Your water heater – after the earthquake

February 8, 2014

A lot of folks think they don’t need to store water at home, for post-earthquake use, since they have a lot in their water heater, 50 gallons plus.  But it may not be wise to depend on it.

It is well known that after a Cascadia earthquake (9.0+) the water mains all over the Northwest will break, pressure will go to zero, and whatever comes into your house (in low areas) will probably be contaminated.

Therefore Point #1: know where your water shutoff is.  (Most people don’t have a clue)

Point #2: your water heater may be strapped securely to wall studs, but there is no guarantee it won’t tip over or rupture.  But let’s assume it’s ok after the quake.

Point #3: drain a glass of water from the bottom drain, let it cool, and then drink it.  It will taste awful.  This is because of the sediment that collects at the bottom.  Of course you can let a bucket settle, or filter it – you should have a microfilter like the Seychelles filtration bottles, which allows you to drink water from streams and puddles – but not contaminated water, for example from lawn runoff.  And you can buy tablets to treat the water.

The solution is easy: every month, drain a gallon from your water heater.  In 3-4 months, the sediment will be gone and the water tastes completely normal.

But don’t try this with old (20 years or more) water heaters.  The sediment may have built up at the bottom of your heater, and draining it may cause the inner lining to fracture – not good.  But then maybe you need a new energy efficient water heater anyway.

Feedback and comments welcome.  Also see our home page, http://www.humaninet.org.