Angie’s List: Preparing your plumbing for winter
In mid-October, you may still enjoy warm weather and light-jacket days. But cold temperatures will arrive faster than you expect. Take precautions now to ensure your pipes and water supply remain in good order throughout the winter.
If you have leaking pipes or faucets, hire a plumber now to fix the problem. Leaks in moderate weather become much bigger problems once temperatures drop below freezing.
Prepare your pipes with insulation, which provides the first line of defense against freezing. Insulation tubes from a hardware store should provide effective protection. Pay particular attention to pipes in unheated areas, those that have frozen in previous winters and pipes that have been repaired in the past year.
If your outdoor water faucets have a separate shut-off valve, close the valve, open the spigots to drain the lines and leave them open until spring. If your faucets have a back-flow prevention device, be sure to disconnect it so that the water drains from the line.
Fill any exterior cracks or holes with spray foam insulation and caulking. Do the same with openings around outdoor faucets or hose bibs. This blocks cold air from coming in along the pipes, and it saves energy at the same time.
PREPARING YOUR VACATION HOME
If you spend your winters in a different home, make sure you prepare the home you leave behind for bad weather. Vacation homes can suffer major damage if a frozen pipe springs a leak; you might not notice the water damage for months.
A burst main water line can wreak havoc when left unattended for months at a time. To prevent this from happening, turn off the water meter yourself using the meter key, or hire a plumber to do so properly. Open all of your faucets and valves to drain the pipes. Then, turn off the water using the shut-off valve inside your house and leave the faucets open.
Water can hide out in plumbing fixtures, so be sure to address those. Disconnect and drain your washing machine hoses and dishwasher drain lines. Drain all spray attachments and shower heads. Turn off the water heater and drain the tank entirely. Finally, flush your toilets and remove excess water from tanks and bowls.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE PIPES FREEZE
Despite your best efforts, you may end up with frozen pipes anyway, so have a plan in mind for that event. First, close the main shutoff valve to prevent any leaks. Then find the source of the freeze. If one or two faucets don’t work, the freeze is between the split from the main line. If none work, it’s near the main water line. To thaw a pipe, Wrap the pipe in a towel doused with hot water, or warm it with a hair dryer on the lowest setting. Never use a flame.
Keep your plumber’s emergency contact info handy in case you run into a problem you can’t handle alone.
Winter is also a good time to review your emergency kit, which should contain (among other things) one gallon of water per person per day in the event of emergency or loss of water supply.
Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.