Intending to install above-ground plastic 55-gal barrels for rain catchment next to my house, fed by downspouts, connected with garden hoses, and emptied by garden hoses as well. Would likely involve simple diy first flush diverter. I'm planning to connect for practical use, say for toilet flushing, either with low-flow toilet valve or with marine on-demand pressure pump. This would NOT be connected to home plumbing pipes, but would feed separately. I'm in Seattle city. Sometimes it freezes here. Sometimes ponds or lakes freeze over thinly, but rarely (or maybe never) enough for ice-skating.
My question is: how much do I have to worry about freezing here in Seattle, and if it should be a worry, then are there any modifications I can make to allow the system to work well in winter? Winter is, after all, the rainy season in Seattle.
(I'm not in Seattle)
I have had my water butts freeze-solid a few- the plastic expands and the bottom balloons out and they sometimes fall over- but when they thaw they tend to recover. My bigger water butts (1000 litres) never freeze (but then it's a lot warmer here- UK- than it is for you), only the 330 litre and smaller ones.
Have never had a problem with the pipes- because they drain when the pump isn't actively pumping, so water does sit in them waiting to freeze.
I have found that putting them next to the house (Rather than further down the garden) keeps them warmer- with the heat leaking form the house and thermal moderation of the brick walls. Putting them outside the patio doors made a much bigger difference- the door glass leaks more heat from the house.
When it gets that cold (which doesn't happen very often here at all, admittedly) we switch back to mains-water. This required some interesting plumbing to ensure we never contaminated the mains supply by using mains and rainwater in the same pipes.
I use 275 gallon IBC totes to collect rainwater here in Indiana where it definitely gets cold enough to freeze them solid. The good news is that with a mass of water that large it often takes a few days of sub-freezing temps for them to freeze. However, one year I forgot to drain them and they ended up expanding and stretching the metal cages that surround the plastic.
Missouri here and likewise, sometimes ponds freeze on top but only an inch or two. I've had upwards of 4 inches frozen at the top of my rain barrels and also around the outside (inside the barrel, outside of water mass). This year I have a 200 gallon tank and I'm going to build a greenhouse around it. Since it's up against the cabin, I could always pump a little cabin heat into the greenhouse but I don't think it will be necessary. My tank is translucent milky white so to keep the UV rays out and increase heat gain, I've got an old rubber bed mat I'm going to drape over it. If it starts to smell like rubber in the greenhouse, I'll find another way. Anything to keep the light out and make a darker surface. I've also got 4 55 gallon barrels. Those are blue and 3 of them are opaque, the other, I'll cover. Unfortunately, the black barrels seem to all be used for chemicals. My blue ones all had mocha flavoring in them originally. I plan on picking up some more barrels so that I'll have enough water mass to hold temps above freezing for a couple of days and make it an actual working greenhouse where cold weather crops can be grown all winter.
For something just big enough to hold one or two barrels, you could look up solar water heaters. Insulated walls with the front being tilted for winter sun and made of salvaged, double pane sliding glass doors. Your back wall would actually be your house.
All of the above has to be done on the south facing elevation. Keeping the barrels up off the cold ground helps for when the ground actually freezes.
And of course, just like solar panels, you may have to go brush the snow off for things to work.
When the rain(or snow melt) is 35 degrees F and night time temps are in the teens/twenties and daytime winds below freezing......... some sort of heat source is needed. Of course by that time, the gutters are filled with ice also but it will melt quicker than the mass of water in a tank/barrel.
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Thanks for replies. Some follow-up remarks/questions:
Does anyone know what types of garden hose and/or hose fittings might be better against freezes?
John Pollard: glad to know you haven't had too bad a barrel freeze in Missouri--it's quite a bit colder there than in Seattle. Have your pipes/hoses had a problem, and if so how did you adapt?
Charli Wilson: UK temp is maybe similar to Seattle. Seattle is just a couple degrees C cooler than London in the cold months. Your pipe-drainage scheme to avoid freezing sounds very interesting. How do your pipes drain automatically when the pump is not active? I'm assuming they are slanted slightly uphill and feed upwards from the tank? Did you ever have a problem with, say, on-ground garden hose freezing in winter?
The only hose that will hold up well under freezing conditions with water in it is the kind with built in heating elements. If the temp will drop into the 20s overnight you should drain an unheated hose, disconnect it from the rain barrel, and cover the spigot with some form of insulation. Failure to do so will probably result in a blown hose and /or damage to the valve inside the spigot.
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