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PLUMBING SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CLOGGED SUPPLY PIPING
DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater
DRINKING WATER TESTING
EPA GUIDE to WATER QUALITY
FHA WATER TESTS REQUIRED
FREEZE-PROOF A BUILDING
HARD WATER - SOFTENERS
HEAT TAPE USAGE GUIDE
MUNICIPAL WATER PRESSURE IMPROVEMENTS
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS IN WATER
PLUMBING SYSTEM ODORS
PRESSURE CONTROL SWITCH ADJUSTMENT
REVERSE OSMOSIS CONCENTRATE DISPOSAL
SEWER GAS ODORS
WATER HEATER SCALE REMOVAL
WATER HEATER SCALE PREVENTION
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
WATER PRESSURE & FLOW MEASUREMENT
WATER QUALITY TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SOURCE ALTERNATIVES
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER TANK: USES, TROUBLESHOOTING
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
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? If you don't know about water softeners, what they are or what they do, see WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS for information. The articles at this website will answer most questions 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.
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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:
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.
Take this 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?
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).
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.
When the building is reoccupied, you'll need to reverse these steps and do a few more things to get your water softener working again.
The process of returning a water softener to service are detailed at Restoring Water Treatment Equipment - How do We Return the Water Softener to Operation & Use at the End of Winter?
More information about the use of water softeners is at Water Softener Operation & Maintenance.
Is the building heat going to be left "on" or "off" - the answer determines the extent of freeze-proofing needed.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Protect a Water Softener from Freeze Damage
Question: should we pour antifreeze into the water softener?
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 (see ANTIFREEZE for BOILERS), this is not a safe nor recommended procedure for treating water conditioning equipment.
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.
Questions & answers or comments about how to take a water softener out of service & how to protect a water softener from freeze damage.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.