 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 ChemiSan application that turns fecal matter into na Enviro-Friendly material.

Second, 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!

So, when I wash dishes (with running water), I get the dishes just a bit damp and then put a Living Without Running Water: A Practical Guidedrop 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.

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 sick looked GROSS!  It just felt so unsanitary to me!  Yuck.  I was washing / rinsing dishes in dirty water!

So again, I will be adjusting some things:

First, I will store more paper products.  We can burn them 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.

Heating Water for our Baths....that was enough hot water for mine and the kids!

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.  But for me, I’d rather store more and have my own 2 gallons!  (-:

So……..

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 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!

Pumping Water....LOVE that siphon!

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 5 gallon jugs were perfect for a makeshift faucet.  And 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!

Any tips to avoid the spills?

Even though we have quite a few different sized containers,  I will still be making a few adjustments:

First, I will be purchasing more 5 gallon jugs and faucet caps.  Right now we only have four, and I’d like to be able to have one jug at each sink.

Second, I will be adding a few more water bottles so we’d have enough to use those for our drinking water for the entire month.

Third, 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 note that 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 will be changing up my facebook page header today and 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:

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 not be storing water to flush toilets.
  • I’m adding 1.5 gallons “extra” b/c in an emergency we will likely get dirtier, and possibly have wounds etc to clean.
  • I’m adding 1 gallon 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 1.5 gallons (5 gallons / week) for laundry.  I may adjust this after I do all my laundry experiments.

How Much Water I Will Store:

So, that means that my family of six would use about 14 gallons of water every day (2.3 gallons per person) in order to maintain a somewhat normal routine in the event that our running water was shut off.

So, we’d need:

  • 42 gallons for a 3 day supply
  • 98 gallons for a 1 week supply
  • 196 gallons for a 2 week supply
  • 420 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:

  • 10 Five gallon jugs (50 gallons)
  • 12 water bottle 24 packs  (38 gallons)
  • 6 Fifty-five gallon barrels (330 gallons)

In addition, I would like to have the ability to filter / sanitize water for our family of six for six months.  That is about 2000 gallons.  If you are interested in a similar goal, you can find lots of ways (some free) to filter / clean water here: Survival Kit Series, Water Part 2

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?

 

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  1. Joni says:

    Love this! I do have a question on rotating your storage. How often do you need to replace the water in your drums and 5 gallon containers? And water bottles ‘expire’ in a year or so. I am horrible at rotating! What are your plans?

    • Misty says:

      That is a tough one Joni! There is a LOT of debate as to how often to rotate etc.

      I’ll start with the water bottles. We easily get through that in a year. That probably isn’t a good thing for the landfills, but we do recycle them. (-: We use at least a few a day. I always use one while working out. Anytime we go to the park we take a few. We use them at soccer / baseball practice etc. etc. Rotation of those is not an issue for us. So, I would recommend that you figure out how many water bottles you could go through in a year and don’t store more than that.

      As for the barrels…..there are a lot of different opinions. I’ll give you mine and my reasoning. I don’t rotate my water often at all and I don’t add any bleach etc.

      I’ve found that unless the barrels are being stored in the sun / heat, they don’t grow algae etc. They don’t get contaminated. So, in my opinion, there is no reason to add bleach that will make it taste bad. If the barrel you put the water in was clean and the water you put in was clean, then the water shouldn’t become contaminated unless you add something to it. So, I store ours in our cold storage and I really only rotate it about every 3 years or so….mostly just to check that my theory is right! We have a drain in there, so I just siphon it all out into the drain, check to make sure there isn’t anything weird looking in the barrels and then I fill them back up.

      I will say though that the only reason I”m 100% comfortable with this is b/c I have a LOT of ways to clean / purify / filter the water if it did become contaminated.

      As for actually rotating it, here are a few ideas:

      Use the stored water for a big family water fight in the summer….fill up the kids pool etc. (we’ve done this before….it is fun)

      I’ve also heard of people using it to wash their car. Anytime they wash their car, they use their stored water and then refill it.

      I have some readers who use their stored water to regularly water their garden. Once they empty one barrel, they fill it back up and start using the next. That way it is always being rotated.

      I hope that helps!

  2. Melyssa says:

    You are my preparedness hero! Some day when we are settled, I will have to get together with you to plan ways we can be more prepared! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. deb c. says:

    Thanks so much, Misty, for the wonderful information you’ve supplied. I appreciate that you did a trial run…I may have to do the same. I actually do not have a basement to store water, unfortunately, so we have to store ours in our (non-temp controlled) garage. I’ve had water in there for some time, both single-serve & gallon bottles. This summer, I used all of the gallons to water my plants and am in the process of replacing it now. Of course we regularly rotate the single serves. I don’t have any giant drums, or any place to put them, but I gotta brainstorm on where to put extra in our 1250 sq. ft. home. One of those drums may make a good accent table with enough craft-oflage! Thanks again for the great info!

