*Winterizing a House*
By: fireman
25 November 2003

If you are faced with leaving your home in below freezing temperatures and a risk of power loss, you'll have to winterize the place or all the water pipes could burst. It's a simple step by step procedure. I'll describe a rural home with a well first. This is an ordinary home, not designed for easy winterization.

Freezing water expands. Old timers used to split rocks by drilling holes in the summer, filling the holes with water and by next spring the rock would be split. Ice expansion is very powerful.

The idea is to empty all pipes in the home. Turn off the circuit breaker to the water heater or turn off the gas line to your hot water heater.

1. Turn off the well pump. If it's a deep well pump it is submerged way down in the well and cannot freeze.

2. Open the low point drain in the cellar. Some water will drain, but not very much. Catch whatever water you can in containers if your basement area is living space.

3. Go up to the highest water outlet and open those valves. This will likely be your shower.

4. Open all kitchen sink, wash basin and washing machine valves.

5. Flush the John. Leave the small tube valve to the John open.

6. Remove washing machine hoses and lay them on the floor so water will run out.

7. Open any outside faucets, then close them again to prevent insect entry to your water system.

8. Put non-toxic RV antifreeze into all traps including sinks, shower, tub and commode. A cup[ full will do for a sink or shower drain. It will take a quart for each commode.

9. Pull the fuse or cut the circuit breaker to your water pump or there will be a flood when power comes back on. It's a good idea to pull the main breaker unless you have security lights you want kept on.

10. If you have a shallow well pump and the pump is inside your basement, drain the pump casing. Tape the plug to the pump.

11. Don't forget the refrigerator ice maker and dishwasher. Their sources and pipes need to be drained.

12. Open the drain line at the bottom of your hot water heater. It probably contains 40 gallons and that's why those drains have garden hose fittings; so you can run it outside or down a drain.

13. Got any unusual water based frills? Drain the hot tub, sauna fittings, lawn sprinklers, pool pump or fountains.

14. Do not drain an in-ground pool. Frozen ground will cave in the sides of your pool.

This is the minimum required to prevent damage. It will work well in a home built up to code. To ensure complete water removal in an older house you can blow air from all faucets back through the system. This will remove water from any pipes that sag in the middle.

For homes on city water there are a few more steps. A.Turn off your water at the street and do all the above. B. Disconnect the union couplings on both sides of the water meter. This will drain your line from the street and keep the meter from freezing, splitting and flooding your basement.

If you have hot water baseboard heat the easiest thing is to run 50/50 antifreeze and water in the system. Draining baseboard heating systems can be difficult because most baseboard heating radiant tubes don't have vacuum breakers. If your system has no antifreeze you'll have to gravity drain it. Then blow air through the heating elements using compressed air. Baseboard heating elements are very efficient heat exchangers and are the first components to freeze when a home drops below freezing. Turn off the fuel source, circulating pump power and drain the boiler itself.

There is an easier way to do all this if you have a well. Install vacuum breakers at all high points in the system. Then all you have to do is turn off the pump, open the low point drain and walk away.

When you return, you just turn all the faucets off and turn on your well pump. Slowly turn each faucet on. You wil hear rushing air and a few hard blasts of water before you have the flow you are used to. Fill the hot water heater. Manually lift the safety valve at the top of the water heater to bleed off the air before you turn the heater back on. Otherwise you'll burn out the heating elements. Open the gas line to the hot water heater and light the pilot light.

There is a high risk alternative to all this. We saw a house in Maine that froze up. A water line split and the entire home interior was one enormous block of ice.

Suppose you want to buy a home where the water system was not properly drained. You could just turn the water on and step by step, repair all leaks. This is a miserable chore because every pipe joint replaced must be dry. A far better approach is to connect an air compressor to an outside faucet using a garden hose. The compressor will be well away from the interior so you can hear any air leaks that announce split pipes and fittings. It is much easier to fix a pipe that is dry inside.

If you have a troublesome pipe that freezes occasionally, you have two alternatives: Relocate the pipe or install heat tape. Heat tape can be placed along a pipe and held in place by foam insulation. Each tape has a temperature sensor that has to hang free away from the pipe. When temperatures drop below about 40 degrees F, the switch opens and electric current warms the pipe, preventing freezing.

As with any potentially harmful situation, preparedness and planning provide the best opportunity to prevent damage. I hope this brief article benefits folks anywhere where it freezes.

All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright 1996 - 2003 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.