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Kathy Jansen

Managing Broker/Owner

Winterizing Your Home

Preparing Your Home for Winter


The fall Equinox is a good time of year to start thinking about preparing your home for winter, because as temperatures begin to dip, your home will require maintenance to keep it in tip-top shape through the winter. This is known as winterizing your home.

Autumn is invariably a prelude to falling winter temperatures, regardless of where you live. It might rain or snow or, as David Letterman says, "Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees." Did you know there is only one state in the United States where the temperatures are never below zero? Give up? It's Hawaii. But it gets close to zero at Mauna Kea.

Here are ten tips to help you prepare your home for winter:

1) Furnace Inspection

2) Get the Fireplace Ready

3) Check the Exterior, Doors and Windows

4) Inspect Roof, Gutters & Downspouts

5) Service Weather-Specific Equipment

6) Check Foundations

7) Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

8) Prevent Plumbing Freezes

9) Prepare Landscaping & Outdoor Surfaces

10) Prepare an Emergency Kit


Winterizing a Vacant  Home

  If you or a client has a vacant home or summer  vacation property on the market this winter, careful  decisions need to be made to prevent expensive repairs  from frozen plumbing. Last spring we inspected an  unusually high number  of homes with damaged plumbing (or worse) due to lack  of, or improper winterization. One client spent well  over $3,000 on plumbing repairs, and then more to repair  the walls, ceiling, and flooring that were damaged by  water and the process of replacing the pipes.  To Winterize, or Not To  Winterize?

The simplest solution and least  risky alternative to winterizing is to leave the heating  system running at a minimum setting (with the water  turned off of course). Though it might seem like a waste  of money or energy at first glance, a minimal heating  bill will be less expensive than the cost of potential  repairs if everything were to freeze up. Also, the rigors of  extreme winter temperatures and low humidity in a  winterized home stress the interior of the house  and the appliances. Wood trim and furniture dry out, and  seals in appliances can dry and  crack.    
  As a side note, it is always prudent to turn off the  main water supply or well pump whenever you will be gone  from the home for even a day or two. On properties with  a well, a major leak can cause the well pump to simply  run itself to death in your absence, also causing  significant water damage.        
   Also consider that if the house is on the market, a  cold house will not show well. When a buyer does come  along, it will also need to be de-winterized before a  home inspection can be performed (we know that you will  of course want to have the house inspected by us!).  Extra cost, more delays.  On the other hand, exposed plumbing in some  crawlspaces, or plumbing in homes with no central  heating may be at risk. Some vacation homes were just  not built for winter. In the case of older homes that  are poorly insulated and/or unevenly heated (or just  poorly constructed homes), then winterization may be the  safest bet.  Who Should Do the  Winterization?

It is true that many homes  are winterized every year without problem, usually by  the owner or a convenient handyman. However, big repairs  bills may result if it is done only half way, or  improperly. If a house is to be winterized, we suggest  that it done by a professional plumber.
 Basic Steps Needed to Properly Winterize a  Home.

  1. Turn Off Water. The  first step is usually easy; locate and turn off the  main water shut off valve, preferably one that is  outside. If the property is supplied by a well, then  also turn off the breaker to the pump system.
  2. Water Heater. After  the water is off, turn off and drain the water heater.  There are a couple of different procedures that could  be followed to accomplish this step. Temperature  controls on gas water heaters should be set to the Off  position, as well as closing the gas valve. Electric  water heaters should be shut off at the breaker. A  faucet or spigot will need to be opened to allow air  to flow in as water is drained out.
  3. Drain Supply Lines.  Water then should be drained from the entire water  supply system, faucets and fixture shut off valves  left open. If the house is on a well, the pressure  tank should also be drained.
  4.  Blow Out the Water  Supply Lines. Though gravity may  be sufficient to drain the plumbing in many  homes, standing water will remain in some  pipes. Though the  water is not longer under pressure, this  remaining water will freeze and may strain some fittings. CPVC  (plastic, not PEX) would be prone to cracking. We  recommend that water be blown out of the water supply  lines with an air compressor. Many do-it-yourselfers  skip this step, and most get lucky. If the house is to  be winterized by a handy man or plumber, verify their  level of thoroughness by asking if they blow out the  water lines.
  5. Using special fittings to connect a  compressor to the house plumbing, the water supply  lines would be cleared of water by systematically  closing and opening faucets and valves starting with  plumbing fixtures most distant from the compressor and  working backward.
  6. Other Items to Drain.  Water softeners, filters, and water treatment systems  also need to be drained (the brine tank in a water  softener can usually be ignored).
  7. Anti-Freeze. Once all  the water supply lines are completely empty, flush the  toilets until they are empty, then winterize toilets  and other drain traps by filling them with a special  non-toxic RV type antifreeze solution (pink in color). 
  8. Other Appliances.  Keep in mind that water also runs through  many appliances such as the washing machine and  dishwasher, as well as the water supply line to the  ice-maker in refrigerators. Each one of these will  also need to be drained and/or disconnected. Some  professionals also recommend anti-freeze be poured  into the bottom of the dishwasher and washing machine.  
  9. Turn Off Electrical.  Turn off all electrical breakers to appliances as well  as any other unnecessary breakers, and post a reminder  note at the panel to make sure the electric water  heater and other appliances aren’t turned on before  the water is turned on.
  10. Heating systems. You  wouldn't think that a furnace would contain water, but  some do. High-efficiency furnaces (also called  condensing furnaces) generate a significant amount of  condensation from the water vapor in the flue gases.  These systems, as well as air conditioners, have a  condensate drain line. Sometimes the condensate drains  into a floor drain, but if there's no drain available  the condensate drains into a small pump which pumps  the fluid uphill into the plumbing drain. Though there  is less chance of damage, these should also be looked  at.
  11. Special Heating  Systems. If the home has any sort of a more elaborate heating  system such as a hot water boiler, heat pump, or  radiant floor heat, then we recommend VERY strongly  that it be handles by a HVAC professional familiar  with these systems. These heating systems  sometimes circulate water instead of a  freeze-resistant fluid, or may interconnect  with the plumbing system and/or hot water heater. It  should not be assumed that these systems could simply  be turned off without danger of damage from freezing.  We inspected one house with an expensive hot water  boiler system that was severely damaged, and radiators  cracked after the house had been “professionally”  winterized. That professional may have understood  plumbing, but did not understand the heating system.  Caused some problems on that sale.
  12. Warning. Last of all,  post signs in conspicuous locations (“Winterized - Do  Not use Plumbing”) just in case there are unexpected  visitors.

De-Winterization is just as  important.
When returning to occupy the  house, the entire process must be carefully reversed  (de-winterized), such as turning off faucets and fixture  shut off valves before turning the water supply or well  pump (otherwise you can be in for a rude surprise).