How to Winterize Rain Barrels:
We serve customers all over the USA, so weatherization techniques will vary depending on your climate zone. (Click here for our nationwide network of barrel pickup locations.)
The general recommendation is to follow local protocols for outdoor plumbing in your region:
IF IT'S COLD...
In areas with light intermittent freezes (e.g. most of northern California), there may be no need to winterize at all. Water tanks, barrels, and even PVC plumbing lines will tolerate temperatures below freezing if the water doesn’t have time to freeze solid.
SPECIAL TIP: If your pipes are unprotected and you fear they'll freeze and break on especially cold nights, you can leave a slow-drip in the faucet or drain valve. Moving water requires much colder temperatures to freeze, so allowing a slow-drip will offer some protection. Just don't forget to shut off the tap when the sun comes out in the morning!
IF IT'S C-C-COLDER...
In colder climates, plumbing lines can be insulated with standard pipe insulation, available in hardware stores and home improvement outlets.
If you are insulating other outdoor pipes, it's probably a good idea to insulate the underplumbing on your BlueBarrel System, too.
Standard pipe insulation can keep pipes from freezing.
IF IT'S C-C-C-C-COLDEST...
In areas that experience deep freezes (e.g. if you're ice skating on the local lake!), it is recommended to drain rain barrels and detach from downspouts during the coldest months of the year. To protect all parts from freezing temperatures, make sure all ball valves are fully drained as well.
We now have winter covers available under tools & accessories in our online store.* These will restore your downspout to normal function when you disconnect your rain barrels. Order winter covers along with a 1-12" twist plug (also available from our Tools & Accessories menu) to cap the exposed inlet hole in your barrel. Just don't forget to reattach in time to catch the spring rains after the danger of deep freeze has passed!
See BlueBarrel's Maintenance & Operations Manual for more details about weatherizing and maintaining your BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment SystemTM.
*The winter cover is compatible with our current downspout diverters. If you ordered your RainKit after August 15, 2015, then it will be compatible. If you ordered before then, to disconnect your diverter, simply remove the inlet hose and plug the hole—both in the diverter and in your barrel—with the 1" Expandable Twist-Plugs, available in our online store.
1.5" Expandable Twist Plug caps the barrel inlet.
Winter cover restores downspout when disconnected.
About Winterizing Drip Irrigation Systems:
Many of our customers pair their rain barrels with a gravity-fed drip irrigation setup—another one of our specialties! Of course we need to consider how to winterize drip irrigation systems as well. Drip irrigation line is more flexible than PVC and not quite as vulnerable to freeze damage. That said, all materials suffer over time with extreme weather exposure.
Rolling up and storing irrigation lines during your off-season will prolong it's life, but it may not be absolutely necessary.
At the very least, make sure your irrigation lines are fully drained if you're expecting hard-freezes. If your system has an obvious low-point (or points), you can drain the line from there. On a flat site, lift the line a few feet at a time until all water discharges at each line's end.
Whether or not you decide to roll up your line, if you are draining your rain barrels to prevent freeze damage (see above), you should also remove any ball valves, filters, and timers that connect to your irrigation line. Shake out any water, and store those for the season—the moving parts can get damaged if they contain water that freezes.
Gravity-fed irrigation systems are remarkably simple and don't usually include pumps, pressure regulators, or vacuum breakers, so you have less to worry about. But if you have a pressurized system with more bells and whistles, here's a resource from PennState Extension with full winterization guidelines for drip irrigation systems.