10 Easy Plumbing Winterization Preps for Cold Temps
As the leaves change color and temperatures begin to cool, we’re reminded that bitter, freezing temperatures will be creeping up on us before we know it. As you begin to pull out your winter wardrobe, don’t forget that your house needs some protection against the elements, too! After all, you don’t want to deal with the damage and costly repairs caused by frozen pipes and other winter woes. Here are some plumbing tips that’ll help get you prepared:
- Clear your rain gutters and downspouts. That pile of leaves and debris can block drainage, causing water to back up into your walls, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage. Rain water can also freeze into heavy blocks of ice, which will pull the gutters away from your home, shortening their lifespan and creating an overhead ice hazard.
- Disconnect outside water hoses. If left connected, water in the hoses can freeze and expand causing faucets and connecting pipes inside your home to freeze and break.
- Put a “sweater” on your outside faucets. Pick up a few Styrofoam faucet insulation kits from your local home improvement store. They’re very inexpensive, easy to install, and they protect against freezing temperatures
- Take care of dripping or leaky faucets. Either do it yourself or call a plumber, but make sure they’re fixed before freezing temperatures arrive. When leaky pipes freeze, water pressure can build – causing cracks in plastic, copper and even steel pipes. Just a tiny crack can unleash enough water to cause serious damage or flooding.
- Do you have interior shut-off valves leading to outside faucets? If so, close them and drain water from the outside lines.
- Insulate pipes in unheated areas, such as garages or crawl spaces. Apply heat tape or thermostat-controlled heat cables around pipes that are exposed and prone to freezing.
- Leaky doors and windows? Caulking and weather-stripping go a long way toward tightening them up and keeping out the cold air and moisture. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the potential energy savings from reducing drafts in your home may be as much as 30% per year.
- Get your water heater ready. After all, it is the workhorse of the house during winter months:
- Flush and clean your water heater (check your user’s manual or consult the manufacturer’s website for instructions)
- Check the temperature setting on your water heater's thermostat and make sure it’s set at 120°F for optimum performance.
- Carefully test the water heater's pressure relief valve (Danger: water is very hot) by lifting up on the lever and letting it snap back. The valve should allow a burst of hot water into the drainpipe. If not, call a professional to have a new valve installed. Caution: if your water heater is more than five years old and the pressure relief valve has never been tested, you can actually cause a leak by testing older valves that have corroded or stuck seals. A plumber should be consulted.
- Make sure your sump pump is ready by inspecting and cleaning it – and the pit. Pumps exposed to extreme cold can freeze, preventing it from operating.
- Going away for a few days? Shut off the main water valve and drain the system by opening faucets at the highest and lowest points of the house. Don’t turn your heat off! Make sure the heat is left on and set no lower than 55°F. (These tips are for people living in their homes during the winter months. Many additional steps should be taken to winterize vacation properties that sit empty for weeks or months at a time.)