Top Tips To Winterize Your Home & Prevent Damage

woman fixing a leaky pipeIf you are a homeowner, it is critical to winterize your home’s water system before the temperature drops to help ensure a winter season free from frozen pipes and potential water damage.

The following paragraphs will help safeguard your water pipes against freezing weather. If you do not understand how your water system is set up, a licensed plumber can help you identify what you need to know to prepare for winter.

Icicles Coming Through The Siding

Before we dive too deep into our tips to winterize your home and prevent damage, we’d like to tell a quick story about a McMahon client. It was summer, and no one was thinking about frozen pipes.

But one customer of ours was not enjoying their summer home just yet because of an incident that occurred in January. As you read into this situation, ask yourself if you’ve got the right coverage…

So what happened?

It was 4:00 am during the first week of January 2018. Michael McMahon was awoken by a text message from a local Ocean City police officer.

The text read, “You insure this property, right? Call owner ASAP”.

The officer is a friend of Michael’s and had noticed icicles hanging in the front of the home, coming through the siding.

By 7:00 am Michael had contacted the homeowner, who was on his way to work. The homeowner took an unplanned detour to Ocean City to see the damage for himself.

Unfortunately, the worst had happened. A water pipe in the kitchen of a 2nd-floor unit had burst.

70 percent of the home had to be gutted. This burst pipe caused $300,000 in damages and the homeowners hoped to be back in by July 4th.

Pipes That Freeze Most Frequently

So you know what can happen in a worst-case scenario… and it doesn’t even need to be winter for you to suffer from damages!

Water expands as it freezes and puts significant pressure on the metal or plastic pipes that hold it. Pipes that are exposed to extreme cold, including those outdoors and along the exterior walls of your home, can burst when water expands and may need extra protection during winter months.

It’s important you know which types of pipes freeze most often so you can prepare accordingly, year-round. They are:

  • Pipes exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, hookups and faucets, swimming pool supply lines, and water/lawn sprinkler lines.
  • Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets.
  • Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

Now that you know what pipes are at risk, it’s time to learn how to prevent damages.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

One of the messiest and most costly homeowner repairs is fixing a burst frozen pipe. If you turn on a faucet and no water or only a trickle comes out, your pipes may be frozen. Turn off the main water valve and keep the faucet on.

Apply heat to the pipe by using an electric heating pad, hairdryer or portable space heater, or by wrapping the pipe in towels soaked in hot water. You should apply heat until you regain water pressure.

Water from a burst pipe can cause damage to carpeting, short out electrical appliances and ruin furniture. Luckily, there are several other recommendations that offer some security against these nightmares:

Before Winter

  • Check your home for areas where water pipes are located in unheated or poorly insulated areas. Be sure to check your basement, attic, crawl space, garage and within cabinets containing plumbing. Hot and cold water pipes should both be insulated in unheated interior areas to help prevent freezing.
  • Products such as pipe sleeves or UL-listed heat tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables can help insulate or warm exposed water pipes.
  • Disconnect and shut off outdoor hoses and faucets. Allow the excess water to drain out.
  • Seal any leaks with caulk or insulation.

During Winter

  • For pipes that are at risk of freezing (both hot and cold water pipes) trickle a little water out of your faucets periodically to keep water moving within the pipes. Close inside valves supplying water to outdoor faucets and hookups.
  • Open outdoor faucets to allow residual water to drain; be sure to keep them open during the cold weather months, while the water supply is turned off.
  • Do not set your thermostat lower than 55° F when going on vacation. Ask someone to periodically check the temperature in your home while you are away.
  • Keep garage doors closed to help protect water pipes in the garage.
  • Open the doors on cabinets where plumbing is located. This can help allow warmer air to circulate around the pipes.

If these do not solve the problem, contact a licensed plumber to inspect your pipes.

Common Questions About Home Water System Winterizing

As Claims Manager, Michael McMahon witnesses many damaged properties.

Over the years, multiple shore towns report claims in excess of $250,000 from water pipes that run through unconditioned spaces like outside walls and attics. Here’s one example:

A pipe from the hot water heater on the top floor of a 3.5 story single family home froze and burst. The water ran for a week before someone driving noticed it by someone driving by. The water ran throughout each level of the property. The home ended up with losses totaling around $300,000. After months of construction, the homeowners were finally back in, just in time for 4th of July.

Many people ask us the following questions. Here’s how we answer them:

Should I Turn Off My Water Heater When It’s Not in Use?

Instead of turning off your water heater, do this…

If you’re going on vacation (shorter than 12 days), turn your water heater thermostat down or to “vacation” mode.

By turning the thermostat down or to “vacation” (an option on some newer models), you can lower the amount of electricity/gas that your model will consume while you’re gone. Most newer water heater models have this vacation option, usually labeled as “VAC” on the thermostat.

Typically, the “VAC” mode will reduce the water temperature to 50° F so that your water heater doesn’t work as hard as it does in normal operation (when it’s constantly keeping water heated to 120-130°F). But this mode also keeps the water relatively warm so that your unit doesn’t overwork itself when you turn the unit back on.

You can also lower the output temperature on your water heater thermostat to anywhere from 50–70° if you don’t see a “VAC” option. This will achieve the same results as the vacation mode.

Should I Turn Off the Water Heater if Water is Off?

There isn’t one simple answer to this. The true answer is, it depends on some scenarios, such as if your water tank is empty vs full and electric vs gas.

Some people will turn off the electric water heater and turn off the water to the house, flush the toilets, and flip all the breakers (except the one to the fridge) when leaving for 2-3 months.

However, other people will turn down the gas water heater to vacation mode and leave the pilot burner running and leave the water turned on. Then have someone check on the house regularly for issues. The water heater and the house heater together keep the garage warm and the house pipes warm so no freezing occurs.

How Can I Prevent Losses?

In short, we recommend having a professional plumber winterize your house to prevent any unforeseen damages.

Additional loss prevention tips include:

  • Hire a property watch company or have a friend or neighbor regularly check on your property if you’re going away.
  • Install smart thermometers to adjust temperatures remotely in times of high winds and low temps.
  • Install cameras to monitor the interior of your property remotely.
  • Install an automatic water shut off like Flologic or another shut-off sensor to notify you of an issue.

Last, but not least, we recommend having the right insurance coverage in place in case unforeseen happens. If you have questions about your coverage, or would like to add a policy before it’s too late, contact us today.

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