Drinking Water Preparedness Storage Strategy – 55 Gallon Barrels versus Sure Water Tank

My greatest preparedness weakness right now is also the most basic – water. Water is life. There’s no sense spending your time buying hoity toity Mountain House #10 cans unless you’ve first got a supply of water. I’m guilty of this. Water always comes out when I turn the faucet on. I, like most anyone living in the U.S., take water for granted. I have delayed my water preps, because:

  1. I have municipal water and the pumping station has a big, kick ass auto-start generator that fires up the instant power goes out,
  2. I’m relatively close to town, so if the power does go out, it’s usually for a max of 2 hours, and
  3. I’m not rich. It’s easy to buy a few spare jars of spaghetti sauce for the shelves, something I know we’ll use anyway, but more difficult to justify spending hundreds of dollars for water storage when who knows when (if ever) we’ll need it.

It’s time to take the plunge, though. It’s been delayed for too long. What most people think of when they hear “water storage” is the standard 55 gallon water barrel. If you don’t mind them plastering each product with their logo and contact info, Emergency Essentials (EE) sells a 55 gallon water barrel for $74.95. Other barrels come slightly cheaper, but they tack a ton of money on for shipping. The EE barrel ships for only $9.00. But wait – you’ll also need siphon pump at $14.95 to get water out of the barrel. Tack $7.95 shipping onto that, too.

My modest, realistic goal is to achieve a solid 3-month supply of food and water. If I use the standard “1 gallon per person per day” approach, that means we’d need roughly 360 gallons (4 people x 30 days x 3). Knowing I’d only need one siphon pump for several tanks, at those prices I’d be looking at $526.60 for 6 barrels and a siphon pump (shipping included). Six barrels = 330 gallons. If I factor in the 41 gallon hot water tank I could drain if needed, I’d have 371 gallons on hand.

There’s another option I’m considering, a Sure Water LLC water storage tank. These tanks are specifically designed for SHTF water storage. They offer 275 and 525 gallon tanks. The 275 gallon tank sells for $429 and the 525 gallon tank sells for $559. Shipping to Maine for either tank would be $90. The 525 gallon tank offers much more capacity for a little more money, but because I need to store the water in my basement, I could not fit the 525 gallon tank through the doorway. I have a walkout basement, but no bulkhead. The 275 gallon tank fits through a 29” doorway. So $429 + $90 for shipping = $519, virtually the same price as 6 barrels, but with 55 gallons less capacity. If I measured it strictly by volume, the barrels offer a better deal, but that’s not the only way to compare.

Water Barrel Advantages: budget friendly, I can buy the barrels as my wallet allows and I get 55 gallons more in capacity.

Water Barrel Disadvantages: six barrels consume a lot of floor space, and the need for a siphon adds another tool to the process and another step for extracting/draining water.

Sure Water Tank Disadvantage: not budget friendly, I’d have to throw my money out there in one lump sum.

Sure Water Tank Advantages: MUCH less space required, far easier to fill/drain, and built of a higher quality plastic.

Sure Water tanks are Made in the U.S.A., but it’s not clear to me where EE’s barrels are made. Watch Sure Water’s YouTube video here:

Can you guess which way I’m leaning? Right. The $519 price isn’t cheap, but when compared to how much I’ve spent on rifles, handguns and ammunition over the years, a $519 water storage tank offers a lot more preparedness peace of mind than another rifle ever could.

Thoughts, comments or suggestions? Water storage money donations? ;-)

– Ranger Man

26 comments… add one
  • Conlaoch October 22, 2010, 9:06 am

    You could always look for recondtioned food grade barrels in your local area. My father just ran across a source in his area for a 35 gallon barrel that runs about 15$ apiece if I recall.


    • Derrick May 21, 2011, 1:31 pm

      In Arizona I found an unlimited supply of 55 gallon barrels on the internet for $18 bucks a piece. I got 7 barrels , a bung wrench, and a water pump for $184 dollars total, that included $30 for delivery. Keep looking around, you’ll find WAY better deals than at Costco or Sams. The barrels Previously held Kikoman Soy Sauce and had a REALLY strong odor, Used some water and baking soda, rolled them around on the driveway a few times, drained them and let them air out completely, odor in totally gone. They are now perfect for storing water.

      • Anonymous August 2, 2015, 7:52 pm

        Where did you get them and when? I’m interested in getting some now too.