  4. Christina says:

    Great post. I should do this. When our washer broke we bought a washboard instead of going to the laundry mat, so we would have it if we ever needed it again, and I really love it. I actually use it more than tge washing machine. they also make a plunger type thing that you use with a bucket. And some handcrank and footcrank washers. And we hang them to dry. We have a line that we can put up and take down when its not in use. It folds up kinda like and umbrella.

  5. Vicki S says:

    I learned that on day 1, we used 18 gallons for 8 people. Now that did not include drinking water. I didn’t trust the stored water to just drink it straight from the bottle without purifying it first. My seven year old opened a bottle and took a drink to find out that it was bad. It was the only bottle that we had an issue with, but I didn’t want to take a chance. So I did let everyone get drinking water from the tap for the two days. I definitely need to get some small bottles of water to store just for drinking.

    I also learned that we use a lot of water to flush the toilet. And like you found out, we go a LOT!!!

    My husband got up early this morning and was searching the Thrive Life website and saw the 55 gallon barrels with the siphon hose. He was very excited about that. We currently don’t have any water storage containers bigger than seven gallons, so a few of these would be perfect for us.
    Thank you for the challenge Misty!!!

    • Misty says:

      Vicki, the water barrel kit on page 9 of the price list (item #25446) is actually a better deal than the one your husband saw onlilne. It isn’t available onlilne…only through consultants. It comes with a really nice filter pump (it filters water as you pump it out), a wrench, water treatment solution. It is a great package!

  6. Julie says:

    Wow…this was fascinating for me! In my mind, I think , “we know how to camp, is would be so easy!” But I forgot that I don’t flush or bathe or worry about storing water or…washing clothes! Yikes. Yup, definitely want to learn more about hand washing! Or paper clothes….yes, let’s start creating disposable every day clothes…it’ll be all the rage… As long as it never rains…

  7. Don’t fill the tank to flush. That wastes water. Use a gallon of water and pour it quickly and all at once in the toilet bowl, aiming for the hole at the bottom. That is called a dry flush.

    To stop a siphon flow, do two things simultaneously or one at a time. 1)pinch off the siphon if you can. 2) raise the siphon above the drain hole and higher than the surface of the water in the container.

    • Misty says:

      Thanks for the tips! My siphon hose is too firm to “pinch.” And I tried raising the siphon up, but I couldn’t b/c I couldn’t….I couldn’t raise the jug and as soon as I took it out, it spilled all over…?

      • Then, put your thumb over the end of the tube. I was afraid it was too firm to pinch.

        Why did you raise the jug you were filling. If all this won’t work, how about putting something like a dish pan under the jug you are filling, That way, you will catch all the spillage. You can use it for commode flush or to heat to wash dishes.

        You can stop well short of the jug being full so you can figure it out or at least not spill so much.

        I thought my post did not post because I was instructed to try again. Puzzling. I just gave up after about five tries.

      • KT says:

        If the siphon is like the one I have from Thrive, there is a twist cap on top of the siphon. When I am done pumping (giving a few inches to capture the rest of the water in the siphon tube) I unscrew the siphon screw cap to release the pressure. This should allow you to let the rest of the water trapped on the other side of the siphon (the flexible tube side) to flow out and stop the siphoning of more water.

  8. MarySue says:

    Such great info and inspiration. Much thanks.

  9. John Francis says:

    Hi, great post – I have a few Ideas..
    For your pumps, I see you use the economy version. I assume that you had to add a longer hose for the 55 gal barrels (if not, you can get the flexible hose at most pet shops that deal in fish..) If turning it off is an issue, add a petcock to the harder, small hose – most big box stores carry them in the plumbing section find one that fits, add to the hose and use silicone to glue it in.
    For the laundry – there is a product I wanted to get that I saw in an antique shop – it was a tub stick – it looked like a funnel with holes on a long pole. You add warm water to a bucket, a little soap and churn it like butter…
    In foreign lands I used a thick trash bag in a box and water from the solar bag.. the rinse was set up the same way – then the sun dried the clothes.
    Hope some of that helped…

    • Misty says:

      Thank you so much John! Our sihpon pump actually came with a really long hose. DIdn’t have to adjust it at all, but I’m excited to try the petcock. I appreciate the tips!

  10. Lori says:

    Great article ! We have power outages here quite often (6-8 times per year, some for a couple hours , some for 8 or more hours).We have close access to a river , so that helps with our non drinking water. One thing I learned long ago is that if you dump about 1 1/2 to 2 liters of water directly into the toilet bowl everything in the bowl should go down (sometimes it takes a bit less) then just pour a bit (cup or two) in to help keep it from getting nasty. One other thing I’ve learned over the years is don’t store just one bucket for a back up toilet…keep a couple…never know when one might crack!

