Probably the first thing any of us will notice in a post-disaster scenario is the lack of electrical power. The second thing we will most likely notice is that there isn’t any water. We’ll go to the sink, expecting the water to come out of the faucet, like it always does, and nothing will happen. For many, that will be the moment they wake up and realize that the brown stuff really has hit the rotary air movement device.
Water is one of our top survival priorities, beaten out only by the ability to maintain our core body temperature. Yet it is often overlooked in our day-to-day lives. We are so accustomed to having water at our fingertips, that most people don’t have any idea where to get water, other than bottled water, in the case of an emergency which shuts down the city water.
Yet most of us have a number of water supplies readily available, within walking distance of our homes. We also have clean water in our homes, ready for our use. All we have to do is find a way to access it.
Your Water Heater
The water heater in most homes consists of a 30 to 50 gallon tank, with a heating element inside. This tank is always full, even though you may not have water flowing through your home’s pipes.
Water in the water heater won’t flow out of your faucet, without the water pressure from your municipal water authority.But the water is still there and not hard to access. You can tell how much water your water heater holds, by checking the label.
The water heater can be located in a number of places. Homes with basements will usually have the water heater located there. Homes and apartments which do not have basements will usually have the water heater located in a closet. Mine is located in my office closet.
Before draining the water out of your water heater, you need to ensure that it is turned off and the water has had time to cool. The water inside your water heater is usually at about 140°F, which is hot enough to cause second-degree burns.
To turn off the water heater, you’ll first need to determine if it is a gas or electric water heater. The water heater above is an electric one. There is wiring, inside a metal conduit, connected to the top to provide power (note the arrow).
If it was a gas water heater, it would have a gas valve and control, mounted near the bottom, something like what is shown in the photo below. Please note that these can vary considerably in their appearance.There will always be a knob on the gas water heater’s control valve, allowing you to turn it off. In the photo above, this is the black knob.
Electric heaters will not have any sort of control or switch on them, which allows them to be turned off.
Instead, you’ll have to turn the water heater off at the breaker box.
In most cases, the water heater requires 240 volts to operate. In order for your home’s electrical system to provide that will require a double breaker, such as the one pointed out in the photo above. There are a total of five double breakers in this box, easily identified by the longer switch handle, which connects the two sides of the breaker together. The others are for the air conditioner, clothes dryer, air conditioning condenser unit and HVAC air handling unit.
It will take a good 12 hours or longer for the water to cool, once the power has been turned off. The water heater is insulated, so the water will retain the heat for a long time. If your water heater has a blanket around it (it will be soft, rather than just metal), remove it, so the water can cool more rapidly.
Draining the Water
There is a drain valve located near the bottom of the water heater, as shown in the photo below. The valve itself may be plastic, as shown, or metal. You can also see that the water heater is sitting in a pan, which is intended to capture spills and leaks.
For newer homes, building code requires that the water heater be on a stand, raising it up off the floor. But in older homes, like mine, this was not done.Connect a standard garden hose to the drain valve and put the other end into a clean pot or bucket. Please don’t use the bucket you use for cleaning the floor, this is clean water and you want it to stay that way. Open a sink faucet somewhere in the home, preferably on the second floor, as far away from the water heater as possible.Open the valve and allow the water to flow. Even though the top of the pot is higher than the valve, the water will flow, because the water level in the tank is higher than the top of the pot. Be ready to shut the valve off quickly, when the water gets near the top of the pot.
You will notice when the water level gets near the bottom of the tank, as the water will flow more slowly. When it reaches the point where the water inside the tank is at the level of the top of the pot, the water will stop flowing. At that time, you will need to replace the pot with something shorter, such as a baking dish, dumping the water from the baking dish into something larger, like this pot.
A Bit More Water
There is a bit more water hiding in the home’s pipes, over and above what’s in the water heater. To get to it, you need to find the lowest water access point in the home. This will be a toilet fill line, on the ground floor (or basement) of your home.
Even though this is water for your toilet, it is still clean water. In fact, it’s the exact same water that comes out of the kitchen and bathroom faucets. Close the valve and disconnect the short hose from the toilet tank. Place the end of the hose in a container and then open the valve. The water in the pipes will drain out, by gravity, just like it did from the water heater. You may get as much as two gallons of water this way.
The water in the toilet tank is also clean water, although the water in the toilet bowl is not. There will be three to four gallons of water in the tank, depending on how old your toilet is. You can scoop out the water from the tank and use it for washing. I would not use it for drinking, just for safety’s sake, even though it is probably clean enough to drink.
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