The Definitive List of Winter Plumbing Tips
Winter is coming, and it’s approaching fast! Forgetting about winterizing your home and plumbing system can lead to discomfort and a lot of avoidable costs! If you don’t want unnecessary expenses this Christmas, then follow this list of tips for preparing your plumbing for winter.
What You Should Know About Your Plumbing Before Winter
Anybody who sleeps with a roof over their head should take a few minutes and familiarize themselves with the plumbing system and fixtures in their homes. Scrambling to find the water shutoff in an emergency is a nightmare that can cost you big-time.
1. Locate your water main. A water main is a valve with a handle that allows you to disable all of the waterlines in your home. You’ll usually find your water main in your basement on the street-side near where the water pipe enters the foundation, but sometimes your home’s main water shutoff valve is on an outside wall in a utility area or a crawl-space.
It’s a good idea to show your family where the shutoff valve is so that they can save the day if you’re away.
2. Find the individual cut-off valves in your home. Many fixtures in your home that use water are likely to have independent water shutoff valves. These valves are often under sinks, beside toilets, near washing machines, and in closets near showers and baths. These fixtures won’t have shutoff valves in every home but are very common.
3. Locate the water shutoff valve for your water heater on the cold inlet pipes. All water heaters are supposed to have a shutoff valve if you don’t have one – John The Plumber can help!
4. Take a tour around your basement and locate the waterlines and sewers. Your sewer lines have a much bigger diameter than your water lines, approximately four inches in diameter with a screw cap on the top.
Note that some homes also have a sewer cleanout, which is a fail-safe to help prevent and solve sewer issues. It’s a capped pipe located on your property line or near it, which connects to the lateral sewer line.
5. While searching through your home, keep an eye out for signs of leaks. Leaks can sneak up on you and sometimes they go unnoticed for far too long. These signs can be wet spots or water damage, mold and mildew, cracks in the foundation, the sound of running water, wet or damp areas on the floor, walls and ceilings, unpleasant odours, or even low water pressure.
6. Inspect your home for drafts and air leaks. A stick of incense or a smoke pencil can help. Hold your choice near windows, doorways, structural joints, outlets, and underneath cabinets, and watch the smoke. If it catches a draft, it shouldn’t be hard to find!
7. Check in the attic to see if and where pipes are located. Also look for any evidence of water, especially around the chimney, vents, or any other opening.
8. It’s a good idea to have your furnace professionally inspected and serviced annually. Make sure to change your furnace filter before the winter season!
How to Winterize Your Outdoor Plumbing
Your outdoor plumbing is likely connected to a water supply within your home. Cold can travel through the outdoor fixtures into your waterlines, causing them to freeze and wreak havoc inside your home. Taking a little time and spending a little money can save you thousands of dollars by preventing catastrophic damage and floods.
1. Shut-off the interior water valve for your outdoor faucets.
2. Open your outdoor spigot to drain the water in the line.
3. Disconnect your hose, drain it, and store it somewhere safe.
Water in the lines can freeze, leading to damaged and burst pipes.
4. Protect your outdoor faucet from freezing with a Hose Bib Cover. Hose Bib Covers, aka Outdoor Faucet Covers or Faucet Protectors, are an inexpensive way to protect your faucet, along with the pipes indoors, which can ultimately save your basement from flooding.
Consider Upgrading your Outdoor Faucets to Frost-Free Hose Bibs!
5. Shutoff and drain your sprinklers, any outdoor sinks (like barbecue sinks or garden sinks) and showers, and any other outdoor plumbing fixtures that have waterlines and drains. Consider having a professional blow out any remaining water, to add additional protection. Once again, cover these fixtures with insulated covers when possible.
How to Keep the Cold out of Your Home During Winter
During the Fall season, most homeowners will notice bugs and other pests making their way into the warmth of their homes. If bugs can find a way in, cold can too! Look for openings and drafts, and block them!
1. Seal openings around rim joists using expandable foam. Most houses have cavities at the top of the foundational wall. Fiberglass insulation is often stuffed into these cavities to block airflow. Cold air will get by the insulation at the edges, lowering the temperature inside your home. Expandable foam is an inexpensive way to seal around these gaps and openings.
Dirty insulation indicates that wind has carried particles into the insulation, showing that air is entering your home from outside.
