Plan Ahead to Prevent Waterlines and Equipment from Freezing

Prevent winter freezing by following some basic guidance

December 11, 2020, 11:08 am | Shawn Shouse

AMES, Iowa – Although December and November have been fairly mild so far, colder weather is for sure on its way.

In the meantime, Iowans should make sure the water supply to their house and livestock buildings is well protected from freezing.

horse drinking water in winter.In the November-December edition of the Acreage Living Newsletter, Shawn Shouse, field agricultural engineer with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, explains the options and considerations for protecting water sources from freezing.

“Every year in Iowa we face freezing conditions in the winter and those conditions put water supply for people and livestock, and also pets, at risk, along with the risk of damage to equipment and water infrastructure,” he said. “A little preparation can provide significant protection.”

The three most common approaches, according to Shouse, are adding heat with a heating device, insulating to conserve heat and adding heat by bringing in warm water.

The most basic advice is to empty all water lines that can be emptied, including hoses, sprinkler lines and pasture water lines. Insulation can be added to protect outside walls, and interior insulation can be removed, to allow heat from a heated building to reach the pipes.

In places that are unheated, Shouse gives options such as a small electric heater or heat lamp, or long strips of electrical resistance heating cable (heat tape).

For livestock water tanks, trough, tank and bucket heaters can be installed where electricity is available, for $20-$50 per unit. If electricity is not available, liquid propane gas stock tank heaters can be purchased for roughly $600.

Shouse said the operator needs to keep safety in mind, both for humans and for animals. Most store-bought heaters have safety features that are adequate when instructions are followed.

He encourages people to take action now, before the worst of the cold weather arrives.

“We know that freezing temperatures are coming eventually,” he said. “It’s easy to put things off until the day after the cold snap hits, but by then it could be too late.”


Photo credit: Horse drinking water in winter, by pimmimemom/

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