Preparing for an Emergency


In the past year, our region has experienced two significant and lengthy power outages, one in late December, the next in July. The loss of electricity presents different challenges in different seasons. The thing which both seasons have in common is the need to have an adequate supply of water. In winter, if you have a heat source and access to clean snow, put them together and you at least have “grey” water (clean but not acceptable for drinking) for washing, and flushing toilets. In the summer, you may not have any reliable source of water, unless you have a way to haul it from the river. The Red Cross guideline for water is 2 litres of drinking water per day for each person plus an additional 2 litres per person for washing and flushing. If you have pets, you have to factor in their needs for water, which will be dependent on their size, age, and species. Our hierarchy of needs in an ongoing power outage may be stated this way:

1. Heat (in winter)
2. Communications (to call for help, reach family, receive information crucial to the situation)
3. Water
4. Food

I’ve placed food at the bottom of the list because it is easier to prepare for than the loss of water. We can survive longer without food than we can without water. Most of us can fairly easily figure out a way to have enough food for a period of 3-5 days, but water is much more complicated. Those large bottles are heavy and awkward to handle and store. Also, they should be rotated every year.

My husband and I reviewed our strategy for an emergency. Our household includes two adults and several pets. Our two dogs are substantial water consumers. We managed just fine in the December ice-storm, with an alternate heat source and a yard full of snow, and several bottles of drinking water. We were lucky in July. Our power stayed on, but it started us thinking about the dilemma we would have faced if the situation had been otherwise. I’d like to share our solution because it may be helpful to others.

We purchased a large well tank. The tank we bought holds 350 litres which should be plenty to get us through most crises. We had the plumber install it just before the hot water tank and set it so it would have no effect on the water pressure in the house. Well tanks have a pressurized bladder inside. They steadily release pressure until it hits a certain minimum and then a valve opens to receive more pressurized water from the line. By setting the maximum to the same pressure as the line and the minimum a few pounds below that, the tank has little effect on the pressure in the house. The pulsing of the pressure and the constant flow from hot water use keeps the water stirred and fresh. Since the next thing in the line is the hot water tank, the minor pressure difference is buffered and we didn’t notice any difference after installation. Placing the well tank before the hot water heater had two more advantages. The first was that the water in the tank is pre-heated by the ambient temperature of the room which will lower the amount of electricity needed to heat our hot water. The second is related to the first. By putting it after the tee from the cold water line, we don’t raise the temperature of our cold water. We mounted the tank on cinder blocks as we needed it high enough to place a good-sized container under the tap at the bottom.

Our solution was certainly more expensive in the short term than buying and rotating plastic water bottles but it is completely automatic and maintenance free for many years to come.