Winterize your Home

Winterizing a Vacant   Home

    If your a client has a vacant home or summer   vacation property on the market this winter, careful   decisions need to be made to prevent expensive repairs   from frozen plumbing. Last spring we inspected an   unusually high number   of homes with damaged plumbing (or worse) due to lack   of, or improper winterization. One client spent well   over $3,000 on plumbing repairs, and then more to repair   the walls, ceiling, and flooring that were damaged by   water and the process of replacing the pipes.   To Winterize, or Not To   Winterize?

The simplest solution and least   risky alternative to winterizing is to leave the heating   system running at a minimum setting (with the water   turned off of course). Though it might seem like a waste   of money or energy at first glance, a minimal heating   bill will be less expensive than the cost of potential   repairs if everything were to freeze up. Also, the rigors of   extreme winter temperatures and low humidity in a   winterized home stress the interior of the house   and the appliances. Wood trim and furniture dry out, and   seals in appliances can dry and   crack.       
    As a side note, it is always prudent to turn off the   main water supply or well pump whenever you will be gone   from the home for even a day or two. On properties with   a well, a major leak can cause the well pump to simply   run itself to death in your absence, also causing   significant water damage.                
      Also consider that if the house is on the market, a   cold house will not show well. When a buyer does come   along, it will also need to be de-winterized before a   home inspection can be performed (we know that you will   of course want to have the house inspected by us!).   Extra cost, more delays.   On the other hand, exposed plumbing in some   crawlspaces, or plumbing in homes with no central   heating may be at risk. Some vacation homes were just   not built for winter. In the case of older homes that   are poorly insulated and/or unevenly heated (or just   poorly constructed homes), then winterization may be the   safest bet.   Who Should Do the   Winterization?

It is true that many homes   are winterized every year without problem, usually by   the owner or a family friend. However, big repairs   bills may result if it is done only half way, or   improperly. If a house is to be winterized, we suggest   that it done by a professional.

  Basic Steps Needed to Properly Winterize a   Home.

1. Turn Off Water. The   first step is usually easy; locate and turn off the   main water shut off valve, preferably one that is   outside. If the property is supplied by a well, then   also turn off the breaker to the pump system.

 2. Water Heater. After   the water is off, turn off and drain the water heater.   There are a couple of different procedures that could   be followed to accomplish this step. Temperature   controls on gas water heaters should be set to the Off   position, as well as closing the gas valve. Electric   water heaters should be shut off at the breaker. A   faucet or spigot will need to be opened to allow air   to flow in as water is drained out.

 3. Drain Supply Lines.   Water then should be drained from the entire water   supply system, faucets and fixture shut off valves   left open. If the house is on a well, the pressure   tank should also be drained.

 4.   Blow Out the Water   Supply Lines. Though gravity may   be sufficient to drain the plumbing in many   homes, standing water will remain in some   pipes. Though the   water is not longer under pressure, this   remaining water will freeze and may strain some fittings. CPVC   (plastic, not PEX) would be prone to cracking. We   recommend that water be blown out of the water supply   lines with an air compressor. Many do-it-yourselfers   skip this step, and most get lucky. If the house is to   be winterized by a handy man or plumber, verify their   level of thoroughness by asking if they blow out the   water lines.

 5. Using special fittings to connect a   compressor to the house plumbing, the water supply   lines would be cleared of water by systematically   closing and opening faucets and valves starting with   plumbing fixtures most distant from the compressor and   working backward.

 6. Other Items to Drain.   Water softeners, filters, and water treatment systems   also need to be drained (the brine tank in a water   softener can usually be ignored).

 7. Anti-Freeze. Once all   the water supply lines are completely empty, flush the   toilets until they are empty, then winterize toilets   and other drain traps by filling them with a special   non-toxic RV type antifreeze solution (pink in color).   

8. Other Appliances.   Keep in mind that water also runs through   many appliances such as the washing machine and   dishwasher, as well as the water supply line to the   ice-maker in refrigerators. Each one of these will   also need to be drained and/or disconnected. Some   professionals also recommend anti-freeze be poured   into the bottom of the dishwasher and washing machine.    

9. Turn Off Electrical.   Turn off all electrical breakers to appliances as well   as any other unnecessary breakers, and post a reminder   note at the panel to make sure the electric water   heater and other appliances aren’t turned on before   the water is turned on.

 10. Heating systems. You   wouldn't think that a furnace would contain water, but   some do. High-efficiency furnaces (also called   condensing furnaces) generate a significant amount of   condensation from the water vapor in the flue gases.   These systems, as well as air conditioners, have a   condensate drain line. Sometimes the condensate drains   into a floor drain, but if there's no drain available   the condensate drains into a small pump which pumps   the fluid uphill into the plumbing drain. Though there   is less chance of damage, these should also be looked   at.

 11. Special Heating   Systems. If the home has any sort of a more elaborate heating   system such as a hot water boiler, heat pump, or   radiant floor heat, then we recommend VERY strongly   that it be handles by a HVAC professional familiar   with these systems. These heating systems   sometimes circulate water instead of a   freeze-resistant fluid, or may interconnect   with the plumbing system and/or hot water heater. It   should not be assumed that these systems could simply   be turned off without danger of damage from freezing.   We inspected one house with an expensive hot water   boiler system that was severely damaged, and radiators   cracked after the house had been “professionally”   winterized. That professional may have understood   plumbing, but did not understand the heating system.   Caused some problems on that sale.

 12. Warning. Last of all,   post signs in conspicuous locations (“Winterized - Do   Not use Plumbing”) just in case there are unexpected   visitors.

De-Winterization is just as   important.
When returning to occupy the   house, the entire process must be carefully reversed   (de-winterized), such as turning off faucets and fixture   shut off valves before turning the water supply or well   pump (otherwise you can be in for a rude surprise).    

See De-winterization  BACK