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6 Surprising Lessons Learned from a Planned Water Outage

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
6 Surprising Lessons Learned from a Planned Water Outage

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Over the past few days, something has become very clear to me: Backdoor Survival readers are a community.  I have been reading the 176 (and counting) comments to the recent Buzz, and more than a few of you have mentioned that you learn as much from comments as the from the articles themselves.  Nothing could make me happier!

Along those lines, recently I received an email from Karen in Nebraska.  The topic was “What I learned about water recently” and she wrote about the lessons she learned during a planned water outage.

Six Surprising Lessons Learned from a Planned Power Outage | Backdoor Survival

Normally speaking, we prep for an unexpected water outage but that does not mean a planned outage is any less convenient.  (I was going to say miserable but as preppers, we are well prepared so we are NOT miserable.)

With Karen’s permission, I share her experience so that you, too, can learn from it.

6 Lessons From a Planned Water Outage

A couple of weeks ago, we had a water outage (we knew in advance they would be working on our water main for about three days.) I thought it would be a perfect time to test our preps, especially since it was so cold out.

Here’s what I was surprised by.

1. We used a lot less water than I thought we would.

We ended up finding excuses not to use water, when we knew it would take more effort.

We used baby wipes and Clorox wipes for cleaning and hygiene. We used mouthwash instead of rinsing our teeth with water. We used a lot of hand sanitizer instead of washing our hands. (I know, not the best, but mostly that was my husband and kids when I wasn’t looking!)

We ate a lot of canned soup, the kind that doesn’t need water, and we used almost all of our paper plates, bowls and cups, and plastic utensils.

2. We made a lot more laundry than usual.

We ended up using almost every piece of clothing we owned, and figured out what didn’t fit anymore or looked bad or shabby, because we didn’t want to use our water for washing clothes.

I had already not done laundry for several days beforehand because, well, busy life, so clean clothes were at a premium. Clean socks became a barter item by the last day!

3. We need to revamp our toilet strategy.

The boys could go outside for number one, but we girls couldn’t. We filled our tub up before they shut our water off, and used it all in one day flushing the toilet.

By the third day, the house was pretty stinky. It was like although the kids knew they needed to flush less, their bodies needed to go more often than usual! We were using our portable toilet and kitty litter, and putting our TP in a separate bag to go out to trash. It was still pretty stinky. So we are going to make a separate area in the basement for next time.

4. We ended up getting dehydrated a little.

Because we knew we were only going to have the water we had in the house, we all kept finding excuses not to use it. Unfortunately, drinking ended up being one of the things we didn’t do.

We had milk and juice in the fridge, and used up more of those than usual. I didn’t realize this until we ran out of milk earlier than usual, and I took a look at our bottled water. We’d only used a few bottles, where I figured we’d be almost out!

So next time we have a water test, I’ll be encouraging more water drinking. It was easy to overlook their water intake, because they were still going to school and work, and I was busy too. I won’t make that mistake again!

5. Cooking was harder than it had to be.

I didn’t realize until I looked back, but I kept choosing meals that didn’t use much water.

It was easier to open a can of soup than haul a gallon of water into the kitchen to boil something or use paper plates than haul water to wash dishes. (Plus I hate doing dishes anyway!)

I spent one whole afternoon trying to figure out a meal I could make without any water at all. (Hot ham and cheese sandwiches, canned corn, and canned peaches!) By the end of the three days, my husband said he would be happy not to have soup for several months!

6.  I am not at all sure anymore whether we are ready for a longer term emergency.

This was the first time I tested my water preps, and it didn’t go at all how I thought it would.

I have several tweaks to make, and my mindset is definitely different. I am not at all sure anymore whether we are ready for a longer term emergency, especially since we took the lazy way out for a lot of things.

We wouldn’t be able to do things the way we did if the water was shut off unexpectedly and we didn’t know when it would be back on. So I will be reworking my plans and restocking my canned goods. I learned a lesson here, and I just wanted to tell someone who might understand!

The Final Word

What are the takeaways from Karen’s experience?  Let me list them for you.

1.  Stock up on disposable goods, including paper plates, utensils, TP, plastic garbage bags and even disposable cookware,

2.  If a planned outage is scheduled, do laundry ahead of time.  Actually, keeping up the the laundry is a good idea regardless.  You never know when an unexpected water or power outage will occur.

