How to Winterize Plumbing & Pipes in a Vacant House

Planning on leaving your home vacant for an extended period of time this winter?

In this guide you will learn:

  • The Importance of Winterizing your Plumbing When Going away,
  • How to Winterize your Pipes, Plumbing ,Water Heater & Blow out Pipes.
  • How to ”Un-Winterize” your house once you come back.

When leaving your house vacant for an extended period of time, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to safeguard your home.

Freezing water expands as it turns to ice, and can put tremendous pressure on your pipes causing them to burst and cause serious water damage.

Importance Of Winterizing Pipes & Water Lines In Empty Homes

When a water line bursts, the water damage can be exponential, especially if a house is Vacant.

Burst pipes can lead to flooding, which in turn can damage floors, walls, and anything in the vicinity. 

If you’re leaving your house vacant for an extended period, the water damage could continue to worsen as it continues to go unnoticed.

Plumbing runs through more rooms of your house than you might think, and without anyone home to catch it in time, a burst pipe could wind up causing major structural damage to your home. 

Not only that, but the water meter isn’t going to know the difference, so a burst pipe could wind up costing you a small fortune on your water bill as well.

How To Winterize Your Pipes & Plumbing

When winterizing your home, putting together a checklist will help ensure that you don’t miss anything important. 

Ensuring all aspects of your plumbing are prepared for the coming cold is critical, and crossing things off your list as you go will ensure that you don’t forget an important step along the way.

1.Shut off the water

Closing the main water valve going in to your home is an important first step. 

You’re going to need to empty the pipes of water so that it won’t freeze, and closing the water valve is the only way this can happen.

2.Open all drain valves and taps

Go around your house, and make sure all sources of water are opened, as well as all drain valves. 

This will allow any water still inside the pipes to evacuate and drain away from the house. 

Any that are unopened could create a vacuum that will hold water inside the pipes, so be sure you check them all.

3.Drain your hot water tank

Your hot water tank will need to be drained.  You should do this carefully, as the water will obviously be very hot. 

If there is no floor drain in the area, you’ll want to connect a garden hose so the water reaches a drain. 

Ensure that the holding tank located in the rubber diaphragm is drained, as well.

4.Flush all your toilets

Do this as many times as necessary to get all the water out of the tank and the bowl.

Open the top of the tank and make sure there isn’t any left behind.

5.Check your drain traps

Sink and tub drains will likely have drain traps.

Look through them all to ensure there’s no lingering water left that could freeze and cause issues.

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Preventing Frozen & Burst Pipes When Going Away

When leaving for an extended period, there are several methods you can employ to help maintain the integrity of your pipes and plumbing.

Depending on how long you’ll be away, you should consider the following.

1.Use insulation sleeves

Wrapping or slip-on foam pipe insulation can be acquired relatively cheap at a hardware store. 

They slide on easy, and can help keep your pipes from freezing due to cold air exposure, especially if you have older steel or copper pipes.

2.Check exterior for cracks

Cold air can seep in through any exterior cracks, lowering the internal temperature of the home and expediating the freezing process. 

Make sure there aren’t any unnecessary entryways for cold air to enter the home.

3.Leave Faucets Dripping

If turning the water off completely isn’t an option, leaving your faucets dripping is a good preventative measure. 

Running water, even if not at full blast, is less likely to freeze and cause pipes to burst.

4.Cover your Hose Bibs

Hose bibs, the outdoor water valves designed for hoses to be attached to, are often overlooked when cold-weather prepping a home. 

Be sure to drain them, then put an insulating cover over them before deactivating them at the shutoff valve.

Avoiding Burst Pipes When Going Away For A Short Amount Of Time

If you’re going to be gone for a shorter period of time, even if you decide not to shut off your water valve, there are still some steps you should take to safeguard your plumbing.

If you aren’t going to be gone for very long, consider leaving your heat running to some extent. 

While it isn’t entirely necessary to keep it running at the temperature you normally would, consider at least leaving it running to keep the internal temperature above freezing.

While it may sound silly, leave your cabinet doors open. 

When cabinet doors are closed, pipes behind them are effectively sealed off in a colder environment. Leaving cabinet doors open allows warmer air to circulate through.

Lastly, leave water faucets running. 

A slow, steady drip is enough to keep water moving through them, and will help prevent it from freezing and bursting.

Tips For Blowing Out Water Pipes To Winterize Your Home

If you have access to an air compressor, one option is to blow the water out of your water pipes.  It ensures that water hasn’t pooled anywhere, and if done properly can be an effective method of winterizing your plumbing.

You’ll need an adaptor that allows you to attach the hose from the compressor to the water line.  Typically water lines are ½” in diameter, but you’ll want to measure before buying the necessary equipment.

The easiest way to connect your air to your house’s plumbing system is at the hot and cold water connections your washer and dryer use. 

Preferably, you can have the open tap at a lower level than the one you’re working from.

Metal pipes are able to withstand greater air pressure than plastic or PVC lines. To be safe, start at 15 PSI, and work your way up from there. 

If that doesn’t drive the water out, raise the pressure gradually and try again.

