The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Winterizing the rain barrel (or not)

Rain barrel

I meant to drain the rain barrel last fall. But we were still using it, and every time I let the water run out Mark came along behind me and closed the spigot. I never remembered to tell him that it's good practice to leave the rain barrel empty for the winter, and at some point I just shrugged and let it ride.

And here's the deal --- nothing froze and broke. Now I'm wondering if winterizing the rain barrel is just one of those tasks people tell you to do that aren't really necessary. In fact, we enjoyed having the easily accessible outdoor winter water for goats, chickens, and for the aquaponics setup. So maybe next year I won't even put that task on my to-do list.

How about you? Do you drain your rain barrel for the winter? If not, have you had any problems as a result?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I live farther north than you, and I have had my rain barrel freeze solid and crack. If your temperatures don't stay consistently below freezing during the winter, the barrel may be fine, but I'm guessing you were just lucky.
Comment by Anonymous Thu Apr 6 08:18:58 2017
As you know, I'm in the Tri-Cities area and I never empty the rain barrels and I've never had a problem. I think it's because since they hold 55 gallons that it would take a very severe and very long cold spell to freeze all that solid. On the other hand, the one gallon buckets used for the chicken waters do freeze solid when the temps go down, so my solution to that problem is to bring the waterers in the house when I know it's going to get very cold (below 30 degrees) and then I shut the chickens in the upper part of the tractor so they will keep each other warm. That seems to be working just fine.
Comment by Nayan Thu Apr 6 10:09:47 2017

Hi Anna and Mark,

My first one did also. Not the rugged kind you have, but an old trash can.

Your periodically draining it a little now and then may well have reduced the volume enough so it did not crack?

Last year I put a large children's swimming pool there. It seems to have lasted. I dip water out of it. No spigot though.

I hope one day I get as organized as you both are.

warm regards, John

Comment by John Thu Apr 6 11:10:01 2017
I did not empty our barrels the first year or two we had them installed but then we got in the single digits and the water froze in the ball valve and split the brass. The valve leaks when it's open but otherwise still functions. Other style spigots may keep this from happening but we like the unrestricted flow of the ball valve. We had no issues with the barrels during that time. We do drain ours now when the temperature stays below freezing for a few days or is expected to get into the 20's. We typically don't need much water during that time anyways.
Comment by Brian Thu Apr 6 14:09:20 2017
Depends where the barrel is located too. It looks like it's under the eave of a roof, which is known to protect against frost. I don't know what the protection level is during a freeze though.
Comment by Chris Thu Apr 6 18:13:58 2017
I live in Knoxville, guessing maybe not even a latitude line beneath you guys? My rain barrels have never been emptied and the fixtures and barrels have always been fine. It was the cheapo-thin hose connecting them that split a few times, but not ever year, and usually when the hoses were touching the ground (heat sink?). The barrels were right up against the house - not a lot of wind chill and probably getting marginal radiated heat from the building.
Comment by Roz Thu Apr 6 18:18:22 2017

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