  11. DesertRatJak says:

    Misty, great article. Water, like electric power, is something most people take for granted, until it’s no longer there.

    I have a small tip on bathing. We live outside a small town and have power outages a few time a year. No power, no pump, ergo no water. I am like you and prefer a shower. This is a nice compromise between a bath and a shower. I have done this many times.

    I heat 1 gallon of water on the stove, (or wood stove if it is already hot). I take the pot of water and a plastic pitcher to the bathroom. I put half the water in the pitcher and set it aside. Sitting in the tub with the pot of water, I use a washcloth to get myself wet, soap up, and then rinse with the used water. Standing, I take the pitcher of clean water and slowly pour it over myself.

    I am clean, rinsed clean, and only used 1 gallon. Not as good as a long, hot shower but it is the best alternative I have found so far.

    DRJ

  12. El Fielding says:

    I can appreciate that doing dishes using a sinkful of water must have been traumatic if you didn’t grow up with it. When I was a kid, every drop of water had to be humped from the spring, so rules about the dirty dishes were quite strict at our house. Each of us had our own cup for drinks between meals. We were not allowed to use anyone else’s cup, nor the guest dishes. I would keep and use my one cup all day for every drink that I had, and if necessary, would clean it for my next beverage. When washing out a cup, the leftover “dirty” water went into a bucket for the garden or other uses where clean water was not required. We had an outhouse, so flush water was not needed.
    We used cast iron pots and pans, so we didn’t “wash” them. Little sticks to a well seasoned cast-iron pan or pot, so with those, it is a simply a matter of wiping out the pot immediately after the cooking is done, setting it back on the burner to sanitize by heat, and occasionally applying a thin layer of lard or oil. As to the rest of the dishes, we boiled water, carefully added the dirty dishes fresh from the table, ate dessert, and when the water had cooled sufficiently to put hands in, scrubbed them. We didn’t use excessive amounts of soap so that it was not necessary to rinse to get suds off, and so we would simply wipe the dishes dry with a dish-towel. Everything would be dried and put away immediately. The leftover water was used to wipe down the stove, tables, and sometimes the kitchen floor. That’s where using a basin worked to advantage.

    • Lynne says:

      We not only have our power go off on a regular basis here, for one reason or another, but we’ve lived without electricity in years gone by, for as long as a year. We used an outhouse that was built over an existing septic tank and that worked extremely well other than when we had to use it in the middle of the night during an ice storm (then the buckets came out!). No smell with the septic tank. We also used an indoor toilet at times when we had no running water such as ice storms that shut down our power for almost a week at a time. We kept water in the bathtub to dip from and pour down the toilet (inside the bowl, not in the tank – that uses too much water). When you are doing baths, etc., keep the dirty water for flushing the toilet (if nothing else). Don’t bathe so frequently, either. For one thing, recent studies are showing that we are washing off the Vit D on our skin and we need to let it sink in for two or three days. In fact, we have a friend in SW Oklahoma who spends a lot of time out in the sun but he just recently found out that he is deficient in vit D. His doctor told him to stop showering so often (one to two times a day). If you are out sweating and getting filthy, it’s hard not to want to bathe but rinsing off arms/face/etc. with clear water can help. People used to bathe just once a week (if that) and that was helping with their vit D levels.

      Regarding urine – it is high in nitrogen and good for plants. Did you ever see the movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian”, a true story about an elderly man in New Zealand who brought his modified Indian motorcycle to America and set a new speed record for motorcycles? At home, he had a lemon tree in his yard. Every morning he would “fertilize” his tree. While he was in America, the neighbor boy “fertilized” it for him. So, have a bucket with some water and use it for urinating and then pour it on your garden/yard plants. Or even on plants in containers in the house. Urine is sterile when it leaves your body. I even knew a woman who had her master’s in nursing who drank her own urine (I’m not trying that unless it’s survival for some reason!!). So, if the urine is not going in the toilet, that leaves you with less to flush with the dirty bath water. Use the dirty water from washing clothes for the toilet, too.

      Dishes – use paper if it’s not for too long so you aren’t wasting valuable water on washing much dishes. Cook one pot meals so you have less pots to wash. If using real dishes, every person is assigned their own plate/cup/spoon and that’s all they are allowed to dirty. A large bowl is better than a plate because it can be used for soups, etc. as well as anything else. Wash/rinse as soon as you are done eating. Use soap that is user friendly and doesn’t have chemicals (I use a coconut oil dish soap from Tropical Traditions). That way it’s not so critical to worry about getting all the soap off the dishes or you might make someone sick with it. I’m like you – I rinse under running water. But when water is not readily available, I do use a stainless steel bowl to hold water for rinsing. Cut back on the amount of soap being used so you have less to rinse off.

