How to Winterize Your Vacation Property
‘Tis about the time of year when folks spend the holidays at their vacation homes, if they’re fortunate enough to have one. Because December might be the first time you’ve visited your second property in awhile, you’ll probably need to go through all the motions of “opening” the home, especially if it’s located in colder climates. Hopefully, revisiting your property after time away went smoothly, a prospect made easier if you properly closed it in the first place. Given that you may be at your property more often over the winter months it definitely pays to revisit the proper winterization techniques between stays to avoid busted pipes and other expensive repairs.
Here’s how to close your cold-weather home during the winter months between visits and fully winterize it if it will be vacant for an extended period of time.
Shut the water off when you leave. Because all houses may be plumbed differently, it is a good idea to consult with a professional plumber about how to best winterize your specific house. If applicable, turn off the electric supply to the water system pump. Also, turn off the electrical to your water heater if electric or turn off the gas supply if your water heater is gas-fired.
If your house is supplied by a well, cut off its power.
Turn off the water to the house by finding the Stop and Waste Valve outside. It resembles a square rod stuck in the ground, and is usually located between your house and the water meter box (sprinkler systems generally have a separate stop and waste valve). Shut off the water to the house by using a pipe wrench or a stop and waste valve key on the square rod and turn it one quarter-turn clockwise until it can’t turn anymore. Turn off the breaker to the water heater before draining the tank and pipes. Drain pipes at their low-point drain valves or by opening a pipe junction.
After you turn off the stop and waste valve, inspect the outside of your house and open any hose bibs on the exterior. Open up all the faucets on the sinks and showers inside the house to further let the water drain out of the pipes. If there is a diverter knob in the bathtub allowing you to select whether water comes out of the tub faucet or the shower, turn it back and forth to let the water drain out of the shower pipe. Leave the control in a partially open position, halfway between “tub” and “shower” so water doesn’t freeze in the wall behind the shower.
If you have a water dispenser on your refrigerator, press it until water stops dispensing it and the suction sound coming from it ceases. If there are hoses supplying a washing machine or an ice maker, look for valves where the hoses come out of the wall or floor and turn them off.
Drain the water from your plumbing, toilets, and the expansion tank of your well pump if necessary. Flush each toilet a few times to get as much water as you can out of the tank and bowl. Don’t forget to drain water from appliances such as your dishwasher and washing machine, too.
Turn off all the faucets in the house, and shut off the hose bibs outside.
To ensure that all water has been drained from the pipes, use an air compressor to blow out all water pipes.
Leave your water heater set to “pilot” or “vacation” to prevent the water in the water heater from freezing.
Finally, pour one or two cups of biodegradable antifreeze into the back and the bowl of every toilet, and into every sink, shower, and tub drain. Be sure to not use automotive antifreeze, and instead choose non-toxic, RV or marine antifreeze.
Heating and Insulation
Turn your thermostat down to 55 degrees. You don’t want to completely turn off the heater so proper interior humidity is maintained and stays unfavorable to mold and mildew.
Be sure to leave at least a 6” clearance between the heat vents and any combustible materials.
Turn off the pilot lights on stoves and fireplaces and turn off the gas. When you do so, check for possible gas leaks.
Insulate exposed plumbing pipes, and seal holes and cracks in exterior walls, and around pipes that meet exterior walls. Cap stove pipes and chimneys and close flues and dampers.
You also want to seal air leaks that allow cold air into your garage and house where pipes may be located. Typical spots to close up are around electrical wiring and dryer vents and pipes.
Be sure all exterior pipes and hose bibs are well insulated.
Check insulation in any attics, basements, or crawl spaces. Insulating these areas well help prevent freezing and burst pipes.
All non-essential electrical components in your vacation home should be shut down. Use the breakers in your vacation home’s circuit box as a guide, and also unplug all appliances from their outlets. Refrigerators are not as efficient when ambient temperatures drop near freezing, and if your vacation home visits are infrequent, this can cost you more money.
If you are unplugging the refrigerator, be sure to clean it out completely, including the freezer.
Make sure to empty and defrost the refrigerator, leaving the door ajar and the unit unplugged. Discard any food.
Unplug all electronic equipment such as entertainment centers, computers, coffee makers, toasters, dryers, washers and any charging devices. This will protect your equipment from electrical surges.
Store food in airtight containers. Food attracts rodents, which can damage electrical wiring.
Clear all gutters so that melting snow and ice will flow away from the your home’s exterior instead of draining into walls and ceilings.
Add screens to gutters to keep them clear of falling leaves, pine needles and other debris.
Trim trees and remove dead branches around your home to prevent any home damage cause by wind, snow and ice.
If you have a compost bin, cover it securely.
Empty bird feeders.
Make sure windows and doors close tightly.
Stop up any places in the foundation or around the eaves where squirrels, or other small animals can enter.
Disconnect garden hoses and empty pipes leading to outside faucets.
It is important to have your septic tank pumped out regularly. Keeping your home’s septic system working properly prevents leakage and possible groundwater contamination.
To help prevent septic systems from freezing, spread a layer of straw or leaves over the system to provide insulation.
Extra Security Precautions
Have someone check your house at regular intervals.
Give your phone number to a year-round neighbor who can call you if anything seems awry. Have someone pick up circulars thrown in your driveway.
Be sure that your insurance policy covers your house even if it’s empty over the winter.
If you’ll be gone for awhile, discard toiletries or medications containing liquids that could freeze.
At-a-Glance Winterization Checklist
- Turn the thermostat on your heater down to 55 degrees.
- Turn the Stop and Waste valve located outside your home clockwise until it stops turning easily.
- Open all hose bibs on the exterior of the house
- Open all the faucets in the house.
- If there is a Diverter knob in the bath tub to choose whether the water comes out the tub faucet or the shower, turn it back and forth to let the water drain out of the shower pipe. Leave the control in partially open position, halfway between “tub” and “Shower.”
- Flush all the toilets to get water out of them.
- Pour a cup or two of biodegradable antifreeze (for RVs or boats) into the back and the bowl of every toilet.
- Pour a cup or two of biodegradable antifreeze into every sink, shower, and tub drain.
- Set the control on the water heater to “pilot” or to “vacation.”
- Shut all the faucets off.
- Shut off the hose bibs.
When you return to your vacation home after time away, turn the water heater back to the desired temperature and open all the hose bibs and faucets in the house and turn the Stop and Waste valve counterclockwise until it stops turning. Allow water flow out all of the faucets to get rid of the stagnant water in the pipes. Open the faucets in the house before turning the water back on to keep air bubbles and pressure from taxing your plumbing.
Frozen and burst water pipes are perhaps the most common problem when houses are left empty over a cold winter, The best insurance is to drain your plumbing and winterize. This will prevent a plumbing freeze from happening even if you lose your electrical or heat. Where is your vacation home? Do you winterize?