Simple Tips to Winterize Your House’s Pipes

Hands with soap under water

During cold winter months, freezing temperatures and harsh weather conditions can wreak havoc on your pipes and plumbing system. Avoid costly repairs and inconvenience by following our basic plumbing winterization steps.

Basic Steps to Winterize House Plumbing

1. Insulate Exposed Pipes

The first step in winterizing your plumbing is to protect your pipes from the cold. Homeowners in cold climates should insulate exposed pipes in commonly unheated areas like basements, attics, and crawl spaces. If you’ve had a pipe freeze in the past, it is crucial to insulate it before the next winter season.

Our plumbing expert says insulating exposed lines is relatively easy. You can purchase foam insulation from most hardware stores. Cut the foam to size and wrap it around visible lines. 

2. Disconnect and Drain Outdoor Hoses

Before the temperature drops, disconnect and drain any outdoor hoses. If left connected, water can freeze in the hose and cause damage to the faucet, hose, or interior piping. 

Watch our Home Maintenance 101: Hose Bib Winterization tutorial for a step-by-step guide on preparing your hoses for winter.

3. Seal Any Air Leaks

Drafts can let cold air into your home and expose your pipes to additional risk of freezing. It may be difficult for most homeowners to identify air leaks in their homes, but there are obvious visible signs to look for.

If your home has brick siding, ensure there aren’t any missing bricks or significant cracks in the grouting. This damage could cause cold air to come into your home. Another place to inspect is the area around outdoor hose bibs. Check the hole where the hose bib comes through to ensure it’s fully insulated. 

The easiest way to insulate your hose bib is by attaching an insulated bib cover to each outdoor fixture. These covers typically have a dome shape and snugly fit over the exterior faucets. They’re constructed from thick foam, which does a great job of keeping out the cold.

During winterization, our expert also advises looking around their attic and any crawl spaces for any visible signs of air leaks. 

If you find that one area of your home is freezing year after year, our expert recommends contacting a contractor to conduct a proper inspection for significant air leaks. 

4. Inspect Weatherstripping Around Windows, Doors, and Garage Door

Check the condition of the weatherstripping around your windows, exterior-facing doors, and garage doors for visible signs of damage or deterioration. Weatherstripping refers to the lining around these products that keeps air from penetrating through their frames. 

Our expert recommends replacing this lining if it looks damaged or worn out to ensure a tight seal. Keeping your weatherstripping in good shape can reduce energy bills and decrease the chance of your pipes freezing. 

Winterizing Your Pipes Before Vacation

1. Shut Off Your Water Supply

It is best practice to turn off your water if you will be away from your home for an extended period. During cold temperatures, this is the easiest measure to prevent freezing pipes.

You can shut off your water supply at the main shut-off valve, often located near the water meter. 

2. Keep Heat On

It is essential to always keep your heat on during cold temperatures. Many homeowners will turn their heat down while away to reduce energy consumption. In this case, our experts recommend only setting their thermostat down 2℃ or 3℃. 

If you will be away for an extended period, especially during cold weather, ensuring someone is available to check on your home is best practice. In case of a power outage, someone can turn on a supplemental heat generator (such as a space heater) to prevent freezing pipes until power returns.

3. Drain Plumbing Lines

Our plumbing expert says draining all your plumbing lines is a great preventative measure to reduce the risk of freezing pipes while you’re away. 

To do this:

  1. Shut off the water main supply.
  2. Open up all taps in the house until the water stops running out.
  3. Reclose all the faucets once you’re done.
  4. While the water main is off, flush all your toilets to drain them. 

4. Set the Water Heater to “Vacation” Mode

If your water heater has a “vacation” mode, our expert suggests turning on that setting before you leave. Other than that, adjusting your water heater temperature is not recommended. According to the CDC, setting the water temperature below 120°F (49℃) can result in the growth of the Legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease. 

5. Unclog All Drains

Clogged drains can cause sitting water to accumulate in your plumbing lines, making them susceptible to freezing. Ensure all kitchen, sink, and shower drains are draining correctly and unplugged before you leave your home for an extended period. 

If you notice a strange smell or foul odor coming from your faucets or drains, it could signify clogged pipes. When pipes are obstructed with trapped debris, the bacteria can cause unpleasant odors to seep out of your plumbing.

Additional Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Keep Cabinet Doors Open 

During freezing temperatures, our expert advises homeowners to open all cabinet doors that cover plumbing lines. This allows the warm air flowing through the house to circulate around the piping. (Remember to remove any items in your cabinets if you have pets or small children.)

Close Your Garage Door

If you have exposed pipes in your garage, keep the door closed whenever possible in the winter. Although many garages are not insulated, a closed garage door provides some protection against the elements. 

Signs of Frozen Pipes

No Water Flow

The most apparent sign of frozen pipes is a lack of water flow. If you turn on a faucet while the outside temperature is below freezing for days and no water comes out, your pipes may be frozen. 

Frost on Pipes

If you have exposed pipes in your home, check them for frost. If you see frost on the pipes, it clearly indicates that they are frozen. You may also notice condensation on the pipes, which can quickly turn to ice in freezing temperatures.

Strange Sounds

If you hear strange sounds from your pipes, such as banging or clanking, it could be a sign of frozen pipes. Water expands when it freezes, putting pressure on the pipes and causing them to make unusual noises.

Low Water Pressure

Frozen pipes can also cause low water pressure. If you notice a significant decrease in water pressure, it could be a sign that your pipes are frozen, especially if the low water pressure is only affecting certain faucets or fixtures.

If Your Pipes Freeze, Contact a Professional

Following these simple home plumbing winterization tips can prevent frozen pipes and help you avoid costly repairs. If you find yourself with frozen pipes, contact a plumbing professional. Homeowners in Ontario can schedule a plumbing repair service with Enercare, and a skilled technician will be ready to help.