To Flush Or Not To Flush That Is The Question

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Top Tier Gear USA


Okay, I’ve been looking into sewers. Not literally you understand but researching them. The current way of thinking is that if the power goes down the water treatment plants follow soon after and the taps stop delivering water and flushing becomes impossible, sewers back up and a big stink ensues with all the health hazards that go with it. Well, yes, but I think it will take a hell of a lot longer than we have all been imagining, and here’s why.

Most people will not be flushing, they have no water to do so. Their main concern will be drinking water, disposing of waste will be a major issue and some will fill the tank occasionally so they can flush but there may well be too much waste at that point for their system to cope with.

The savvy will be saving any waste water they can to put into the tank so they can flush the toilet at least once a day and they will be able to continue that for a considerable time as long as they can procure enough water to do so. The very savvy will already have flush water laid aside so in the first instance they can continue relatively normally.

There’s a good distance between your home and the sewer deep underground that takes the waste from your toilet, it’s the action of flushing, emptying the bath, taking a shower etc that keeps the system working. The treatment plant that receives all the waste is usually out of town, so even more distance lies between you and it. Even if everyone saved waste water to flush it’s the treatment plant end that will become overwhelmed long before any private homes. Then all the pipe work leading into the plant will fill and so it will work backwards from the plant.

Now sewers are big, at their smallest they are plenty big enough for an average height person to move through with only a slight stoop. All of these have to fill up before the back up gets into the large bore pipes that connect your home to the sewerage system.

The key however is not blocking your domestic pipes, and that means flushing at least once every 12 hours to keep things moving. Again water is the issue. Unless you’ve saved enough before hand.

Milk containers (UK style) with handles are great for storing non-drinking water but any sturdy container will do. If the panel comes off the side of your bath you can store several gallons in the space under there, mine have a few drops of bleach in to keep it a little fresher for longer. By putting a brick in the cistern you roughly halve the amount of water required to flush and therefore the space behind the bath panel gives me 60 flushes, 30 days at two flushes every 24 hours. This gives me time to save other waste water, and to deal with other more pressing issues without worrying about the toilet and the problems associated with waste disposal in the initial stages of  a grid down situation. Behind the bath panel is my solution, but as you are not going to be drinking the water where you store it is not that important, storing it ahead of time is the important thing.

Just as a side comment I also have dozens of these containers, disinfectant already added stacked in a gap at the side of the shed ready for cleaning down the yard after the dog. This is a hygiene issue especially in summer where animal waste will attract flies and all the spreadable diseases that go with them.

Okay, back to sewers. Using the highest toilet in the house for solid waste will allow gravity to help with its disposal. Flush only waste. TP can be burned or bagged as it is in many countries where the plumbing is less effective than it is in the first world.

By removing the u bend under the sink and putting a bucket under there sink water can be collected. To filter the water duct tape a piece of fabric over the open end to catch any food debris etc which you can then dispose of. This is important as any fats put into the system with solidify and block everything up very quickly. Waste water collected this way should be used before your container water as it will ‘go off’ and start to smell if left around for too long.

It’s wise to buy a couple of gallons of the cheapest bleach and the same of laundry detergent (powdered) to give the system a clean and a helping hand every couple of days. When bleach is added to laundry detergent it foams up and expands to many times its original volume. In a pipe this foam will expand forwards dislodging would be blockages before they build up to any great size. In addition, it cleans the system preventing the build up of smells and bacteria. Of course drain cleaner will work, but the fumes are toxic and its corrosive to skin, not the best if you are keeping the doors and windows closed.

After flushing put the laundry detergent into the bottom of the bowl, add the bleach and flush immediately. As the moving water mixes the powder and the bleach together it will foam up, cleaning the pipes as it goes. This keeps your end of the system sanitized and hopefully blockage free.

It’s impossible to calculate how long you would have before you are unable to flush because the system has backed up so much that it can take no more, and this is something all those without their own septic tank will face eventually should the grid fail.

At that point preventing a back flow of sewage into your home will be the primary concern. I am looking into this to try and find preventative measures. Until I do my own preparations are very simple. I will put two heavy gauge trash bags, one inside the other over my hand and arm and shove them as far as I can into the s bend at the bottom of the toilet bowl. The bags will be pressed to the sides of the toilet bowl and starting as low down as I can I will fill them with expanding foam like that used to fill gaps around pipes. I will work backwards, stopping four inches down from the top of the bowl. When it has settled and set anything above the bowl will be trimmed off, the remainder of  the bags folded over the top and it will be duct taped into place. The seat and lid will be closed and that will also be sealed with duct tape.

Whilst far from perfect it does form a barrier to the back flow of sewage. Other than disconnecting the toilet and capping off the pipe it is all I have come up with so far. I am not physically capable of disconnecting the toilet so at this point this is my chosen method. It also gives me a removable plug so should the water system come back on line I will be up and running as soon as the foam is taken out of the bowl.

