I’ve been reading a lot lately on water and preparedness and, though high on everyone’s list of preparedness issues, I am concerned that many people really haven’t fathomed what life would be like without water from the tap.
We have no “running water.” I put that in quotations as I recall some of the linguistic gymnastics I’ve gone through with people in having this discussion:
Curious Person: “So, I hear you don’t have running water.”
Me: “Well, sure I have running water.” (It runs out of the hose attached to the gravity tank up on the hill)
CP: “But, you don’t have water in your house.”
Me: “Yea, I have water in the house.” (Anytime I fill a bucket and haul it in)
CP (Looking still skeptical but a bit relieved): “Oh, so you do have running water.”
Me: Mmmmm. . .
We’ve been without water from the tap for so long that it’s second nature, and I thought I might share some of the realities of how it works.
We have an adequate supply of water from our spring. We pump it into two 1500 gallon tanks with a gasoline pump. This of course would change if the SHTF and gasoline disappeared. This situation is an area we need to work on. We have enough water for drinking, household use, limited garden watering and livestock. Our drinking water is filtered with a biosand filter. Dish washing water gets a few granules of pool sanitizer and all other household water is used as it comes from the catchment hole. Quality varies with the season.
In our family we figure on about ½ ounce of water daily per pound of body weight for maintenance hydration. This figure would need to be adjusted for those with cardiac or renal impairments. So, for David and I, this figures out to be 190 ounces or roughly 1 ½ gallons daily when we’re just sitting around and doing nothing. On a homestead or in a survival situation sitting around isn’t the norm. In the heat of summer with no air conditioning and while working I regularly see my husband drink two or more gallons of water a day. The amount of sweat that a human body can produce is astonishing and in this situation one must also consider electrolyte replacement. Children can easily fall through the cracks when it comes to hydration in trying circumstances and due to their smaller size, they can dehydrate more rapidly than adults. I would advise storing 2 gallons of drinking water per day per person, just to be safe. You probably won’t die from being dirty. You will die from dehydration.
Most of the water we use in cooking is for beans, rice, or pasta. Most of our stored food is in the form of home canned goods which arbitrarily serve as cooking water storage. I would estimate that ½ gallon per day for the family is all the cooking water we use. Used pasta water can be given to pets to stretch the water supply. The situation to be considered is that of those who have stored mostly dehydrated foods, each one of which must be rehydrated. For those who have stored beans, one way to mitigate the water needed for cooking is to pressure can your dry beans while you have the means (fuel and water) to do it. A full canner load of beans takes no more fuel and not much more time to prepare than a single meal’s worth. Canned beans take up more space but properly prepared can last for years. Storing wheat in the form of bulgur is another water stretching strategy as the liquid drained from canned vegetables and meats can be used to rehydrate the already cooked bulgur. One other suggestion is to can some quart jars of water as a source of sterile water for wound care in a situation where fuel for boiling may be scarce.
The fact is, most people bathe entirely too much. Bathing too often strips the skin of it’s protective layer of oils and beneficial bacteria which help fight infection. (Hand washing is another story and should be carried out frequently.) Bathing needs vary with the season as well. I prefer to take a good bucket bath with 5 gallons of water once or twice a week hitting the essential areas (face, hands, pits, groin) daily. A couple of quarts will handle this. People really like to shower, but you can get the same level of cleanliness by pouring water over yourself with a cup, hence the bucket bath. If you rig something like a Rubbermaid tote or, even better, a shallow livestock water tank, the dirty water can be recycled for garden use. Stand up or sit on a camp stool for your bucket bath if you don’t like the idea of sitting in the dirty water. For us, optimal water storage for baths would be 8 to 15 gallons per person per week.
On average I use 5 gallons daily for washing dishes. To get the most mileage from the water scrape everything well (I let the dogs do pre-wash, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea,) use 1 gallon for pre-wash, 1 and ½ to 2 gallons for washing and 2 to 2 ½ gallons for rinsing. If the rinse water gets soapy before you’re done hand drying the dishes will remove the remaining traces of soap. Organize your washing from cleanest to dirtiest. For dishwashing we would store 5 gallons per day for the family.
