How to Winterize Your Home’s Plumbing Before the Winter Freeze

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“Winterize house” may not be the first thing on your to-do list at the arrival of fall. Hey, it’s still 90 degrees outside and you won’t need a jacket for several weeks, right?

Reality check: now actually is the best time to get started on winterizing your home’s plumbing system. There is a lot to consider, and you won’t be able to get it all done in a day or two. Before you know it, those soothing fall breezes will turn into pipe-bursting winter winds.

How cold will this winter be? Depends on whom you ask. The long-range forecast by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls for a milder than normal winter, based on a 70 percent chance of warm El Niño winds.

Farmers’ Almanac Advises to Winterize

FarmerThis Farmers’ Almanac image shows the publication’s prediction for teeth-chattering cold in store for the US for winter 2018-2019.s_Almanac_201802019 Winter Forecast

The venerable Farmers’ Almanac has a different, more sobering projection. Editor Peter Geiger isn’t pumping sunshine, and he definitely isn’t put off by the likes of “newcomers” such as NOAA. The Almanac has a 200-year history of producing uncannily accurate long-range weather forecasts.

Geiger said, “Contrary to the stories storming the web, our time-tested, long-range formula is pointing toward a very long, cold, and snow-filled winter. We stand by our forecast and formula, which accurately predicted the many storms last winter, as well as this summer’s steamy, hot conditions.”

Either Way, this Winter Will Bring Cold

No matter which forecast you trust, keep winterizing at the top of your list. Forecasting weather is scientific, but famously imprecise; forecasts can change rapidly. Start to winterize your home’s plumbing now, with these tips from billyGO.

Winterizing Your Home’s Plumbing

As you prepare for winter, don’t overlook fall, which is the busiest time of year for plumbers across the United States. As families settle back into the regular school and work routine, we spend more time inside cooking, enjoying fireplaces, taking hotter showers, and running appliances.

The increased activity puts more stress on plumbing systems heading into winter, exposing vulnerabilities that must be addressed by winterizing. Here are some classic plumbing problems you should take steps to head off now.

Clogged Drains – Plumbers get more requests to fix clogged drains in the fall than any other season. If you have one sink or clogged drain line, it’s a safe bet the problem is isolated and can be fixed quickly, by you or a plumber.

If more than one sink or drain line is slow or stopped up, you may have a partially- or fully-clogged sewer line. Get a professional plumber for this, as fixing it may call for specialized equipment. Technicians can inspect visually with a fiber optic plumber’s camera inserted into the drain line to see exactly what they’re dealing with.

Water Leaks – Leaking pipes and freezing weather make for a worst-of-all-worlds scenario. Leaking joints or pinhole-size ruptures in plumbing lines can freeze up and cause significant damage, especially by flooding when they thaw. Often, a water leak is not evident, other than in the form of higher water bills or running water sounds in walls when no tap is open. Get more information about water leak detection here.

Gas Leaks – Natural gas leaks are extremely dangerous because even a small spark – such as static electricity – can cause a powerful explosion in an enclosed space. If you smell gas anywhere in or around your home, call for service immediately. This requires a licensed plumber. You can call the gas company first, but if they detect a leak they will shut off your gas and tell you to call a plumber. Open doors and windows to keep gas from building up inside and stay with friends or relatives nearby until the plumber arrives.   

This image shows a man applying tubular foam insulation to winterize exposed plumbing lines in an uninsulated wall.Insulate exposed water lines – Check to see that water lines in crawl spaces, attics, garages, sheds and other exposed areas are wrapped with insulating foam, as shown in this image. It’s available at most hardware stores.

Hoses and Outdoor Faucets – When you’re finished using garden hoses and outdoor faucets for the season, disconnect and drain the hoses by unrolling them and re-winding them. Store inside. Do Not leave hoses connected to faucets in freezing weather.

If an outdoor faucet won’t shut off completely, it may only need a new washer, but in some cases the hosebib (plumber-speak for outdoor faucet assembly) must be replaced. That is a job for a plumber. If you do it yourself you risk causing a water leak inside the wall, which requires cutting through the wall from the inside to repair it. Cover the faucet with a foam insulator, also available at hardware stores.

Irrigation System – In warmer climates, many people don’t bother to blow the water from their sprinkler systems to winterize them because most freezes there are not deep or prolonged. If you follow the advice of the Farmers’ Almanac this year, you will want to do it. A plumber or irrigation specialist can do the job quickly and guarantee their work.

Water Heater Maintenance – Most of us treat water heaters as “out of sight, out of mind” until the day they fail to work. Then they demand our undivided attention. Regular water heater maintenance is the best way to prevent problems and prolong the life of your storage tank or tankless water heater. There are some things you can handle DIY, such as draining the tank of sediment, but others are best left to a plumber, such as fixing or replacing the pressure shutoff valve.

A malfunctioning pop-off valve can cause the tank to explode, causing possible structural and water damage to your home. If your heater isn’t getting the water hot enough, or if you hear it making noises, or the pilot light won’t stay lit, have it checked out by a pro. For more symptoms and information about water heater repair, see this page. Fall is the best time to make sure your water heater is healthy and ready for its winter workout.

Sump Pump – If your home is built on a slab it will not have a sump pump. Not all homes with basements have sump pumps, but homes with basements where the water level is above the basement level will have them to pump excess water away from the house and keep basements from flooding.

Because the sump pump is located in a basement, it should be safe from freezing. However, the discharge line, which carries water away from the house, should be insulated. The discharge pipe termination point must be kept clear of ice and other obstructions, too. Any blockage of the discharge pipe will cause water to back up and flood your basement.

Well Water Pumps – Make certain your water pump is well insulated, especially if it is housed in an uninsulated shed or box. Have a heat lamp ready for those extra cold days for added protection.

Water Shutoff Valve – Locate the shutoff valve for your home so you can shut off the water supply to the house in event of a broken pipe or connection. Some homes have shutoff valves in the garage or basement. Homes built on slabs may have the shutoff valve underground outside, covered by a metal or plastic cover.

Caution: if you have not used the emergency shutoff or had it serviced recently, have a plumber do it now. These valves can develop plaque buildups that make it impossible to turn the handle. If you force it, you may break it. The alternative is to shut off the water at the water meter. In most cases, these are underground, too. They require a wrench to turn them, so have one ready. Have a plumber show you the location when you have your shutoff valve serviced, just in case.

Start to winterize your home’s plumbing system now so you’ll never waste a minute worrying about your family’s safety and comfort this winter.