View Full Version : Forum record OT post: Rain barrel freezing question.

12-04-2016, 10:47 AM
Do I get the prize for posting THE most OT question?

Ya'll may recall me posting about installing a gutter diverter & rain barrel to harvest rain water for lawn & garden watering during the dry months. Turns out I was ahead of the curve as we've had terrible drought conditions in the area this year & saving what little rainfall we got was important. I'm up to 10 barrels now & it will help a lot next season.

Of course, winter's here & the water's not needed. The forecast is for overnight lows of 18-20 deg later this week & the barrels will freeze. I hate to just pump it all out on the ground in case we have a dry spring. These are 55 gal polyethylene barrels & (I suppose) they have a little bit of flexibility. Would pumping 6 or 7 gal. out of each drum prevent cracking or is the only safe method to pump 'em dry? (No, antifreeze isn't an option.) :rolleyes: What say ya'll scientists?

12-04-2016, 10:53 AM
I have used the white food grade plastic barrels, they have frozen over the winter and no problems. Don't know about red rain barrels.

J Tiers
12-04-2016, 11:01 AM
It takes some time for barrels to freeze through. Short cold snaps won't do it.

Id be more worried about the valves than the barrels, they can freeze fast, and split. Don't know if the barrels will be ok with less water or not.

12-04-2016, 11:18 AM
Dump them. 1 or 2 decent rains in the Spring and they will be full again. I dumped mine a couple of weeks ago.

12-04-2016, 11:40 AM
as above, or set the barrel down in the ground.

12-04-2016, 12:31 PM
Set them in a semi heated barn or garage. Get some livestock trough deicers. Something like this:


A.K. Boomer
12-04-2016, 12:38 PM
I know in some places it's like liquid gold but I think I would dump it, if they are the type of barrels im thinking they may have those half way up reinforcing ribs or whatever - so even just over half full those could anchor the main batch as it freezes and not allow it to "popsicle" its way up and split the barrels...

then you lose the water and the ability to store the next round too

12-04-2016, 12:42 PM
If they are full close to the brim they will have more of a problem as the top will constrain expansion. I use an IBC - 1000 litres but in the UK it doesn't get that cold to freeze it .

12-04-2016, 01:00 PM
Dickeybird i too have collected rainwater, i had 5 blue food grade plastic barrels, full, and have never dumped them, just let them freeze up, and thaw out in spring. Where i am located, we have winter temps down to -30--40F and never had one split. The barrels seemed to last for years, not sure how long i had them, but over 10+ years for sure, maybe 20 years.

12-04-2016, 01:16 PM
Freezing shouldn't hurt, plastic barrels are normally made of HDPE, so have some give to them and don't often split.

12-04-2016, 01:42 PM
If you think your barrels may split, set them where you want the spring water. When the thaw comes they will put water where you want it. If they survive all is good.


12-04-2016, 01:49 PM
I don't dump mine and never had a problem.

12-04-2016, 02:09 PM
This is very timely for me, as I too was debating if I really needed to drain my blue 55gal rain barrels.

I don't dump mine and never had a problem.
Do you leave them completely full as sasquatch does, or let some out?
I am surprised that they can be left 100% full and not have an issue with the 9% (?) expansion.

I have a brass ball valve near the bottom to be concerned about, and I am thinking a frost cover would make little difference.

12-04-2016, 02:22 PM
Wow, just as I thought; some very good info & 1st hand experience, thanks! The "do nothing, they'll be fine" camp really made my lazy self happy. I'll stay in the shop today & keep piddlin' rather than go out & hook up the pump to drain some off the top. It is my birthday after all and us 69 yr.-olds need to keep on piddlin'.:cool:

(I will bring the pump indoors though.)

J Tiers
12-04-2016, 02:42 PM
Valves are an issue, they freeze fast. Depends how they are, though.

A ball valve, with no pipe on the outlet, so the outlet side is dry, and a straight shot through back to the tank, is the best case for not being damaged. I'd worry about the water trapped in the ball, though. Noplace much for that to go.

