How to Protect Your Water Filter System from Freezing

Depending on where you live, temperatures have likely dropped below freezing, or frigid weather is in the immediate forecast. Whichever the case, a vital part of keeping your home safe during the teeth-clenching cold is caring for your appliances – not just your heating devices, humidifiers, etc., but also your water filter system.

As you’ll soon discover in this article, cold weather can do more than put a damper on your mood. It can also cause potentially expensive damage to your home water filter system, especially if it is installed in an area vulnerable to frost or freezing, such as an unheated garage, basement, or pump house.

But how do cold temperatures affect water filter systems? Do you really need to ‘winterize’ your home water filter? What can you do to protect it from freezing and ensure it performs optimally after the face-freezing weather subsides? This article explains all that and more.

Do You Really Need to Winterize Your Water Filter System?

Before winterizing your water filter system, you first need to consider the filter’s location and whether or not you plan to use it during the cold weather. Is the system installed outdoors in an unheated space or inside your home? Will you be staying at home for any length of time during the winter months, or will you be heading somewhere – perhaps a cabin or cottage –with a warmer climate?

The location of your water filter system makes a considerable difference for winterization. If you have treatment equipment in an unheated garage or basement, you need to take precautions to protect it from freezing. Water treatment equipment installed in a garage, for instance, can be susceptible to damage from freezing if it has water flowing through it. Factors such as failing seals, under-door gaps, and people leaving the garage door opened for too long (even for a few minutes in bad-enough conditions) increase the risk of the cold getting in and freezing the unit.

Luckily, if your water filter system is installed inside your home and the conditions are ideal for preventing freezing (more on this later), you probably only need to monitor the pipes that supply water to your water filter system.

Whether or not you decide to use your water filter system at home during winter can also determine if you need to winterize it. If you plan to leave home for warmer pastures before the weather turns bad, we suggest disconnecting the system and draining the tanks. This ensures there won’t be any water left in the system that could freeze and cause damage. Then again, even if you use the filter throughout the cold season, it only takes a quick dip in temperature to cause standing water in the pipes or the filter system to freeze. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure your water filter system is safe in any case.

What Happens When a Water Filter System Freezes?

Whenever you use a water filter, you can expect some water to remain inside the system. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem during warmer seasons, like spring and summer, but it can cause significant damage during the colder winter months.

When the water’s temperature falls below 4°C (39.2°F), the water molecules expand by roughly 9%. Now, think what happens if there’s water in an ‘unwinterized’ water filter system and the temperature drops below freezing.

As the weather gets colder, the water in your pipes, taps, filters, and elsewhere starts freezing. Once the water is frozen, it expands and may exert excessive pressure on components in the filter system, causing them to crack or separate. These breaks in the system may result in water escaping and flooding your home. Besides, as the water freezes, it can move around and deform plastic and metal components and cause other damages to the filtration system.

There’s also the possibility of ice crystals absorbing into the filter media due to the freezing temperatures. Ice crystals in the filter media can create micro-cracks, expansions, or “holes” in the water filter cartridge itself that are larger than the pore size of the filter.

When this happens, unfiltered unpurified water may flow through the system without adequate filtration. Not only is this an expensive problem to have, but it can cause potentially dangerous contaminants to slip through the sometimes-invisible cracks in the filter media, infiltrate your home’s water supply, and taint your drinking water.

What’s more, the now-larger holes in the filter can allow larger particles to get through the filter, reducing its effectiveness – and if you’ve been reading our posts, you know what happens when people ingest or get exposed to specific water contaminants: diseases, skin irritations, pregnancy issues, increased risk of cancer, and others too many to list here.

When damage to your water filter system occurs due to freezing, the system’s structural integrity may get compromised, meaning the system likely won’t filter your water as well as it used it, if any at all. Heck, you might not even notice until the temperatures rise and you try rerunning the system.

If you’re lucky, a repair may fix the problem, but it’s more likely you’ll need to replace it outright. Besides, some insurance companies won’t cover the damage or the replacement cost, which can be expensive to foot out-of-pocket. That’s why we suggest checking with your insurance company to see they will provide coverage for your water filter system in case of any damage of this nature.

Tips for Keeping Your Water Filter System Safe from Freezing

Whether you are staying at home this winter season or venturing off to a warm cottage or cabin, there are simple steps you can take to protect your water filter system from freezing.

