Home » Prepping for Disaster — Dealing with Water & Waste Issues

Prepping for Disaster — Dealing with Water & Waste Issues

by Bruce Haring

This is part of an occasional series on Prepping for Disaster.

In the wake of a disaster or uprising that upends normal life, your first considerations are food and shelter. If you’re at home when trouble starts, you’ll have most of that covered, at least for a few days.

But the length of any imposed stay at your home raises other important issues, particularly if the disaster lasts more than a couple days. At that point, you’ll have to consider what to do for drinking water, and for disposal of bodily wastes.

In modern times, we take both of those for granted. Turn on the tap, water flows. Visit the bathroom, and there’s a flush toilet. But in the absence of electricity, both of those can present a problem. Toilets and other plumbing work partially on electricity to move things along, which means that you may be faced with alternatives to pulling the toilet handle or turning the tap.

Dealing with human waste has more consequences to your health than a meat-lover’s pizza.  Tiny waste particles can become airborne and ingested (which is why you should close the toilet before flushing). Among the problems resulting from inhaling are gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other fun symptoms.

To use the toilet without flushing, you need large, strong plastic bags that you can seal tightly. Hopefully, you will still have access to your indoor toilet, which you can use as a commode. Empty the remaining water, insert plastic bag in the bowl, change as needed. You can use disinfectants combining bleach and water, but remember that water is best used for drinking.

If the toilet isn’t available, use a sturdy bucket or any other solid container, along with the bags.  This can lead to some hard choices about your children’s toys.

On the “Do Not” list:  do not flush the toilet if the water is off, as clogs and overflows will only add to your troubles.  And do not bury the waste in the nearby ground, particularly if you drink from a well.


Optimal health requires you to drink two quarts of water every day. Some that are in more delicate conditions — the ill, the elderly, children — need to ingest more. Try to have three days of water on hand at all times. When that’s gone, you can use disinfected containers to capture rainwater, or remember that the water in your toilet tank is potable (remember, it’s the tank, not the commode bowl. Ask your dog if you’re not sure. Whatever he favors is not the tank).

All water that has not been bottled should be boiled if possible. And make sure not to use containers that may have held poisonous materials, ie Clorox bottles, soap dispensers, etc.

Also crucial to your health and well-being is heat. When the electricity stops flowing, many heat sources will also go off-line, including hot air systems, oil burners, and coal furnaces, all of which have electrical components.

You can use a camping grill for heat. Just remember to make sure the room is well-ventilated so that carbon monoxide doesn’t build up, and also be careful to place any grill far away from flammable materials. It would be great if you had propane or other fuel on hand to keep the home fires lit during a longer siege, but storage may be impractical. Try to focus on keeping one room well-heated. There are also fabricated chimneys made of sheet metal, and fake fireplaces that can generate heat with a can of Sterno.

Your best bet: make sure you have enough blankets, coats, and other warm gear to preserve body heat. Wear them constantly to preserve your natural defenses, and snuggle up with the rest of the family.

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