How To Winterize a Vacant Property
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     Eventually you will need to drain all of the faucets, appliances and pipes in your plumbing system.  When you make repairs or installations that call for cutting into the main pipes or when you need to drain and recharge water filled air chambers you must first shut off the incoming water and drain out the existing supply before you can start work. When you leave a house vacant and unheated for the winter you must also weatherproof the system to protect it from bursting in freezing temperatures.

    Whatever the reason, save a few gallons of water for drinking or cooking before you shut off the supply.  If you are about to winterize a summer home, draw enough extra water to prepare an antifreeze mix that you will need to protect the traps.

    Most water heater manufactures recommend that you drain the sediments that build up at least once a year. This is a great time to do it. If you have not drained your tank in a long time, it is probably best to use house line pressure to help clear the drain valve when you first open it. (This means that you should have the house main valve open.)
                      BE CAREFUL! Even though you have turned the electricity or gas off, the tank still has hot water in it. It is best to use a hose rated for hot water as ordinary garden hoses will swell and burst. If the valve does not seat tightly upon closing a hose cap, with rubber washer (about $1.00 at the hardware store) will hold back the drip until a repair can be made.

 In order to drain your system efficiently follow this check list:

1. Shut off the house water supply by closing the main shut off valve.

2. Turn off the gas or electricity to the boiler and the water heater.

3. Siphon the water out of the tub of the clothes washer. If the drain hose can be lowered to a floor drain, it will usually drain itself.

4. If you have hot water heat, open the drain faucet on the boiler and let the water flow into the floor drain.  Next, remove an air vent from a radiator on the top floor so that air will replace the water as it drains into the boiler.

5. Working floor by floor, starting at the top, open all hot and cold water faucets – including all tubs, showers and outdoor faucets – and flush all toilets.

6. Open the drain faucets on the water heater (See note # 1) and the water treatment equipment if you have any.

7. Finally, open the drain faucet (if you have one) on the main supply line to release any water that may remain in the pipes. You may have to disconnect a meter connection to drain completely.

    At this stage, your plumbing system will be adequately drained for repair or remodeling work.  If you are closing the house for the winter, take additional precautions.  Walk through the house to make sure every place where water can collect is drained.  Attach an air compressor to each faucet and give a low pressure blast of air to blow out any remaining water.

    For cold weather protection, the water still remaining in the fixture and toilet traps as well as the main house trap, if you have one, must be replaced with an antifreeze solution to keep the traps from bursting while still functioning as a barrier against sewer gases.  Get the nontoxic propylene glycol antifreeze sold for recreational vehicles, the ethylene glycol antifreeze used in automobiles is toxic (the manufacturer recommends that it not be brought in the house) and alcohol based products evaporate too fast. (look for RV Antifreeze)

    Mix the antifreeze with water, as directed on the label, in the same proportions you would use to protect a vehicle in your climate.  (If you do not want to mix it, pour if straight from the container into the trap.)  How much antifreeze you need will depend on the proportions that are recommended and the number of traps to be winterized.

      Prepare the lavatory, sink and tub traps first.   Pour at least a quart of the antifreeze solution into each trap. Pour the solution in slowly so that it will push the existing water ahead of it into the drain pipes.

     Next, soak up any water remaining in the bottom of toilet bowls with rags or newspapers.  Pour at least a gallon of antifreeze mixture into each toilet tank, then flush the tank to dislodge water from the flushing channels of the toilet bowl.  The antifreeze will collect in the toilet trap. Handi-wrap stretched over the bowl slows evaporation.

    To complete the winterizing, pour about a quart of antifreeze into the house main trap. If you have your own well system, drain the water tap and dry off all parts of your pump unless it is a submerged one, which requires no special precautions. 

    Also, if you have an underground irrigation system, this needs to be blown out with compressed air. This usually requires that the control unit has power to energize the spray heads, while you have an air compressor connected to the main water supply to the valves. There is usually an isolation valve and hose drain outside near the solenoid valve location which is where the air hose gets connected. The zones are cycled to ensure all lines are empty. No antifreeze is necessary.

In the spring or after the repair is completed, you will have to refill your system.

    First, close all the faucets and drain valves throughout the house including those on the boiler, hot water heat and water treatment equipment.  If you have hot water heat, replace the vent on the radiator from which it was removed. Then open the main valve slowly to bring fresh water into the system. (I like to leave a laundry tub faucet open to allow the first wave of cloudy water to drain away before filling the house lines)  Finally, turn on the gas or electricity supply to the boiler and the water heater and light the pilots on gas fired equipment.
    Faucets will spray when you first use them because of air trapped in the lines, but this condition will correct itself quickly. Diminished flow can often be cured by cleaning out the aerator which is screwed in the end of the spout. (I try to take them off before using the faucet for the first time) The antifreeze mixture in the traps and toilets will flush away normally as the fixtures are used.

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