3.  Stockpile extra socks!!!

4.  Think through how you will deal with human waste.  This is where extra heavy garbage bags come into play.  Some are available with odor-control features.  Hint:  bigger is not always better.  A bag full of human waste will be heavy.

5.  Even with all the preps in the world carefully stored away in your prepper-closet, there will always be surprises.  Take a weekend or even a day to shut off the water and practice your preps.  That is the very best way to discover your prepper strengths and prepper weaknesses.

I would like to thank Karen, once again, for sharing her experience and the lessons she learned from a planned water outage.  I don’t know about you, but I am now on a mission to find some extra socks!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to email updates.  When you do, you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-Book, The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

Hefty BlackOut Tall Kitchen Trash Bags, Clean Breeze, 90 Count :  Chances are you are going to need double the amount you think you will need.  I like these that are designed to keep the odors inside.  If you prefer a larger bag, consider these 30 gallon bags.

No Rinse Cleansing & Deodorizing Bathing Wipes:  One wipe is more than enough for a complete “bath”.  These are a good backup when traditional showers are not available such as the week or weeks following a disaster.  Also good for the sick room as well as camping, boating, hiking and such.  Here is my review.

AquaPodKit Emergency Drinking Water Storage Plus Aquamira Filtration Kit, 65 gallon:    Have you considered storing water in your bathtub?  The AquaPod is a bladder that you can use in your bathtub to store water if you know that a storm, flood, or hurricane is brewing. (I call these “disruptive events”.)  What I love about the AquaPod is that I can purchase refill liners, making this more than a one-time use product.  I am thrilled that you can now filter the water as you siphon it out of the tub. Plus, of course, that it is made in America.  How many preparedness products can boast about that? For more information, read about the All-New AquaPod Emergency Water Kit and Filter.

Hanes Men’s 10-Pack Ultimate Crew Socks: I do not know anyone that does not have a clothes dryer that eats socks.  After reading Karen’s email, I ordered these for Shelly and for me?  I ordered these.  (My clothes are typically very conservative but I love colorful socks!)

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter:  The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2 oz.  making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.


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49 Responses to “6 Surprising Lessons Learned from a Planned Water Outage”

  1. Remember “grey water” can flush toilets. Water from dish washing or laundry, even water used for bathing can be used to flush. Simply save the “grey water” instead of letting disappear down the drain. Water from nearby ponds and rain water also work.

  2. I’ve been camping and hauling water to our property for over thirty years. I use old milk jugs, the gallon size, and fill them at home. Together, my wife and I use a gallon each per day, so thirty jugs sit on shelves in our outdoor kitchen and we usually have one or two left over at the end of two weeks. Wearing clothing for a couple of days isn’t a problem unless I’m working in the woods with a chainsaw and splitting maul…even then, I don’t change trousers unless they’re muddy. Yes, there is a big load to do by the time we get home, but it’s not all that much more than when we’ve stayed home…it’s simply a matter of getting used to camping over the years.

    We do bag our poop (double bag) and when we get a couple day’s worth, it goes into another (larger) plastic bag. We use a shed for our ‘facility’ that’s away from our living quarters and I hang the bags on a nail in the wall so critters can’t reach them. The car sometimes gets stinky on the two hour drive home–then it all goes into the trash can. I figure it gets buried sooner or later in a landfill, but I don’t feel bad because of all the other trash that gets buried along with it. Besides, I don’t have to bother burying it on our property with the possibility of contaminating our ground and ground water.

    I’ve been watering my cherry trees for years with urine…they don’t seem to mind. It is a little less convenient for #1 when its raining out.

    We either wash our few dishes and/or use paper plates and canned foods and we don’t usually generate much more trash than we do at home…we burn all of the paper in the fire pit in the evenings along with our campfire (a great source of visual entertainment, BTW). Pots and pans get washed daily, but we still seem to not use an inordinate amount of water.

    I do have to force myself to drink 12 oz. of water before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner and before bedtime, other wise I’d forget to keep hydrated…life outdoors is completely different than living in the city and it has its own priorities.

