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Survival Skills

Five tips for accessing the water stored in a water heater during an emergency

Five tips for accessing the water stored in a water heater during an emergency

You have a large reservoir of potable water in your house, just waiting to be tapped. Here’s how to use the reserve stored in the water heater when an emergency happens.

by Leon Pantenburg

The disaster that hit closest to home to me was Hurricane Katrina. My relatives live in Mississippi, but even being a couple hundred miles inland didn’t spare them from the high winds, flash flooding and violent fringe storms.

Even though they were spared the brunt of the storm, they were still without power for a week, and had to get by with what they had on hand.

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Check out your water heater before you need the water, and know how to access it. The valve on the right is where you drain this water heater.

When any disaster happens, one of the first things to go is water supply. The water main may burst, be shut off or be polluted.

Hopefully, you have a supply of potable water set aside. But don’t forget, you may have close to 50 gallons, just waiting to used. 

Here are a five things to think about before you need use your water heater supply:

Where is the water heater? Sounds like a pretty elementary question, but you’d be surprised how many people are totally ignorant of where essential things like the water main switch, electrical fuse or breaker box or gas shutoffs are. And does everyone in the house know where the water heater is? You could be far from home when an emergency happens, with no way to communicate. Now is a good time to take a quick look with everyone in the house who might need to access the supply.

How will I get the water out? Again, another basic concern. There might be a faucet, in which case draining the tank is easy. But if not, you need to consider what your next step might be. Do you need a hose? Do you need a special-sized container to drain the water into? Can you shut the flow off once you tap into it?

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This water heater valve will require a channel lock pliers, a container to catch the initial rush of water, and a hose to drain the reservoir. Make sure you know where to find these items.

What tools might be needed? My water heater doesn’t have a faucet, so I will need a channel lock pliers to open it. Make sure you have the tools on hand.

What about light? Murphy’s Law on emergencies plainly states that when it comes to draining a water heater, it will be an emergency and probably dark. Do you have adequate lights in the house to illuminate the project?

What will I store the water in? Frigid conditions and arctic temperatures may require that you drain the tank to keep it from freezing. Make sure you have some place to store the water.

These suggestions segue nicely into a another post by Jim Cobb on The Survival Mom. Jim explains how to access the water heater supply.
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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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