  • nadaclue October 22, 2010, 9:12 am

    Here are a few lower cost ideas for water storage. My local feed & tack stores carry both plastic and metal 55 gal water barrels for about $25 ea. Also, the local box construction equip store (Ziggy’s) carries plastic barrels for about the same price. These are all food grade and often surplussed from Wal-Mart that carry labels of the type of bulk syrup they carried. Most are used but sometimes they get new ones in but they don’t last long. Our local Indian Casino buys their soda pop syrup in 55 gal plastic barrels as well. They sold me a couple of barrels for $30 ea. That was what got me motivated to find other places. Think out of the box when trying to obtain supplies and search local places for this stuff. It only takes a question and you get the answer right away. When used with this little low cost jewel, http://shop.monolithic.com/collections/emergency-preparedness/products/just-water-ceramic-drip-filter water storage is as easy as pie at a much lower cost. 6 x $30 + $45 for the filter setup and you’ve done it for half the cost. I have this filter with backups as well as the same Berkey ceramic filters. They are the same one for 1/5 the cost! Keep on rockin in the free world…

    • GoneWithTheWind October 22, 2010, 1:04 pm

      Find/buy some used 5 gallon water jugs. The kind that go into water coolers that you can have delivered to your home. I take these to one of the supermarkets that sell 5 gallon jugs of water and they have a redemption station outside the store where you put your old empty jug in and get a $6 coupon for a filled jug in the store. The filled jugs cost about $11 without the coupon so you get it for $5. These store easily, are transportable, can be set up on your kitchen counter if you don’t have a cooler. They can be reused to put your aquired water in after SHTF. The newer ones are plastic (food safe plastic) which makes them safer and lighter then the glass jugs of old.

  • Cliffystones October 22, 2010, 1:24 pm

    Ranger Man,

    Another big consideration with a large tank is weight. Or more specifically, weight distribution. If you can’t make sure your basement floor can hold that much concentrated weight, having it crack and sag would be a terrible way to find out it couldn’t!

    Like others have stated, you can get used 55, 35, 15 and 17 gallon food-grade drums if you do some looking around. I bought mine from a guy in North Denver (near to me) for $25 each, and he even sanitized them with a sodium hydroxide solution! Even if you have to make as much as a 50-100 mile road trip, you might find that driving with a pickup truck and/or trailer is cheaper than shipping, if you can spare the time.

    “Cheaper than Dirt” sells these large bladders that you place in your bathtub and fill with 100 gallons of water. They are called the “water bob” and sell for $19.97 each. Of course you need to use these when you pretty sure that the “S” is “HTF” and before the water stops flowing from the tap. But they take up only a little shelf space when not being used, and provide an additional, low cost option. CTD also sells the ceramic drip filter kits for $30, with a spigot for adapting 5 gallon buckets to make Berkley-type filtration systems. There’s a how-to video on their site as well.

    Check out the web site “drum-runners.com” as well. He has a whole bunch of publications and how-to documents, free for the downloading. If you can, please do make a donation. For what he saved me on drums and do-it-yourself information, I felt his site was more than worth it, and my recommendation is completely without conflict of interest, just one very satisfied customer :). He has documents on how to pre-treat water before you filter it. I’m sure he could suggest sources for used drums and provide the procedure for sanitizing the drums as well.

  • Ranger Man October 22, 2010, 8:04 pm

    Thanks, my preparedness peeps – good ideas!

  • Jack October 22, 2010, 9:20 pm

    Food grade 55 gal plastic barrels for $20 in my local area, they’re probably in your area too.

    The EPA has a good list of emergency water disinfection procedures, including using granular calcium hypochlorite (pool shock) to disinfect water. Pool shock stays stable longer and is much more concentrated that standard bleach. A small 1 lb. packet costs a couple of dollars and will purify about 10,000 gallons of water.

    A 12 pack box of one pound bags of calcium hypochlorite pool shock would last for years and filter 120, 000 gallons of water. If anyone knows a better source, I’d like to hear about it.