  3. We live off-grid and get our water from a spring which freezes every winter, so we spend the winters and a good part of spring hauling water. We’ve learned to be very conservative in our water use, the three of us use between 5-10 gallons per day total. One of the things I’ve learned to stretch our water is to use a tub of water more than once. As fresh water, I use it for bathing, rinsing dishes or laundry (I do both of those by hand). When it’s time to change my washwater, it goes into a bucket for “dirty cleaning” and the rinse water becomes my wash water and I get new rinse water. The dirty water gets used for mopping, washing lamp chimneys, etc. After that, it’s pretty awful and gets use for flushing the toilet. In short, use clean water for clean jobs, grey water for not-so-clean jobs and blackwater for the worst jobs.

    • Lori, I love your story. Very inspirational. Being on town water and sewer paying $180 quarterly whether I use it or not, no financial motivation. But conserving the environment and practicing for the lean times to come is big motivation. Also I can store this expensive water for SHTF.

      Thank you for sharing your family’s efforts and methods. I’m going to do some things differently. Karen.

  4. The TP smell issue brought to mind my son’s cat box. He has a gadget (non-electric) like a diaper genie that holds the clumps from the litter box and really does a remarkable job of keeping the smell to a minimum. A camp potty with kitty litter & one of these gadgets might be a temporary solution.

  5. If you live in a trailer or similar shelter with no washer or dryer, you learn to wear the same clothes more than once! It’s a big job to haul everything to the laundrymat (and an expense), so you become quite judicious about ‘making more laundry’ for no reason.

    In the old days, folks made do with a pan of water to clean the ‘smelly bits’. I’d recommend one bucket of water (pour out a little to wash) with a second similar amount for rinsing. A wet washcloth can do a fair job of body cleaning. You don’t have to use everything throw-away. Give each person his/her own towel/cloth (different colors, of course). You should be able to get by a few days anyhow that way.

    About the throw away dishes etc. You can assign each person and child their own ‘bag’ of utensils, including cloth napkins. Write their name on them the bag and plastic silverware (if you need to). Spoons etc can be licked then rubbed on the cloth if you’re fussy. Forks and knives really don’t get all that dirty. Here in Great Southwest, folks used sand (in plentiful supply) for dish cleaning when water is scarce.

    About the poop problem, well, now you know why there was a ‘special hut’ for that purpose! My grandmother kept a chamber pot handy under the bed when we visited even though she had indoor plumbing! Old habits die hard.

    The hardest thing is probably assessing your everyday life style. We develop habits like using paper towels or napkins constantly without even thinking what would we do if there were no more?

    • Before laundry was a (relatively) easy task a person was given a clean napkin once a week on Sunday & used that one all week. Personalized napkin rings kept track of whose was whose. That’s why you see so many engraved napkin rings at antique stores!

  6. Karen, make sure your bathtub drain/stopper is not leaking. Pour a gallon in and check every 15 minutes. If it’s leaking, next time you need to store water, seal it with duct tape. A few more tips:
    Don’t flush #1, only #2. Tell the kids “if it’s yellow let it mellow,if it’s brown, flush it down”.
    Use a smaller bucket (2 gal mop bucket) for flushing. Pour the water quickly, but carefully directly in the bowl, not the tank. Practice while you have water, you’d be surprised how little water it takes to flush.

  7. I was working very long hours in the oil field. I had a waterline break underground,between the meter and my house. I could not take the time to fix it until I had a day off which would be 4 more days. No problem I though. I have hundreds of gallons of stored water in the house. By the time my day off rolled around and I took a look at all those empty water containers that used to be full,,,,I was shocked and appalled at how grossly I had under estimated our needs,even while being somewhat conservative. I actually dug my own well after that.

    • Hi BCTruck, your testimonial about water is very sobering. I will not soon forget and I will keep cramming stored water in the house. Anywhere and everywhere. Short heavy-duty containers can go in the crawl space.

  8. Consider separating liquid from the solid deposits. Save larger detergent bottles (inner neck thingie removed) to use for liquids. They have a tight-fitting lid (no smell), and everyone could use their own bottle (less ‘ick’ factor). If there are no drugs in the individual’s urine, it can be diluted and sprinkled around the edges of a larger property. If using a toilet for disposal, then everyone’s urine can be dumped at the very end of each day and that way the toilet would only have to be flushed one time (saving an enormous amount of water vs. multiple individual flushes).

  9. For water filtration, check out the Sawyer mini, retails for about $20.00, filters 100,000 gallons of water. The down side of the life straw, is it filters only about 300 gallons. Check out the Sawyer site, they offer a nice selection of very reasonable water filters, priced so there is little to no excuse for not having one, or two.

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