If you have a vacant rental property or one of your properties is in foreclosure, it is important to winterize the home, even in moderate climates for property preservation. The cost to winterize a home varies but the basic process consists of a series of steps to ensure the home is protected from damage resulting from overflowing appliances or burst pipes, potential electrical damage and lower utility costs that save you money while the property is empty.
To get started, carefully inspect the interior and exterior or your property and make a list of everything that needs to be addressed so you can create an action plan. This will also be a reminder for you when it is time to "un-winterize" the property when it has been sold or rented once again.
Once you have created your action plan, begin the process by methodically following some basic steps to ensure your property is properly secured and prepared for colder weather.
Basic Steps Needed to Winterize a Vacant Home
All of the following steps assumes that the property is vacant and will not be lived in for months during the winter months. Furthermore, they assume that other people may have access to the property such as bank officials, real estate agents or maintenance people.
When beginning the process to winterize a property, the first thing you must remember to do before performing any of the steps to to make sure the power is disconnected at the main service panel by moving the breaker to the off position, or removing fuses if necessary.
It is suggested that you post a note at the panel to make sure the electric water heater and other appliances are not turned on before the water is turned back on.
Next, turn off the gas pilot light at the water heater if applicable, and locate the main water shut off valve, usually located by the curb and shut the water off. If the property is supplied by a well system, then turn off the breaker to the pump system at the breaker panel also. The pressure in the water tank should be drained.
Now you are ready to go through the steps to winterize your home.
First, ensure the main water valves at the water meter and inside the house at the Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) are closed. Tag the valve at the PRV with a winterization notice if other people are going to have access to the property.
After the water is off, drain the water from the entire water supply system including the water heater as shown below.
Next, open all faucet valves in the house to allow air to ventilate the system and drain water from the water heater. There are a couple of different procedures to follow. Temperature controls on gas water heaters should be set to the off position. Close the gas valve. Electric water heaters should be shut off at the breaker. Open all faucets or spigots to allow air to flow in as water is drained out.
Though gravity may be sufficient to drain the plumbing in many homes, standing water will remain in some pipes. Temperature controls on gas water heaters should be set to the off position, as well as closing the gas valve.
Electric water heaters should be shut off at the breaker. It is best to force water out of water supply lines with an air compressor. Fasten a zip tie around both valves in the off position and post a winterization notice if others have access to the property.
Use pink colored antifreeze indoors because it is non-toxic
Add non-toxic anti-freeze (pink in color) to all drains and toilet traps. Pour at least a quart of the antifreeze solution into each trap. Next, pour the antifreeze mixture into each toilet tank, then flush the tank to dislodge water from the flushing channels of the toilet bowl.
Water also runs through many appliances such as the washing machine and dishwasher, and the water lines to the ice maker and fresh water in refrigerators. Each one of these will need to be drained and disconnected.
Drain the washing machine and dish washer and pour anti-freeze into the bottom of each as shown below.
Use only pink antifreeze indoors.
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If the home has any sort of a more elaborate heating system such as a hot water boiler, heat pump, or radiant floor heat, then it is recommended that it be handled by a HVAC professional familiar with these systems. These heating systems sometimes circulate water instead of a freeze-resistant fluid, or may connect with the plumbing system or hot water heater.
Any exposed pipes between the main water cut-off valve and the basement wall or crawl spaces should be insulated. Foam or fiberglass insulation can be purchased at most hardware stores and should cover the entire length of the pipe.
Set the thermostat to a level that will keep the inside temperature of the house above freezing. If the property is located in a warm, damp climate, you might consider purchasing and installing a humidity monitoring device. These can be set to maintain a dry interior.
If the power is left on, and the property is still furnished with appliances, unplug everything to avoid the risk of fire from a faulty switch or rodent damage.
Place roach and rodent poison or traps under the sink, inside cabinets and in the garage.
Close window shutters (if available) to add security. If shutters do not exist, close blinds or drapes inside to keep the carpet or furniture (if applicable) from fading.
Install a carbon monoxide detector if the property does not already have one inside.
One final thought. If the property has a sump pump in the basement or crawl space, the electricity must remain on to assure that flooding does not damage the property. Check to make sure the sump pump is operating properly.
Tips for Winterizing a Home
Winterizing the outside portion of your home is just as important if it is going to be vacant through the colder months.
First, make sure you have the appropriate outdoor lighting. Install lights around the house that are activated when the sun goes down and turn off automatically at sunrise.
Next, clear debris from the air conditioning unit and clean the blades with the pressure from a water hose. After the unit is cleaned, cover the A/C unit with an outdoor cover designed to withstand the elements.
If you have a fireplace, make sure the chimney is clear of any debris such as bird's nests, squirrel's nests or other animals. Check flue damper inside the chimney and make sure it is functioning properly.
Disconnect all water hose pipes from the outdoor faucets and cover them with an insulated bib to prevent freezing.
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Check the roof shingles to see if any are missing or damaged. If you notice any dips or damaged shingles, replace them.
If the property contains outdoor sprinklers, turn off the water supply and blow compressed air through the sprinkler lines to purge them of water.
Drain any outdoor water fountains or water features, and unplug the pumps that power them.
If you are in the property rental business or own multiple properties, these basic steps for winterization will provide peace of mind when a property remains unoccupied for an extended period of time during the colder months of the year.
Preparing your vacant property can save you thousands of dollars in repair costs including burst pipes or vandalism. If the property is located in a bad neighborhood or in an area prone to severe weather, you may want to consider getting unoccupied home insurance. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.