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.