Our well was down for a week. General observations.

I live in a rural part of New Mexico, and our well was recently down for a week. Unbeknownst to us, our pressure tank and buried lines were leaking due to the system’s age and were made worse by the recent spate of cold weather much of the country experienced. We currently share a well with our neighbor, and we both have young children and a pregnant spouse. Save for the well shaft and submersible pump, the whole system was torn out and re-done.

General observations 

  • Last summer, I installed gutters and five 50-gallon rain barrels. This was a good prep! We used this water to flush toilets. Between my neighbor and I, we used about 70 gallons of water to flush toilets. 
  • Though we have 55 gallons of clean, potable water in reserve, we elected to purchase water from the store for drinking, cooking, cleaning, coffee and tea. 
  • We went into the City every other day to shower. 
  • Over the week, we went through several rolls of paper towels. Paper towels were great for wiping down surfaces and drying off hands and cooking implements. 
  • Since we didn’t have hot water, dishes stacked up like crazy. 
  • Teflon/non-stick pans were a godsend. To clean them after use, we just added some water, heated it on the stove, then wiped it down with a paper towel. I only cooked with our non-stick pans during the week. 
  • To get our well back up cost $7,000. My spouse and I regularly contribute to an emergency/rainy day fund, and we have been planning for a well failure for over a decade. We did not feel a burden, because we were financially prepared. Here is an excellent article about financial prepping.  
  • Lack of running water generally destroyed my work efficiency. It is hard to concentrate when coordinating with well crews, plumbers, inspectors, neighbors and setting aside time to drive into the city for showers, food, and provisions. If you have a busy life, expect a major setback on all of your projects.  


  • I want to store 100 gallons of potable, clean, readily accessible water. We are going to add an additional 55-gallon drum of stored water to our preps. 
  • I am looking into an on-demand system for hot water and bathing. These systems are used by campers. I will probably write an article about these systems in the future.   
  • Since we couldn’t easily do dishes, I am going to add some bio-degradable paper plates and bowls to our preps. 
  • Our rain barrels quickly fill up. This year I plan on burying a thousand-gallon tank under my deck and building an overflow system to drain into the storage tank. That would give us a 1,250 gallons of stored water.
  • Since we have a septic tank on our property, I am going to design an outhouse that can be quickly built over one of the septic tank access points. This would save a lot of water since we wouldn’t need to flush toilets. Just build an outhouse with a solar light and a hand washing station, and poo and pee right into the septic tank. 
  • Certain well components need a heat source to prevent freezing during the winter. I need to find a solar powered heat source to prevent critical well components from freezing in the event of a grid failure. 
  • Buying a Big Berkey counter top water filter ASAP. 

Overall it was a good experience and gave me some data points in the event of a grid failure or catastrophe.  Feel free to share your thoughts below. 


  • Comments (16)

    • 9

      Hi Thomas, Glad you and your famiy made it through a very challenging time. 

      If you are going to design and build an outhouse that can be quickly constructed over the septic tank, don’t forget to include proper venting for the sewer gas that can rise upward out of the tank. Usually it is vented by pipe up the back, but it’s best for you to check and ensure you have the correct methods.

      I do big batch cooking and make supply of premade meals in the freezer that can be thawed and heated which can help in such a situation. 

      Thank you for sharing your experience and the lessons learned. Also, well done for your financial preparedness. 

      • 3

        Smart idea with the big batch cooking. That would save on a lot of dishes.

        Sounds like you know a bit about septic systems Ubique. Isn’t a septic just a collection tank of all the nasty stuff from your house (bathroom and kitchen)? If Thomas Gomez put a outhouse over the access port to the septic system, would it smell worse or the same as the port-a-potty I might have used at an event like a county fair? Either way, good ventilation would be smart to look into.

      • 4

        Robert and Thomas, 

        Robert my answer is below reply about septic.

        With respect to big batch cooking, there are several good reasons I build up a variety of portioned meals in the freezer.

        It is economical, both for fuel efficiency and grocery cost if one buys items on sale.

        I know that I have over a month of prepared meals if a disaster happens so I consider it part of prepping. If for example, one experiences income interruption or reduction for any reason, the prepared food in the freezer extends the family budget and precious resources during a difficult time.

        It lightens the load of the demands of my day and reduces fatigue. It comes in handy when I work on the house and property or garden and there is no time to meal prep without losing time on other projects.

        For example, I pulled meat out of the freezer yesterday to thaw. I will cook a large base mix of ground lean beef, ground pork, chopped onions and garlic with neutral seasoning. 