      Here’s something else we’ve noticed in years without running water – if you LICK your plate/spoon thoroughly after you are done eating, the enzymes in your saliva makes cleaning much easier and also cuts down on mold growth if you can’t get the dishes washed right away (like if everyone is down with flu or something). I know this sounds crude, but if you are living rough, crude doesn’t count anymore. Getting food off of dishes that aren’t being washed right away is also critical for keeping vermin/roaches/ants/etc. from invading your living quarters. I deal with fireants on a daily basis in our house. Even our six grandkids know not to drop any food on the floor because it will draw the ants, and they are mean when they bite.

      The cast iron suggestion is a good one. But unless you’ve got a way to cook when you have no power/water, you are probably looking at making meals without being able to “cook”. Does your family know what it is like to eat mostly raw food meals? What about water for cooking/rehydrating food? Are you counting that in your water storage totals?

      • Misty says:

        Some great tips here Lynne. I really like the idea of finding a “Lower chemical” soap. (-: And yes, we have lots of water for rehydrating. I cook with freeze dried foods every day so that was part of what we used naturally. And we do have quite a few outdoor cooking methods. I will be using some of them this week when I turn my power off. We’ve got dutch ovens (and quite a bit of charcoal), a gas grill (and a good amount of propane) and will soon have a firepit (and quite a bit of wood). We also have two Sun Oven which require no fuel. (-:

    • Misty says:

      Well, I don’t know that it was “traumatic,” but you are right that I’m not used to it! (-: I do love cast iron though. But I don’t use it as often as you are talking about….mostly during the summers for good dutch oven cooking! I admire that you’ve had so much experience with this El! Thanks for contributing!

  13. Absolutely amazing Misty! I’m so glad that you were able to take this challenge and learn so much from it. I really need to do a trial run with our family as well. I’m going to be sharing this with friends and family everywhere!

    For your water siphon spills, have you considered filling the smaller container inside of a tub (like a rubber maid bin). It may not keep you from actually spilling, but at least you can catch that extra water and use it for something else.

  14. Wanda says:

    Hi Misty,

    Just a thought to consider. There are many, many people that still use a private septic system with field lines. These are not considered to be unsafe for ground water. They do need to be 100 feet from a private well but if you’re in the suburbs private wells aren’t allowed in most cases anyway. In an extended power outage/emergency what will you do with all of your waste bags? Burying waste is not the same as pouring it out on the surface to be washed into nearby streams, drains, lakes, etc…Burying it would probably be safer than having waste bags piling up with the risk of being punctured. Soil does an excellent job of breaking down fecal matter before it gets to the ground water. When we first built our house I decided to go ahead and move in without running water or toilet while we waited for the well to be drilled rather than continuing to live with my in-laws. I was soooo ready to be in my own home even if I had to rough it. LOL What was supposed to be a month or two turned into 6. We used a camping porti-potti. I thought how bad could it be. Since my husband was at work most of the day and my twins were still in diapers it was mainly just me and my 3yo son using it. I would dig a 4′ deep hole using post hole diggers. Empty it, wait about 5-10 minutes for the liquid to drain away then cover it with 3-4″ of dirt. This would last about a week. When it was about 1-1/5 feet from the top I would fill it in and dig another hole about 4′ away. There was never any odor or flies but I will NEVER, EVER, NEVER empty another porti-potti again! In an extended outage we will build a vented, screened outhouse for daytime use and haul water for night use and bad weather.
    Do you have containers stored for catching rain water? We have several wells on our property now, one with a hand pump for emergencies but it would be a pain pumping that much water for flushing, bathing & animals. During a major outage we plan on lining our truck bed with a tarp and clear plastic and backing it up under our gutter downspout to catch rain water. I haven’t done the math but it would probably hold about 300-500 gallons. We would then cover it with plywood to keep out kids, animals and debris.
    Thanks for the article. I like the idea of doing a dry run but I don’t think I could get my family to go along with it. Have a great day!

    • Misty says:

      Thanks for the great insight Wanda! Wow….that sounds like a lot of work! Good for you! And yes, I would bury the waste. The bags I mention turn it into Enviro-Friendly material. (-:

  15. K. R. says:

    1. You can use your waste dishwater/laundry water to flush toilets. To do this, use a plastic tub in the sink, so you can pick it up and transfer the water. Get tub from Goodwill.

    2. You should have two 5 gallon buckets with potty seats. (The seats are available from camping stores.) Label them which is which (I’ve seen “pee” and “poo”. Try to keep the liquids separated from the solids. You can use your gotta go bags to line the solids bucket. The liquids can be diluted 1:10 with wastewater and used on trees, shrubs or grass. Or add to your compost.

    3. You can use a (new, clean) toilet plunger as a laundry agitator.

    4. Where did you get your siphon? Such a good idea. Carrying 5 gallons of water is beyond my strength.

    • Misty says:

      Thanks KR. The pluger option is one I’m considering. And I got the siphon from THRIVE Life. You can click on the link in the post to learn more about it / purchase it. (-:

  16. Jess says:

    I enjoyed reading your experience. I live off grid in Alaska with my 5 children age 10-19. We hand pump our water from a deep well on our property and should the pump go out, we have a lake nearby to gather water. I have a lot of experience living without water in a “dry” cabin in remote Alaska!

