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Winterizing An Empty Boston Home

Many American neighborhoods are experiencing a new phenomenon: empty homes. The economic downturn has increased the number of vacant properties. In some cases, a vacant property is part of a foreclosure action; in others, the owner may need to wait several months to sell a home they’ve already vacated. Winterizing a vacant Boston home is key to retaining the property’s value and keeping it in saleable condition.

Winterizing a home involves more than just shutting the water off. This post will cover how to drain a home’s plumbing system and prepare it for a long period of inactivity. You don’t need any special tools, but you will need to get some anti-freeze that’s meant for mobile homes and RVs. You can find this at department, home improvement or auto supply stores. You’ll also want to have a bucket or two handy, and rags or shop towels to mop up any spilled water. I also assume that you’ll have electricity available.

If you do not plan to heat a home for the winter, regardless of the reason, you’ll need to take steps to protect the plumbing system from freeze damage that would otherwise occur. The plumbing in your home is pressurized, so it’s important to get as much water out as possible, and avoid trapping any water anywhere in the system.

Start at the top of the house, and shut off any fixture valves to sinks, toilets and showers. Once the valves are fully closed, open the faucets and flush the toilet(s) to force water out of the fixtures. Open the shower valve to drain the shower pipe. Make sure all drains are open and flowing freely. Leave the faucets open to dry out the pipes.

When the toilet and drain fixtures have discharged all fresh water, put RV antifreeze in the toilet bowl. Completely cover the entire opening at the bottom of the bowl, where waste water exits. Do this to prevent sewer gases from escaping into the home. If the fresh water toilet tanks don’t empty completely, put a little anti-freeze in the toilet tank(s) to prevent freeze damage here. Close the toilet seat and put tape from one side of the bowl over the lid to the other side of the bowl, to indicate the toilet cannot be used as-is. Fill the sink drain(s) with enough anti-freeze to fill the S-trap. Do the same with bath or shower drains.

Once the plumbing fixtures at the highest point of the house have been drained, move to the next lower level and repeat the process. In the kitchen, run the garbage disposal (if there is one) to ensure that all organic material has been removed from the drain. Close the fresh water valves and open the faucet. Leave the faucet open to dry the pipes out. Drain any residual water that may be in a spray hose or inline water filter.

Using a bucket to catch trapped water, disconnect the dishwasher hose from the garbage disposal or drain and let any residual water drain out. You may have to turn the appliance on to engage the water pump for a minute. Don’t put anti-freeze into this system. Draining and disconnecting the appliance should be sufficient.

If the refrigerator has a built-in icemaker, you’ll need to shut off the valve to the water supply and drain the supply. Don’t put anti-freeze into this system, but do be sure it’s drained and disconnected.

In my next post, I’ll cover draining and winterizing a boiler.

Snow Could Deliver Heating Problems To Your Home

Boston dodged a bullet with last week’s snowstorms, but this week brings another opportunity to experience the joys of winter. Heavy snow can also create problems with your Boston home heating equipment. Boston Standard Plumbing does more than just take care of your pipes; we also offer full-service heating and cooling maintenance and repair services for boilers, radiators, hot-water heaters and even gas-fired heating equipment and appliances.

Here are a few tips to keep your home in good shape for the rest of the heating season. Remember, if you experience problems with your home heating, give Boston Standard Plumbing a call at (617) 288-2911.

Check your thermostat for proper operation. If you use a programmable thermostat, check the batteries to make sure they’re still in good working order. Whether or not your thermostat is programmable, don’t set the thermostat below 62°F. Your heating system will need to work much harder to bring your home back up to a comfortable temperature, and you run the risk of freezing pipes in areas of your home that are not well-heated or insulated.

If your home has radiators and you find that one area is too hot, while other areas are too cold, try adjusting the heat flow from the offending radiator, rather than adjusting the thermostat. Radiators can be noisy and difficult to work with, but when they’re properly adjusted they can keep a home quite comfortable even during the coldest months. If you have a radiator that produces no heat at all, or produces far too much heat, you may have a broken or stuck valve. The experts at Boston Standard Plumbing can help you with this kind of repair.

For gas furnaces, change the air filter monthly to ensure adequate airflow and to reduce the amount of dust and debris that circulates in the home. Choose a date on the calendar and replace your filter regularly. You can find disposable filters at any home improvement store. Inspect your filter to determine what size your furnace needs.

For high-efficiency furnaces that vent directly to the outside, it is imperative that you keep the fresh air intake and exhaust ports clear of snow, debris and ice. Improper ventilation of a high-efficiency furnace is dangerous and may also cause the furnace to shut down or operate inefficiently. Remove slush and ice build-up and avoid placing objects in front of the exhaust port. Also be sure that the fresh air intake is not recirculating exhaust back into your heating system.

If, at any time, your furnace suddenly stops working, you could have a mechanical or safety problem. Do not attempt to heat your home with a fuel-powered space heater or a generator located inside the home. These devices are meant to be used outdoors and must be properly vented to ensure your safety. If you use gas-fired appliances, install carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs rapidly and without warning.

If your home heat suddenly stops working, and you cannot determine why, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing. We can diagnose and repair all heating, cooling and plumbing problems in your Boston-area home.