Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
We all know the importance of water for survival. Medically, it’s possible to survive as long as five days without water; but in a survival situation, we cut that down to three. Getting to five requires taking actions to ensure that we don’t lose our body’s fluids excessively, like avoiding sweating. That’s just something we can’t control in a survival situation. If it’s hot and there’s no power for our air conditioners, we’re going to sweat a lot.
Yet without power, the water might not be running either. While municipal water treatment plants are required by regulation to have backup generators, we saw how poorly that worked in the February freeze. In Corpus Christi, Texas, they couldn’t get even one of their four backup generators to run, due to the extreme cold.
Being a society that is highly dependent on our infrastructure, most of us have no idea what to do when that infrastructure goes down. But as we’ve seen in the last few years, even that infrastructure is fragile; it can go down at any time, leaving us without water, power, gas, or even food to eat.
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For preppers, all that justifies what we are doing. Knowing that we can’t trust the infrastructure to supply us with what we need, we make sure that we’re ready to take care of ourselves. Part of that has to include knowing where we can get clean water from if our municipal water authority isn’t able to supply it.
There are typically sources all around us, although we might not see them as such. Places like public swimming pools, fountains, streams and canals, even landscaping ponds are all potential water sources. You want to use those before using up all the water in your home. But in a real emergency, you need to know how to access the water that’s hidden in your home as well.
Water hidden in your home?
Yes. Besides obvious places, like a fish tank or the water that you’ve stockpiled, there are three places in your home where you can find clean water to use. This is clean water that should not need to be purified.
- The hot water heater (that has the most)
- Toilet tanks (but not bowls)
- The plumbing pipes
Getting Water from the Hot Water Heater
The biggest supply of hidden water in the home is the hot water heater. These can range anywhere from 30 to 60 gallons, but most homes will have a 40 gallon one. While that may not seem like a lot of water, it’s enough to provide drinking and cooking water for a family of four, for ten days.
The hot water heater should be on a stand, as shown in the photo above. However, many homes have them sitting on the floor. This really doesn’t make any difference in being able to get the water out of them, other than needing a container that is flat and shallow, rather than using something like a five-gallon bucket or a milk jug.
All hot water heaters have a drain valve mounted in the side. The one for this hot water heater is indicated by the red arrow in the picture below and is similar in appearance to what you can expect to find on any hot water heater, although the color might be different.
However, this is a gas hot water heater, so the valve is several inches higher up the side than it would be on an electric one. Gas hot water heaters have the burner for heating the water located below the tank, whereas electric ones are inside, installed from the top.
To drain the water out of the hot water heater, first turn off power to the heater if it is an electric one, or shut off the gas valve located in the line providing gas to the hot water heater. That’s the yellow handled valve that the red arrow is pointing to in the first picture.
If there such a valve (they are required by building code, but still may not exist in some cases), you should be able to turn off the hot water heater at the thermostatic control shown in the second photo above.
With the hot water heater off, allow several hours for the water to cool. Then attach a clean garden hose to the drain valve, placing the other end in a container to catch the water.
The ring around the coupling is the valve’s control wheel. Turn it counterclockwise to open, allowing water to flow out of the hot water heater into your container. Stand ready to either turn the water off or change containers quickly when the first container is full. Depending on how big your containers are, you will need several to drain the hot water heater.
It would be a good idea to mark the hot water heater in some way, to show that it is empty. That will serve as a reminder to fill it again, before turning it back on.
Getting Water from Toilet Tanks
While the hot water heater holds more water than anything else in your home, it isn’t the only source of water to be found. The tanks of your toilets each hold enough water to flush the toilet. With older toilets, that’s usually over two gallons per toilet. But with newer ones is it is from 1.2 to 1.6 gallons, depending on the efficiency of the toilet. The one shown below holds 1.6 gallons.
We can access this water by the simple expedient of removing the tank’s lid and scooping the water out. The water inside is supposedly clean, although I’m not sure that I would trust it. As you can see in the picture above, the walls of the tank are covered with a slimy brown goo. I’m not sure what that is and I’m not sure I want to know. But because it is there, I would run the water through my water purification system before drinking it.
Important note: The water in the toilet’s bowl is never safe to drink. Our intestines are filled with many types of bacteria which are safe there, but can be deadly when ingested. Some quantity of that bacteria come out when we defecate, tainting the water in the bowl. Even if you have just cleaned the bowl, you can’t be sure that water is safe to drink. About the only way you could be sure is to boil the water.
Getting Water from the Home’s Plumbing
The third source of water in your home is in the home’s fresh water plumbing pipes. While they don’t contain a lot of water, it is clean water and safe to drink. In a pinch, it might just be enough to keep you going, while you look for another source of water.
In order to drain the water out of your home’s pipes, it’s necessary to find the lowest accessible point in the plumbing. That’s going to be the toilet fill valve on the ground floor of your home, unless you have a bathroom in the basement. In that case, it will be the toilet fill valve in the basement.
In order to drain the water out of your home’s pipes, start by going throughout the home and opening the faucet valves on all the sink, shower and tub faucets. Then place a large, flat, water container on the floor, close enough to the toilet fill valve (arrow #1 in the picture above) that the toilet fill hose (arrow #2 in the picture above) can reach it. I use the lid from a large plastic storage bin for this.
Then turn off the valve and disconnect the hose from the bottom of the toilet tank. Hold the hose in place, with the end in the water container and open the valve.
The water will probably flow fairly slowly, as it has to come through the home’s pipes. If you forget to open the faucets, it won’t flow at all. You should be able to drain all the water from the pipes in a few minutes. This will be clean water that shouldn’t need to be purified.
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