    Bathing, doing laundry, cleaning dishes, cooking, making coffee, cleaning the cabin, etc all have their own trials!

    The kids take turns priming the water well hand pump and pumping the water into 5 gallon buckets. The buckets are filled to about 3-4 gallons for ease of carrying and less spillage. We all haul the daily buckets of water in that we need for that specific days chores. Not so bad in the summer and fall, but when -40 below weather hits, it’s miserable for all of us to go get that water!

    For bathing in winter, I have a bathtub set up inside the cabin. I installed a 5 gallon bucket mounted on a shelf with a spigot in the bottom you can turn on and off. I boil water on the woodstove and pour it into the bucket (using a step stool to get up there). Then I add cold water until it is the right temp. turn on the spigot, get wet, turn it off. Soap up, then rinse off. This drains into a drainage gravel pit on the side of my cabin. I can usually get everyone showered with 10 gallons of water. In the summer, I have a portable outdoor shower set up with a pallet for flooring inside. A solar shower bag is mounted inside and the sun warms the water.
    For cleaning dishes, we also use a lot of paper plates. Dishes are done in cycles. Hot water in one bucket, cold rinse water in the next. I add a splash of bleach to the cold water for sanitation. There is a “sludge bucket” nearby (the kids HATE dumping this) for dirty dish water. This gets discarded nightly into the woods to keep the bears away.
    Laundry: my bane! I hate doing laundry! It is an all day chore! I have a washboard, washer plunger, 2 large wash basins, a hand crank ringer, and a clothesline outside (I also have an indoor clothes drying rack to keep near the woodstove in the winter). Boil water, cool it til you can barely stand the heat, but still hot enough to clean the clothes, dump the dirty clothes in the wash bucket, add laundry soap, use a washer plunger to agitate the clothes, take one clothing item at a time out and scrub it vigorously on the washboard, drop it into the rinse water in the other basin, run it thru the ringer, hang to dry. You will get a workout doing 6 peoples laundry!!
    We love our lifestyle and it challenges all of us every day, but my kids are learning valuable life skills that they otherwise would not gain if we lived “on grid”. I hope my experiences have given you a different insight into life without running water!

    • Misty says:

      Jess,

      Oh my do I admire you! Wow. Thanks for taking the time to share your insight! I cannot imagine hauling water in -40 degree weather. Your kids must be very hard workers (I’m sure they are learning that from you). I love the idea of the shower that you are using in the winter. I will print this out so I can remember it and do that if ever faced with a long term outage. THANK YOU!

  17. rick p says:

    im a 350 lb , man at 6’2″ and I can easily, and often bathe with less than cup of water….and not a daily thing either. One can go weeks with just hitting the ‘hot spots’ and NO SMELLS either! Of course that’s when one MUST clean…and deodorize, but according to my grandma, if u get used to not using deodorants, the body adjusts to not needing them…this does work!
    daily we waste far too much, a shower – so I heard, takes 10 gallons!!! WHY to wash what wasn’t dirty at ALL? dID U DO MANUAL LABOR, OR roll around the mud puddle?

    • BatGirl says:

      Completely agree! Wash ups are for the stinky parts. On our farm, my Dad and brothers were the stinky ones, so they got to shower or bathe when necessary. My Mom, my sisters, and myself did daily wash ups but showered or bathed every few days. If you aren’t working up a sweat, aren’t physically dirty, and you don’t actually stink, why would you waste water. Laundry is another thing. We wore house dresses or shorts around the house. We didn’t keep on school clothes or dress clothes. I still do that to this day. When I get home, I take off my office clothes and hang them up. I can wear them 3 different times before needing to launder. Jeans you can actually wear several times before needing to launder. Unless there is visible dirt or stains or there is odor (use the sniff test), then clothes don’t need to be washed continually. That also makes the clothes last longer.

  18. Michelle says:

    Living in south Louisiana with a well we are without water every time we loose electricity. Hurricanes often leave us waterless for days to weeks. Baby wipes are GREAT for “bathing”. With our septic tank we have a while where we can flush with added water, so stinky gets a flush but color doesn’t. Paper products are nice, but won’t work for long term. Plastic dishes are gross under these conditions. Read some good ideas for using a 5 gal bucket as a washer that we plan on trying out next time.

