How to Winterize Your Home’s Plumbing System

Knowing how to winterize your home plumbing system can prevent frozen pipes and other problems that require costly repairs. The steps you must take to winterize your home’s plumbing system will depend on the location of the plumbing and whether or not the building will be heated the entire winter.

Winterize the Plumbing System of a Primary Residence

If you will live in the home you wish to winterize all winter, there are only a few steps you must take.

Identify Areas Likely to Freeze

Parts of your home’s plumbing system that are located in an unheated crawl space or an exterior wall with little insulation are the most likely to freeze.

Insulate Your Home Plumbing System

The easiest and cheapest way to prevent a frozen pipe is to use foam insulation tubes on pipes exposed to cold climates. These insulation tubes are inexpensive and easy to install; just measure your pipes to get the correct size.

Heat Pipes that Have Frozen During Previous Winters

If you have had problems with frozen pipes in the past, you must take extra care to winterize your home’s plumbing system. Use heat tape to prevent freezing in pipes that have already been insulated. Heat tape is attached to the pipe and gives off a slight heat when plugged in. It is easy to install and can be found in most hardware stores.

Winterize Your Vacation Home’s Plumbing System

If you want to turn off the heat in your vacation home while you are not there, some care must be taken to winterize your home’s plumbing system. While many homeowners may just drain the supply pipes, colder temperatures require a more sophisticated approach.

Drain the Supply Pipes

Supply pipes are the most likely to freeze because they are under pressure. Turn off the main water supply, usually located just above the water meter, to prevent any more water from entering the home. Then turn on a faucet at the highest location in the house. Open a valve at the lowest part of the house. This is often the valve on the hot water tank. Using a bucket, drain all of the water in the system. It may take up to one hour for the plumbing system to completely drain.

Drain Hard-to-Reach Areas

After the water is drained from the plumbing system, take a few more steps to truly winterize the pipes. Turn all of the faucets to the on position. Flush the toilet, holding the lever down until all of the water drains out of the tank and bowl. Empty the supply line of the washing machine and dishwasher by detaching one end of the line and emptying it into a pail. Further winterize your home’s plumbing system by looking for traps that may contain water and draining accordingly.

Add Antifreeze

A small amount of antifreeze should be added to sink drains and appliances that hold water. Also add enough antifreeze to the toilet bowl to cover the pipe opening, which will prevent gases from backing up into the house. Be sure to read the instructions when using antifreeze and plan on fully cleaning your plumbing system when you return to the house.

Look for Other Water Sources

Plumbing systems that use a well pump and pressure tank, some types of furnaces and tank hot water heaters must all be drained. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to drain as much water from these devices as possible.

Learn how to winterize your home plumbing system if you are meticulous and have several hours to spend on the project. Otherwise, you may consider hiring a professional to do the job for you. Most plumbers are happy to recommend someone to winterize your plumbing system.