Informational Guide

How To Winterize A Houses Plumbing

We explore the best ways to winterize a house’s plumbing and prevent your pipes from freezing, whether your home is vacant or occupied.

by Ian Haynes

Preparing for the winter months can be daunting – how can we keep ourselves warm and well prepared? Your pipes are no exception; the water can and will freeze if they’re not ready for the chills.

This guide will explore different ways you can winterize your house plumbing and ways to prevent your pipes from freezing.

Water is an essential part of our home. Frozen pipes lead to no water access or damaged or burst pipes. This applies to both exterior and interior pipes.

If any of your pipes do freeze and burst, you may have to cash out for a plumber. There are also the cost and risks of repairs to any flood or ice damage to your home. To avoid these issues, follow the tips below to prepare your pipes for the winter months.

How To Winterize House Plumbing

How to Winterize House Plumbing (When Occupied)

If you’ll be staying in your home throughout the winter, here are some of the steps for making sure your pipes are ready to handle the colder temperatures.

1. Insulation

Insulate the pipes that could freeze over. Should the temperature drop very low, keep a faucet or two running to stop the pipes from freezing or bursting. Try to keep your thermostat set to at least 65F to keep your home warm.

2. Connect an Emergency Release

An emergency pressure release valve protects against excess pressure caused by freezing, which will stop pipes from bursting. You should also make sure you know where the shutoff valves are for your plumbing system.

3. Service your Heating

Make sure to have your furnace, boiler, or chimneys serviced annually to keep them running during the chilly seasons.

4. Clear the Gutters

The debris in your gutters can create a dam, and the water can freeze and damage the guttering. Clear out your gutters regularly in the fall months to get a head start.

5. Store your Hose

Make sure to properly store the hose outside for the winter, and double check that your external pipes have been switched off and drained correctly, to ensure they don’t freeze.


Winterizing A Vacant Homes Plumbing System

If you’re leaving a house vacant to visit family or friends, your home and pipes are more prone to freezing. With no one in, damage from bursts is more likely. Follow these steps below to properly winterize your vacant house.

How To Winterize Plumbing In Vacant House

If the water is staying on, keep the heating running as well. This, while it seems costly, will stop the internal pipes from freezing and causing damage. Make sure your attic is well insulated as well; the ice, snow, or rain can seep through and cause damage to the pipes above.

Turning off the water? Follow these steps to drain your plumbing:

  1. 1
    Turn the main shutoff valve all the way. Turn off your water heater as well.
  2. 2
    Open all the drain taps and valves in the house, draining the water completely.
  3. 3
    Discharge all the water from your hot water tank; you might need an external hose to do this if there isn’t a drain on your heater.
  4. 4
    Drain the holding tank of all the water, particularly the pressure tank. Consider adding antifreeze to the jet pump.
  5. 5
    Flush all the toilets to clear the water. You can also add antifreeze to the cistern in case water trickles in.
  6. 6
    Double check all sinks and tubs that the drain taps are open and consider antifreeze in the fixtures too.

Signs you have Frozen Pipes 

  • No Or Little Water
    This is usually the one people notice – if the water is slower, there could be an ice obstruction in the system.
  • Frosted Pipe
    Is there visible frost or ice on the outside of your pipe? They could also be frozen internally if this happens.
  • Smelly Water
    If the drainage pipes become frozen, then you will start to notice a sewage smell from your drains.
  • Bulging And Cracks
    With the pressure building from a frozen pipe, they will expand and sometimes crack. This is a good sign your pipe is frozen.
  • Strange Noises
    As the ice starts to move, the pipes may make a banging or gurgling sound as it drains away. Your heater may hum when it fills up too.
frozen water

10 Ways to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Insulate Pipes

Insulate your pipes with foam padding or insulation sleeves. They are inexpensive and will protect against the winter months. Ensure all exposed pipes are sealed, and there are no gaps where cold air could enter.

Shut Off and Drain External Pipes

Make sure your outside faucet has been shut off properly and drain the excess water from the pipes. Your outside pipes are the most at risk and should be cared for the same as your internal pipes.

Keep a Faucet Running

Particularly if the pipes leading to the faucet are exposed, as these will freeze easier. Don’t open the faucet all the way. Leaving it dripping will keep the water moving and preventing the water from freezing.

Keep your Heating Consistent

Try to keep your heating on throughout the winter. Studies show that your pipes are at risk of freezing at 20F. Your home should be kept warm to protect your internal pipes.

Open Kitchen/Bathroom Cabinets

Make sure to regularly open your cabinets with pipes in them; the warm air circulates around your house, and opening the cabinets allows the air into these pipes too.

Open Internal Doors

The same as above, the warm air needs to travel all around your house. Keeping your doors in the living room, kitchen, study, etc., will make sure the pipes here will get the warm air as well.

Keep Garage Shut

Contrary to your other doors, your garage door should be kept closed during the winter. Garages have concrete flooring, making the room colder. Adding colder air in could damage any pipes in the garage.

Seal Cracks in Walls

Check your outside walls for any cracks or slips that cold air could get in. Seal with caulk or spray foam to make sure the heat can’t escape and cause problems in your plumbing.

Seal Crawl Spaces

Crawl spaces are very good at letting in the cold. Seal them with foam cut to the dimensions of the vents for an inexpensive and effective fix to your cold crawl space.

Use Heating Tape

Heating tape is a good way to keep exposed pipes from freezing. Automated tape will detect the temperature drops, or there are manual options for you to turn on as needed.


De-Winterizing your Home

Once returning to your home, follow these steps to run your water through.

  1. 1
    Turn all faucets to the 'off position. Unscrew the aerators as the first flow will have a lot of excess air and pressure.
  2. 2
    Slowly turn the shutoff valve on – you will hear gushing water into your home.
  3. 3
    Allow your water heater to fill, open valves if necessary and switch on after.
  4. 4
    Once on, slowly turn each faucet on to allow water through. Once it’s a steady flow, switch off and apply aerators.
  5. 5
    Allow toilets to fill and flush them to make sure they work.
  6. 6
    Check your outside faucets are running properly. Open valves as needed.

People also Ask (FAQs)

How much does it cost to winterize your house plumbing?

With pipe insulation and caulk or foam spray, or the excess energy bill, you’re looking at approximately $150 - $300. A professional could charge up to $500 to do this for you.

How long does it take pipes to freeze at 20 degrees?

If your pipes are unused or poorly insulated, they could take 4-5 hours to freeze. Even well insulated pipes freeze in 6 hours if they’re not in use. This means they could freeze overnight.

Can I wait for a frozen pipe to thaw?

If the pipe isn’t showing signs of bursting, you can switch off the main water supply and open the faucets. Allow your house heating time to thaw the pipe if inside.

At what temperature should I drip my faucets?

If the outside temperatures are expected to be 28F or lower for at least 4 hours, this is a good time to drip your faucets.

How do I check where the pipes are frozen?

If it is in one room, then it’s frozen on that room’s connection. If it’s one floor, then it’s where the pipes separate onto that floor. If no water is running anywhere, it’s likely near the main water source for your house.


Conclusion

Winterizing your home can seem expensive, but it will be less expensive than the repairs of burst pipes. We can take precautions to prevent the colder months from damaging our plumbing and keep the chill out of our wallets and homes. Stay warm!

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.

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