Sooner or later, bad weather or other disasters will leave you without a constant and safe water supply. Here’s the information you need to be ready to deal with that.
How to flush ~
Contrary to what many people assume, toilets do not require electricity to work. They also don’t require running water. There are two ways to flush a toilet during a water outage. The first is simply to pour water into the tank on the back. Just fill it until the float starts to rise, and then push the handle to flush as you normally do. If you have rainwater, pool water, or some other source of water, just use a bucket to do that after each flush.
If you need to conserve water, you can use less water per flush by pouring the water directly into the bowl (by-passing the tank in back). Hold a bucket about waist-high, and pour water into the tank until the weight of the water causes it to start swirling. You can stop pouring then, and it will finish flushing on its own. Since that water never passes through the tank, you can use water that isn’t as clean, without worrying about yucking up the inside of the tank. This is a handy way to get rid of dishwater and bathwater in a useful way.
How to wash dishes ~
If you have any advance warning, stock on paper plates and cups, and plastic utensils. Dish washing is a huge waste of freshwater. If your water outage is expected to be very short, just save up the dirty pots and pans until the water comes back on. But if you’re going to be rationing water for a significant period of time, use rain water to wash in. If there’s some reason to think your rain water isn’t pure, do your final rinse in the cleanest water available, with a splash of bleach stirred in.
How to wash people ~
First of all, as much as we all enjoy a daily (or more) long hot shower, it’s not actually necessary. If you’re going through a water outage, you’re probably going to be asked to ration your water use, and bathing will be the first thing to cut back on. Only bathing every second or third day won’t hurt you, and you can go longer if you need to without ill effects. You do need to be washing your hands before eating, but that can be with waterless ‘instant’ sanitizer. When you do bathe, use a bucket and washcloth. Don’t waste a whole tub full of water if it’s in short supply. And then use that bucketful to flush the toilet.
The safety of rainwater and snow ~
We’ve all heard of ‘acid rain’, but that’s not a literal description of a danger. Unless you live somewhere like Chernobyl, rain will not harm you. It’s okay to catch and drink, to cook with, and to bathe in. The only real concern is that you will contaminate it in the process of catching it and storing it. For instance, if you put a container under the eaves to catch rainwater coming off your roof, you’re also going to catch all the other ‘stuff’ that’s being wash off the roof with it. Things such as bird poop, and dead and decaying leaves will end up in your container too.
Will that stuff kill you? Probably not. For a short term emergency, you could probably even drink that without serious harm. You just might not like the taste. But if it bothers you, you can strain out the big stuff, and boil what remains. That’ll make it just as safe as your tap water (and maybe even more so).
What will the pets drink? ~
Face it, most dogs will drink rainwater from puddles, and your cat will drink out of the toilet. You don’t have to be overly concerned with boiling or filtering the water supply for your pets. Unless there’s some reason to suspect that rainwater isn’t safe in your area, watering the pets is as simple as putting out containers when it’s raining, and then storing it in containers with lids (or mesh, or chicken wire, or whatever), so that pets and people can’t fall into the containers and drown.
Disposing of wastewater ~
It’s very unusual for waste systems to fail. Even when your water is off, your drains should still work. Used dishwater and bathwater can double as flush water for the toilet. If for some reason you cannot use your drains, you can dispose of wastewater outdoors. Dig a shallow hole (to contain any solid matter floating in your dishwater, for instance), and pour the water into the hole. It will soak into the soil and be filtered back into the ecosystem.
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