how to winterize a vacant house - isolated cabin covered in snow and ice

How to Winterize a Vacant House (What is It and Why You Must Do It!)

Knowing how to winterize a vacant house, cabin, or vacation home is critical if you ever plan on leaving for an extended period.

Here’s how to prevent your home and property from thousands of dollars in water damage while you’re away.

What is Winterization?

Winterization is the process of disconnecting and removing water from a building’s plumbing system to prevent damage from freezing temperatures. It is not the same as insulation, which is the act of wrapping the plumbing to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

How to Winterize a Vacant House

There are many precautions you can take so your water pipes don’t freeze in bitter-cold temperatures. But to truly winterize a vacant house, you’ll need to follow these 7 instructions.

1. Disconnect Main Water Supply

As you might know, your home has a water shutoff valve located inside that keeps water from flowing to the rest of your house. However, when winterizing a vacant house, you need to shut the water off before it even reaches your home.

This is done by asking your city to come out and shut off your water supply at the street. They will turn off the water for you with a special tool called a meter key (and possibly a meter wrench). Some municipalities allow you to do this yourself but check with them first.

To do this yourself, all you need is the right tool and permission.

How to winterize a vacant house - man shutting off water line with meter key
A meter key is a special tool that allows you to shut off the water supply to your house. This is the critical first step in how to winterize a vacant house.

2. Drain Every Fixture & Appliance

Open the faucet on every fixture or appliance in your home. This includes sink faucets, tub and shower faucets, laundry and utility faucets, outdoor faucets (spigots), and water heaters. Don’t forget about your refrigerator ice maker, washing machines, and dishwashers.

Water heaters are commonly missed in the winterization process. But it’s critical that you open your water heater’s drain and let the water out.

How to winterize a vacant house - turn off all faucets and fixtures
Make sure you turn on all the faucets in your home to help drain out as much water as possible from all your fixtures.

3. Remove All Aerators

An aerator is a screen located at the tip of your faucet. It softens the water stream while also making it more flow more efficiently. You will need a wrench to remove the aerator’s housing. Then remove the aerator from the housing.

The aerators can be replaced when the house is no longer vacant.

How to clean a faucet aerator - woman removing faucet aerator
Remove the aerator from every faucet fixture in your house.

4. Blow Air into Your Water Lines

You’ve so far disconnected the water supply, opened all the fixtures to let water drain out, and removed the aerators.

Now you need to replace any remaining water in the pipes with air. This is also called bleeding your plumbing. And it’s done by connecting an air compressor to your meter.

Adjust your air compressor’s regulator to 75 psi (pounds per square inch). A valve on your compressor will give you the proper reading. Now turn on your connected air compressor and wait for all the water in all your pipes and fixtures to be expelled by the air pressure.

With a professional grade air compressor, this will generally take about 20-30 minutes. Using a low-grade air compressor can take hours.

How to winterize a vacant house - use an air compressor
An air compressor such as this one is an important tool for replacing the water in your pipes with air. Here’s a great article on how to operate an air compressor.

5. Flush Your Toilets

This step is super easy. Just go around to all your toilets and flush them once.

how to replace toilet handle - Plastic toilet handle
There aren’t many chores as simple as flushing a toilet.

6. Pour Antifreeze into Drains

For this part of the process, it’s important to know that every home has two plumbing systems:

  • Potable system – (also called water lines) for water used to drink or wash
  • Drainage system – (also called sewer lines) for wastewater or “dirty” water

Steps 1 through 5 have focused on winterizing the potable lines in your vacant house. This 6th step will focus on winterizing your drainage system.

Since you can’t blow air into your drainage system, you need to winterize them by adding antifreeze. And you’re going to need a lot of it. The average house might need 15-20 gallons. You can order non-toxic antifreeze online by the box to save some money.

Pour 1/2 gallon of antifreeze into the drain of every fixture in your home — except for your toilets. For toilets, add a 1/2 gallon into the tank (not the bowl). Then flush the toilet. For older, low-efficiency toilets, add 1 gallon to the tank and then flush.

Remember to pour antifreeze into your basement floor drains as well. All your floor drains should have an industry-standard 1/2 gallon of anti-freeze poured into them. You can use a full gallon if you prefer.

how to winterize a vacant house - add pink non-toxic antifreeze to all drains
Make sure you pour right amount of non-toxic antifreeze into your drains and toilet tanks.

PRO TIP #1: Make sure you purchase and use non-toxic antifreeze. You’ll know it’s non-toxic because it is pink, not blue.

PRO TIP #2: Do not pour antifreeze into your sump pump. Instead, remove the hose that connects to the discharge pipe. Truly winterizing a sump pump can be tricky, so it might be best to talk to a trusted local plumber with experience winterizing vacant homes and cabins.

How to winterize a vacant house - non-toxic pink antifreeze 6 pack
Winterizing a vacant house tanks a lot of antifreeze. You can buy non-toxic antifreeze in packs of 6 to save money.

7. Use Warning Labels

We often ask family and neighbors to check on our homes while we’re away. But that can lead to its own set of problems.

To avoid them, leave a sticky note on all your fixtures to caution well-intentioned helpers from accidentally turning on the water supply to any of them. This single act can save your property from a water damage catastrophe.

how to winterize a vacant house - add sticky notes to not use fixtures
Remember to place warnings on all fixtures to ensure that someone mistakenly uses them while you’re gone.


Final Thoughts

Knowing how to winterize a vacant house isn’t the easiest task for a do-it-yourselfer.

For homeowners with basic mechanical skills and knowledge, and the needed tools and equipment, it can take 4 to 8 hours. A professional plumber can do all of this in about 30-60 minutes. And you’ll be certain of the results.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you need help winterizing your home or office. 

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.

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