How to “Winterize” Your Pipes and Prevent Damage

Rich M.
By Rich M. October 10, 2019 07:45

How to “Winterize” Your Pipes and Prevent Damage

We may be in the heat of summer, but wintertime isn’t all that far away. Before we know it, we’ll be digging out the winter coats and grabbing the snow shovels. I don’t know if time is really going faster or it just seems that way; but either way, snow and colder temperatures are coming before you know it.

Actually, the warm temperatures we’re having now are the ideal time to prepare your home for the cold weather to come. It’s a whole lot better than trying to deal with frozen pipes in the wintertime or trying to stop them from freezing before it’s too late. This is especially true for those who are seasonal residents, moving north and south as the weather changes. If they don’t winterize their pipes before heading south for the winter, they’re going to return to a very wet home.

How to “Winterize” Your Pipes and Prevent DamageFreezing weather is very dangerous for plumbing pipes because of a peculiarity of water. Alone of all the substances known to humankind, water expands when it freezes. This causes glass bottles filled with water to explode (which is part of the reason you don’t find water bottled in glass) and can cause plumbing pipes to split. In severe cases, it can destroy all of a home’s plumbing.

Protecting your pipes from this damage is an important piece of preventative maintenance, especially for those who live in the northern part of the country, where freezing weather comes early and stays late into spring.

Before you start winterizing, you need to decide what sort of winterization you need to do. Winterizing the plumbing of a home that you are living in is much different than winterizing a home that you are going to leave empty while going south for the winter.

Related: 12 Woodworking Projects for Preppers and Homesteaders

Winterizing a Home You’re Shutting Down

If you’re shutting down your home for the winter, winterizing is a fairly straightforward process. While there is a fair amount of work required, you can do it in an afternoon. Just make sure that it is the last thing you do, before vacating the home, as you won’t have any water left to use.

Follow these simple steps

#1. Close off the whole house water valve, at the point where water enters the home. If your home gets its water from a well, rather than the city, shut off the water pump.

#2. Open all the faucets inside and outside the home and allow the water to drain.

#3. If the home receives water from a well, open the drain valve on the pressurized surge tank and allow the water to drain. You may have to connect a garden hose to the valve, if there is no drain right by the tank.

#4. Shut off the hot water heater. If it is electric, shut it off at the breaker panel. If it is gas operated, shut off the gas valve attached to the tank. Verify that the pilot light goes out.

#5. Unless there is a drain near the hot water heater drain valve, connect a garden hose to the valve and run the other end to a drain, or in the case of hot water heaters above ground level, run it out the door to outside. Be careful as to where you place it, as the water coming out of the hose will be hot.

#6. Double-check that the hot water heater is turned off. Open the drain valve for the hot water heater and allow the water to drain out.

#7. Flush all toilets twice to empty the tank and then the bowl of water.

#8. If you have an air compressor available to you, use it to blow out the water lines as much as possible. This requires attaching the hose, with a blow gun, to a faucet and allowing air to blow into it. You will probably need to add some wrapping around the blow gun nozzle to seal against the sides of the faucet. Repeat this from as many faucets as you can.

#9. Pour a small amount (approx. 1/4 cup) of anti-freeze into sink and tub drains to keep the water in the traps from freezing. Do the same for toilet tanks and bowls for the water that remains.

With these steps completed, it is safe to leave your home unheated, without any risk of the plumbing pipes freezing and cracking during the winter.

Related: What You Should NEVER Do In a Real-Life Winter Power Outage

Winterizing a Home You’re Living In

Winterizing a home that you’re living in can actually be harder. The tricky part about winterizing a home that you’re living in, is making sure that you will still have water. Rather than draining out all the water, it is necessary to ensure that the water in the system will not freeze.

Follow these steps

#1. Start your winterization by inspecting your home, specifically looking for any pipes or faucets that are outside your home’s insulating layer. Keep in mind that hose bibs are almost always outside of this insulation, making them vulnerable.

#2. If your home does not have exterior hose bibs specifically designed for cold climates, replace them. Cold climate hose bibs will extend 4 to 14 inches into the home, so that their shutoff point is inside the insulating layer. If you are not familiar with soldering copper pipe, you may need a plumber to do this for you.

#3. Insulate all pipes in areas that are unheated or not adequately heated with foam insulation sleeves. Do not leave any unprotected areas, as you only need a small gap in the insulation to allow the cold to freeze the water at that point.