2. Inspect for holes in the foundation where cables or pipes enter your home. Add additional insulation where necessary.
3. Seal drafts with caulk or expandable foam. Burn incense or use a smoke pen to locate drafts. Carry the incense or pen around walls, plugs, baseboards, ceiling and wall joints, wall and floor joists, inside cabinets, and under sinks, windows and doors. If the smoke catches a draft, you’ve found an opening!
4. Insulate outlets and switches, especially on exterior walls. Applying foam sealers will help eliminate airflow.
5. Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows when needed.
6. Check attic insulation for dirt. Dirty insulation in the attic indicates airflow, but be careful in older homes! Older homes are more likely to have dangerous types of insulation, which may contain asbestos. If your home is old, consult a professional.
7. Seal ductwork! Even insulated ducts can have air leaks, working against your duct system and lowering efficiency.
8. Consider insulating your garage door. Garages are notorious heat escapes. Insulating foam boards are an easy way to insulate the garage door. This will also help keep your home cooler in the summer! It might even be wise to add a heat cable to your garage door to counteract the heat loss.
9. If you have a faucet or sink in your unheated garage, treat it as an outdoor faucet! Shutting off its water and draining the line can prevent frozen pipe damage.
How to Winterize your Water Supply Lines
If your waterlines freeze, the pipes can split, crack, or burst. Following this, water will escape and flood your home. Preventing frozen pipes will protect your home, and save you from enormous expenses and damage.
1. Take a tour of your home and locate all of the waterlines, especially in susceptible areas like garages, crawl spaces, basements, attics, inside cabinets and under sinks, and exterior walls.
2. Insulate the pipes when possible. Pipes in exposed areas like attics, garages, crawlspaces, and basements are usually more vulnerable than the main interior of your home. Pipe insulation will help to protect against the elements, while also protecting against mold, reduces plumbing noise, and heat loss.
Fiberglass pipe wrap and tubular pipe sticks are available in many hardware stores and are easy to apply. Simply clean the pipes, and cover them. Remember to wear safety goggles and a protective mask.
3. Add insulation to exterior walls that contain water pipes. Insulated exterior walls will protect waterlines, and keep the cold out of your home.
4. Add a heat cable if needed. Heat cables will monitor the temperature of your pipes and trigger when the pipes cool. They’re cost-effective and relatively easy to install.
5. Keep space heaters or other heat producers on hand for extra cold nights.
Do Drainpipes Freeze in the Winter?
Yes. Any pipe that carries a liquid and is vulnerable to the cold can freeze. Drains, sewers, and plumbing fixtures can freeze. Toilets may block, sinks may clog, even the pipes underground can freeze. Applying the same techniques as you would your waterlines can help prevent frozen drainpipes and damage.
It’s a good idea to have a professional drain cleaning before winter, as partial blockages may hold the liquid in the lines and increase the chances of a complete blockage forming.
Be Extra Safe during Extra Cold Nights
Your plumbing is more vulnerable if the weather is colder. Keep an eye on your weather app so you can prepare for extreme cold weather.
- Turn up the furnace.
- Open cabinets, allowing vulnerable pipes access to warmer air.
- Keep faucets trickling. Moving water is less likely to freeze. Turn on the cold and hot water.
- Turn on a heat source in vulnerable areas. Attics, crawl spaces, basements, and garages are especially susceptible. Activate a heat source like a space heater and keep these areas warm. Be mindful of how the surroundings! Space heaters are responsible for 43% of residential fires a year, which could mean over 5,000 in Canada. Modern space heaters have safety precautions installed which help to prevent fires, but proper surroundings are important. Keep flammable items at least 3 feet away from heaters, including clothes, carpet, blankets, garbage, boxes, and anything else that can burn!
How to prepare your home if you’re going on a winter vacation
- Leave the heat on.
- Ensure that all windows are closed and locked.
- Install a digital thermostat that updates you while you’re away
- Leave faucets trickling. Do this for both hot and cold water.
- Consider turning off the water supply and draining the waterlines if you’ll be gone for an extended period.
- If you shut off your water and drain the lines, turn off your water heater.
- Unplug all unnecessary appliances and electronics.
- Notify the police department that the property will be vacant, and provide contact information.
- Install smoke detectors on every floor.
- Ask somebody you trust to keep an eye on your home.
- Consider installing Wi-Fi security cameras in your home. They’re cheap these days and easy to use.
- You probably won’t regret cleaning out the fridge and taking out the garbage!
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