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Winterize Your Plumbing

If you live in your home throughout the winter, there should be little need to winterize your plumbing. However, there may be places that are subject to freezing in crawl spaces or in pipes in poorly insulated exterior walls. Freezing water in a pipe under pressure can cause the pipe to burst. For these areas simple foam insulation tubes may do the trick. If a pipe is subject to freezing even after you have insulated it, you may try heat tape. This can be purchased at your local hardware store. Generally, this is a cable that runs straight along a pipe and is taped in place. It must also be near an outlet because it works by being plugged into the wall. The resistance in the cable warms the water just enough to keep it from freezing. A good heat tape will have a built-in thermostat to prevent overheating.

Generally, you should not worry too much about freezing in drain pipes, except in the traps, beneath sinks, tubs, and showers, they do not hold enough water to cause damage if frozen.

If you have a boiler for your heating system it is a good idea to run the heat system through a cycle or two to check for air in the system. If you hear banging (not ticking) or the sound of rushing water, it may be time to bleed a radiator or two. (Don't worry, it is pretty easy to do!)

If you have a vacation home that you are leaving for the winter, or are going to be out of town for a few weeks during the winter you can take further steps to winterize your plumbing. Begin by shutting off the water to the toilet and flushing to empty the tank and the bowl as much as possible.

If you have a whirlpool tub with an air-pump turn it on for a few moments to empty any water that may have gotten into the jets. In the laundry room, shut off the valves to the wash machine. Drain the hoses and then drain any water that may still be in the washer itself. You can do this by briefly activating the pump-out cycle of the wash machine.

If you do not already have one, it is a good thing to install a faucet as low down as possible in your fresh water system. This will allow you to drain all of the fresh water out of the system when not in use. To drain the water, shut off the water supply valve to the house. Open the low faucet (you should also have a place to drain the water - preferably a drain). Then open every other faucet in the house, this will allow most of the water to drain out of your water supply system if it has been properly installed.

As long as most of the water has been drained out of the system, there is no real need to flush the system with anti-freeze.

However, you might pour a bit of antifreeze into drains where there are traps. Traps are those curves in the pipe under the sink. They hold water as a means of preventing fumes coming back up the pipe and into the house. Instead the fumes go up the stack and out of the house at a point above the roof. Water can freeze in the trap, but a bit of anti-freeze should prevent this in all but the coldest conditions.

Preventing damage to pipes inside the house is important, but there may also be items outside the house that should be attended to as well.

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