How to “Winterize” Your Pipes and Prevent Damage#4. In places where pipes are going through unheated areas, such as in a crawl space, attach electric heat tape to the pipes, which will keep it warm enough to prevent freezing.

Keep in mind that this heat tape will stop working, if the power goes out.

#5. Seal all cracks in the home’s exterior, which would allow cold air to enter, with caulking, caulk rope or expanding foam insulation.

#6. Maintain the temperature inside the home high enough to prevent freezing. In the event of a power outage where the interior temperature drops down close to freezing, open all faucets slightly, so that water is dripping. This small flow of water will help prevent freezing.

With your plumbing winterized in this manner, your home is safe for living in all winter, without any risk of your pipes freezing and cracking, unless you lose the heat in the home.

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Rich M.
By Rich M. October 10, 2019 07:45
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  1. Illini Warrior October 10, 12:51

    In regard to shutting off the municipality supplied water – should be a “buffalo box” valve at the entrance to your property – access by a long reach valve key >>> could prevent the freeze up of the underground mainline supply pipe – also would prevent someone from flooding your home …

    “antifreeze” mentioned for treating the various sink traps and toilets >>> for environmental concerns “RV” antifreeze should be used if possible ….

    Reply to this comment
  2. Slopok October 10, 12:56

    If your heating system in the home you are shutting down uses water in any form, be it steam or forced hot water/baseboards, you also want to make sure that these systems are drained at the lowest point.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Wannabe October 10, 14:07

    Yep, those Texas winters are brutal. Getting on this right now. Lol

    Reply to this comment
    • johnny3 October 25, 01:31

      In passing through Amarillo during the winter-time, I’ve many times been told that the only thing that stands between Amarillo and the North Pole, is “bob-war” fence!!!

      Reply to this comment
      • red October 25, 02:16

        Having been thru the panhandle a great many times, I agree. But, it does make it easy to tell the seasons. Half the year, snow and sand blow in from the north, rest of the year, sand and smoke from range fires come up from the south. It the only place I’ve ever driven truck where when you trailer sticks out at right angles, it’s considered normal. Now you know why Texas Longhorn cattle are so skinny. It makes the wind resistant. In the event of a Texas zephyr (AKA tornado) they stick their horns in the dirt and it misses them. niio

        Reply to this comment
  4. Randman October 10, 15:50

    You can purchase an adapter hose as I did that plugs into the compressor and screws onto your washer and dryer hookups. you can force air through the hot and cold lines from one spot. Always a good idea to use RV antifreeze in the traps, toilet and tank. I leave all of my faucets open during this time to equalize pressure between the warm and cold parts of the months. If you plan on going to your camp during the winter months, fill up a 55 gal drum with water before you winterize and whatever RV antifreeze you have left dump into the barrel so you have water to flush the toilet when you visit if you need to go. Just replace the antifreeze in the bowl when you leave.

    Reply to this comment
  5. left coast chuck October 10, 19:15

    When my son was stationed at NAS Pensacola, he and his wife went away for a week on a trip. While they were gone Pensacola FL had a hard freeze. Apparently that area has weather much like SoCal. Our town had snow once — in 1947! The pipes froze, of course, because they weren’t insulated. They also happened to be located overhead in the overhead crawl space. When the temperature warmed up, before my son and his wife returned, the burst pipes, of course, leaked. Nobody was at home to turn the water off. You can imagine the mess that greeted them when they returned.

    Reply to this comment
    • IvyMike October 11, 00:19

      We have those surprise freezes in Texas, too. The north wall of my home is wet so I have to be sure and leave the bathroom cabinet doors open or the pipes freeze. That’s some pretty easy preppin’ just opening some little doors.
      Now, out on your Left Coast, they are cutting power to millions of people because of infrastructure problems, because the power transmission lines can’t take the wind. Talk about prepping for this and prepping for that, several million people going a week or two with the grid completely down? Bound to kill more people and cost more than the average wild fire. This is being lightly covered out here to the right of you, in the rest of the country. What are people saying in Califas?

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck October 11, 03:44

        There are lots of loud allegations about corruption on the California Public Utilities Commission, but no indictments.
        That isn’t so difficult to understand inasmuch as the CA A.G. is a democrat and all the members of the PUC are all democrats – funny how that works. I don’t know whether there is corruption or not, but the major players in CA as far as electric goes are Pacific Gas & Electric in NorCal and SoCal Edison in SoCal. Some cities such as LA and San Diego have their own utility companies. I don’t know about San Diego, but LA utility department is loaded with non-workers getting exponentially high wages even if they were working.