  • Jack October 22, 2010, 9:37 pm

    Alternately, for 500 bucks, you may be able put in a shallow well in your back yard using a sand point drill. This guy has a pretty good explanation:

  • Bubblehead Les October 23, 2010, 1:01 am

    Even cheaper way, but it takes a little time. Ever drink Cranberry Juice? Or Grape, or CranGrape, or Apple? Nowadays Juice comes in rectangular half-gallon jugs that are designed to stack on the grocery shelf and fit inside a Refrigerator Door. Don’t throw them away! They have to be Food Safe, because they have Liquid Food in them, right? When empty, I take them to the Utility room, put them in the Wash tub, rinse them out, then fill them with hot soapy water and a splash of bleach ( to remove any juice smells). Next day, rinse them out well, fill with clean water and a couple of drops of plain bleach, and store them.
    To store them, I use the cheap file folder holders that Wally World sells. They kinda look like milk crates, but they are rectangular. They are approximately 16.5 inches long, 13.5 inches wide, and 10.5 inches deep. I usually get them for $3 apiece. They hold 9 half gallon juice containers, for a total of 4.5 Gallons of water per crate. Depending how big your shelves are, I usually get 2 crates on the bottom of my storage shelving. Since they are clear, keep them out of the sunlight, and if you know they might freeze, leave a little room for expansion. Twice a year, dump the water and refill with clean water and a couple of drops of bleach.
    Advantages: You paid for the Juice, why trash the container? The file folder crates are cheap, and this allows you to fit the water supply into closets, car trunks, etc., without having to give up a large amount of floor space. If one leaks, you’ve only lost 1/2 gallon of water, not 55. At 35 lbs, it’s a lot lighter to move around. Also, Square objects stack easier than round or tubular. No special tools needed to open bungs, nor dollies and hand trunks to move barrels. They also fit into the MEDIUM size Alice Packs 3 Outside pockets (the ones designed for the old C-Rations cartons), so if you are into BugOut Bagging and that’s your system, there’s 1.5 gallons of water in 3 different containers on your pack w/o having to buy extra canteens. LARGE Alice packs (the ones with magazine pouches by the opening used a different size outer pocket, so you’d have to do a test drive on them).
    Disadvantages: Slow to build up a large supply, and hey, you gotta like to drink what was originally in the bottle. But if you have kids, and they need to drink something healthy anyway, give it a try.
    Hope this helps.

  • Uk mike October 23, 2010, 11:46 am

    Hey nothing about water staorage apart from to say, all fantastic Ideas, My house is pretty small so it’d have to be some sort of back garden underground type of cast concrete cistern like the romans used pretty easy to construct just a big hole, concrete and rebar, oh and some pool paint for the sides so the concrete doesn’t affect the water quality and a cast steel manhole cover for access etc…
    On a personal note if thats you Ranger Man in the second picture down standing next to the water butt, your lookin mighty fine…. if thats you in the third picture down… not so hot… ha ha he he ho ho !!

  • uk mike October 23, 2010, 11:48 am

    Yes I know I spelt storage wrong!!

  • uk mike October 23, 2010, 12:14 pm

    Just found this folks… underground concrete water storage

  • Paul October 23, 2010, 3:29 pm

    Near where I live, we have a company that sells water tanks for less than what’s listed in the article. Just google “The Tank Depot San Antonio” to see some comparative prices. I’m sure other outfits in other parts of the country sell similar tanks for similar prices. Also, I’ve seen some good prices on Craiglist (under Farm and Ranch), but I’ve missed the boat so far in buying one!

  • Presage Buddy October 24, 2010, 10:11 am

    Probably everyone’s weakest prep item is water. It was for me (and perhaps may still be) since I’m now storing 230 gallons in the barrels I got from Emergency Essentials. I purchased them over a year’s time so I could work them into my budget.

    I’m storing the barrels under the basement stairs in different sizes to allow them to fit there. I wasn’t using that space for anything important, so it was a perfect place for them. Personally, the Sure Water tanks are a little too big for me, but they seem to be a good option for those who have the room.

    Ideally, the best solution would be to have a well but, unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to have one where we live.

    • Presage Buddy October 24, 2010, 10:21 am

      Some other comments about storing the barrels I got from Emergency Essentials: I placed them on quarter pallets in order to keep them off the concrete floor. That will spread out the weight of all that water. It also allows air to flow under the barrels to prevent mold and mildew from forming. Additionally, having them the 6 or so inches off the floor will assist in syphoning out the last few gallons.

