If you live in a cold climate, the unfortunate fact is that you will most likely have to winterize your rain barrel and in most cases, this means putting it away for the winter. Fortunately you can take solace in the fact that it also means winter sports season is approaching!
Before temperatures dip below freezing, take these steps to winterize your rain barrel
- Disconnect your barrel from the diverter
- Empty your barrel
- Remove or open your spigot
- Remove the diverter and replace it with the winter cover (Optional)
- Clean your barrel (Optional)
- Store your barrel inside (Optional)
Now, you can follow all of those steps easily and be good to go but as the saying goes “if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime”. Knowing the details of why and how can help you make your own decisions that are best for your climate and setup.
Why winterize your barrel?
I wager the odds are pretty good that if you are reading this article, you live in a cold climate where temperatures can dip below freezing. An unfortunate property of water when it freezes is that it expands (by roughly 9%!). Anyone who’s frozen a bottle of water in their freezer has seen this in action in the misshapen bottles that result from this.
Frozen water expanding can be a common issue in cold climates and in some cases even cause issues with the plumbing in your house with pipes exploding. This can happen with your rain barrel as well. While it may not explode leaving a rain barrel full of water and having it freeze can ultimately crack your barrel or even damage some of the other components. Spigots in particular are most susceptible to this.
If freezing temperatures are a regular occurrence where you live, winterizing your rain barrel is probably a good idea to prevent damage to the barrel and your components.
In what climates is it necessary?
Do you live somewhere that you need to consider this? If you’re in the US, most likely but it differs dramatically depending on where you are. If you are in Southern California or Arizona, you may never need to winterize your rain barrel. If you live in Maine, you may need to consider doing so before someone who lives in Kentucky.
Find where you live in this map to discover when you should start thinking about winterizing your rain barrel.
Keep in mind, these numbers are averages as well. A variety of conditions could cause the first freeze to come sooner some years than others but it might be a good idea to set yourself a reminder a week before the average date for your region (or more than a week if you’re a procrastinator).
If you live in one of the more southern regions or those where freezing occurs infrequently, you may not even need to winterize your barrel. You would be risking damage but if it only freezes once a year, you may go many years before needing to replace a component.
Steps to winterize your rain barrel
Step 1 – Disconnect your barrel from the diverter
This step is fairly easy but probably a good place to start. The last thing we want to happen as we are winterizing your rain barrel is for debris or water to enter the barrel as you are preparing it. So first things first, disconnect your barrel from its source.
Step 2 – Empty your rain barrel
I know that this is always a shame but the water you’ve collected is the very thing that can cause damage to the components when it freezes so we’ll have to get rid of any remaining water at this point. Or you could use it! Either way, your barrel will need to be emptied.
Step 3 – Remove or open your spigot
The barrel isn’t actually the most likely thing to receive damage when it begins to freeze. Most barrels are fairly malleable and capable of expanding (to a certain degree) with the water. It’s your spigot that is most likely to receive damage during a freeze and by opening it, or simply removing it, you are preventing potential cracking or damage.
Step 4 – Clean your barrel (Optional)
At this point, you may as well just clean out your barrel. As long as you are going to empty your barrel, there is no better time to perform standard maintenance to make sure your harvesting system is in tip-top shape. You can find some maintenance steps here.
Step 5 – Store your barrel indoors (Optional)
You can certainly leave your barrel where it always goes but if you have somewhere to keep it indoors, it’s likely going to be a safer option. There are plenty of incidental things that can happen to your rain barrel if you leave it outdoors that can cause unexpected damage so bringing it in is just a good idea… if you can. If you can’t, and you have nowhere to keep it, Put a cinderblock or something heavy into your barrel so it doesn’t blow away in the wind.
Step 6 – Remove your diverter and replace it with a winter cover (Optional)
WIth your barrel emptied and stored safely, your diverter can also be put away to prevent incidental damage. Ultimately, it also doesn’t need to be put away but unless you have a reason for leaving it up, it’s much safer carefully stored away. And, of course, make sure that your winter cover is setup so that water does not come down the diverter into nothing!
These steps should have you fully prepared for winter so that you can keep your rain harvesting system in good condition.