        The big problem is that both of those giant utility companies have put off repairs to their infrastructure for decades. Well, duhhh!!! Yeah, there aren’t any moving parts to an electric line but baking in the SoCal summers doesn’t help insulation very much. Then when the winds come, the lines snap. Well, golly gee! Whodda thunk? Couple that with the fact that fire departments are strongly unmotivated to do preventative burns, together with more and more folks building further and further out and you get what CA has had for the past several years.

        Our local fire department burned a grand total of 37acres of weeds this past year. Wow! What a big help that was when one considers that our town backs up to several thousand acres of scrub land that just abounds with all kinds of highly flammable weeds — excuse me, native growth.

        There are several problems with the fire department burning off weeds in the springtime just after the rainy season. The first problem is the complaints from the tree huggers complaining about despoiling the native vegetation. What they don’t seem to be able to grasp is that CA native vegetation evolved over centuries to yearly burning to thrive. Manzanita, a low growing tree in CA, seeds won’t sprout until they have been burned in a brush fire. The Indians knew that. They burned off the hills every winter. When John Muir first visited Yosemite Vally there were no trees in the valley. It was a lush grassland. The indians burned off Yosemite Valley every winter for two reasons. The first was that deer grew larger and fatter with new grass and secondly, it was easier to spot the deer in the valley with just grass rather than a bunch of trees that they could hide behind.

        The second reason that fire departments are reluctant to burn off weeds in the winter is the smoke. You can’t believe all the complaints they get from folks who suffer from some sort of respiratory ailment. Apparently 99% of Californicators suffer from some sort of respiratory ailment that is grossly aggravated by the smoke from burning weeds at a time when it is safe as opposed to burning their homes in the fall.

        AND thirdly, the firemen burn weeds on regular time when they could be playing cribbage in the station house. In a fire situation, they are on overtime as soon as they go over eight hours. Did you ever wonder why fire trucks from Eureka come to SoCal to fight fires? Because the clock starts as soon as they report to the station house. The whole time they are driving the length of CA the clock is ticking. By the time they arrive in San Diego the overtime clock is fully engaged. They get overtime until they report back and are relieved of duty back in Eureka.

        Now what would you rather do, burn weeds, get a bunch of bitches when you get back to the station house, all on regular time or get overtime, hot sandwiches, hot chocolate, coffee, accolades and attaboys from home owners when fighting a fire? It doesn’t take a PhD psychologist to figure that out.

        Our town is one of the ones that might get the plug pulled. I am going to be able to test my short term preps if that happens. As with the bug out two years ago, it will be a good test to see if I have things covered. The only problem is how long the juice will remain off. The official SCE site says it may take them five days to get everybody back on line. That says to me that some folks will be lucky to see the lights come back on 15 days after the “emergency” is over. Of course, by that time we well may have another santana wind which will require keeping the juice off for another 15 days. For a state that is supposed to have a GPI in the top five or six countries in the world we are more like some third rate, third world country. Off the top of my head, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are the only ones that have worse infrastructure. They, at least, have a good excuse. We have been bombing them on a daily basis.

        Well, Mike, I could rant on for another hour or two. The question in my mind is what is the real motive behind these power shutdowns? Just because I am paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t some sinister scheme being plotted deep in Sacramento.

        For our illegal citizens it’s just like home. Yes I said “citizens”. They get free medical care. They get free education up to and including college level. There is an effort in Sacramento to give them the vote. They get drivers licenses so they can conduct business in the state. They can get professional licenses. We have illegal immigrant lawyers. I don’t know if we have any illegal immigrant doctors yet and so far we haven’t elected one to a public office that I know of. I don’t know how that works. Lawyers before being admitted to the bar have to swear an oath that they will uphold the laws of the State of California and of the United States yet they are here in contravention of at least the federal laws.

        I gotta quit or I could go on all night long.

        To more directly answer your question, I don’t think it has sunk in. I offered to buy dry ice for the lady across the street when I made my dry ice run this morning. She declined, saying she would be okay. The clerk in the store wondered why I was buying so much dry ice. When I mentioned the electricity being out she looked puzzled. I don’t think anyone realizes that traffic signals won’t work. Stores won’t be open. Cops and fire departments will be frazzled. Restaurants will be closed. No stopping off at Mickey D’s for quick burger. Hopefully the city in the intervening two years since they found out that their emergency generators and pumps didn’t work, have fixed that problem, otherwise there won’t be any water. I hope the sewer plant has back up generators that work, otherwise the toilets won’t work. I think very few people have any kind of concept what NO ELECTRICITY really means.

