Water Storage Containers
Use a tiered approach for your emergency water storage. You need at least 7 gallons of water, per person, in containers that are small enough to easily take with you when you need to evacuate. The remaining water you choose to store can be large containers.
The Weight of Water
Weight of Water
I do not recommend containers bigger than 7 gallons for your portable water supply. Even then, seven gallons of water weighs approximately 56 pounds (25.5 kg) and is too heavy for many people to lift.
If you cannot lift a container when it is full of water then store your water in smaller containers. Use the chart at right to help you estimate the weight that different sized containers would be when full of water.
Commercially Bottled Water
Purchasing commercially bottled water is probably the most convenient route to obtain your water store. You can simply purchase the water jugs and put them on the shelf. There are, however, a few things to watch out for.
Most 1-gallon and 2.5-gallon bottled water containers are made out of thin HDPE plastic (the soft milky-white plastic with a recycle code of 2). This type of jug is easily punctured and the tops tend to pop off if the jugs are accidenly dropped. I recommend you stay away from these unless you can’t find anything else. If you choose to go this route you need to be extra careful in how you store and handle them.
Instead look for bottles made out of PETE plastic (the harder clear or color tinted plastic with a recycle code of 1). Most smaller bottled water bottles (up to 3 liters) are made out of this plastic.
I do highly recommend including a case (24 bottles) of 16 oz (0.5 liter) bottled water as part of your tiered water storage strategy. These are easy to use and add some convenience to the other larger containers.
Pay attention to the expiration dates on commercially bottled water and replace them before they expire.
Commercial Water Storage Containers
I prefer to fill my own containers with water instead of purchasing commercially bottled water. My favorite water storage container is the 7-gallon Aqua-Tainer made by Reliance (pictured at right). It is the perfect size for one person for one week. They have a handle for carrying and a spigot for controlled release of water. (Tipping a 7-gallon container to get a cup full of water out tends to lead to spilling of a very precious resource at a very inopportune time.)
Look for medium sized water storage containers in the camping section of department stores, at sporting goods stores, or online. Common sizes in the United States are 7-gallon, 5 gallon, and 2.5-gallon containers. As mentioned above, don’t get one larger than you can carry when it’s full of water.
Make sure the container was designed to store water and is made out of FDA approved food grade materials. Stay away from jugs that contain BPA since the prolonged contact in storage will most certainly leach that chemical into your water.
Budget Water Storage Containers
One budget saving option is to reuse old 2 and 3 liter soda bottles. Thoroughly clean the bottle with hot soapy water before following my sanitizing and treatment instruction below. A properly cleaned bottle should have no residual smell of the pervious contents in the bottle.
Do not reuse plastic milk jugs for your water storage. It is impossible to completely clean all the residual organic material from the inside of the container.
Large Water Storage Containers
If you are storing a large amount of water then I recommend much larger containers, such a 55-gallon water drum, in addition to your portable supply. It is normally more economical (per gallon) to buy larger containers and it’s much easier to fill and treat a single large container than a dozen smaller containers.
55-gallon water drum
For example, if your goal was 5 gallons per person, per day, for a family of 4, then you would need 140 gallons for 7 days. 28 gallons of that (1 gallon per person, per day, for 7 days) should be small portable containers. That leaves about 112 gallons that you should store in large containers. In this case two 55 gallon water barrels (110 gallons) would give you the remaining gallons you need.
55-gallon barrels can be found online, but shipping is often prohibitively expensive. Instead, look at a farm supply store or see if your local hardware store will special order one for you. Again, make sure it’s made out of FDA approved food grade material. Do not purchase a perviously used drum. It is impossible to completely remove the previous contents as it leaches into the the plastic. Your water will taste like whatever was in it before!
Get a “tight head” 55-gallon drum (which has a permanent cover with two small, capped openings) as opposed to an “open head” drum (where the entire lid comes off). It’s harder to keep the remaining water clean when you have to remove the entire top as debris can easily fall into the water. A bung wrench will make removing the caps easy and without it, you may damage the cap when trying to remove it.
You will need a siphon or pump to remove the water. This can be as simple as a length of food grade tubing for siphoning. Suck on it to get the water flowing and then keep the end of the tube below the water level to maintain water flow. To stop the flow of water, simply raise the end of the tube above the water level in the barrel. This method works well for extracting large volumes of water, such as when you are refilling the barrel or filling up a large pot.
For more convenience and less potential for spilling water, get a hand operated pump. Battery operated pumps are available, but obviously require batteries, which may be unavailable in a disaster.