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You could own every water purification device known to man, but in an emergency situation you’ll always be better off with a stored supply of drinkable water. Natural disasters can strike when they are least suspected, and staying hydrated is one of your highest survival priorities in any situation, so don’t get caught without this precious liquid asset. How much water you should keep, how it’s packaged, and where it’s stored are three of the top concerns when setting up a home water storage system. Having several ways to collect water is important too, but for this post we’ll focus on storage.

The Volume

The amount of water you’ll need ultimately depends on the duration of the emergency. Since we don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future, an educated guess is the best we can muster. One gallon per person per day is a good generic minimum for drinking water; but the big question is, how many days will the emergency last? The 72-hour standard has always struck me as a little short, but keeping enough water on hand to last weeks or months can become unreasonable.

In my household, we stock five gallons per person. Since our home is in a water-rich climate, there are numerous options for resupply. If we are frugal with the water, five gallons could last each of us more than a week. If you live in an arid climate, larger volumes of water start to make more sense. If washing is kept to a minimum, a 30-gallon barrel per family member should see you through a month.

The Vessel

While not the cheapest solution, a quick fix for your home water security is to purchase several five-gallon water cooler jugs that are factory packed. The water in these jugs is prepared to be safe to drink for up to a year after bottling. For even longer turn-key water storage, you could invest in pouched or canned water. Most pouches are rated for five years of storage, while canned water boasts a 30-year shelf life. You could also fill your own containers. This is surprisingly more sanitary if you are using a municipal (town) water source, as the water is already treated with disinfectants. If you are using well water or spring water, you’ll need a little more disinfection at the time you are packaging.

Make sure you use food-grade water containers. Reliance Aqua-Tainers are storage jugs that hold seven gallons, are BPA-free, stack neatly, and have a built-in spigot. You could also refill water cooler jugs or any other clean water-friendly containers. Avoid the use of milk jugs and other containers that could be inviting to bacteria. If you’re pouring well water or spring water into your own containers, drip in 2 drops of bleach for each quart of water. This will disinfect the water and give you several months of safe storage, especially in cooler temps. Your tap water that has already been treated could use a top off of disinfectant, so add just 1 drop of bleach per quart.

The Storage Area

Store your water in a cool, dark, secure location and don’t forget about it. Use it annually for practical purposes and then refill your containers, just as you did before. Over time, your water may grow bacteria and other organisms, but it never stops being water. You can treat stored water that is questionable by boiling it for 10 minutes, treating it with 2 drops of bleach per quart and waiting 1 hour, or running it through a proper store-bought water filter. If you’re using canned water, place the metal cans in an area where rust will not affect them. The last place they should be is a damp basement floor.

And speaking of basements, you’ve probably heard that we’re not supposed to store bottled water on cement floors because it can leach chemicals into your water. This adage probably stems from the fact that all plastics are permeable to a degree, and that low spots in basements are a hot spot for radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that seeps out of the ground. Its density often keeps it in low-lying areas, like basements. On the off chance that there really is something to this prepper urban legend, store your food and water on shelves in the basement. Doing so will protect it in the event of a flood, too.

Let us know if you store water at home, and how, by leaving a message in the comments.

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