Do Water Butts Crack in Frost?

Collecting rainwater in a butt is the most eco-friendly way to water your garden.

Although water butts are simple setups that require little care, before investing in one, it is useful to know if water butts crack in frost, especially if a harsh winter is forecasted.

When the temperature drops below zero for a few consecutive days, any water gathered in a water butt will freeze.

As water forms into ice, it expands. It is this expansion that forces against the sides of the butt, causing it to fracture and crack.

Once a plastic water butt has cracked, it is of no further use.

Do all water butts crack?

Some people have a water butt in their garden for years and, with no intervention, have never had any issues with cracking.

There are expandable water butts available. The specially-designed plastic ‘gives’ as the ice expands, and contracts as it thaws. These more premium models usually come with a premium price tag.

How to prevent a water butt from cracking

If you own a home-made water butt that doesn’t have a tap, the easiest way to prevent any fracturing is to empty it. Once the butt is fully-drained, lie it on its side or put it in a sheltered spot to prevent it from refilling.

Some people believe wrapping water butt in thick blankets and bubble wrap provides enough insulation to stop the water from freezing at all.

It is easier to care for water butts with a tap or spigot. Drain the contents and leave the tap in the open position for the duration of the winter. It prevents the build-up of large quantities of rainwater as it naturally flows away as soon as it falls. If it isn’t allowed to collect, it can’t possibly freeze.

If you choose not to drain the butt, place a soft, hollow ball into the water. The ice still expands but crushes the ball, leaving the butt in perfect shape. You may have seen this method employed on garden fish ponds.

A large piece of rubber sponge has the same effect.

Final thoughts

Understanding that water butts do crack in frost, but not always, helps you to prepare for any outcome. The safest method is to drain it after the final garden watering session of the season.

 Harsh winter or not; this guarantees that your water butt will last a lifetime and your garden will benefit from the most natural water source in the areas that need it most.