Guide to Winterizing the Plumbing in Occupied and Unoccupied Homes

The shorter days of fall signal that it’s time to get your home’s plumbing ready for winter. This process is called winterizing, and its primary goal is to prevent water from freezing in any pipes or drains. A home that you occupy and heat all winter is not nearly as threatened by this as an unoccupied home. However, even a heated home can be vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Performing a few chores on an autumn afternoon will get your occupied home winterized. However, winterizing a home that no one will be using for the season involves a much longer list of tasks.

Understand the Threat to Pipes

At 32 degrees, water begins to freeze. The water molecules expand during this process. When water expands into ice inside your pipes, the pipes could crack, or the joints will become compromised and start leaking. Water freezing in toilet bowls can crack the porcelain. Ice formation in water heaters will ruin its internal mechanisms.

Proper winterizing prevents these inconvenient and costly repair problems. If water does freeze in your plumbing, All Hours Plumbing, Heating and Air in Salt Lake City, UT, responds quickly to these emergencies. We can thaw out pipes and hopefully prevent serious damage or replace plumbing components damaged by water freezing in the lines.

Make a checklist of all:

  • Faucets and drains
  • Toilets
  • Outdoor faucets
  • Irrigation lines
  • Main shut off valve and other valves
  • Water heater
  • Other appliances that use water

Winterizing Occupied Homes

Even when you plan to heat your home all winter, the building could still have plumbing components exposed to the cold. On extremely cold days, the freezing temperatures could affect water lines by exterior walls or in poorly insulated crawlspaces or basements.

If you have a crawlspace, close the vents for the winter and cover them with insulation. Next, place foam pipe insulation over pipes within the crawlspace. Should you notice any gaps or cracks on the foundation, crawlspace vents, or basement windows, caulk them to prevent drafts or fill cavities with fiberglass insulation. Sometimes a pipe needs to cross a particularly cold space. In that case, you can protect it by wrapping it with electrical heat tape.

On the outside, disconnect your garden hoses and put them away for the season. Next, look to see if your outdoor faucets have control valves on the inside. If present, shut them off to isolate the interior plumbing from the exterior faucet.

Your lawn irrigation system also requires winterizing if you want to avoid digging up ruined lines or replacing broken sprinklers. Disconnect them from their water supply and use an air compressor to blast lingering water from the lines.

Winterizing Unoccupied Homes

A summer home that will be left unheated needs to have everything about its plumbing winterized. Without the heat running all winter, every part that moves or holds water could suffer catastrophic damage.

Begin by shutting off the main water supply valve. For homes running their own wells, you must also shut off the pump and empty the well pressure tank. Now that no more water is coming in, you can open all valves throughout the plumbing system and turn on every hot and cold tap in the house. While those run, flush all toilets until their tanks are empty or almost empty. Follow your checklist to ensure that you don’t forget a tap in some far-off corner of the house.

You also need to track down the last bits of water lingering in a refrigerator with a water dispenser and the dishwasher and laundry machine. Turn on the water dispenser on your refrigerator while you’re draining faucet taps. Then, disconnect its water supply and drain that line. Be sure to remove ice and dry off the inside before turning the appliance off.

As for your dishwasher, disconnect its water supply line. Have a rag or small bucket ready to collect the water that dribbles out. Pour about one-half gallon of non-toxic antifreeze into your dishwasher. Turn the machine on. The start cycle will trigger the machine to pump clear its drain. Listen for the sound of liquid moving. Once you hear it pumping the antifreeze, shut off the dishwasher.

Similarly, disconnect the water supply to the laundry washing machine and let that hose drain into a pan. Add some nontoxic antifreeze to the washer and run a short cycle to send the antifreeze through the system and into the drain.

All of the other drains in your house will need a bit of antifreeze to protect them from water held in their drain traps. Pour antifreeze into all drains, including the toilet and laundry drain. Check your toilet tanks to see if they are completely empty. Some tanks might have a small amount of water stuck in them. Add some antifreeze to those tanks.

Now that all of these winterizing tasks are done, you can turn your attention to the water meter area. This exterior system where the water supply enters your home should be insulated and covered with a water meter cover. When a frozen line bursts at this location, water could pour into the unoccupied home for days or even weeks before someone discovers the problem.

Additionally, as with an occupied home, you must get the water out of irrigation lines if they are present. You’ll need an air compressor to deal with the water in the underground supply lines.

Blow Out Water Lines With Air

An air compressor can blast water out of both interior plumbing pipes and lawn irrigation lines. Hardware stores sell adapters that allow you to connect a compressor to faucets. Your supply lines for the laundry machine are threaded and offer a good place to connect the compressor. Except on very large homes or buildings with supply lines with diameters above 1/2 inch, a basic .5 or .75 horsepower air compressor will get this job done.

After connecting the air hose to the plumbing, start at about 10 PSI and gradually increase pressure if you’re not moving out the water. You should not exceed 15 PSI because a higher pressure could compromise pipes. You should see a spray of water coming out of taps that reduces to a fine mist and eventually just air.

Complete Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Services

Thorough winterizing will protect your home from interrupted water supplies and plumbing damage. Should something go wrong, you can trust All Hours Plumbing, Heating and Air for prompt plumbing and boiler repairs. When your sewer lines or septic tank needs attention, our drain cleaning team will resolve your sanitation challenges. Our licensed technicians can take care of almost all of your indoor comfort needs, like air conditioner and furnace repair or replacement and fireplace installation. Businesses that want to put an end to ice on their driveways can talk to use about radiant heat for melting snow from the pavement. To learn more about what we can do for you, contact All Hours Plumbing, Heating and Air today.