I think laundry needs are the biggest misconception people have when it comes to water storage. Almost everything I read grossly underestimates the amount of water it takes to do laundry. And I’m talking about truly necessary laundry, not modern laundry where everyone gets a fresh mango breeze scented shirt daily. In a SHTF situation and on many homesteads the reality of clean clothes is much different. Historically, before washing clothes became automated, fashion itself was geared in some respect towards minimizing the workload. Men wore long underwear and women wore a chemise. They called these items “body linen.” Both served to absorb perspiration, oil and odor and both were much lighter and easier to wash than the outer clothing. Heavier clothing such as jeans and overalls along with heavy sweaters and blankets take much, much more water to wash than the lighter items and most of the water used in washing anything is used for rinsing. Washing only requires enough water to wet the garment and suspend the soap. The soap loosens the dirt and grease, but the clothes aren’t clean until this is rinsed thoroughly away. Any excess soap left in clothing only serves to make the item get dirtier quicker. On average I can wash a normal load (say a medium load for an automatic washer) in less than 5 gallons of water. A good double rinse, however, will use an additional 20 gallons. Water can be conserved by using the rinse water for the next load of wash or for pre-soaking, but this only goes so far. One way to cut down on the amount needed for rinsing is by using ammonia in place of soap. Ammonia, or ammonium hydroxide, is similar to the alkaline chemical (lye) that combines with fats to form soap and cleans well without all the suds making it much easier to rinse away. Dish soap is also a bit easier to rinse out. I often use a couple of tablespoons mixed with a quart of water and a scrub brush to scrub David’s pre-soaked work pants. I have had little luck with using commercial laundry detergent in doing laundry by hand. No matter how much I rinse the extra additives seem to leave everything feeling kind of slick. Another consideration in doing laundry under less than modern conditions is that stained doesn’t equal dirty. If the system collapses or if you live on a working homestead you will have stained clothes. That’s why in the past everyone had work clothes and church clothes which is still good advice today. Sun drying will fade some stains. My advice to those considering how much water they will require for laundry and what kinds of changes in clothing habits they might make for a grid-down event is to do a trial run of a minimum of one week doing laundry by hand. Don’t get too excited and think that some of the gimmicky laundry tools out there (plungers, pressure washers, etc.) will make this easy. It’s going to be work and there’s no way around that. My tools are simple: a double tub, a large washboard, a scrub brush and a table to scrub on.
We would never consider combining useable water with human waste. Period. It’s going to be a tricky situation at best for anyone who doesn’t live in a rural area no matter what kind of goodies you buy to take care of “it.” No doubt, it’s going to be a stinky world if TSHTF. People don’t like the thought of handling their own waste but the fact is you’re going to have to. Nurses and plumbers have the edge. We’re already used to handling other people’s poop. In addition, how long will the sewers actually operate absent municipal water and power to operate the systems? Even in town, my choice for waste disposal would be a bucket toilet with sawdust or wood chips and a compost area set up in the far back part of the yard. In our experience a bag of chips, sold as livestock bedding, will last a family of 2 about a month. Finer woodchips or sawdust work better. We will be able to easily transition to free sources of dry, organic cover material like leaves if wood chips become unavailable. Though you (ladies especially) can urinate in the bucket toilet, your cover material will go further and emptying is easier (less weight) if you use a separate bucket for liquids. The liquid contents can be diluted and used on the garden or poured over the compost pile. Several large black trash bins with drainage holes cut into the bottom can contain the compost as well and if placed in the sun will speed decomposition. A full bin will be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2, fairly innocuous in smell and bug free in 4 to 6 weeks. Most likely there will be insect issues which are lessened by keeping the compost covered. Not all the creepy-crawlies you will see will be part of the disease causing hoard. Beneficial, predatory insects like soldier flies utilize the compost pile for a nursery as well. Though this method wouldn’t be legal in most places under normal circumstances, it shouldn’t be an issue in a survival situation.
Hopefully this short compilation of our experience with living with a limited water supply will be helpful for you readers in planning for the future.