The following is an adapted excerpt from The Disaster-Ready Home: A Step-by-Step Emergency Preparedness Manual for Sheltering in Place by Creek Stewart. 

Let’s face it, disasters happen. If you’re not actively thinking about (and working toward) long-term food and water preparedness, you should be.  There are countless disasters, both natural and man-made, that can interrupt your food and water supply, at least for a short period of time. Having a buffer and plan for both, just in case, is a very smart idea.

In the water category, every home needs a renewable source of this resource, and I would recommend this source come via rain harvesting.

When most people think about rain harvesting, they think of expensive, hard-to-install, and unsightly pipes and tanks. This could not be further from the truth. If you have a roof of any kind with a gutter, I will teach you how to install an unobtrusive 55-gallon rain barrel in under an hour, and for less than $200 total. For every inch of rain that falls on a 1,000-square-foot roof, you can expect to be able to collect 600 gallons of rainwater! Now that is a serious return on investment.

Before you get started with rain harvesting, it is important to understand a few things:

Rain harvesting makes sense for almost everyone. Unless you live in an extremely arid climate that receives almost zero rainfall, installing a rain barrel is worth doing. For the small amount of time and money you will spend getting one installed, the reward is an almost effortless renewable source of emergency drinking water. This water can also be used for pets, gardening, washing, or bathing.Rainwater is safe to drink without filtering or purification. However, as it falls on your roof and makes its way into the rain barrel, it picks up debris. Because of this, rain barrel water should be considered wild water that needs to be properly filtered or purified to make it safe to drink. Every home should have a water filter to handle this. The one I recommend is the Big Berkey.Believe it or not, there are laws in some states that prohibit or restrict homeowners from harvesting rainwater from their own roofs. Some homeowners’ associations may also have rules in place that prohibit rain barrels. You will want to check to make sure before you install a rain barrel. Otherwise, a citation of some kind might make its way into your mailbox. (Or you can just move to a place with fewer restrictions on your personal freedoms.)

If you have a gutter downspout, then you can install a rain harvester.

I have used numerous types of rain barrels over the years and have been most happy with a 55-gallon plastic drum conversion. They are not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing of rain barrels, but I have found them to be durable, cost effective, and functional. New “food grade” 55-gallon plastic drums can be found on Amazon, some hardware stores, or ULINE.com.

These standard 55-gallon blue drums can be painted to match your home if desired. The key to doing so is prepping the surface of the drum by roughing it up with some sandpaper. The factory finish of these drums has an almost waxy residue that the sandpaper treatment removes. I suggest a spray paint that is made for outdoor use and that bonds to plastic. Plan on using at least two full cans to coat one 55-gallon drum.


Roughing up the surface of a 55-gallon drum with sandpaper to ready for spray painting.

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