  19. Eminence Frontman says:

    I will share with you what I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, using buckets to bathe. First, catching rain water is essential; second, you can wash your hair and body with two 5 liter buckets (~2 gallons each):one for wash and one for rinse; lastly, always start at the top,(hair) and work down as it makes the rinse easier. Using a soap/body wash/shampoo which works all over helps, as soap will dry out your hair and shampoos are too think to rinse cleanly. If you can find it, or can find it but only in limited quantities, waterless shampoo such as hospitals use can be a wonderful and anywhere alternative for bathing when you just gotta get that film off of you. Also, in re toilet use: don’t put the toilet paper in the toilet when it is soiled. Put it in a bag and burn the bag. Human waste is a lot easier to flush alone, without the paper to clog up the system. Hope this helps, I learned it all the hard way.

  20. Carol M. Keehn says:

    By September 2008, my husband & 93yr father in law passed 52 days apart, the tank had some fuel that was used for cooking. the wood stove that was so cute in the kitchen corner was my best friend. Not knowing what to do solo…as each of us had our own jobs and skills.. The water lines I turned off to the unused part of the 100yr old house.. well they were not hooked to anything. So the pipes froze = no house water.
    The deep heavy snow was melted in the 3gallon kettle on the wood stove which added moistness to the air, (it took several trips to fill it up!). as it heated I poured the hot melted snow over cold snow in the 5gl water cooler until cooler was filled with warm water. for my shower I stood in a wash tub to catch the run off which was then used to flush. did all that hoping for more snow, then I found out that the outside water was running… hauled it to the stove.. not a preplanned adventure.

  21. Anonimouse says:

    Get serious!

    Install as much rainwater storage as you have room for, but a couple of thousand gallons, minimum.

    Connect your rainwater to a pump, and use the first output for watering your veggies and for fire control.

    Connect another feed from the pump through a coarse filter, and pipe the output to flush your toilets.

    Run some of the output from the coarse filter though a really fine one (and/or a pruifier), and then be able to feed the output through your normal house piping (toilets excelpted) and (solar) hot water system, so you and your family can wash and cook with safe water for an indefinite period.

    Of course, if you happen to live in a desert, you will need more storage capacity, and might need to top it up with purchased, trucked water from time to time.

    • Anonimouse says:

      For got to mention that both the pump and the solar hot water system need to be solar powered, and have battery supply for nighttime and cloudy days.

  22. Polly says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t use rain barrels. You can use them for your ‘flushing’ water. Put one or two at each down spout and you will quickly have several hundred gallons of useable water. You can also use it to water your garden. Also, pool water. A small above ground pool can hold hundreds of gallons of water to use for flushing and with a tiny amount of bleach, washing.
    Also an often over looked source of water is your water tank. You could drain some of that off in an emergency.
    Great article!

    • Misty says:

      I love the idea of catching rainwater Polly, but since it is illegal in many states, it isn’t something I wanted to promote heavily on my site, and not many people in my area have pools (I certainly don’t), but yes, I will use the water in my tank. I’ve mentioned that on the site before, but forgot to include it here. Thanks for catching that!

      • Polly says:

        How nice for you to respond to my post! The pools can be something as small as a kiddie pool. Doesn’t need to be huge.
        And I do recall now that in some states it is illegal to catch rain water.
        Thanks for the reminder.

  23. Tim Iafolla says:

    You asked about how to avoid spills while siphoning–here’s how I do it: a siphon only works when the ‘out’ end of the hose is lower than the ‘in’ end; and the lower the ‘out’ end is, the faster it flows.

    So when the receiving container gets close to being full, start lifting it up to the water level of the source container. The flow will slow down the higher you lift it. Time it so that when it’s completely full, its water level is the same as the level of the source container. The flow will be stopped.

    So moving the receiving container up and down is an easy way to control the flow. You can keep a step stool nearby, setting the container on higher steps as it fills up.

  24. alana says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us! An idea for the potty water, recycle the bath water, the dish water, etc to flush the toilets… and many people use the idea, only flush if brown, toilet paper goes into the trash for urine….

    • Kit says:

      Great reminder!! in an emergency don’t let anything go to waste! Love it.

    • Racheal says:

      My ex’s parents used to live in Hawaii and they said there was a saying ” if it’s yellow letit mello if its brown flush it down” gross I know

      • BatGirl says:

        That’s not gross, it’s factual and effective. Americans live very wasteful lives which is what has put us in a difficult situations as far as adaption. Urine is not a solid therefore its ridiculous to flush everytime. Fecal matter obviously needs to be flushed if you indeed use a toilet. But modern plumbing is a convenience only. And it has been culturally influenced. If you set up a correct “disposal” system then there should be no problems with an outhouse type setup. I caution the use of those “biodegradable” bags. Most modern “helpful” plastics are still harmful to the environment. It is much more efficient as far as cost and it is more environmentally friendly to have an outside disposal system. And the Clorox wipes mentioned. I realize this was an experiment, but the idea is to learn to live more self sufficiently. Not dependent on more chemical and being environmentally friendly not to mention cost savings. It’s best to let your body get used to germs and dirt. The “anti-germ” movement has spawned the super bugs that will be sure to do damage more than dirty hands. It’s a mindset. Think “Little House on the Prairie” as an example on how to survive well.