        A food processor is a great help for chopping onions, carrots and celery to add to these meals or the meat mix. It adds nutrition, saves time and your hands from hand chopping.

        From there, I can split it into batches and make chili, tacos, pasta sauce, various soups, or even take some of the thawed meat and make meat loaves or cooked hamburgers to have on hand for burgers or in a mushroom gravy for a different meal.

        I do the same thing with good quality chicken breasts. I bake them up with seasoning. From there they become tiki masala, chicken and dumpling stew, chicken noodle soup or my chicken cranberry casserole.

        I do this also with bean soups and lentil dishes and other casseroles.

        It’s the same with bread baking. I try to put up a month’s worth of bread if there is room.

        If you get organized in advance and figure out what you want to make, it really does work well. You can also turn into family time with everyone pitching in to help.

        I label my containers with painters tape with the name of dish and date made. Sometimes, I add smaller batches if I want to keep topping up the pre-made meals.

      • 2

        That’s a smart idea. My wife makes her own raw dog food for our dog (supposed to be healthier than kibble) and she freezes it, and puts painter’s tape on the lid just like you. 

        We’ve also enjoyed the instant pot. Makes food pretty quickly and easily. 

        Thank you for sharing your tips above. I’m going to try and do that more often. Life gets chaotic, and having some premade frozen healthy meals will help prevent me from having to go to the easy junk food meals.

      • 5

        Hello Ubique, 

        I am thinking of a “dry flush” method, so where you excrete into a catch, then empty into the tank without leaking constantly leaking gas into the out house. 

        I think it would be really cool to harvest some of the methane from the tank and use it for outdoor cooking. You can get a methane cooking stove on Aliexpress for a few dollars. 

        Great idea on the batch cooking! 

      • 3

        Thomas and Robert:

        Sometimes it isn’t a case of can we do something. It is a question of is it safe and sensible to do something.

        Sewer gas is created in septic tanks. Sewer gas is a mixture of gases and nothing to fool around with. That is why we ensure the drains in our basements or tubs aren’t allowed to “run dry.” It is why we plug the pipe from below our toilet with rags during a renovation.

        We do this not because of the noxious odor produced by the hydrogen sulfide. We do it to protect ourselves from dangerous fumes produced by the sewer gases. Sewer Gas Defined in Introduction Section of the linked article.

        Noxious gases are measured in parts per million and some of them don’t take much to be deadly. The person who died was exposed for 20+ minutes under certain circumstances, but that doesn’t mean the gases can’t be harmful if a septic tank is opened and an outhouse installed over it.

        No one I know who runs a septic tank on their home would utilize this way. Think of how that tank smells when it is pumped. With a family running back and forth to use the outhouse, you could run the risk of someone becoming ill or worse.

        There is another consideration to this idea and that is that septic tanks were not designed to have weight placed on them. 

        I know it seems like a good solution, but if it were my family, I would check with plumbers, people in city works who work with sewer and water issues, local community regulations (you may not be allowed to this for health and safety reasons), and the maker of your septic tank to ensure it can with stand the weight and traffic over it.

        Please be careful and remember there are some things we shouldn’t diy.

        And to answer your question Robert, a port-a-potty at a county fair is not the same thing.

        Our country outhouses from years ago were built over a pit where human waste could drain and was not contained in a tank and we still vented them. 

      • 4

        Guess I’m glad I don’t live in an arid region.  Having a home septic tank is a huge advantage when public utilities are not available.  All it takes is a bucket of any old water to allow you to keep flushing the toilets.  Ponds & lakes work great for this purpose.

        I agree.  Seems like a dangerous proposition to place an enclosed structure over an open septic tank.

      • 5

        I wouldn’t have the tank venting into the outhouse. My system is essentially a mini sewer treatment plant, but we do open it periodically for maintenance and inspection. 

      • 3

        It sounds like you have a different set up, and it sounds like you are quite familiar with it.

        Also, good for you that you are working so diligently to harden your system and be self-sufficient. It’s a big goal to take on and it sounds like you are doing a fantastic job. It is an inspiration to the rest of us.

        Well done!

    • 5


      I also have a well that serves 2 households. Another thing to consider is having multiple crises at the same time. We had a major well issue in the last 2 weeks of 1999 leading up to Y2K. We thought there was a skunk in the well! It turns out that there wasn’t, but that’s a story for another time. 🙂 Friends and family allowed us to take showers and haul water for the toilets. However, all bottled water was gone from the stores so buying it was not an option.

