Survivalist practice: Life without running water

On Monday a thin sheet of paper was shoved through the letterbox. It said the council were doing work on our street’s fire hydrants and the water to the street would be turned off from 9:30am to 4pm Wednesday.

At first I was irritated but then I thought, I have all these systems in place that mean this should actually be a good skills test.

After all, if my water setup can’t handle 7.5 hours without water, it’s not really fit for purpose for longer term disruptions to the water supply.

Of course, they decided to throw a curveball and start work at 2pm on Tuesday instead of 9:30am Wednesday. The water only came back on at 6pm Wednesday.

So it was 29 hours without running water, in total. Here’s how I handled it with a toddler and a newborn:

  1. As soon as the letter came through, the first thing I did was got out my “party drinks container” which was a couple of quid from Home Bargains. This is a plastic water container with a tap at the bottom. The tap part was really useful for handwashing on Tuesday as I didn’t want to drain the hot water system prematurely and leave myself with no washing water on Wednesday.
  2. I took advice from that nuclear war video (the US one, not the silly British “protect and survive ones” which are only really good as black comedy) and turned on the highest hot water tap (faucet) in my house. I then turned on the lowest tap whenever I needed it and was able to get a whole hot water tank full of tepid water (heating’s been off for a couple of days) by draining the hot water system. This was useful for non-consumption tasks such as washing hands and rinsing things that came from the dishwasher (sometimes it leaves residue). Obviously, this wouldn’t work if you don’t have a hot water tank, such as people with a modern combi-boiler. Oil heating is looking pretty good right now, given that I have no standing charge either, unlike gas-heated houses.
  3. I pulled out one of my 5 litre (about 2 gallons? 1.5 gallons? Not sure) spring water bottles that I bought from Aldi in January. I’m trying to implement a FIFO (first in, first out) system with stored food and water so it doesn’t go off and I only store things I use (no pilchards, even if they have a stunning shelf life). I used this water for all consumption such as the water boiler (I don’t have a kettle) and to water down my toddler’s fruit juice. I have to say it made the tea weaker so I needed to leave the teabag in the cup to get a good flavour.
  4. I didn’t flush the toilet unless it really needed it, because each of our toilets had one full cistern each, so one flush (ours don’t have “little” and “big” flushes, they just empty), then they wouldn’t be able to refill. Once the cisterns were empty, I filled up a bucket from the water butt outside and manually flushed the toilets by pouring this water down. It’s a bit… splashier than using the proper mechanism but works in a pinch and with practice you could probably get good at it.
  5. Washing: We have a shower that goes over the bath taps and is basically a mixer tap with a hose, so once the hot water system was depressurised, it was easy to have a quick shower this morning (albeit a tepid one).

Reflections:

I wasn’t really surprised by how much water I did or didn’t use, because I’ve lived without a water supply a few times in the past and my consumption is largely the same as ever. I do like having a car these days so I don’t need to walk from the supermarket with the 5L bottles of water anymore, unlike when I lived at my dad’s flat which also had no potable water, or when I lived in China and I had to roll 25L barrels of water down the corridor to get them to our flat then lift them level with my head to get them into the water dispenser. The setup here is quite pleasant because at no point do I need to carry massive quantities of water long distances. The bottles always paralyse my hands when I have to carry them.

The main issue with not having running water is the washing machine. I’ve just got back into cloth nappies. Now my youngest is 5 months old, she is big enough to fit the ones we already have, so I had a bucket full of wet nappies that had to wait until the water was back on.

Aldi are currently selling a camping washing machine but it’s €79.99 and I don’t think I need one that much when I could hand wash in the bath (which we had to do for a month when we first moved here with our baby because Argos.ie LOST our washing machine). That was the only obvious hole in my water prepping during this test of it. I think having a supply of disposable nappies on hand for similar situations would be quite good because no-one wants to hand wash brown nappies, especially if you can’t rinse them in the toilet first.

The water is back on now but I’ve had a tap running for 20 minutes to try and clear it, and the water is still brown, so I’ve turned the tap off and I’m continuing to use my water system for the time being, although I’m flushing the toilets from the mains because it doesn’t really matter what quality of water they use.

I’m no longer using the hot water tank because as the mains came back on, I don’t know when the hot water tank would have refilled with that dirty water. I haven’t had to use my water filter/purification system yet, but I will if this becomes a longer-term issue because I don’t like buying in water.

This was a bit of a soft test, to be honest, even with the water being off for 29 hours instead of 7. I had supermarkets nearby that were well-stocked and we could bug out to a cafe or hotel if needed. It was also May so we didn’t really need the heating or hot water. But then, with small babies you don’t really want to test everything in the worst possible circumstances until you absolutely have to.

Update: I wrote this on Thursday to publish on Friday however, there’s been a bit of an issue. As of Saturday, our water is STILL brown. So I’ve had to get out the Brita Maxtra filter and set it up.

Also, the hot water tank did refill with brown water and my son’s bath last night looked fairly murky but I figured it would be okay for washing as it’s a) been heated and b) we use bubble bath which will kill any bacteria in the water.

Even with the filter, the drinking water is still brown. I’ve taken to filtering it, then pouring it back into the top of the jug to filter a second time, then boiling it, and using it only for hot drinks. For cold drinks, such as my toddler’s juice, I’m using bottled water until this clears up. According to the water board that could take several days.

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