· Inspect the installation area of your water filter system before the cold weather sets in.

Broken windows, drafty holes, and missing insulation are just a few of the many things that can expose your water filter system to sub-freezing temperatures and possibly damage it. If you find any of these issues in your home, quickly rectify them. Otherwise, you risk not having a sound working water filter system when the new season begins – unless you have no problem shelling out possibly large sums to repair or replace the system.

· Add sufficient insulation.

Bundle up your water filter system with plumbing sleeves and insulation for the cold season. Local hardware or home improvement stores have insulation materials, like fiberglass sleeves and foam rubber that can fit around your entire water filter. Many also have additional pieces to protect the pipes leading to and from your water treatment system. You could also build an insulated box around the water filter system or use an old ice chest with a shop light inside to reduce the risk of freeze damage.

Whichever method you choose, make sure to cut the insulation materials to fit the filter system and the surrounding plumbing. Afterward, secure the insulation pieces in place with your favorite zip ties, cable, or tape to help decrease the chances of your pipes and filter system freezing.

Keeping heat circulating within the house also helps. That means closing the garage door, using caulk to seal up the cracks and holes throughout the house, fixing the roof, and taking other steps to keep the warm air in and the cold air out. That way, your water filter system isn’t exposed to extreme cold.

· Leave the heat on.

Whether or not you’re at home during the cold period, it’s crucial to maintain a constant, warmer temperature in your home to prevent your water filter system and plumbing from freezing. Leaving your home for an extended period with your thermostat off puts your water filter system at risk of damage due to the cold. Therefore, be sure to keep your thermostat set to no lower than 55°F when you’re away. (A thermostatically controlled space heater could be a convenient option here.) If you are concerned about heat loss due to power outages, you can purchase a safe propane or kerosene space heater to keep the filter system warm on those frigid nights when storm fronts roll through and knock trees across power lines. Just remember, it’s not a good idea to operate unvented combustion heaters in inhabited spaces.

· Drain the filter.

As we mentioned earlier, damage to your water treatment system in cold conditions is often caused by the expansion of frozen water. To prevent this, make sure to drain all the water from the filter if you don’t plan to use it during winter. First, shut the water off to prevent water from flowing into the system. Next, open all the faucets in the house and let the water drain out. You can also use a siphoning device to extract any water remaining in the filter system or connect a compressor to it and blow all the water out of the pipes and the filter itself. If your water treatment system has any filter housings, remove them, unscrew the drain plug at the bottom, empty them, and put them back with no filters inside.

· Allow a steady drip from the faucet.

Water filter systems have a harder time freezing when the water inside them is constantly moving. If you’ll be away from home for a few days, consider leaving the kitchen faucet to drip steadily. A steady drip will help pressure escape as water flows through the system and work to prevent damage to the interior components. Also, make sure to set a container under the faucet to catch all the water. Once you get back home, you can use this water for various purposes. As simple as it sounds, this trick can save you from dealing with a damaged water filter system and the associated expenses repairs or replacement.

· Move your reverse osmosis water filter system to a warm location.

Reverse osmosis (RO) water filtering systems are safer when relocated to a warmer area during winter. That’s because there is no safe way to winterize an RO filter. Once the system freezes, the RO membrane – one of the system’s most expensive components – can become dry and cracked. A broken RO membrane is not only costly to replace, but it can also allow water to pass through it without getting filtered. As such, we recommend disconnecting the RO unit, draining it (using steps outlined above), and moving it to somewhere warm for the winter.

· Shut down the filter.

In some cases, shutting down the water filter system, draining it, and perhaps moving it to a warmer location might be the best move to keep the system safe during the winter. This mainly applies to cabins or vacation homes that people leave unattended for weeks or months at a time.

Final Thoughts

As the temperatures drop and the cold weather sets in, make sure you’re taking steps to winterize your water filter system. In addition to preventing your water filter system from freezing, you also want to monitor your water quality during these frigid weather months. If you notice any changes in the odor or taste of your drinking water, you can order a water test kit and send a sample to a laboratory to have your water tested thoroughly. Don’t let the cold ruin your precious water filter system and stop you from getting the quality drinking water you and your family deserve. So, take the proper measures today to protect against the brutal and formidable cold.