Lessons Learned: A Burst Pipe, by Kim F.

Thursday afternoon, I realized the full significance of the noise I heard running through my pipes. It wasn’t a dripping faucet somewhere, there was a leak under my slab.

I live in hurricane country. I’ve had an abundance of experience with the aftermath of these storms in my more than half a century of life. You could say I’ve been prepping since I was 8 years old. In all that time, I’ve never lost water. Power, yes. Hot water, yes. I’ve never even experienced a “boil water” alert, except when I was volunteering for disaster relief in other communities. But I have had experiences of living without water over the years.

In the late 1950s our family moved to an area that had horrible-tasting water. Bottled water was unheard of then and 5 gallon jugs that were available were out of our price range. My Grandpa used to bring gallon jugs home from work every day for our drinking water. As luck would have it, we found our own place a couple of months later so I only had the ‘bad tasting’ water problem when I visited my grandparents on vacations.

As a teen, our family traveled the country in a Recreational Vehicle (RV) all summer. Fortunately, the RV had a large enough water supply to meet our needs. However, bathing did depend on whether we rented a campsite for the night, otherwise, it was sponge baths all around.

As a new bride, before giardia, we started tent camping in order to save money on vacation expenses. Most of the time there was a creek for water, but it had to be hauled to the campsite. Sometimes, there was a shared faucet. Bathroom facilities varied from dig-your-own to using to a shower house. We eventually upgraded to an RV, but never had a shower, with the exception of the one year that my ex-husband had a job in another state.

We were finally able to purchase property and started to build on it. The housing market was tight there and we hadn’t been able to sell our other home. Money was tight, even with both of us working. We rented an RV and lived on the property. Although we were hooked up to water and actually had a shower and bathtub, we eventually started bathing at a friend’s in town. We also paid her to do our laundry since the cost for washers were at a premium on Saturday mornings at the laundromat.

A Lifestyle Change

But now, I was going to get the full experience of having my water off for an indefinite period of time. Since I couldn’t reach my plumber until Friday morning, it would be Monday before I would even be able to learn exactly where the leak was. Fortunately, I was able to find a plumber who could come the next day. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my regular plumber. In all, the water was out for 4-1/2 days. I could have turned it back on to use it, but it was leaking 90 gallons an hour and I didn’t want to pay for that much usage.

Fortunately, I had cleaned the house on Monday and had done all the laundry on Wednesday. I had been keeping the dishes washed daily, up until Thursday morning. It had been such a busy week: I was overwhelmed by my work and volunteer schedule, so it was Friday after dinner that I started to tackle Wednesday’s dishes. Not only that, since I’m on a prescribed diet (low sodium, extremely low sugar, no additives of any kind, no meat except fish twice a week, whole grains, legumes, plus 4 servings of dairy and 3 quarts of water daily), I have to cook every bite that goes into my mouth from scratch. So there were a lot of dishes. Like most of them. as soon as I was done, I ransacked my preps for disposable dishes. I wasn’t thrilled when I realized I hadn’t bought bowls…on my list for Saturday’s shopping trip.

I’ve been stockpiling water since I moved into my own house in hurricane country 14 years ago. I never buy bottled water, preferring the price and taste of tap water. Instead, I fill every available container that has a screw top that won’t leak when turned upside down. That includes containers one wouldn’t typically think of for drinking water, i.e. milk jugs, bleach jugs, kitty litter containers. Yes, I know you shouldn’t drink out of these but that water is invaluable for flushing, cleaning, etc. I also use them for weighting down cardboard mulch in my garden. My drinking water is saved in 2-liter soda bottles. The plan is to empty and refill all of them every 6 months, typically the first and last day of hurricane season. I usually empty them into the vegetable garden before I refill them. However, I rarely follow the plan as life gets in the way.

The good news is that I had started refilling my jugs for this hurricane season. The bad news is, I had only started refilling my jugs for hurricane season and was only about half done. I had also emptied the rest. In one day, I went through 2-gallon sized bleach bottles (for dish washing) and 3 2-liter soda bottles (for drinking and cooking). It is a good thing that our church building was only 1/2 a block away, and I had a key. The other good news is, it’s the rainy season, so I didn’t think I would have to water my newly planted dried beans. The other bad news is, the rain barrels leak and I haven’t gotten around to getting them fixed.