  • Kang & Kodos November 18, 2010, 5:18 pm

    I buy the 7.5 gal plastic “aqua-tainers” from Wal-mart, in the camping section. I’m looking at my receipt and they are $10.36 each, plus your local tax. That’s approx. $1.36 per gallon of storage. Compare that to the 55 gal barrells you listed, which come in at $1.52 per gallon (including shipping). The 275 gal tank you list is about $2.21 per gallon of storage.

    The manufacturer’s web site is here: http://www.relianceproducts.com/products/hydration/79.html
    (note that Wally world sells for significantly less than the manufacturer charges)

    Clearly though, these containers require more available space to store (though they do stack, I wouldn’t recommend more than 2 high when full). However, they have the advantages of portability (I won’t lie, they are heavy!), and can be refilled after TSHTF much easier than a 55 gal barrel, and best of all, you can build up your supply over time. I buy one or two every week or so. Each one is 1 weeks worth of water for 1 person. They also have the built in spout. What’s not to like?



  • john-atlanta December 19, 2010, 1:53 am

    Regarding the 500+ gallon tank. Being plastic means it has one critical flaw. It is not rodent proof and if the rodents get hunger or thirsty they will chew through just about anything, including thin metal sometimes.

    It might be better to lose one 55 gallon drum then 500+ gallons at one shot. Will they chew a hole in the top and fall in, will they chew the spigot off, or will they chew through the bottom from underneath?

    For food not in cans, I like to store it in glass pickle jars or metal cookie cans. Even tool boxes for things such as jerky in plastic bags. I know the jerky says it is good for three years, but, maybe not so long if sitting on a shelf in a low traffic area in the middle of the night.

  • Drew December 29, 2010, 4:00 pm

    there are these big tanks with metal cages around them that hold a ton of water i think like 150 gallons per tank. i think they are called IBC and they are not that expensive. i havent done the numbers but most bottling and farming places have them used. you cold easily build a water supply with them. you just have to find them. they are really no that hard to come by. and i wouldnt worry about rodents chewing threw any kind of plastic. unless its really thin, there is a slim to none chance of that happening.

  • Village Idiot May 25, 2011, 10:51 am

    I have my 55 gallon drum and all accesories. It is going in the basement. The basement is concrete, crawl space, heat and a/c air ducts, water pipes, etc…

    I read somewhere that a 55 gallon drum should be stored on a pallet, made so that there will be good air flow through and under the pallet. Is this true? Dad made a very good heavy duty LARGE pallet for out barrel and other storage items, but it is solid and would fit tight sealed to the concrete floor. Does he need to get out the drill for air holes in the pallet???


  • john May 25, 2011, 7:05 pm

    Just get a plastic pallet, they are about $10 on CL. Untreated wood left on a concrete floor will develop mildew and mold. Same thing with the barrel as it goes up and down in temperature and sweats. Probably southern climate is worse then a dry northern climate.

  • phil grant July 2, 2011, 9:53 am

    i sell food grade 275 gallon tote water tanks and food grade 55 gallon barrels ! also have adaptors that go to a graden hose ! in phx area ! 480-233-6463

  • Ben July 2, 2011, 5:12 pm

    In an emergency shy of nuclear fallout, the biggest problem won’t be lack of water….but lack of potable water. Another cheap way to get a jump start on water storage is to go to a camping store and buy a nice water filter. There are a lot of different styles, and they are a lot more cost effective (in terms of energy expedature) than boiling, and can treat thousands of gallons of water. If you live near a lake, or river, or pond then this would be the first thing I’d buy. You can get a nice one for under $100 and once your barrels of water run out you can search for water.

    In a pinch, these things will even filter out standing water, bathing water, sewage water, or ranch land runoff to a drinkable form.

  • Carol August 18, 2015, 8:12 pm

    I went on the Sure Water site and the cost I saw for a 260 gal. Was $599 and a 525 gal. Was $799. Your article quoted a 275 gal. For $429 (totaling $514 with additions) and a 525 gal. For $559. Are we looking at two different types of water containers? Wondering because I like your prices better!

    • Kang August 19, 2015, 8:42 am

      This article was penned almost 5 years ago in October 2010. Expect prices to have gone up.

  • Big Country May 7, 2019, 11:02 pm

    I checked with uline and they started that reconditioned barrels are not recommended for food or water storage due to not knowing what was stored in them prior to reconditionong.


Leave a Comment