The amount of air you’ll need will vary depending on how much piping there is in your home, and how convoluted it gets.  Just be sure you aren’t exceeding the pressure your pipes are rated for, otherwise you could cause serious damage to them.

Using Antifreeze In Pipes

Another way of safeguarding your plumbing is to use antifreeze. 

As the name implies, antifreeze helps prevent water from freezing, and can be useful in some instances where plumbing is concerned.

Never use the same antifreeze you would use in your car.  Antifreeze for cars uses a chemical called Ethylene Glycol, which is dangerous for home systems.

Instead, find a non-toxic antifreeze that is meant for home plumbing systems, or alternately one that is made for RV’s. 

RV antifreeze is made with propylene glycol, and is safe to use in your home water system.

Pouring some antifreeze in sinks and drains can help prevent any lingering water in them from freezing.  You can also use it in toilets that have been emptied completely, including the tank. 

Once you’ve emptied your bottle of antifreeze into the tank, hold down the lever until the tank is completely emptied.

Winterizing Your Water Heater

Before doing any kind of work, you’ll need to ensure the water supply is turned off, then unplug it if it’s electric or turn the gas off. 

If you had to turn the gas off, you’ll need to make sure the pilot light is out.

Once that’s taken care of, find the drain near the bottom and attach a garden hose.  Locate the nearest floor drain, or find a way to direct the water outside if there isn’t one present. 

If you don’t have a garden hose available, you are unfortunately staring down the unpleasant task of draining the water into a bucket and hauling it away yourself.

While the tank is draining, ensure that the air vent is open on top of the heater.  Depending on the style, size, and capacity of your water heater, the draining process could take as long as half an hour or more.

Once the tank is empty, open any faucets in the basement, bathrooms, and kitchen. 

Leave them open, and watch to ensure that any water coming out of them eventually tapers off and stops entirely.

Next, you’ll want to wrap it in a water heater blanket.  This will help protect it from the cold temperatures outside, and they are relatively inexpensive. 

A large blanket or other type of insulating material and some duct tape can also serve as a makeshift substitution.

Lastly, you’ll want to wrap the pipes leading to the heater with insulation. 

Keeping them covered and securing the insulation with duct tape will prevent them from freezing and breaking.

How Long Does It Take For Pipes To Freeze In A House With No Heat

In a mere six to eight hours, pipes can freeze. 

This means that unprotected pipes can freeze literally overnight. 

If the outside temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), outdoor pipes that are unprotected become susceptible to freezing.

Indoor pipes, being more protected, are usually safer.

Outdoor temperatures of below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.6 Celsius) is when indoor plumbing and pipes are in danger of freezing.

With such a short timespan in which things could turn catastrophic, taking the necessary precautions to protect your house’s plumbing is absolutely critical.

What Temperature To Leave An Empty House In Winter

If you’re able to leave the heat on in your home while you’re gone, a good range to keep your thermostat set at is the 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit range (13 to 15.5 degrees Celsius). 

Any more would be a waste of energy and money, and any less would increase the risk of pipes freezing.

Many modern digital thermostats can be controlled and monitored remotely via an app, allowing you to turn the heat back up so the house is nice and warm upon your return.

How To Unwinterize A House

When returning home, the process of getting things up and running again is just as important.

Getting your plumbing and electricity working again should be as easy as doing everything you did in reverse, just be sure you check everything off as you go along.

  • Go around turn your faucets back off. 
  • Reconnect any water connections you may have disconnected. 
  • Check your hot water heater, and remove the blanket or insulation you wrapped it in.
  • If you shut off the electricity, turn it back on and make sure things are working properly.
  • If you turned your heat off entirely, turn it back on and make sure it’s running.
  • If you turned your gas off, turn it back on. 
  • Any pilot lights that were extinguished will need to be relit, and you should take the necessary precautions when doing so.

Go around and check your external water sources, such as hose bibs, to ensure they haven’t frozen or become cracked and damaged. 

Inspect the inside of the home for any signs of burst pipes or other damage.

  • When you turn the water back on, do it slowly. 
  • If you have a utility sink nearby, leaving the faucet open as you reopen the water main will allow air to escape as water fills the pipes back up. 
  • Once this is done, go around and look to make sure there aren’t any signs of leaks. 
  • Flush toilets and turn on sinks to ensure they are in working order.

If you have a sump pump, now would be a good time to make sure it is turned on and operational. 

As snow melts, it can lead to runoff that can cause basement flooding if your sump pump isn’t working properly. 

Lastly, you’ll want to check your roof gutters to ensure they’re clear and working. 

Leaves and other debris can clog them up, and as the snow melts you’ll want it to drain away from your house, not in to it.

When To Call A Professional

Despite your best efforts, there may come a time when you return home and discover there is damage to your plumbing, whether it is noticeable immediately or makes itself apparent as you turn your water back on.

Burst pipes and damaged plumbing are a very serious issue, and should be dealt with right away.  If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Professionals are trained to deal with situations precisely like this one, and are a mere phone call away.

If the damage looks severe, or even if you’re unsure of the extent of it, its always best to err on the side of caution and call in professional help.

We have Water Damage Restoration Technicians that can help Get your House Back up & Repair any Water Damage Caused.

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