Running a 55 gallon drum of water into household pipes

I’m on a well, so when the power goes out, I don’t have any water.  The power company shut off the power to work on the lines today, so I decided to test out my backup water scenario.  I installed a water faucet in the side of a 55 gallon barrel, at the bottom.  The drum had been used for food previously.  I sanitized it with bleach and water, emptied it out and then filled it with water from the well.  (For long term storage, I’ll use 5 drops of bleach per gallon in the water according to this site’s recommendation.)  I closed the valve between the well and the house and connected a 5/8″ RV water hose to a faucet on the outside of the house.  I opened the faucets on both the tank and the house.  The bottom of the barrel is 4′ above the level of the house.  I wasn’t expecting lots of pressure, but the toilet tank takes about 3 hours to refill, yet I can get a gallon of water from the bathroom sink, which is about 6″ higher, in about 3 minutes.  I can fill a bucket from the sink to flush the toilet, but why does the toilet take so long to fill?  By the way, with the hose not attached to the house, I get a very strong flow out of the barrel.


  • Comments (7)

    • 7

      Sounds like your toilet pipes must have some sort of upward bend inside the wall that the water is having to travel up. The sink must be a more direct route for the water. 

      Have you opened up an air vent on the barrel?? You know how laundry soap will start to come out slowly until you loosen the secondary opening to allow air in??


      • 2

        Thanks Sir Henry.  The barrel has a lid on it, so I have left the lid slightly ajar.

    • 4

      If I was in your shoes, I would try installing a little pump inline with the hose. Maybe there is a little solar powered one. Not sure how these work and if they are always running or just when there is a need for pressure, but could be worth looking into. 

      Or if you have a cordless drill, you could get a drill powered pump for $12 with free returns if it doesn’t work for your needs. You would have to go run outside and pull the trigger on your drill though to activate it, but if you need to use the toilet and can’t wait three hours for the tank to fill up this could be a way to speed things along.

      I’m interested in hearing what the issue is and what you did to solve it. Keep us updated!

      • 3

        Good idea!  Maybe an RV water pump with a 12 volt power supply would do the job. When I get some time, I’ll try pulling the pump out of my RV and see if it can pump enough.  It’s on demand – whenever the pressure drops, it kicks on. 

    • 3

      I’ll echo Robert and say it sounds like you don’t have enough pressure. This guy says you need to have the tank about 100 feet high to get 40 PSI of pressure. Honda makes a gas-powered water pump.

    • 4

      My plumbing math is a little rusty, but you get .433 PSI per foot of elevation difference (from the water level in the barrel to your toilet tank or faucet).  It sounds like you are working with single digits.  Flow is related to pressure and pipe diameter.  The lower flow rate in the toilet could simply be because the water has to go through a narrow tube or opening in the fill valve, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a spring-loaded valve somewhere in the toilet innards.  A small amount of back pressure wouldn’t be noticed at 60 psi but would really slow things down at 3-5.  Still sounds like a great backup plan.  In more austere parts of the world, a 5 gallon bucket full of water sitting next to the toilet with some sort of scoop is the standard way to flush a toilet.  It gets the job done and you just need to refill the bucket every few flushes.  

      • 4

        This is good information to know before I go ahead and build my rain catchment system. I will probably try and have the rain barrels a two or three feet off the ground to give a bit more pressure.