With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

A water softener represents a considerable investment and it makes good sense to protect it. Monitoring the salt levels, regular maintenance and optimization are all great ways to make your water softener more efficient and you can even extend the lifespan. But, there is another cause for concern. Water softeners don’t fare well if they are exposed to extreme drops in temperature. For this reason, depending on your individual circumstances, you may want to winterize your water softener system. In this article, we will explore this issue in more detail to help you make informed decisions.

Does My Water Softener Need Winterizing?

This is a good question, some people take steps to protect their water softener during the colder months, but it isn’t really necessary for their homes. Generally speaking, if your water softener or other filtration system is located in the basement of a regularly occupied home it should be fine. But, if you may want to consider winterizing the water softener if any of these three circumstances apply, they are:

  1. The water softener is installed in a garage that has no heating.
  2. You intend to leave your home to take a long winter vacation.
  3. The water softener is in a vacation home that will not be used during the winter months.

If any of these three situations applies to your water softener, it’s a good idea to take some extra precautions. When you winterize your system, it will be better protected to withstand the temperature when the drop below freezing. Another consideration is frozen pipes connected to the water softener that can burst when they thaw. This can cause a lot of localized flooding damage and a hefty repair bill for your water treatment systems.

Winterizing Your Water Softener

There are two broad categories when it comes to winterizing your water softener system, they are: continuing use and not using. So, if you’re going to keep using the system you approach will be different than if the system will not be in use. Let’s take a look at these two approaches in a little more detail.

1.   Continuing to Use the Water Softener

As you continue to use the water softener during the winter, there are a few steps that you can take to ensure that it doesn’t freeze. Adding insulation and providing some extra heating should help to prevent any potential problems. If you experience some milder temperatures, you can simply insulate your tanks and plumbing pipes and that should provide sufficient protection against the cold. Pipe insulation is readily available at any home improvement store and you can pipe heating cables or heat tape on the water lines to prevent freezing.

The water softener tanks do contain sodium or potassium salt which will give them some inherent protection against freezing temperatures. But, even a brine tank can freeze if it gets very cold and the temperatures go below zero. Many homeowners install an insulated box around the brine tank and there are insulated jackets designed for this purpose too. Another option is to wrap the brine tank in an insulation sheet or blanket if you don’t have the time or budget for better alternatives.

When you continue to use your water softener, it’s extremely important to keep the system warm enough to prevent any freezing. If your water softener is located in your garage, it’s a good idea to use a space heater. This may seem wasteful, but bear in mind that you only need to raise the temperature to 32ºF and maintain it. Only use the space heater when you need to and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to stay safe.

You can prevent freezing in your pipes for a few days if you keep the water moving. Even a single faucet left slightly open to let a trickle of water can be sufficient. This is not a guaranteed prevention method, but it can limit freezing and the pipe burst that follows when thawing takes place.

2.   Not Using the Water Softener

If you’re not planning on using your water softener during the winter months and the heat will be turned off on the property, there are some steps that you need to follow. It’s essential that you disconnect the water softener, drain the water and then store the system safely.

First, drain the tanks to ensure that there is no water remaining that could freeze and damage the components. Place the softener into the regeneration cycle and pay attention to when the system starts to backwash the water out into the drain. This is when you should place the manual bypass valve into the bypass position. Then you can turn off the water supply to your softener and this will isolate the system from the rest of your home plumbing system.

At this point, you can remove the unit from the bypass valve and then remove the valve from the storage tank. The riser tube will be exposed, you can use plastic tubing with a ⅜” up to ½” diameter to connect the riser tube and lower distributor. Now it’s time to remove the water from the filter media tank which can be a slower process. The water should stop flowing from the siphon tubes and then you can leave the tank for 5-10 minutes. This should give the system sufficient time to settle any remaining water at the bottom of the tank. Now you can siphon out this balance of settled water to improve the drying time.

At the brine tank, scoop at most of the standing water to prevent freezing with a higher water concentration. When you get towards the bottom of this tank the concentration of salt left behind will be far higher than when you started. With very high concentrations of salt, freezing is very unlikely and you don’t need to remove every drop of water.

Finally, you need to switch off the power source for your water softener or unplug the unit. The virtually empty brine tank can be left in the cold, but it’s a good idea to remove the softener tank completely and store it somewhere warm.

In Conclusion

The user’s manual for your water softener should have more detailed information on how to drain the tanks and winterize your system. If you’re not sure about doing this yourself, contact your local water treatment specialist for expert help today.