How Do I Keep My Water Softener From Freezing?

With the icy grips of winter on the horizon, it’s time to start thinking about winterizing our homes. If you have a water softener, this includes its water treatment equipment. That said, the temperatures may only pose a threat to water softeners in certain locations, so extra precautions are necessary for specific situations. 

This guide reviews the specifics of water softeners and winter, plus how to protect your system from freezing in sub-freezing winter temperatures, so continue reading to learn more!

At What Temperature Will A Water Softener Freeze?

In many areas throughout the northern United States, temperatures dip below freezing and remain there for weeks on end. Constant icy temperatures threaten your water softener system, but temperatures will affect certain parts differently. 

Generally, water inside the treatment tank of your water softener system will freeze around or slightly below freezing, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This water contains very little dissolved salt, so it’ll freeze at a higher temperature. 

Brine water with a high salt concentration usually freezes around -6 degrees Fahrenheit. The water near the bottom of the salt tank is generally close to fully saturated with salt, so it takes a bit longer to freeze. 

Aside from these areas, the water pipes feeding into the water softener can freeze and burst when temperatures get this low, so preventative measures are necessary. This shouldn’t be an issue if the temperatures remain well above freezing. However, if the forecast predicts sub-freezing or sub-zero temperatures in your area, you should ensure your water softener is ready for the temperature swing. 

What Happens If A Water Softener Freezes?

Like any other water-using appliance (such as water heaters), water softeners don’t react well to freezing temperatures. These systems rely on numerous connections throughout for smooth operation. When the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the connections, distribution tubes, and pipes might crack or separate. 

Gaps in the connections or cracks in the pipes and connection tubes can cause water to escape the system, creating a mess in your home. If water escapes from the unit in a cold area of your home (unheated basement, garage, etc.), it could freeze on the floor of your home, creating an ice rink that is tricky to clean up. 

On top of that, repairing a water softener with temperature damage can be extremely costly, although it depends on the severity of the damage. So, it’s essential to regularly check your water softener throughout the winter (even when you winterize it) to ensure there isn’t any ice buildup.

How To Winterize A Water Softener

As mentioned, not every water softener will require winterizing, as some are located in the warmth of the house. Winterizing the system is necessary if your water softener sits in an unheated location, such as a garage. In addition, you should winterize the system if you don’t use the property throughout the winter or leave your home unheated for extended periods throughout the winter. 

The correct winterizing process for your water softener depends on whether you’ll use it throughout the season or shut it down in late fall. Here’s how to do it:

Unit You’ll Continue Using

The process is simple if you continue using the water softener throughout the cooler season. You can quickly get the system ready to go with a few materials from your local hardware store. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pipe insulation wrap
  • Heat-safe tape, cables, or zip ties
  • Scissors 

Once you have the correct materials, bring them to your water softener. Cut pieces of pipe insulation wrap, so they fit securely around each piece of pipe. Wrap the insulation around the pipe, ensuring it goes all the way around. Secure the insulation in place with heat-safe tape or cable. 

Repeat the process for each pipe attached to your water softener.

Unit You Will Shut Down

Sometimes, it’s best to shut down the unit entirely, especially if you live in a climate where temperatures dip below zero and remain there for weeks or leave your home unattended for weeks or months at a time. 

To start, you need to turn off the water supply at the water main. Release the remaining water pressure from the lines by turning on a kitchen or bathroom faucet, then remove the softener from the bypass. 

Disconnect the valve from the tank, then drain the water from the connection tank. You’ll need a siphoning device, such as a hand siphon. Give the remaining water about five minutes to settle at the bottom of the tank, then drain the rest of the water from the collection tank. 

Next, unplug the system to power it down completely. Disconnect remaining inlets and outlets to or from the softener. Cover each inlet and outlet opening to prevent grime and insects from getting into the system. 

And just like that, tada! Your water softener is ready for winter. 

How Do I Keep My Water Softener From Freezing?

Preparing your water softener for winter is one thing, but preventing it from freezing while you’re still using it is a different ballgame. Here are a few tips and tricks to help avoid a frozen water softener:

Keep It Warm

It should be okay if your water softener is in a relatively warm area. However, this doesn’t mean you should dismiss regular checkups. To help ensure the system doesn’t freeze, provide a bit of extra heat. 

In particularly cold weather, position a space heater near the system. While you don’t need to leave it on 24/7 throughout the entire winter (it might not need it), it doesn’t hurt to add extra heat during cold snaps. The heater will provide just enough heat to maintain a consistent flow of warm air around the softener. 

If you leave home for a few weeks and don’t want to shut the system down while you’re gone, consider leaving your central heat on at a low level to maintain a warmer temperature. While it’ll raise your heating bill, it’s cheaper than dealing with frozen pipes and a flooded basement. 

Monitor It Regularly

One of the best preventative methods is regular monitoring. You don’t need to check on it fifteen times in the same day, but it doesn’t hurt to take a peek a couple of times per day, especially during cold snaps. 

Look for leaks, drips, and other signs that could indicate the development of ice. This way, you can catch potential issues before they cause substantial damage. 

Keep Garage Doors Shut

If your water softener lives in the garage, keep your garage doors shut during the winter. Having a space heater in the garage is useless if your garage doors remain open, as all of the warm air will escape out of the giant open doors. 

So, keep your garage doors shut at all times, except for when you’re parking in or leaving your garage. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I Use A Water Softener In Freezing Temperatures?

Yes, you can use a water softener in sub-freezing temperatures. However, if your water softener is located in an unheated portion of your home, such as a garage, you’ll need to be extra careful it doesn’t freeze.

If the system freezes, connections may separate, and cracks may form in distribution tubes and pipes, allowing water to flood your home. So, properly winterizing the system is essential.

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