I only empty my bathtub to fill it again for my next bath, so I had plenty of water to flush toilets. Since I drink close to a gallon of water daily, for a medical condition, I’m only flushing solid waste, otherwise it would already be gone. Also, I live in a suburb and have neighbors who let me use their showers on work days. Otherwise, I can handle a sponge bath on the intervening days. (Lots of practice doing that on disaster sites.)

The results

The leak was located on Monday. At that point, I figured my plumber would be available Tuesday, since I had spoken with him Friday. But no, he was booked through Thursday morning. So Monday afternoon I started trying to find a plumber with an opening. After three tries, I found one willing to come on Tuesday morning.

I had plenty of water in my tub to flush for five days.
I didn’t need to do laundry, as that typically happens on Wednesdays. But, I also own about 3 weeks’ worth of linens and clothes except for bras, and those could either be hand washed, or dispensed of entirely, especially if SHTF.

Twice, I showered at a friend’s house.

I did dishes three times with a total of 5 gallons of water stored in bleach bottles. Normally, I would have needed more water for this task. Since I cook with cast iron, I follow the Southern practice of simply wiping the pans out with a paper towel and didn’t need to wash my frying pans. I also used paper plates, plastic utensils and cups for the duration.

I drank 3 liters of water daily, including my tea. That, including pet consumption, used up 11 2-liter soda bottles.

I also used 2 gallons of water that I had stored in milk jugs, mostly for cooking pasta.

I cooked from scratch, using fresh produce every day. I didn’t need to change my diet, even cooking pasta twice, which is water-intensive. Typically, since I cook for one, there are usually 2-4 days’ worth of leftovers in my fridge, with some overlap. I tend to make one new dish of 6 servings most days. However, every once in a while, I end up finishing them all in one day and have to start over. That happened on Thursday. I could have used some of my dried foods, but chose not to, as they are mostly for emergencies. Although, dried food is not very practical for this type of emergency, or even a boil water alert.

The dog and cats never noticed the difference.

I was home almost the entire time. When I wasn’t, I still ate and drank what I brought from home, as I normally would.

Despite being in the rainy season, we had two days without rain. I had just planted seeds. The last 4 rows came up a bit sporadically, but most of them germinated.


I had enough water stored for about two weeks. Maybe more if I was extra careful, or if I had had a few prepared meals frozen so that I didn’t need to use my pans or measuring tools.

Ready-made meals would have meant I could microwave and eat from the container, with little or no dishwashing involved. However, due to my diet, I would have had to make them myself to freeze or dehydrate them. I don’t own a pressure canner because I don’t like the taste of pressure-canned food. Also, most of my recipes don’t lend themselves to freezing or drying. It’s a toss-up as to whether a dehydrated meal would use more or less water. I could pour boiling water over the food in a disposable bowl, thereby eliminating dishwashing. But I’m not sure if there would be substantial savings.

I didn’t have a way to water newly-planted seeds without washing them away. I should have foregone planting the rest after I knew I was turning the water off. And, I need to get the rain barrels fixed, because I could have used them with the soaker hose.

Although I had plenty of disposable plates, cups and most cutlery, I had to buy disposable bowls. The discount store near me only had foam, which would not be a good choice in TEOTWAKI. I much prefer paper, as it can decompose or burn as necessary. I also don’t have a very good supply of disposable forks. Knives, yes, but forks see more use. I stuck my fork and cup in the fridge between meals and only disposed of them at the end of the day. The spoons were pretty flimsy. I found I had to cut my cantaloupe into bite sized chunks after slicing it from the melon.

I need to develop a way to get water from the canal behind my house. There are times during the year it runs too low to be practical, but it’s a source for some of the time.

At disaster sites, I’ve learned multiple ways to do laundry. I need to be sure I have the supplies to do so in case this happens at a more inconvenient time or without access to a laundromat. Also, some clothes wash and dry easier than others. It would be a good idea to own a few sets to wear if the occasion ever arises again. Most of the ones I’ve seen, would be fine for everyday use.

I should probably invest in waterless bathing cloths for short term use. Although, I don’t think it would be practical to store enough of them if the Schumer ever Hits The Fan, long term.