      I really like your water catchment ideas. I get a lot of water run off from my roof. That’s definitely an area I need to explore.

      • 2

        Our plan for this year is to harden our system against grid failure. For us that means more water stores and a generator that can run on propane.

    • 6

      I’m glad that you were able to get through this big setback with minimal affect to your daily life. (mostly time and a bit of money) Imagine not having any water in reserve and how that would have put a lot more strain on your family. Especially if this had happened during a disaster where you couldn’t have people come out to fix your well, you couldn’t go to the city to shower, and couldn’t buy fresh water, things could have been very different.

      Your experience helped show me how much we really depend on water coming out of our taps, and how much of it we need. How much do you think you would have needed if you couldn’t shower in town? Did you hear from your neighbor if they did anything differently or were affected in different ways?

      Also, I’d love to see some pictures of your roof catchment system.

      • 7

        Water preps saved us when it came to sanitation.  We were in constant contact with our neighbors and they were using our rain water to flush their toilets.  They purchased water from the store for cooking, drinking and sponge baths. They will be adding a 55 gallon tank to their preps and installing gutters and rain barrels. Over the week, we used roughly two rain barrels worth of water, but it snowed the last two days. The snow is melting off of our roof, and all of our rain barrels are full again!

        When it comes to water preps you need about 2 gallons per day per person. 1 gallon for drinking and food prep and 1 gallon for bathing. Right now we have enough water for about 7 weeks. Our plan is to get a 1,000 gallon tank which would give us 6 months worth of water.  We are also going to be adding a Big Berkey countertop water filter. 

        If we couldn’t get into the city, we would have just heated a stock pot of warm soapy water and sponge bathed in the shower. 

        The Prepared has written some incredible articles about water preps. We also have a water course that is probably the best. 

        Here are links to our water articles: 

        Best large water barrels and tanks

        Best emergency water storage containers for your home

        Best home water filter

        Best water purification tablets (and other portable purifiers)

    • 5

      Loved reading your article!  It’s amazing how a “situation” sharpens your insights about the most critical aspects of preparation.  We have a deep well, and after 40 years, finally got a dual fuel generator big enough to run the pump.  We’ll be trying it any day. However, we’ve been storing rainwater in a 3000 gallon tank for a long time and it’s carried us through several times, including our recent ice storm.  It will either siphon, or better, there is a small 120V pump  on it that is easily handled by our Honda 2200 generator.  With 2 horses, we figure the tank would be good for about 3 months in the dry season. 

      Our big problem during the ice storm was our new septic system has a pump on it, as they couldn’t quite get enough drop to the drain field. We need to consult with the contractor to find out how it’s wired so it can be isolated from the rest of the system and run on the little generator.  Alternatively, now that we have the big gen, that’s not necessary, but still desirable. (Don’t worry, hubs was a career electrical worker/lineman).

      If I could have everything I wanted, I think I’d have a composting toilet.

      Oh, and Big Berkey – Yes!  We regularly use rainwater in the house.  We pump water from the tank and first put it through an RV sediment filter (which can greatly lengthen the life of the extremely expensive cartridges Berkey), into jugs containing a little Clorox (someone noted to use disinfecting Clorox for the job).  We let the water sit for a half hour or so, then commence filtering it through the Berkey. 

      Note to self:  Must buy spare Berkey cartridges.

      Shower:  We have a Zodi camp shower that produces a pleasant sprinkle but hardly qualifies as a serious shower.  It can use two small propane bottles, which of course we didn’t want to use in the house, so we just heated water on the wood stove and poured it into a bucket.  It runs on 4 D-cell batteries.  Our next prepping project is going to be using a 12V rv water pump (I think we’ve decided on a 1 gpm), a lawnmower battery and a shower head to make a decent shower.  We just used the little shower in the bath tub.  I think our 12V shower will probably fit nicely into a plastic tool box.  There is NOTHING like taking a hot shower when everybody else can’t! 

      • 3

        Thank you so much for this response. I have a lot to research of your post. Hope this finds you well!

      • 9

        Oh, showers!  We also have a Mr. Heater Big Buddy propane heater (rated for indoor use) that we used to warm the bathroom so we didn’t freeze while taking our meager little showers!  That thing heated the cold bathroom quickly!  We also just bought the hand held carbon monoxide sensor recommended in the blog post about generators.  We keep a window cracked, but the Mr. Heater stinks anyway, so, safety first.