I remember the day that I had a customer explain to me that here in the Austin area, it never gets cold enough to freeze. Clearly, he was wrong. But many of my customers have had the idea that freeze protection is not needed. In February of 2021, we all learned how inadequate our freeze protection was during the Snowmageddon. For those that were not around, we had freezing temperatures around 0 Fahrenheit for a week straight. Just about every water system in the area froze up. We had homes, farms, and businesses without water for a month. I hope I never see that kind of weather again. But I am going to attempt to harden my water systems, so we don’t have the same problems. Here are some suggestions for ways that you can prepare for freezing weather.
Build a pump house.
Nothing works better to prevent a freeze than a pump house. This is simply a building that will protect your water tanks, pumps, and treatment systems. And yes, I now recommend that you insulate the walls. And I recommend spray foam insulation over conventional batt insulation. If you get a leak in your plumbing (which is much more likely around all those pumps and tanks) the batt insulation can be ruined by a simple water leak. That pump house can save you in the winter, but you will also find that the equipment inside will last much longer if it is not exposed to outdoor conditions year around.
Protect your exposed pipes.
When you built that pump house, you should have run the water lines up through the slab. But I realize that you can’t always plan everything so now you have an exposed pipe. Get some pipe insulation and wrap it up. Then get some pipe wrap tape and completely cover the insulation. This will protect the insulation from the sunlight (which will break down the insulation in a few years) and it will keep the insulation dry during rain events. Wet insulation is not very good at trapping heat. If your pipe is going to be hit by a weed eater, then you need some extra protection. You can get some hard plastic and wrap it around the outside of the insulation near where the weed eater will hit. Then wrap that pipe tape around the plastic to make it look good. I like to use a larger piece of PVC pipe that I split down one side to do this.
Use heat tape to add extra heat.
Up until now, we have simply relied on insulating the water from the cold weather. Now it's time to add some heat. If you have equipment that is outside, then you need to get serious about adding some heat. With outdoor equipment, the best bet is usually to use heat tape. You can buy it at the local hardware store. The wires will get hot (if the electricity stays on) and will heat the equipment you want to protect. It's pretty simple to install. Put it underneath any insulation and never cross the wires. If you must cross the wires (where they will come in contact with each other) then stick something between them to prevent damage to the wiring.
Get a heater for your pump house.
In most cases, any type of heater will work. I prefer heaters that have a built-in thermostat so you can “set it and forget it” (thanks Ron Popeil). But if your heater does not have a thermostat, you can buy thermostats that you simply plug the heater into. Make sure the thermostat is not right in front of the heater, so it won’t shut off too early. Many of my customers prefer to use a heat lamp. While they do provide enough heat, I have found that they are more likely to fail than a space heater. They are simply a light bulb, and we all know how fragile they can be. I like a heater mounted on the wall. That way it is up out of the dust and grime and less likely to cause a fire.
Use a Freeze Miser to let the cold water out.
A Freeze Miser is simply a valve that will let out water that is near freezing. We have two different types. One is mounted on faucets and will simply let the cold water drip on the ground. Another is mounted to your plumbing system, and it allows you to dump the cold water back into your well or storage tank. Both work great to keep the water moving and prevent freeze-ups.
Leave some water running during the freeze.
The weatherman is going to tell you to leave the water dripping overnight. He is not talking to you. He is talking to the people that have city water. You have to leave some water running, not dripping. The difference is the volume of water. In most cases, you need to be using at least 2 GPM to be sure you’re not going to freeze up. If you can, recycle that water. Dump it back into your well or storage tank. That way you don’t waste the water, and you’re not creating an ice sheet to slip on tomorrow morning.
Get an alternate source of heat.
When the power goes out, how will you keep your pump house warm? A simple propane heater will do the job great. You already have the bottle on your grill. Just get the heater and stick it on your pump house wall. Then, you are prepared for anything.
Maintain your freeze protection.
One thing that is critical with a water system is that you have to maintain your freeze-protection equipment. Every fall you should inspect and test your devices. Make sure the thermostat and heaters work. Put your Freeze Misers in the freezer for an hour and then install them to make sure they open and close properly. Check your insulation on exposed pipes to make sure that it still protects your pipes. Clean the dust off your heater with an air hose or leaf blower so you won’t start a fire. If you need any help with this, we are glad to help. If you do all of this and you still freeze up, we will be there to help you get your system back up and running.
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