        Fortunately it won’t be the same as if it were an EMP because we can always drive up the road to Santa Maria or San Luis Opispo, two to two and a half hours away and get groceries and other necessities and perhaps rent a room for showers and other activities if push comes to shove. AND, probably pay exorbitant prices for same.

        Hey, how would you like to swap a house that sells for 3/4 of a million dollars just a couple of miles from the Pacific Ocean for that hovel you live in in Texas with its swampy walls? Straight across the board, quit claim for quit claim.

        Reply to this comment
        • The Ohio Prepper October 11, 20:49

          left coast chuck,
          Come on, don’t hold back. Tell us what you really think. LOL

          how would you like to swap a house that sells for 3/4 of a million dollars just a couple of miles from the Pacific Ocean for that hovel you live in in Texas with its swampy walls? Straight across the board, quit claim for quit claim.

          You forgot to add Taxes for Taxes.

          Reply to this comment
        • red October 11, 21:58

          Forget it. You stay in Kali-wonderland if you like. But, do not stop posting! When Davis was screwing all of you, a lot of out-of-state power companies planned to stop selling to Kali. A brother and sister-in-law have a nice place in Malibu, but are going to sell it and move to her family farm in Belize. Those people know prepping like we used to. He said he’d rather deal with Guatemalan soldiers sneaking over the border to raid then Kali politics. He used to think Penna was screwy, then he moved to Kali. I wish you all the best, always. You’re the lone voice in the political wilderness. Keep us informed because as Kali goes, so goes the DNC neonazis. niio

          Reply to this comment
        • IvyMike October 12, 00:07

          Thanks so much for your extensive comments, for some reason we don’t get much information out of the West Coast. The typical TV news story is film of some fire and a few people crying. There are so many whose medical conditions depend on electricity, and i can’t imagine all the loss to all the small shops with freezers and refrigerators and all the food spoiling. And then, here come the fires anyway…

          Reply to this comment
  6. Blockade Runner October 11, 00:58

    I use a pressure release valve from I used them on my boat at first. They worked great. Installed them at the house and hunting cabinet.

    Reply to this comment
  7. red October 11, 02:53

    Good advice, thank you. The only problem I had with something like that was in Penna, when living in a trailer. We got deep snow, then deep cold and strong winds, and hot water to the bathroom stopped but not the cold. After a winter of ice showers, the ice and snow melted enough to get under the trailer. heating tape was fine. Pipes were fine. Started to check in the trailer. The person we bought the trailer from had run the hot water line under the carpets, along the wall, then glued the carpet in place. I found where someone had dropped or place something heavy on the 1/4 inch copper line and flattened it. Such is life. I’m sure all those cold showers were good for the soul. niio

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck October 11, 03:51

      I had a commanding officer who, at one point in his career, had made the march down from the reservoir in Korea. His favorite saying was, “You don’t have to practice to be miserable. You can be perfectly miserable the very first time.”

      If it was his choice, he would not take the troops out for field work in bad weather. Another of his sayings was, “The only thing you practice in a field maneuver in bad weather is getting in out of bad weather. I don’t want to waste good Marine Corps training funds teaching you yahoos what your mothers should have taught you when you were five years old.”

      Cold showers fall in that category in my opinion. You probably realized you didn’t like them within the first 30 seconds of the very first cold shower. It didn’t take a whole winter of cold showers to convince you that you could live the rest of your life without 33° showers.

      Reply to this comment
      • red October 11, 22:11

        Nah, while I hated cold showers, better that than BO (no reference to past presidents 🙂 When a kid, we would go down to the river in February (during a warm spell) and break the ice to claim we went swimming before anyone else. One jump in then out and you were already numb. You got dried off immediately and put your clothes back on. We did a lot of winter camping (teenage boys are all masochists 🙂 and usually spent deer season in the woods, in a brush shelter covered with leaves and teaberry sod.

        Last shack I lived in, in Penna, my stepson didn’t pay the gas bill. Cold showers when I couldn’t get to the Y. Made up for it by spending a lot of time in the sauna. That took the chill out of the bones, and I had a healthier winter than most.

