Informational Guide

Keeping an Outside Well Pump From Freezing

This guide will help you understand how to keep outside well pumps from freezing so you can protect your water supply all year round.  

by Josh Mitchell

Well pumps are used as the primary water supply in thousands of homes across America, and they need to be able to operate all year round.  

However, they work by drawing water from deep within the earth, and in the winter months, this means exposure to some low temperatures. Even high-quality well pumps are prone to freezing unless they have been prepared correctly, and this can cause damage that is costly to repair.  

This guide will help you understand how to keep outside well pumps from freezing so you can protect your water supply all year round.  

Winter is difficult for people with outdoor water pumps, and there are a few common triggers that occur in this colder period. Here is a quick breakdown of what happens if the pump isn’t prepared beforehand: 

  • Pump Breakdowns 
    Your well pump will have covers to protect it from cold winds, but during winter, the ground itself can freeze, which will stop the pump from working at all. The cold can also impact any previously damaged or rusty components which are exposed and further damage the pump.  
  • Frozen Pipes 
    All well pumps rely on at least some pipes to transport the water up and into your home. During a very cold winter, these pipes can freeze entirely, which prevents water from flowing entirely. This essentially stops your access to fresh water completely.  
  • Water Loss 
    In the winter months, dirt and debris are more likely to block the well pump and limit the water flow. This can impact how your well pump operates and lead to a drop in water pressure, so you can't use the shower or bath very easily.  
  • Low Water Pressure 
    The cold months and freezing conditions can lead to the well pump not operating at full capacity, and without the full force of the well pump, you will see a significant drop in pressure. This may mean you have very limited access to water. 
Common Water Pump Issues During The Winter

What Types Of Well Pumps Typically Freeze In Winter? 

Well pumps are installed differently depending on their mechanism, and not all of them are as impacted by winter conditions. Here’s a quick breakdown of the main types of well pumps: 

Submersible Pumps  

Submersible pumps are installed underneath the water at the bottom of your well and won’t freeze in winter. However, the pipes and connections located further up in the system or above ground can still freeze if it gets cold enough.  

Jet Pumps  

Jet pumps are the most prone to freezing because they always have water in them to maintain the right amount of pressure. If it's very cold and the water in the jet pump stops moving, then it can freeze very quickly, stopping your water supply and damaging your system.  

Centrifugal Pumps 

Freezing conditions can also play havoc with centrifugal pumps. Ice will block the flow of water and can cause serious damage to the mechanism if left unchecked. If you know you won’t be using it, then you're best off draining the pump and moving it to a warmer location. If you need to keep using it, then antifreeze and insulation both work well.  

What Types Of Well Pumps Typically Freeze In Winter

How To Keep Outside Well Pump From Freezing (Winterizing Outside Well Pumps) 

Now you understand the impact of freezing conditions on your well pump, you need to understand how to protect it. Here are a few tips to keep the water running as usual: 

Run The Tap 

The best way to prevent your pipes from freezing is to keep flowing water running through it. Running your tap at least once a day should keep your pipes open, and if you notice a drop in water flow, then turn up the flow or run multiple taps to help counteract it. This will increase your energy bills but is worthwhile in the coldest periods.  

Heat The Pump 

A simple and effective way to keep your pump running is to use an incandescent bulb or another heat source to provide some warmth to the pump in the winter months. This will heat the area and stop the ground in the area and any components from freezing. This could cost about $5 a month to power, but it is worth it to protect your pump.  

Repair The Well House 

Most well pumps have a separate house that covers the mechanism. This provides a lot of shelter and cover in the winter months, and it is worth putting some time in to repair it before the cold really sets in. Also, try and make it as secure and covered as possible to maximize the protection. 

Insulate The Well Pump 

The best way to protect your well pump is to insulate it. You can do this in several different ways, but the most effective is an insulating foam. This can be applied to the outside of your pipes and the well pump and acts to keep the whole unit protected from the elements.

You can also wrap thermal blankets or sheets around the outside of the pipes to help stop them from freezing. Finally, you can also get heat tape and apply it along the outside of the pump to keep it insulated from the cold.  

Apply Antifreeze  

You can winterize your well pump by applying antifreeze, but it’s important that you only use Glycol as all other types of antifreeze can be toxic and poison your water supply. Start by turning off the power and opening a faucet to drain the water out.

Then disconnect the pipes and use an air compressor to blow the water out. You can then pour the antifreeze through your system, and it will prevent it from freezing in the winter months.  

Cover The Well Pump 

The above-ground elements of the well pump can also be susceptible to freezing conditions. You should cover them with a tarp or other cold-resistant material to stop the cold wind from freezing the external components.  

How To Keep Outside Well Pump From Freezing

My Well Pump Has Frozen, What Should I Do To Fix? 

If you have got to the well pump too late and it’s completely frozen solid, then there are a few ways to fix it, but first, you need to make sure it's actually frozen. Troubleshoot it using the following methods: 

  • 1
    Turn On A Water Faucet 
    A completely frozen water faucet won’t give you any water at all. If you open the tap and it flows, or a few drips come out, then it’s only partially frozen, and the running water may actually thaw it out. 
  • 2
    Check For Visible Frost 
    Have a look around the outside of the well pump for visible signs of frost. They will help you understand which components are frozen, or if it all is.  If your pump is frozen, there are a few things you can do: 
Wrap The Pipes

Using insulated pipe wrap, foam insulation, or some thermal blankets, cover the outside of your external pipes to help warm them up. This will encourage the ice to thaw and start to remove the blockages from your pipes.  

Use A Space Heater 

If your well pump is recently frozen, then you can consider using a space heater to help thaw it out. A steady supply of heat for several hours should help to loosen some of the ice and hopefully get the water moving again.

It’s best to use your space heater on one specific area to defrost the water. You can then open a faucet and direct the water through your pipes to defrost other sections of the system.  

Once you've tried these methods to unfreeze your well pump, you should test the water again. If it still is not flowing, then you might need to consult a professional who will have specialist equipment to help you out.  

My Well Pump Has Frozen

People also Ask (FAQs)

Can underground well pumps freeze? 

The well itself and the pump won’t freeze because it's located beneath the frost line, but the pipes and the systems attached to it are impacted by cold weather. 

Should I turn off a well pump if it’s frozen? 

Yes. By turning the well pump off, you can help stop any damage occurring to it while the pipes are frozen.  

Will a dry well freeze? 

No, a dry well won’t freeze because there’s so little water involved in the process. However, the soil around the well may freeze, though if there is a lot of moisture in the area.  

Will frozen pipes thaw on their own? Can frozen pipes thaw without bursting? 

Technically, yes, frozen pipes can thaw on their own as the temperature increases. However, this is very risky as the increased pressure from the melting ice can cause the pipes to burst. It’s much safer to thaw the frozen pipes yourself rather than wait and see what happens. 


Conclusion

The Winter weather can play havoc with outdoor equipment. If you let your well pump freeze, then it becomes virtually useless, so the best thing to do is to insulate it ahead of time and prevent it from becoming blocked with ice.

Hopefully, this article has given you some useful information about the best ways to protect your well pump and how you can defrost it if needed.  

Josh enjoys researching, testing and diving into home improvement & DIY products. He has a passion for tools, learning new skills and fixing the everyday problems that arise around the house.

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