Is Frost Bad For Rain Barrels?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:25 pm

This question is asked every autumn many garden and property owners. However, it cannot be answered unequivocally with “yes” or “no”. Some rain collectors need to be winterized, while others do not.

So that you can collect rain again next year and not have any nasty surprises in the spring, I have summarized everything about this exciting topic in this article.
I promise you, after reading this article, you too will be a pro on the subject of “bringing rain collectors safely through the winter”. Here you will learn everything you need to know. Let’s go!

Is frost dangerous for rain barrels?

Is Frost Bad For Rain Barrels?

Yes, frost is dangerous for rain barrels. They can be damaged by frost to such an extent that they crack and leak. If you want to be absolutely safe in winter, you should empty the water barrels and protect them from frost when the temperatures are permanently below zero.

If you leave them completely filled, they will most likely be damaged. Broken rain barrels are either impossible or difficult to repair. If they can be repaired, it is usually a costly and time-consuming undertaking. If you follow a few basic rules, however, you can safely winterize rain barrels.

Why is frost dangerous for rain barrels?

When temperatures drop, there is a risk that the water in a rain barrel will freeze. Since water expands when frozen, the rain barrel can crack and, in the worst case, even burst over a large area.

Rain barrels with soldered or welded seams are particularly at risk. If these rain barrels are also made of a material that is of inferior quality, bursting is inevitable.

The well-known “green” water butts are also at risk from frost. Once damaged, they can only be thrown into the bulky waste. To prevent this from happening, all garden and home owners should take note of a few important things.

When should rain barrels be emptied?

At the latest before the first frost, especially rain barrels made of commercially available plastic or metal should be emptied.

Since there are already days in the fall that bring night frost, you should follow the weather forecast carefully and take precautions when night frost is announced.

Especially older plastic and metal rain barrels lose durability due to UV radiation in summer and cold in winter.

As the climatic conditions dissolve the plasticizers from the plastic and frost takes its toll on the welded seams of metal rain barrels, a few frosty nights can already lead to massive damage.

How should rain barrels be stored in winter?

In winter, rain barrels should be stored in a frost-proof place. If you have the possibility to store the emptied barrel in a shed, garage or cellar, you should do it.
If you have no opportunity to store rain barrels, you should place them outdoors, protected from the wind. Icy winds in winter are especially hard on plastic and metal barrels, causing the material to become porous.

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In addition, rain barrels should be covered with foil or tarpaulin and weighted down with a stone to prevent them from blowing away and tipping over.

Protection from ground frost

In addition, due to ground frost in winter, it is recommended to place outside rain barrels on a base of wood, polystyrene or cardboard.

This measure has an insulating effect and protects the frost-sensitive material. The safest way is to turn the rain barrel upside down to winter it outside. In this way, water is guaranteed not to penetrate and the weighting stone will not fall down due to the flat bottom surface of the rain barrel.

Important: Even if the rain barrel is turned upside down, water can collect in the depressions of the rain barrel bottom and freeze. Damage cannot be ruled out! Therefore, the rain barrel should always be covered with a tarpaulin.
The lid, if available, can be stored in the house or apartment. It hardly takes up any space.

Are there frost-proof rain barrels?

Yes, there are frost-proof rain barrels. Before buying a rain barrel, you should find out about the different variants. Plastic or metal rain barrels are useful, but they need to be emptied and protected in winter.

Plastic barrels made of polyethylene, on the other hand, are environmentally friendly and flexible. They are frost-resistant and generally more robust than conventional plastic rain barrels.

Wooden barrels also withstand frost exceptionally well. You can buy them in many designs with different capacities.

As a rule of thumb, in winter the water level should be no more than one-third of the rain barrel’s volume, so that the water can expand when it freezes. It is also necessary to regularly check whether a layer of ice has formed on the surface. This can destroy the rain barrel due to the resulting pressure and must therefore be regularly pushed open.

To prevent the water from freezing, you can put straw or reeds in the water. This measure delays freezing of the collected rainwater.
Emptying rain barrels with a hose
You can empty rain barrels with a hose. With a hose*, you can simply suck in the water and let it drain away. When sucking the water, be sure to spit it out and not swallow it.

You don’t know what kind of substances have been washed from the roof into the rain barrel. If the collected water is then contaminated with germs, one exposes oneself to a health risk. To remove the residual water, the barrel should be completely overturned.

Emptying rain barrels via the outlet opening

When emptying the rain barrel, it always depends on whether you have a rain barrel with or without a drainage opening or even a closed column or underground tank.

If you have a rain barrel with a drainage opening, you save yourself the trouble of emptying it through a hose. The drain hole is a small hole, which is located in the area of the lower third of the barrel wall. Through it you can drain the collected rainwater.

