9 Easy Steps to Winterize Your House Before the First Winter Freeze

Over a quarter of a million homes experience frozen pipes each winter. Not only are frozen pipes expensive to repair, your home and contents may be ruined. In a matter of minutes a one-eighth inch crack can release 250 gallons of water and disrupt your life in ways you may never imagine.

Sub-zero temperatures and cold winds can wreak havoc on your water pipes if they're not protected.

9 Smart steps to take before the first winter freeze this year

1.  Know where the main water shut off valve is to your home. This will enable you to shut the water off to the house should one of the pipes freeze and burst. The quicker you can get the water shut off, the less damage will be done. This will also give you time to call the plumber for help.

Don't skip this.  On 2 of the houses we have purchased, it was a great mystery as to where the shutoff was located.  It's so much easier to find it when the weather is warmer.

2. Find out where the water pipes are located in your home. In most cases they will be in the crawl space under your home or possibly in your attic. Once you've found exposed pipes, wrap them with insulation. The more protective insulation you can wrap around them, the less likely they are to freeze and burst.

NOTE: The best time to learn about your house is during your home inspection when you purchase it. 

3.  In extremely cold temperatures you may also want to use thermostatically-controlled heat cables. These can be wrapped around the insulation and should only be used according to manufacturer's instructions for installing them. Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. independently tests and approves these cables; be sure to use only those which have been UL approved.

4.  Take the time to seal up any leaks around the pipes which may be allowing cold air into the area where the pipes are exposed. This could mean checking around electrical wiring which comes through the walls, dryer vents and the pipes themselves. Use flexible insulation, caulk or a can of expandable foam insulation. By blocking as much air as possible you'll reduce the chance of the pipes bursting.

We have used foam wrap around exposed pipes near hose spigots

5.  Disconnect and remove any garden hoses which won't be used during the winter. Turn the valve off to the spigot and drain all of the water from the faucet. 

6.  If you must leave a faucet active for whatever reason, remove the garden hose between uses. You can also put an insulated cap over the faucet to keep it from freezing.

7.  When the temperatures are expected to get especially frigid, leave a trickle of hot and cold water running in at least one sink which is on an outside wall. This may be just enough to avoid freezing pipes. Read my story about what can happen if you don't plan ahead! 

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I remember once in New Orleans, my roommate and I were advised by our landlord to let a faucet drip overnight, as the temperatures were dropping below freezing.  You need to know that in New Orleans, houses were not built to sustain temperatures below 32. 

Frequently pipes are exposed to the open air below houses.  Back to the story.  We lived in the upstairs unit, we let the water drip in the kitchen sink, since those pipes were on an outside wall. 

The next thing we knew, the landlord was calling early the next morning wondering what the heck had happened.  Little did we realize until we went back into the kitchen, that the sink stopper had somehow floated over the sink drain, causing the sink to overflow, water to run across the kitchen floor to a small hole that led to our neighbors downstairs - who now had water everywhere!  Yikes!

Moral of the story - if you do drip your faucets inside, think of this story and do it smart.

8. Allow cabinet doors with un-insulated pipes under it to remain open. This will allow the warm air from the house to heat the pipes and keep the pipes from freezing.

9.  Keep the thermostat to your home set no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit even if you're not going to be home. Then ask family or a neighbor to check on your home periodically while you're gone to ensure the temperature doesn't fall too low.

No one wants to experience a burst water pipe. By getting ready for the first frost youíll be well on your way to avoiding one. 

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