        • Racheal says:

          I didn’t mean that the practice of not flushing after each urination was gross what I ment was that depending upon how hydrated you are your urine can have a strong oder. I myself regularly practice this water saving method especially since I live in a desert! I have lived with no amenities and I appreciate all the luxury we have now is electricity running water heat air conditioning etc. Most people say they can live with no convenience item’s such as I mentioned but when the chips are down they fall to pieces! After living in a tent for nearly a year and halving to hall in everything I needed I can honestly say if society ever broke down I know I can and will survive!

  25. Sara Malik says:

    What a great read, very informative, thank you for sharing this for everyone else’s benefit. We do have some stored but boy, I’m sure realizing now that we don’t have nearly enough for what we’ll need. I would like to share a few things about our preparedness. First, someone asked snout how long stored water lasts. Well, I prepared soda bottles by letting them soak in bleach water, boiled their lids, rinsed out the bottles and then added the water. That was 3 years ago and they still look like fresh bottles of water, nothing floating in them and still clear. Also for laundry, when I used to use liquid clothes detergent, once I got down to there being about an inch left, I would fill it up with water and store if for my clothes washing water for emergencies. I also did that with my bleach bottles, sure the detergent and bleach are way watered down but I figure in an emergency I’ll be happy with what I have. Anyway, just wanted to share. Again, you posted some great info here, thanks!

  26. Alana says:

    We might have to try this. We don’t have any faucet containers. However, the strongest part is I doubt that my girls would stay calm. It would be a good practice of emotional control during an emergency. Thanks for so many good things to think about.

  27. Jessica says:

    THANK YOU! I’m trying to work more on preparing my food and water storage and your tips and thoughts through experience really are great! I LOVE the idea of a trial 1-2 day run too, just for practice…THANK YOU!

  28. Kit says:

    Hi, I think for the Laundry a trip to south America would help you learn. they use a concrete slab and a bar of soap with very little water to get the job done. When we came back from Colombia we toted about 6 bars of Jabon Rey, that we keep in our emergency supplies, and also for when I have tough stains that need to be scrubbed out. I’ve also seen the brand Vel Rosita at some Latino Markets here in the U.S.
    Again for the dishes I think that South American’s get it right. They have a soap that can be used with unfiltered water so that you don’t have to use the drinking water when washing dishes. It’s pretty rough on skin, but the dishes end up clean with small amounts of water that is not even boiled or sanitized. My preferred brand is Axion dishwashing paste. It’s the paste that works in low water areas. It doesn’t suds up like liquid soap, but boy it gets the job done right. I really like it for when we go camping.
    We just ordered some jugs to start our water storage, so this was a great article to help me know what else we could do. Thanks!!

  29. Erica says:

    We used the solar shower when we were remodeling our bathroom. We only have one bathroom and it was out of service for about a week, the toilet did work though since they were only replacing the shower.
    What we did—used hot water from the kitchen sink to fill the solar bag, so my guess is you could heat water on the stove then fill the solar shower and shower that way.

    We filled the solar shower bag using hot water from the kitchen sink and rigged it up and showered in our horse trailer. It worked since our only one shower was out of service due to remodeling.

    Hope this helps.

  30. Diana Graham says:

    I live (on my own property) in an old RV. (WHY I live in the RV when I have a house is a story for another time & place). The plumbing in the RV was seriously wrecked when I bought it (for VERY cheap) so it’s not attached to a water supply. Although I have city water on the property it’s a HUGE pain in the….someplace…to avail myself of it. I fill up various sized containers with water once a week & make do with that. I enjoyed reading about your experiences.

  31. DebbieP says:

    I’m on day 3 of no water. Not voluntary. We live in the country and the water co is not dependable. I’m ashamed to say we are not prepared for this. I had some gallon bottles stored but not nearly enough and some of them collapsed or evaporated or something. I am going to use your site as a starting point. Thank you for doing this!

    • Misty says:

      You are very welcome Debbie. I’m sorry I took so long to respond, but I hope you have your water back and that things are going better!

  32. Jena says:

    Wow – great post! I learned something new, and I better go get busy on my water storage plan.

  33. Dan says:

    This was quite an amusing article and relatable as I’ve been living without water for 2 years+. We use the exact same method of make shift faucets with the design only slightly different.

  34. Buddy Adelsberger says:

    Very good article. Well written and the thoughts for improvement give me ideas. Is your storage upstairs (not in the basement)?