        Wanted to add, the ancestors up in the northeast would move town from time to time. A few years prior, the counsel would decide where to move to. In winter, when there was a lot of snow, but not yet frigid, men would snowshoe to the area and set fires to burn off the old-growth forest. This cleared out diseased and dying trees that choked out undergrowth. About the only thing to make a living in such forests are some birds. Within two years, the white tail deer herd was booming and so was everything else. If old-growth forests are the lungs of the world, as neolibs claim, they’re asthmatic. They produce as much CO2 as oxygen because plants cannot survive without CO2. When some loonie confronts me on this, I asked them a question that confuses the uneducated: If there’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere, why do greenhouse operators need to buy dry ice? No CO2, no plants. thank you for your post, it was another great! 🙂 niio

        Reply to this comment
        • IvyMike October 12, 00:00

          We used to go winter swimming when I was a kid. No ice in the lake in January, and a 30 degree day in January with the sun out and no wind, jump in the water naked then sit out on the rocks feeling all golden in the sun. I will always be in awe of people who live close to nature (close to the edge) up north in the snow.

          Reply to this comment
          • red October 12, 05:12

            Personally, I think they must be a little crazy. But then, I used to live in a state where you got ice fogs for 6 weeks each fall and spring, and sleet and snow the rest of the winter. Spring there is heralded not by swallows, but Nor’easter storms, North Atlantic hurricanes which can dump 5 feet of snow like nobody’s business. And you’re still expected to get to work. Penn State with the help of Manchester U, UK, developed the global cooling/warming scam, and made millions on it. Up there, always carry winter clothes because in summer, it can get chilly at night. Do you like N. Night Shyamalan’s movies? He does Horror with a weird twist. He was raised in Philly, and said eastern Penna is a natural for nutty films. After all, the original story on Jason was filmed at Fairview asylum for the criminally insane, and Crystal Lake, both in north Pocono Mtns (or as injuns call them, the Demon lands 🙂 Too much winter will do that to ya. niio

            Reply to this comment
  8. The Ohio Prepper October 11, 21:03

    Winterizing a Home You’re Living In

    #1. Start your winterization by inspecting your home, specifically looking for any pipes or faucets that are outside your home’s insulating layer. Keep in mind that hose bibs are almost always outside of this insulation, making them vulnerable.

    That’s why we eliminated hose bibs and replaced them with hydrants, the valves of which are in the ground below the frost line.

    #2. If you are not familiar with soldering copper pipe, you may need a plumber to do this for you.

    I replaced nearly all of our copper pipes about 15 years ago and upgraded most to ¾ inch. For an extra 50-75 cents each you can get valves with drain caps, allowing the entire system to be opened. No reason to skimp.

    #3. Insulate all pipes in areas that are unheated or not adequately heated with foam insulation sleeves. Do not leave any unprotected areas, as you only need a small gap in the insulation to allow the cold to freeze the water at that point.

    That was something we did as soon as we purchased this property.
    One final thing. Since nearly all of our plumbing runs inside the joists of the basement ceiling, I wired extra sockets for lighting and use only incandescent bulbs. On really cold days & nights, we simply turn on the basement lights, and a warm layer of air appears right where the pipes all reside. We haven’t had any problem since we started this practice.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Sherry October 14, 13:55

    I use bubble wrap around our outside pipes, south Texas does not get near as cold as northern states, our snow is usually blowing caliche dirt

    Reply to this comment
    • The Ohio Prepper October 18, 01:46

      Bubble wrap or even layers of cardboard works fine. You can use anything to insulate the pipes from the cold air.
      Running the water on occasion warms up the inside of the pipe and the insulation holds in the heat and keeps things from freezing.

      Reply to this comment
  10. Martin October 22, 06:56

    Consider the use of PEX piping plumbing materials. It can be used side by side with copper tubing and can be mixed and matched however needed. Combining a couple of 8 foot lengths of PEX and a couple SharkBite type connectors provides a decent repair kit without ever needing to solder copper tubing. Just cut out the bad copper piping and replace it by simply pushing one SharkBite connector onto one end of the freshly cut copper tubing and then pushing the PEX into the other end of the SharkBite connector. Cut the other end of the PEX to length and repeat the connection on the other side to put you back in business. A connection that might take an hour to do can literally be done in seconds. No torch…no flux to worry about or tight spots to solder around. It is literally as simple as pushing the copper and the PEX into the SharkBite connector to become leak free.

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