How to Keep a Critical Valve from Freezing

| 4/16/2015 9:40:00 AM

Frozen valves are a major, major bummer in my world and on most (all?) homesteads. The winter of 2014-2015 was cold in New York. There are still patches of snow on the ground around here, but I feel confident about sharing my technique for preventing a really critical valve from freezing.

The Scene

I raised 21 pigs through the winter on an untypical ration of hay and whey from greek yogurt manufacturing. I gave them a few other minor things, but the two staples were fermented hay and yogurt. Yogurt whey is mostly water, but it has enough salts dissolved in it to prevent freezing right at 32 degrees. In my experience it begins to freeze in the low 20s and gets pretty solid when the temps drop into the teens. Both January and February days this year only occasionally climbed up into the teens, which meant I needed to keep the valves on my whey storage tanks from freezing. The site I picked to locate the pigs’ winter house and the whey storage worked well from a delivery standpoint, but there was no electric power within 3000 ft unless I was willing to install a meter and a drop for an outlet. So lots of whey sitting in a tank for up to 5 weeks at a time in the bitter cold… how to keep it flowing?

The Solution

Insulation and heat from mother earth. The tanks were set on a leveled and smoothed pad so the bottom was in direct contact with dirt. I didn’t haul in gravel or any sort of special base, but I did pick over the pad site fastidiously in search for rocks that could puncture the bottom. A few feet down the average temperature of my soil is about 48 degrees F. My hypothesis was that if I insulated the tanks out four or more feet latent heat in the ground would wick up to the fluid and hopefully over to the valve. I began by staging large round bales around the perimeter of the whey tank. The tanks are 9 feet tall though, so I then piled loose hay and wood shavings on top of the big bales in a slope up to the shoulder of the tanks. Loose hay settles a lot, so I refreshed the piled part twice as winter progressed, though by the time of these photos it had sagged again.

4/21/2015 10:53:43 AM

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