If you live in northern or cold climates where temperatures drop well below freezing, you know what it’s like to worry about frozen water pipes and well pumps. Your well pump is one of the most important components of your plumbing system. Therefore, if it happens to freeze up during the winter, it can be extremely inconvenient.
Because most well pumps are located deep below the frost line, they often don’t freeze during the winter. However, if your pump isn’t buried deep enough or if you have a jet or centrifugal well pump, they’re also prone to freezing. There’s also a risk of the water pipes leading up to the well pump freezing even if the pump itself doesn’t.
While a well pump freeze is unlikely in most areas, they aren’t impossible. It’s important that you know what to do when your pump freezes and what the consequences are.
Can a well pump freeze?
There are three basic types of well pumps and they all have different odds of freezing. Depending on what type of pump you have, you should take extra precautions and preventative measures.
- Submersible pump
Submersible pumps have little to no risk of freezing because they’re located deep below the frost line. They’re often buried in areas where the temperature won’t drop below freezing, which means they are the safest of all pumps. However, it’s possible for the pipes and lines leading up to the pipe to freeze, which will cause water pressure issues.
- Centrifugal pump
Centrifugal pumps are more prone to freezing than submersible pumps but still unlikely. The biggest thing to watch out for with centrifugal pumps is that water doesn’t freeze inside of the pump itself and causes damage to components within the system.
- Jet pump
Jet pumps are the most prone well pump to freeze in the winter. The reason for this is that jet pumps always have water inside of them in order to keep the system balanced. If water stops moving and temperatures are below freezing, there’s a chance that the water can freeze inside the jet pump.
While all well pumps are not immune to freezing, jet and centrifugal pumps are the most likely to have this problem. The biggest issue with submersible well pumps is that the pipes leading up to them can freeze and prevent water from flowing to the pump itself.
What happens when well pump freezes?
It’s important to know what happens when your well pump freezes, as well as what happens when a water line leading up to the well freezes. The latter is more likely, but you should be prepared for both scenarios. The most likely result from a frozen well pump or water pipe is that you’ll have less water coming into your home.
A completely frozen pump or pipe will result in no water flow into your home. It’s not likely that the pipe will burst since it’s located underground, but it’s not impossible. However, the most likely scenario is that one of your water pipes will partially freeze, which results in less water pressure inside your home.
How to unfreeze a well pump
If you made the mistake of letting your well pump freeze up and don’t have any water, here’s what you’ll need to do.
- Turn on a water faucet. If the pipe or well pump is only partially frozen, there’s a chance that running water will unthaw the freeze and restore normal water pressure.
- Perform a visual check. One of the best ways to determine the location of the freeze is by checking the pipes and pump for visible frost. If you see frost on the outside of a pipe, there’s a good chance that the freeze is at that location.
- Manually defreeze the pipe or pump. If you have a space heater, start it up and set it next to the frozen section of pipe or pump. A space heater will quickly and effectively eliminate any freeze-ups and ice. If you don’t have a space heater, you can also use a hairdryer or other heat-producing appliance.
- Wrap the pipe. It’s also a good idea to wrap the pipe and pump with insulating tape wherever applicable. Do this before and after the frozen section of the pipe to keep the freeze from spreading.
- Start a faucet inside your home and see if the water pressure has been restored. If not, it’s time to call in a professional plumber.
At what temperature will a well freeze?
While the freezing point for water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the air temperature has to be much colder than that for a well to freeze. The pipes leading up to the well can freeze when the temperatures reach the twenties, but the well itself almost never freezes. The reason that wells don’t freeze is that they’re located below the frost line.
How to protect well pump from freezing
If you’re worried about your well pump and water lines, there are things you can do to protect them.
Open a tap
If you constantly keep water running through one of your taps during the winter months, your well pump won’t freeze. Pumps are most prone to freezing when water is standing still inside of them.
Keep a source of heat around the pump
Another option is to keep a hot light bulb or heater near your well pump. As long as you keep the pump warm enough, water won’t be able to freeze inside of it.
Insulate the pump
Keeping water constantly running and providing heat around your pump are good options, but they’re also costly. Another good way to prevent your pump from freezing is to wrap it in insulation.
Insulating your pump and the pipes leading up to it are the best way to keep them from freezing. You can use thermal blankets, foam insulation, heat tape, or other methods of insulation.
If all else fails and you’re extremely worried about your well pump freezing, you can run antifreeze through it. Be advised that you can’t do this while you’re using your water, but if you’re leaving an area for the winter and don’t want your pump and pipes to freeze, you can fill the system with non-toxic antifreeze.
While well pumps aren’t likely to freeze and wells never freeze, components and pipes within your system can. It’s important to know what to do when your pump or pipes freeze and how to remedy the issue. Preventative measures are also important because the best way to protect your pump is to keep it from freezing in the first place. Finally, if you’re ever worried about a frozen pipe or well pump, never be afraid to call a professional plumber. They will always have the tools and knowledge necessary to protect or repair your well pump.
Nick Lopresti is the founder of YourH2Home and a home improvement expert. He has years of experience writing about various home improvement topics, mostly as it pertains to water systems.