Winterizing The Plumbing In Your Boston Home, Part I

If you plan to vacate your home during the winter for any length of time, you should consider winterizing the plumbing system. If you plan to turn the heat off, this is a must-do! Winterizing the plumbing in your Boston home will protect the plumbing from significant damage that can occur in an unheated structure.

In elementary school, we’re taught that water expands when it freezes. This same expansion occurs to water that freezes while it is trapped in pipes in an unheated home. The expansion can do incredible damage to the pipes; most vulnerable are joints and valves in the pipes. When the frozen water thaws, it will leak from damaged areas of the pipe, causing additional water damage to the structure. It will also promote the growth of mold and mildew in the home.

Does this mean you shouldn’t turn the heat down in your home if you’re planning to go away for a lengthy period of time? You can still turn your heat down (or even off altogether) as long as you take steps to protect the plumbing while you’re away.

If you plan to be gone only a week or two, turn your thermostat down to about 50°F. Insulating water pipes can also help protect them from the cold. Pay special attention to pipes in unheated spaces like basements, crawl spaces and around garages. Turn off the water to any outside plumbing (like outdoor faucets and sprinkler systems) and drain these fixtures completely.

If you plan to be gone for a substantial length of time or you’re vacating the home and don’t plan to return, you should drain your plumbing system altogether. To do this, turn off your main water shutoff valve, located near your water meter. Open all taps to allow them to drain. Leave at least one tap open at the highest point in the plumbing system. This will speed the process of draining the pipes by allowing air to enter the system easily.

Don’t’ forget to open any taps you may have in the basement of your home. Flush all toilets to empty them. Drain any standing water you may find in the base of your dishwasher. Turn on all showers. Turn off the icemaker in your freezer, if you have one and drain the water out of the supply line. Turn off the gas or electricity to the hot water heater and drain the tank. Most hot water heaters have a cleaning valve that you can use to drain the tank.

Sometimes, these cleaning valves are threaded to accept a garden hose. You can use this to drain the tank into a sump well or floor drain. Otherwise, you’ll need to drain the tank into a bucket or other container and “bail” the tank until it’s empty. Draining a hot water tank this way can take upwards of an hour, depending upon the size of the tank.

A note: before you repressurize the system, consider performing maintenance on your hot water heater’s sacrificial anode. Since the hot water tank is already empty, this is the ideal time to consider maintenance of this type. Boston Standard Plumbing can help with replacing your hot water heater’s sacrificial anode(s).

Check back next week for the rest of our advice on winterizing your plumbing.