Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away

Thoughts on Rain Barrels

In last week’s post, What Goes In Must Come Out, I discussed using water collected in rain barrels to flush the toilet. I’ve been asked for more specifics about rain barrels and how much water would really be available.

There are a lot of resources on how to build a rain barrel. A good article is Make Your Own Rain Barrel and a useful YouTube video is Urban Survival’s, How To Make A Rain Barrel. There are specifics you will have, such as what type of barrel you use and how you will deal with the overflow. But all rain barrels need to have three plumbing features:

  1. a downspout that drains the roof water into the barrel: I cut our downspout and diverted the water with a couple of downspout elbows
  2. a faucet at the bottom
  3. an overflow near the top: I used three-inch PVC pipe (and a downspout adapter) to channel the water back into the original downspout, which goes into the ground

How much rain water can you collect? To figure that out go to save-the-rain.com. Enter your address and a Google Earth picture of your neighborhood will come up. Zoom in on your house, click each corner of your house until the roof area is covered, then hit Finished. The following Results will be displayed:

  • the area of your roof is, in square meters. (To convert to square feet multiply the square meters by 10.76.)
  • the amount of rain your area receives in a year, in millimeters. (To convert to inches multiply millimeters by 0.039)
  • the amount of water you could harvest, in liters. (To convert to gallons multiply by 0.264.)
  • and how many times, using that water, you could flush the average toilet. They are estimating the average flush to be 6 liters (or 1.58 gallons). Our toilet tank holds 3 gallons, so I’m basing my math on that number.

At our house here in Western Washington (where rain is plentiful) our results were:

  • roof area: 168.6 sq m = 1814.8 sq ft
  • average annual rainfall: 1100 mm = 43.3 in
  • potential rainwater harvest: 185,450 l = 48,990 gal
  • toilet flushes: 16,330 (3 gal tank) [flushes per day for a year: 45]

For comparison, using the same roof area, Colorado Springs, CO (where I grew up) has an average rainfall of 19.6 inches (less than half of ours).

  • potential rainwater harvest: 22,174 gal
  • toilet flushes: 7,391 (3 gal tank) [flushes per day for a year: 20]

There’s a lot of water draining off your roof available for collection. These numbers are assuming you collect all the water that lands on your roof (we’re collecting from two of our four downspouts). How much you store, and how you use it, is up to you.

What Goes In, Must Come Out

Dealing With Poop

When we discuss our five basic needs, food is first on the list. Every prepper stores food. We discuss where should we go to get it, how to prepare it, and what the next meal will be. We freely discuss all aspects of food, but very few of us comfortably mention the other end of the digestion process.

The poop. As assuredly as we know we’re going to eat regularly, we also know we’re going to poop regularly. But other than a few minutes alone in the bathroom, we hardly even think about it.

Now, envision a time when your plumbing no longer works. Maybe short-term, maybe long-term; either way when you push down the flush handle, nothing happens. You check the tank and it’s empty. What next? A very nice house after a week without working plumbing isn’t very nice anymore. Water and sanitation departments can fail. What’s your #2 plan?

If you have a septic system (that is rated for the number of people in your household) the problem of dealing with poop does not apply to you and you can stop reading now.

Our family’s plan is to use water collected in our rain barrels to refill the toilet tank so it can be flushed. We store 110 gallons of rain water, the tank uses 3 gallons each flush, that means without any rain, we can flush the toilet about 36 times. After you finish your business, you flush, then go get a 3-gallon bucket of water and refill the tank for the next person. Since we live in Western Washington, this will be fairly sustainable.

Another option, especially if you believe the emergency is short-term, is to line the inside of the (now dry) toilet bowl with a plastic bag. Do your business, remove and tie the bag. Store the bags somewhere where animals can’t get to them until the crisis is past and they can be disposed of properly.

If it’s going to last longer, you’re going to need to start digging. For a temporary measure you can dig a trench latrine. The trench latrine should be about 4 – 6 feet long,1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. Leave the dirt that was dug out on the side of the trench so that waste can easily be covered up; keep a shovel and a roll of toilet paper nearby.

Building an outhouse is a more permanent solution. Build it close enough to the main dwelling to allow easy access, but far enough away to minimize smell. It needs to be at least 150 feet from freshwater (including a well). The pit should be 5 – 8 feet deep and framed in, to some degree, to keep the sides from collapsing. Consider building it so it can be moved if the pit fills. For detailed plans see Rogue Turtle’s post, The Outhouse, or Cottage Life’s, How to build an outhouse.

There are other ways also. At times the military, in remote locations, mixes fuel with the human waste and it’s burned. As it burns it needs to be stirred to ensure it is all consumed; use caution as it can pop and splatter (there’s a reason why this is done by the lowest ranking members of the unit). But in a SHTF scenario, most of us won’t have extra fuel to use this way.

There’s even a way human waste can be composted, it’s called humanure. I, like probably most of you, are skeptical of this approach. But in a TEOTWAWKI situation, it’d likely be the best way to both get rid of it and to maintain a usable source of fertilizer. I’m going to put that one on the back burner for now though. Here’s additional information on humanure.