Lew Hartswick
12-04-2016, 02:46 PM
I have one barrel about 3/4 full ( the white poly type) and have been thinking about draining it. Now I may let it sit over winter so it'll be available in the spring. I have to collect the runoff from the other canullies in 5 gal buckets and transfer it to the barrel. Over winter they don't get collected. :-)
Flat roofs are a curse on mandkind but here they are the majority. :-(

12-04-2016, 03:06 PM
I did not mention that i had no valves, and no tops on the barrels.

12-04-2016, 03:29 PM
I had one of those white, food grade barrels setting out with top on,and no apparent entry hole for rain to get in, yet every two or three years it would fill completely ...except one little space due to the fact it was setting at a slight tilt.

Over the nine or ten years it sat there it never had any problems due to freezing ...here in north Alabama. I imagine in central Alberta the story might be different.

12-04-2016, 03:32 PM
I've got a couple of large blue plastic 55 gal drums in my yard collecting water, and they haven't burst yet, and it's been down to -35C here (Edmonton, AB).

12-04-2016, 03:39 PM
This is one of the places where a stop-and-waste valve is a big help. Ball valves are pretty resistant to freeze, especially in a situation like this where there is somewhere for the pressure to relieve when freeze occurs liquid back to the barrel, since the valve will probably freeze first), IF the water in the ball chamber can waste. Freeze damage is usually due to the buildup of hydraulic pressure when the space goes solid rather than the ice itself. I have replaced a lot of fittings and pipe over the years (mostly due to people not following procedure in unconditioned spaced), and the breaks are generally not where the freeze would happen first, but are where the weakest part is. The residual drops that stay in a wasted valve are not an issue, as they won't build sufficient pressure to cause a problem when most of the water is out.

12-04-2016, 03:47 PM
I say you should dig a moat around your property!
Line it with plastic, fill it with the water.
A shop made drawbridge completes the deed.

J Tiers
12-04-2016, 05:32 PM
I figured there could be solid water in the passage thru the ball, no air, depending on what it was last discharged into, and so forth (quarter turn valve). Might be there is pressure relief enough to not be an issue.

12-04-2016, 05:47 PM
Might be there is pressure relief enough to not be an issue.

Generally not without a waste port. A ball valve frozen with a closed, flooded ball, is actually kind of cool to see.

Weston Bye
12-04-2016, 07:52 PM
An occasional freeze shouldn't be much of a problem. True, the ice expands when freezing, but the plastic barrel can handle it.
Of more concern would be repeated quick freeze-thaw cycles where a big disk of ice establishes itself in the barrel, stretching the barrel, and a short thaw melts a little ice where the ice disk contacts the barrel wall and then refreezes before the plastic can be spring back, expanding the barrel a little bit more, and so on until the wall splits.

I have never seen it done, but heard stories where frozen underground water lines were thawed by attaching a welder and passing current through the pipe to warm it. A length of copper or even aluminum cable or flex copper pipe looped in and out of the barrels could be given an occasional zap with a welder to warm the water, but might be too much of a hassle...

12-05-2016, 11:41 AM
We empty the barrels at our summer cottage up in Maine.

Another thing to consider w.r.t. rainwater collection barrels is that often they are made out of recycled plastics. I don't know how good (strong/flexible) these are compared to straight-from-the-refinery plastics.

Happy Winter.

12-05-2016, 12:57 PM
Something compressible, fixed vertically inside the barrel to give the ice somewhere to expand inwards, might save the barrel.

A rod or tube of the closed-cell foam used in pipe insulation, or in 'pool noodles' as a buoyancy aid, comes to mind. Hollow ones could have a rod pushed down the middle to keep them straight and submerged. The foam would need to be rigid enough that the ordinary pressure of the water wouldn't crush it. I've no idea whether it would work!


12-05-2016, 08:53 PM
Ball valves fill the entire body with water, not just the cavity of the ball. My job involves lots of ball valves. The product I build currently has 4 diaphram solenoid valves, 3 manual ball valves and 14 electrically operated ball valves! Freezing breaks pipe, fittings and valves, and almost never tanks. Did a Reverse Osmosis airport deicing job. Blew up a 1-1/2" copper pipe running warm water because the insulators missed one elbow. Would have been okay except the pressure relief valves inside a heated tent on the cold side had already frozen solid!