You may have a summer cottage or a home that you purchased to rent that is unoccupied. In any situation it is important to winterize an unattended home properly. To prepare for winter you could have a plumber winterize the pipes at a cost of approximately $300. and then you would need the plumber to return in the spring and put the plumbing back into working order. Most folks think this is about all they have to do—but that might not be all you need to do to prepare houses for winter.
Whether or not the house will be okay for the winter with everything wet turned off and drained down depends upon your definition of “okay.” When you hire a plumber to come into the house and winterize it in the old-fashioned way, the water is shut completely off, whether it’s well water or municipal water. The water heater is shut off from its power supply—electric or gas—then drained down to empty, and the temperature/pressure relief valve tripped open.
The house water pipes are drained down as well. Then the plumber drains the tanks of the toilets, and pours anti-freeze into each toilet bowl filling the trap in the porcelain base of the toilet to keep from freezing and splitting the toilet apart, should the house become too cold. The plumber then does the same for all the other traps in the house beneath sinks, in bath tubs and showers, and so on.
Professionals then place warning tape over the toilet seats in the down position, and big labels on all water heaters, and anything else in the house that uses water, to warn everyone not to use it until the house has been de-winterized.
The owner usually comes along after the plumber leaves, and throws the main circuit breaker switch into the “Off” position, cutting off all electricity from the panel to the house, and walks out the door, locking it behind them, declaring the house to be “winterized.”
So, What’s the Worry?
What worries me about this exercise is not so much just the draining down of all the water in the plumbing system. Sure, seals and gaskets can dry out over the down period, requiring some repairs when the water goes back on. And I am concerned about what might start growing in the bottom of a drained water heater between the times it’s emptied and refilled. It’s everything else that can go wrong in an abandoned property that can really damage things and run up repair costs.
What I see happening to modern houses that get shuttered up and de-powered with heat off is that there is a period during which the house becomes very cold—not necessarily frozen, but just cold. All the building materials get cold—the framing, the insulation, the drywall, the woodwork—everything comes into a basic equilibrium with the average outside temperatures. It isn’t good for them and they can react to this shock by splitting, warping, and other damage caused by the chill.
Cold Temperatures Aren’t the Only Problem
Along comes a surprise warm day—the January thaw—and warm, moist air creeps into the house. Condensation sets up on the walls, ceilings, and floors. You walk into a closed-up, modern house on that warm day and you go from a balmy outside to a frigid inside. I was called into such a house once and the walls looked like they had been weeping. Then guess what happens?
Mold. Now everyone freaks out. Not to mention the sump pump hasn’t been working because the power’s been off, and there was a big rain or a snow-melt that soaked the basement. Your insurance company doesn’t want to hear about it and now you are into a huge clean-up job, and, yes, you still need to call the plumber to get the water back on.
So, the next time you need to winterize a house for the season, take some simple precautions. A house is a huge asset, and it only makes sense to take steps to preserve it. I don’t care that the house is empty and not deriving you any income but is, in fact, costing you money to sustain: Keep the electricity to the house and heat on to at least 19º c. The humidifier should be set to at least 20% humidity. It’s money well spent. Drain the water heater and pipes down to be on the safe side.
Check on the house at least once per week. If you aren’t able to visit the house yourself, hire someone to do it. Consider installing a monitored security system in this house, which can be worth its weight in gold. It not only guards against criminal entry, but these systems have fire alarms and can be customized to include cold-temperature and high-water alerts, as well. Have the security company call you at home, should anything trigger the system. You won’t regret it.
Article courtesy of HomeMinders