As usual, thinking ahead is key to not only surviving a major event but doing so in the best way we can. Dealing with waste will be a major issue for most of us in any grid down situation along with dozens of other things that require our attention. This is just one idea of how to cross one item off the list, allowing more time for those issues that really do have to be dealt with immediately.

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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.

Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

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  • Elizabeth

    At my home, I can block the sewer connection at the 4 inch cleanout plug behind the house. That blocks the whole house, not just the toilets.

  • Milo Mindbender

    I have a septic tank, and on the other side of my property I have a bored well. I am able to pull appx. 4.5 gallons at a time up from my well, if I remove the pipes, and cap from it. Septic systems when properly maintained are very simple, gravity is your friend, add water, flush, repeat as needed. I also store used 1 gallon containers I get from work for flush only.

    • catyeye

      We all have a share Milo.

  • What about where to go when you plug the toilet with foam?


    If so, what health protective measures does one take?
    Dig a ditch?
    Cover the ditch after each use?
    Use lime to kill bacteria?

  • I recently purchased a “Gravity Water Filter” which is a simple
    method of combining two containers, one for filling at top with a
    filter, and a second at the bottom where the filtered water is stored.
    The filters are made of ceramic base which deflects bacteria growth and
    thus does a great job of filtering up to around 3,000 gallons.

    You can either purchase these or make them yourself, its quite easy to do. The reason I bring this up is, if water will become a scarcity, you can always filter it and the water you don’t filter, (lake, pond, etc) can be used to flush toilets.

    I highly recommend that people look into these gravity filters which don’t need any electricity or water lines.

  • Jack

    No one seems to notice the absurd amount of agricultural lime I purchase in a place that is pH neutral.

  • Sharon

    One of the best things to do with a grid down situation is to set up a composting toilet immediately. It can be done easily by using a 5 gallon bucket and adding a regular toilet seat to it. You use dirt and leaves to cover your business. Guys pee outside if possible. If not, pee in a bucket and pour it in the garden. Feces needs to be composted. Research composting toilets to know what options to use. Worst case..use kitty litter to cover your business. During a grid down, the LAST thing I would do is use water to flush.

    • Row Weil

      I think this is the most plausible idea.

      It’s not like you’re gonna be Windex-ing/Comet-ing/using disposable air fresheners anyways in a Grid-down situation (and certainly not IN a composting toilet), so unless you’re in the habit of eating plastic, Human Waste is nothin’ but hi-nitrogen fertilizer 🙂 Gonna look into this now. Thanks!

      P.S. This obviously solves the backup problem too, and removes the large amount of rotting sewage that would otherwise be festering below the streets in pipes, certain to leak out somewhere as the infrastructure degrades.

  • Bill X

    We plan on going to a 5 gallon bucket with a snap-on toilet seat. Lined with a garbage bag with kitty litter to cover the smell. I’ll dump it everyday at 3AM when it’s the safest outside.

  • SKIP

    Personally, I think that when shit gets this bad, our homes and persons will be under gubmint assault and most likely assault by “urban” thugs seeking loot, stuff and White wimminz so in my case, I will have left while the leaving was good along with all my weapons, food stuffs and anything else that will fit in the Deuce-n-a-half

    • SKIP

      DAMN! had to go back for the family.

  • Ken, your UK friend

    Adds new meaning to the term ‘shit hits the fan’ LOL

  • Judy

    You don’t say how much bleach/detergent mix to pour down the system “every couple of days” — surely not the whole two gallons at once (?) I’ve found large quantities of chlorine bleach are difficult to store for long periods of time.

  • Sol

    I just had a drain specialist come out to evaluate my home, in the event of a grid down scenario that affects the water/sewer. There are many variables, as to whether or not your home could experience sewer backup. If your home/location doesn’t meet the ‘high ground’ criteria – blocking the toilet is the LEAST of your worries! Sh!t highway is gonna come up through ALL of your home’s drain pipes! That includes floor drains, over-flows, bath tubs, showers, all sinks and anything that needs to utilize the drain — such as dishwasher/clothes washer. If your grade level isn’t a certain height or you have a basement, or depending on the nearest switching station, plan B is certainly in order.

    Elizabeth is correct on the clean-out plug.

    Although you won’t have much notice, a sure sign of impending backup will be gurgling in your pipes – or if you see the sewer grate overflow outside your home. I wanted to use an inflatable test plug, but was told it holds only 50lbs of pressure AND … likely will not hold backflow for extended time. It was suggested in that scenario, to open up the clean-out plug and let it overflow *outside* your house. If it comes to that event, (sh)it (or the authorities) will be the least of your worries, by opening that drain outside the house. Anything to keep the backflow from reaching the -inside- of your house! In a grid down scenario, sewer backup inside your home/bug-in plans would nearly destroy your preps – if hunkering down in place at home is your intention. Who could tolerate that kind of infiltration health-wise, yet alone the difficult cleanup in a grid down scenario without water?!

    Locate the clean-out plug and familiarize yourself NOW!

    GridEx II ==>> Nov 13-14, 2013 <<==

    Good luck!