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Sometimes you have to help with a screwdriver (depending on the model) to be able to open the drain cover. Then, with the lid open, you overturn the rain barrel so that the remaining water can drain away. Especially with the commercially available green plastic rain barrels, it is important to completely overturn the barrel.

Empty the rain barrel completely before winter

The commercially available green rain barrels usually have small depressions at the bottom. If residual water remains there, it can freeze if the barrel is wintered outside.
Once frozen, the rain barrel can crack and must be replaced. If you have a rain barrel without a drainage hole, which only has a lid, you have to drain the collected water with a hose.

It is clever that the rain barrel has a low water level from the outset when it is emptied. A low water level is achieved by closing the inlet in good time. Tip: Leave the rainwater inlet permanently closed from the beginning of autumn until spring.

Cleaning the rain barrel in autumn

Once the rain barrel is completely empty, it should be cleaned thoroughly so that the collected water is of good quality in the next season.

Often rain barrels are contaminated with algae, leaf and insect remains, dust and pollen, which in the worst case opens the door to rot. To avoid this, the rain barrel should be meticulously cleaned before winter.

Either use a high-pressure cleaner or arm yourself with a bucket, hose and brush to get to grips with the dirt.

Emptying rain barrel with barrel pump

If you have a completely closed system as a rain barrel, so-called column or underground tanks, you can only remove the water completely with a barrel pump , for example, the GARDENA Rain Barrel Pump Classic 4000/2*, and with the help of a hose.

This method is enormously time-saving. In addition, you hardly get your hands dirty. If you have several rain barrels, the purchase of a rain barrel pump is recommended.

Rainwater tank above ground and frost-proof – is there such a thing?

Yes, there are above-ground and frost-proof rainwater tanks. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that these do not provide frost resistance in severe frost, that is, at certain temperatures in the minus range.

To find out exactly how it behaves with your own water tank, you should contact the manufacturer and ask him. Often, frost resistance of up to -10 degrees Celsius is specified.

Can green rain barrels be repaired?

No, green plastic rain barrels cannot be repaired. Once they are damaged, that is cracked or burst, the only solution is to buy a new one. Perhaps, when buying a new one, opt for a higher quality and frost-proof model to avoid future damage.

What kind of rain barrels are there?

First of all, you should distinguish between non-frost-resistant and frost- and weather-resistant rain barrels.

“Green rain barrel”
The green plastic barrels, which can be bought everywhere, are usually not frost-resistant. They must be completely emptied before the onset of cold weather and preferably protected during the winter. On the other hand, the “green rain barrels “* are very inexpensive to purchase.

Metal rain barrels

Rain barrels made of metal are not frost resistant. The material is much too rigid. Because of the lack of flexibility, they are prone to cracking. Metal rain barrels are extremely sensitive at the soldering and welding points.

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It is there that they take damage unprotected in winter. Complete emptying and covering or storing in a basement or garage is essential with this type of rain barrel.

However, rain barrels made of metal have the advantage that they are very robust against mechanical damage.

Rain barrels made of wood (wooden barrels)

A visually appealing variant is the rain barrel made of wood, the so-called wooden barrel. Wooden barrels are frost-proof, stable and can be used with a 3/4 water level even in winter.

It is even recommended not to drain the collected rainwater, because the pressure of the water keeps the wooden barrel dimensionally stable. If the wooden barrel were to be emptied, the material would contract and leakage would be imminent.
Although this can be remedied by filling the barrel with rainwater again in the coming season, as the wood expands again due to the moisture, temporarily the wooden barrel will leak for a few days.

Only the maintenance of the material should be considered in advance. If you already impregnate the outside wood of the barrel in the summer, you will enjoy it for a long time.

A good wood preservative oil protects the wood from drying out and weathering.

Since wooden barrels have rings made of metal or also cast iron, one should pay attention to a sufficient rust protection. For this purpose, you can use the good old rust-proofing paint.

Column tanks

Column tanks are very popular with allotment gardeners and homeowners. However, these should definitely be emptied and protected before winter, as they are not frost-proof. They can be beautified with custom planting and visually enhance any garden.

Earth tanks

Underground tanks, on the other hand, if placed deep enough into the ground, are weatherproof and can be used even in winter. Due to the geothermal heat, the collected water is protected from the cold. Underground tanks come in different capacities. This underground tank has 3400 liters of storage volume* – enough for a few weeks!

At what temperature does water turn to ice?

Pure water turns to ice at 0 degrees Celsius.

Should trees be watered in winter?

Yes, if it is a dry winter without much snow, then you should water the trees in the garden at regular intervals. It is also recommended to protect the area around the tree roots from drying out with fir branches. Contrary to popular belief, droughts can also occur in winter.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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