From Dennis Patton:
Rain barrels have gained in popularity these last few years. They have become a fad for those looking for ways to save a little water and feel like they are being good environmental stewards.
If you have a barrel have you thought about its winter needs? Will it just sit there destined to turn into a giant ice cube? While rain barrels are fairly low-maintenance, they do require some attention before winter sets in to protect your investment.
Rain barrels tend to collect organic materials such as leaves, dust, roofing materials and other random stuff. Regular cleaning to remove debris will extend the life of the barrel and prevent clogging. Screens should be removed and cleaned, and hoses should be checked for leaks and clogs. Also, check to make sure that the overflow valve is not clogged as this prevents the barrel from overflowing and discharging water next to the foundation. This will just take a few minutes but will save headaches later.
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Check for sediment in the bottom of the barrel. If a large amount of debris has found its way into the barrel then it is recommended to turn the barrel over and wash out the deposits.
What about winter freezing? The best recommendation is to empty the rain barrel before freezing weather and unhook it from the downspout. Depending on the construction and type of barrel used, some can freeze and rupture with freezing and thawing. Some barrels are made from extremely heavy plastic that can tolerate the freezing water. When in doubt it is best to empty the barrel before it freezes. The barrel can simply be turned upside down for the winter or brought indoors.
If the rain barrel is disconnected for the winter it is recommended reconnecting the downspout to help channel water away from the home. Excessive water discharged around the foundation can create problems down the road. Once warmer weather arrives the barrel can be reconnected and filled with those spring showers.
The other option is to leave open all the valves and let the water flow through the rain barrel and be discharged into the yard. This will prevent the accumulation of water and pressure placed on the container when water freezes and expands.
Periodic maintenance of the rain barrel will help extend its life. Before the nasty cold and snow sets in for months take a little time to make sure that you are protecting your investment and home. Working with water in the winter cold is no fun. Rain barrels are a great way to save a few gallons of water, but let’s not be lazy — protect your investment during winter.