In most emergency situations, fresh drinking water is the most important item you can store. It is recommended to have both stationary emergency water storage and portable storage in containers light enough to carry in an emergency. Be sure to take into consideration that water weighs 8 lbs. per gallon.
Preparedness authorities like FEMA recommend storing at least 14 gallons of water per person. Storing that much will allow each person to use one gallon a day for two weeks. A family of four would want to store approximately 56 gallons of water (remember to store both stationary and portable). Keep in mind that this recommendation is for a minimum amount of water—just enough for drinking and light sanitation. To use water for cooking, bathing, or other needs, you’ll want to store more.
Water Storage Containers
There are many types of containers and options available for storing water long-term. Heavy-duty, food-grade polyethylene barrels are great for water storage. These barrels are normally blue. Color is important because blue designates the barrel is full of water while red designates fuel or flammable liquid. It is never a good idea to store water in barrels that once contained fuel or chemical substances. Water barrels are typically available in sizes from 15 to 55 gallons. Storing these barrels in a dark and cool area, such as a basement or food storage room, is best. Storing your barrels outside could have a negative effect on the life of the barrel and the quality of the water. It is not recommended to store any water container in direct or indirect sunlight. Also, it is best to store water barrels with a porous insulation barrier (such as wood) between the cement and the barrel.
A ‘food grade’ storage container is made of #2 HDPE, and is opaque or mostly opaque which minimizes the amount of light penetration. If the container is considered ‘food grade’ it is typically marketed as such and / or labeled “Food Grade”, “Food Safe”, etc. Some food grade buckets or containers will include a cup-and-fork symbol as an indicator. A food-grade bucket or container might also be specifically marked as USDA approved (or FDA or NSF approved).
Note: All food grade buckets are made of HDPE #2 (high density polyethylene),
but not all HDPE #2 buckets are food grade.
The typical ‘blue’ water storage containers or water barrels are also made of high density polyethylene (#2 HDPE) and are marketed as food safe.
If you will be storing food directly in a plastic bucket or container, or if you will be using the container for drinking water, you might verify the material is food-safe before you purchase.
Which water storage option works best for you?
If your only option is to store water barrels outside, cover them as much as possible to prevent exposure to light, ensure cleanliness, and provide insulation. During the winter you have to take into account the freezing factor. When water freezes it expands. If there is not enough room at the top of your barrel, it can cause your barrel to become disfigured or even crack. Only fill the barrel 9/10 the way full if you plan to store it in a place where it may freeze.
Using a metalized bag in a boxed water kit is one of the best water storage options. You simply fill the metalized bag with water and place it in a cardboard box. These kits block light, limiting any bacteria or algae growth. These kits also offer an easy-to-use and versatile portable water system. The boxes can double as a sanitation kit (emergency toilet) and a carrying case for transporting water in an emergency.
A smaller version of the metalized water bag system is the water pouch or box of purified drinking water. Each pouch contains approximately four ounces of water that can be stored for more than five years. These are a good alternative to heavier containers as a minimum ration for small children. These small pouches may not be as convenient for large amounts of water.
Two-liter pop or juice bottles are also a good option for inexpensive water storage. Be sure to clean them well and store in a cool and dark area. Light and warmth will promote algae and bacteria growth. Over time these water containers can break down and leak, so store them away from food or other items that may be damaged by water. Milk jugs are not recommended because they are biodegradable and can break down within a short period of time.
Heavy containers should always be stored close to ground level and secured to prevent breakage or possible injury in the event of any earthquake or natural disaster. Be sure to store all water containers away from any harmful chemicals.
Tips and Suggestions
- Water can be found during an emergency from several different places around the house including your water heater, ice cubes in your freezer, and as a last resort, the reservoir tank in your toilet (not the bowl).
- Treat water with bleach before you use your water during an emergency by adding 4 drops of bleach (no dyes or perfumes) per quart of water.
- Rotate your water once a year for freshness. Choose a month that is convenient for you. When rotating your water, the old water can be used for washing your car, watering your garden or trees, or a variety of other uses—rather than just dumped out and replaced.
- Water containers can be stored in many different places such as closets, underneath beds, behind couches, etc.
- Do not use glass containers for water storage because they can easily break during an emergency.
- Available water filters treat from 26 to as much as 39,000 gallons of water. A good water filtration system is critical to your portable and stationary water storage to ensure water for your family.
- If space and money are concerns, start small and gradually build your water storage as you build your food storage.
Water will store indefinitely if it meets all of the following criteria.
- It is free of microorganisms.
- The container is made of food-grade materials.
- The container is clean and tightly closed.
- The container is kept from sunlight.
- You may want to boil the water if it has been stored for a while.