Water Softener Winterizing Guide
How to Freeze-Protect a Water Softener
WATER SOFTENER / TREATMENT TURN OFF - CONTENTS: How to Winterize a Water Softener or other Water Treatment Equipment - water softener freeze protection. Water softener winterizing steps if you are leaving heat on or are not in a freeze-risk climate. Additional water softener winterizing step if you are turning heat off in a building located in a freezing climate. Do we need to get all water out of the water softener salt storage tank (the brine tank) during winterizing? At what temperature will a water softener salt tank freeze?Other water treatment equipment needs to be winterized
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Water softener winterizing procedure:
This article describes how to protect a water softener from freeze damage. Installation instructions for a water softener typically state "Do not install the unit where it might freeze,
or next to a water heater or furnace or in direct sunlight." -- Culligan.
But what should be done if a building is going to be shut down and exposed to freezing conditions? The articles in this series will answer most questions about water softeners, water treatment equipment, and about freeze protection for piping and other building plumbing and heating system components: how to winterize a building to avoid frozen pipes, and how to thaw frozen water supply & drain piping, wells, & water tanks.
How to Winterize a Water Softener or other Water Treatment Equipment
Watch out: Protect your water conditioner and the entire drain line from freezing temperatures. DANGER: If your water softener should freeze, do not attempt to disassemble it. Call your water softener dealer. [Paraphrasing advice from Culligan.]
Even if you are leaving heat turned on in an unoccupied building during winter, it still makes sense to turn off the water softener:
No one is using any water, so it does not need to regenerate itself with a water softener ion-exchanger brine rinse cycle, and if you leave the water softener operating, if it's like most "dumb" water softeners that recharge themselves based on a simple clock mechanism, you're wasting water, salt, and energy.
If your water softener is a model that actually monitors water usage and water hardness (such as the Culligan Soft-Minder®), it should not be running itself through a regenerating cycle when the building is empty - no one is using any water.
Still we can protect the equipment and the building from a possible leak by turning it off.
There is the risk of a cold-weather caused or other malfunction or a frozen pipe that could flood the building when the water softener is back-washing and re-charging itself.
Take these two water softener winterizing steps if you are leaving heat on:
1. Just unplug the electrical power to the water softener, or if it is "hard wired" to an electrical power source, turn off the electrical power switch feeding power to the device.
If the water softener has a manual bypass valve (photo at left), put the valve into bypass position so the softener is not in the piping loop at all.
The water softener bypass valve is normally included as part of the control valve assembly on top of the water softener media tank (the smaller tank that handles the actual ion exchange that is the real work of a water softener).
Bypassing the water softener and turning it off when the building water supply is not going to be in use removes one more possible source of freeze and or leak damage and it also isolates the water softener equipment from the rest of the building water supply piping.
Take this additional water softener winterizing step if you are turning heat OFF in a building located in a freezing climate:
Drain the water softener media tank (ion exchanger tank): If heat is to be turned off, drain the water softener or other water treatment equipment as part of the sequence we detail
at WINTERIZE - HEAT OFF PROCEDURE
Look at the instructions for your water softener, or if you don't have them, you can usually obtain a water softener user's guide and installation guide for your water softener by contacting the manufacturer such as the Culligan Corporation or Kemco.
Manufacturers want their products to work well and be successful, and will be happy to provide you with maintenance and freeze-proofing instructions for your water softener.
Drain the water softener control valve?: The control valve on modern water softeners is often constructed of a reinforced thermoplastic.
Watch out: your water conditioner model may have a drain plug that needs to be removed from the water softener control to help assure that that device is not damaged by freezing.
See WATER TURN OFF? for other details about deciding if it is ok or not to shut down a building's water supply.
Do we need to get all water out of the water softener salt storage tank (the brine tank) during winterizing? At what temperature will a water softener salt tank freeze?
Water inside the treatment tank of a water softener (the smaller-diameter tanks in our photos above) has very little dissolved salt and will freeze at a point at or perhaps just very slightly below freezing - 32 degF. or below.
But the freeze risk in the salt tank (photo at left) is less unless your water softener is going to be exposed to temperatures below zero F or below -21 C.
The water at the bottom of a water softener salt tank is probably close to fully saturated with salt - that is, it's as salty as it can get (23.3% salt) since it has a ready supply of un dissolved salt crystals or tablets (photo at left).
Water that is fully salt-saturated freezes at -21 deg. C or about six degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-5.8 degF).
Still the softener body water pipes feeding the water softener could freeze and break and should be drained.
If your water softener is going to be exposed to temperatures below -5 F (21 degC) it's a good idea to get empty the tank. If the salt tank is plastic (most of them are) and only an inch of water remains in the tank bottom, the chances that the salt tank will be broken and damaged by freezing is certainly less than with a higher amount of water there.
And of course if your water softener salt tank happens to be out of salt we can guess that the water in that tank is less salty and is at a greater risk of freezing which could damage the tank or the float mechanism in the tank (the yellow tube in our photo).
Should we pour antifreeze into the water softener?
Since it's difficult to drain some water treatment equipment folks have asked about using antifreeze instead.
Reader Question: We have been told as inspectors to pour antifreeze into the water softener. What is your reply. Thanks. - Gerald Best 5/7/12
Gerald, what was that person THINKING ? While indeed there are some antifreeze products that are not toxic, this is not a safe nor recommended procedure for treating water conditioning equipment.
See ANTIFREEZE for BOILERS if you need to know about boiler or other non-potable-water-containing system antifreeze protection.
Why would you pour anything non-potable, much less potentially fatally poisonous into a tank whose contents are going to be sent through treatment equipment that in turn will place it in contact with the building water supply?
We must have mis-understood something along the way in this matter.
But presuming we are talking about pouring antifreeze into the salt tank, fantisizing that doing so winterizes the water softener when that liquid passes back through the softener itself during a regen cycle, or worse that we are talking about pouring antifreeze directly into the resin tank or treatment tank (most do not have an opening that would permit that step) all I can say is
Watch out: DO NOT POUR ANTIFREEZE or anything else that could be toxic into equipment that is treating the building water supply.
There are food-grade anti-freeze products used in RV's, water storage tanks, etc. but even that treatment will be difficult to flush out of a water softener brine tank and still more difficult to flush out of a water softener treatment tank.
Other water treatment equipment needs to be winterized
If your building includes other water treatment equipment such as a chlorinator, UV-light for bacteria in water, or a treatment system for odors or sediment, and if the building heat is going to be turned off, that equipment needs to be drained and protected against freezing.
Similarly if a water pump, pressure tank, expansion tank or other water-containing equipment are exposed to freezing they should either be protected against freezing or they should be drained completely.
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