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Freezing Weather Can Mean Ruined Water Treatment Systems

by Mark Timmons January 28, 2014 4 Comments
I am located in Indianapolis, Indiana and we know that here in the Midwest that winters can be cold. It's not always 65 degrees in February like it was a couple of years ago during the Super Bowl (we got real lucky on that one - I wonder how they will do in New York next week?). In fact, right about now we have been battling sub-zero temperatures here for a few weeks.

Most people who live here have their water softeners, filters and reverse osmosis systems installed in basements, utility rooms or garages. Frequently, people ask if their water softeners will freeze in the garage. My answer is simple - "As long as you keep the temperature about 32 degrees it won't!" Garage installations of water treatment equipment can be tricky because of the fact that anything that has water flowing through it is subject to laws of physics and water freezes at temperatures of below approximately 32 degrees. What complicates this is the fact that some garage doors have bad seals that let in air, or people leave their garage door open too long. This is a true story: About 30 years ago, we received a call from a lady who when to the grocery and left her garage door open for "only about an hour" while shopping, and oh... it happened to be 26 degrees below Zero (-26 degrees F). She called and said that out water softener was leaking all over the garage and that she couldn't even get the garage door down due to the ice. We rushed out to find that her water softener had literally blown up all over the garage and the ice was over 2 inches deep with the flow stopped because it was finally frozen. She was convinced that it was a faulty water softener. Her insurance company convinced her otherwise. It only takes a matter of minutes for a water softener to freeze. Milkhouse Heater

"But it has salt - salt can't freeze."

Yeah? What kind of water is the ice at the North Pole? It's a lot saltier than a water softener. I use a "milkhouse" heater in my garage (pictured at the right). It keeps my garage at over 50 degrees even when the outdoor temperature is below Zero, but it won't do it if the door is open! Cold weather presents challenges for people in typically warm weather states, such as Florida, Georgia, Texas or Arizona, because they seldom face freezing temperatures. Many water treatment devices, like water softeners, reverse osmosis systems and filters are installed outside above the ground or even buried in the ground. Remember this: IF THE TEMPERATURE IS BELOW 32 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT FOR ANY PROLONGED TIME (even an hour) THE PIPES AND WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CAN FREEZE! End of story. Figure out how to keep the temperature around the pipes and equipment above 32 degrees, but be careful not to put the heat directly on any plastic, wood or anything flammable. That could be just as bad! Below is a photo from in New England of a garage where frozen pipes had wreaked havoc! Freezing, especially a hard freeze, generally necessitates replacement of pipes and equipment, because as ice expands, the structural integrity of the product is compromised and replacement is very expensive. Check with your insurance agent to see if you are covered.

Cars in a garage covered in ice from a water leak
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January 31, 2014 Jonathan Porter

I am designing a dream house and in the design, I have the brine tank in the garage and the rest of the system in the basement adjacent to the garage. With the plumbing going through the foundation. I was thinking of having the brine tank partially sub grade to assist in filling and protect from freezing. And have an insulated lid. This is in a climate where the record cold is -26 degrees Fahrenheit.
My questions are:
how susceptible would such a configuration be to freezing? Would you still suggest actively heating of the brine tank? Would an aquarium heater be sufficient in this case?


February 01, 2014 Mike

Has anyone had any functional issues with the brine tank being in the garage and water softener in the basement?

February 02, 2014 Mark Timmons

Salt water freezes just like all water. It would be very susceptible to freezing. My brine tank is in my garage and I just made sure it was insulated very well and I have a small electric heater on the wall set at 50 degrees. An aquarium heater would not be a good idea in my opinion.

February 05, 2014 Mark Timmons

We do that a lot. I just do not recommend it to be more than 35 feet away.

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