No, this isn’t polite dinner conversation, but it’s a fact of life we can’t avoid. What goes in, must come out.

What I Did This Week To Prep

There’s some irony that the biggest thing I do to prep these days is write a prepper blog –  and it takes a lot more time than I would have thought. But the focus and direction it provides in my life are invaluable (I keep telling myself that, over and over…)

My son, Ryan, & our new rain barrel

The rain barrel project was successful this time. Originally I had bought an inline all-in-one downspout adapter; it didn’t end up being what I wanted (or one I thought would last). So Ryan and I made another trip to the hardware store. Combining PVC pipe, downspout elbows, and a couple more hours of effort, we now have two functioning 55 gallon rain barrels. Just in time for the rainy Washington fall (and winter and spring).

I have a prepper friend, Rick, who is a HVAC/R technician. Earlier this summer he helped me develop and build a backup battery bank (more in a future post). This week I was able to repay the favor by teaching him first aid. We looked at, and discussed, his first aid kit (FAK) and mine. Then we did some ‘how to control bleeding’ hands-on training – you can’t learn first aid from just talking. It’s nice having a like-minded friend with a different skill set, who is both willing to teach and learn.

Rick also showed me a bacon grease candle. Simple concept, filtered animal fats to make tallow have long been used for making candles. My daughter, Brynn, and I tried it ourselves with a used tuna can. It worked, but needs a bit more enhancement. We also tried making an olive oil lamp, but so far that hasn’t been successful.

A friend gave us a used bread maker this week. I had recently heard Bread From Gasoline by Steve Harris, and thought it was an interesting concept I’d like to learn more about. I also plan to learn to make bread from scratch. Bread is great to use with SWYE preps; and in a tough time freshly baked bread makes almost everything a little bit better.

What did you do?

(Monday: When Others Are In The Dark)


What I Did This Week To Prep (An Intro)

There is an analogy that life is like walking up a ‘down’ escalator. If you just stand there – you go backward. If you walk at an even pace – you maintain. If you walk faster and push yourself harder – you go forward. I believe that, to a great extent, this sums up a self-reliant lifestyle. So writing this each week will help me remember to continue moving forward. Most of the things I do, I’ll just briefly mention here; many of them will probably turn into full posts later (if you see something you’re especially interested in be sure and mention it in the comments).

My wife (who is my biggest supporter) asked, “Are you sure you want to commit to writing this each week?” “What if you don’t do anything?” “What happens when we’re done?” Then in a slightly hesitant voice she asks, “We will be done eventually, right?”

I believe that prepping is a habit, a lifestyle, a defining characteristic. Once you start, once you take “the red pill”* it’s difficult to return to “the blissful ignorance”. Jack (on TSP) says, “Everything you do to prepare . . . should be blended into your life in a way that improves your life even if nothing disastrous ever occurs.” (TSP Modern Survivalist Philosophy).

“Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.” I plan for a possible disaster(s), but I also plan for success. ‘What I Did This Week To Prep’ could therefore–hopefully–also be worded as ‘how I prepared this week to make my life better and more fulfilling for my family and myself’.

So, this week Sarah and I made our monthly Costco trip. Costco is a preppers playground: lots of stuff you need, lots of stuff you want, good prices, in big quantities. We used their coupons for AAA batteries and Kirkland brand vitamins (multi and C – I don’t take vitamins on a regular basis, but I do believe it’s appropriate to have in your preps). We bought the normal stuff we get in bulk and/or to back fill our SWYE shelves. We also got a Coleman LED 8 D-cell battery lantern (we have flashlights, headlamps, and oil lanterns, but figured this would fill a convenience/safety gap that we had).

The garden continues to come along (spring here was late and set everything back). Tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. Our fall back position for those that don’t ripen is to make and can green salsa. The herb garden is doing well; we’re using fresh herbs regularly and drying the surplus (we’ve tried both hanging them and putting them in the dehydrator, hanging was more efficient). We want to find a good way to continue to grow fresh herbs inside the house throughout the winter.

Ryan and I had set-up two 55-gallon rain barrels in mid-July and, believe it or not, we didn’t have enough rain to test them until last weekend (yes in Washington) when we determined they didn’t really work as planned/hoped. So we’re going to rebuild them. Our goal, in an emergency, is to use the rain water to flush the toilets and clean with, and filter if necessary. (We already have two additional barrels of drinking water.)

What did you do?

(Monday: Location, Location, Location)

*The term red pill and its opposite, blue pill, are pop culture terms that have become a common symbol for the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red). The terms were popularized in science fiction culture via the 1999 film The Matrix. In the movie, the main character is offered the choice between a red pill and a blue pill, with the red pill leading to his “escape” from the Matrix, a fictional computer-generated world, while the blue pill would allow him to remain in the world with no knowledge that anything is wrong. -‘Red pill and blue pill’, Wikipedia