  35. Day says:

    Man, wow. I feel for my mother after reading this. We went several times with out running water for a couple of years due to pipes being poorly covered and froze and broke. We lived out in the middle of no where (with a few neighbors) but there was no store to run to that was not hours away. I do not have any ill memory about it either, it was a lot of work, but fun still. We also had no electricity except one hour a night to do laundry six days a week, and often it was not working or ran out of gas, so we had 3 washing machines, 2 electric with a ringer, and 1 manual with a ringer as well. lots of carasine lamps etc. wood stove, and a propane stove. I cannot imagine how worried she must have been. On another note have you heard of the http://humanurehandbook.com/ solves a lot of the toilet issues, it sounds nasty oh yes lol, my sister practically had to tie me down and make me listen to her read the first chapter to me lol. it really opened my eyes to another serious mistake human civilization has made to hurt our planet sheesh! check it out.

  36. Racheal says:

    I read your article and while I agree with you I want to tell you that for almost a year I lived in a tent with no facilities what so ever and my hair was very shiny due to washing in cold river water. My potty was a hole with a bucket. My kitchen was a sand fire pit. As to the bathing I bathed in the river as well as washing clothes and dishes. As a result of this I am very aware of how lucky we have it. I don’t waste water.

  37. Kitty says:

    ok, you asked for comments, so here we go.
    First I’d like to point out that in a long term emergency, it could be important to know how and WHERE to put an outhouse, because those have been used for a long time and can be sanitary if positioned wisely. also, in that scenario lime is your friend. lime keeps bacteria and smell down AND insects as well. in a long term emergency those bags of human waste could become just as much of a hazard as tossing your poop out the window (a la Dark ages stories) Those bags will become a burden in very short order so that’s something that needs to be considered.

    Second, about laundry. it might work to get a fresh new toilet plunger to use as a washer. you can use the plunger to wash clothes in a 5 gal bucket for small families or to wash clothes in the bathtub for larger families but there again. in a long term emergency you’ll want a wash tub or two. a wash tub can be placed on a stand and save a lot of bending and lifting.

    I was going to comment on the siphoning but see it’s been covered.

    For what it’s worth, Kitty

    • Misty says:

      Thanks for the great comment and tips Kitty (and I apologize for my very late response!). I think the bags I have should be fine. Each bag comes with a ChemiSan application that turns fecal matter into na Enviro-Friendly material. Or am I missing something? And I do plan on the plunger being one of the laundry methods that I try!

      • Kitty says:

        The ChemSan sounds fine. I’ve never researched it, but I assume you have. I was only pointing out that outhouses are NOT unsanitary if sited, dug, used, and cared for properly and could be a HELP in a long term grid down situation. I have used them, and have been in nasty ones and well cared for ones. our Fair ground even uses them but they do use SOMETHING to help keep down the odor.

  38. BatGirl says:

    I was raised differently than most folks so here are a few suggestions that I didn’t see. You wash your dishes in dishpans in the sink, then you take the sudsy dish water and use that to mop the floor. You take the mop water and pour down the commode. Your savings is huge on water use. Same with washing up in the bathroom. Put a plastic bowl in the sink. Use that to do your washing up and then use that for flushing. I was raised with well water and usually a few weeks every year of my life, we would have to conserve water from our well or we would conserve water that we would haul from elsewhere.

  39. Desiree says:

    Currently I have had no water for 11 days. We go thru 4 gallons daily just for toilet flushing, 2 gallons daily for dishes, 2 to 4 gallons every other day bathing purposes, upto 3 gallons cooking depending on what we r having, 2 gallons for drinking daily for us n dogs. Our water has been frozen on the mountain n we have been working on it but very hard in these cold climates. I have complete gratitude for people who have lived this way. Really does make us stop n think about what we have n what we take for granted.

  40. Gail says:

    Google Humanure Handbook. That will take care if your poop in the most sanitary way possible with no waste and an end product that can help you grow fresh food to boot! :)

  41. Alice says:

    Thanks for this article. We have been without running water since 12/24/13 (today being 4/5/14) as our water line froze underground and broke and the ground here in Vermont will be frozen for a few more weeks, we can’t repair the problem until then. We have learned a lot about water use and conservation via trial and error over the last few weeks (months!) and there are a couple things you mentioned that I wish we had thought of sooner. SIPHON PUMP is a must! We have done laundry at a laundromat and taken showers at friends and family’s houses as well as at a local gym and my husband’s work, but everything else is pretty much the way you described it. This experience has led us to decide to become more prepared for a possible future event like this. Again, thank you for your tips!

  42. Kelly O'Reilly says:

    You can still flush without power, the Power puts the water in the tank….I suggest you use your bath water….or used water to flush with….and plain rain water if you can…..actually a rain Bartell is probably a need as in a real emergency you will have to plant a garden. ….cleaning clothes, when deployed to Kuwait for the with at er had to wash our own clothes, we used a low tub with water and soap and you swirl it around and then rub the clothes together to get friction and then with a wring out as much water as you can then in your clean water tub you swish out all the soap…like you would a rag when cleaning again wring out as much water as you can and hang to dry, a lot of people would put softner in the clean water just a tad, since clothes that hang to dry are a bit stiff