Preparing your house for winter

Home Work

November 01, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

IF YOU LIVE in a climate where winter is just around the corner, you're probably thinking about getting out winter clothes, taking coats to the dry cleaner and generally preparing yourself for cold weather. You should also be thinking about preparing your house's plumbing.

There are few things more annoying, frustrating and potentially dangerous than frozen pipes. It usually happens in a crawl space under the floor or in an exterior wall. A frozen pipe deprives you of an element essential for life, but it also has the potential to break and cause a great deal of damage from flooding.

Every year, somebody burns down the house while trying to thaw frozen pipes with a blowtorch or lighted candles.

If you have pipes that might be in danger of freezing, there are some precautions you can take to keep the water flowing smoothly.

Wrapping the pipes with insulation will reduce the possibility of freezing and it may even be all you need. However, if you have persistent problems, the best way to prevent freezing is to use heat tape on the pipe. You will need an electrical outlet to plug in the tape, and a thermostat to turn it on when the temperature reaches freezing.

The old standby solution of letting a faucet run at a trickle so that the water in the pipes is moving works as a short-term solution, if you are around to turn the water on and off as needed.

If you have to be away for a long time, you must either leave the heat on low, or winterize the house. To winterize, turn off the main water valve coming into the house and turn on all the faucets (hot and cold), especially in the basement. This will drain the system.

Turn off and drain the hot water heater, and pour antifreeze in all the sinks and toilets to keep water in the traps from freezing.

If you're staying home for the holidays, you may have plumbing problems due to overuse -- with children home from school, guests coming to stay, or more occasions for entertaining than usual.

Here are some tips from Roto-Rooters Plumbers on how to avoid holiday problems:

Use the dishwasher and washing machine at night, or at off times, to preserve water pressure for showers; spread showers throughout the day and space them at least 10 minutes apart.

Don't pour fats or cooking oils down the drain because they congeal in the pipes and form clots. If you use a disposer, run cold water for 15 seconds before and 15 seconds afterward to flush waste down the main line.

Here are some things your disposer probably can't handle: poultry skins, carrots, celery or banana peels. Dispose of these items in the trash. (If you don't want to leave waste sitting in garbage cans inside or out, you might consider wrapping it and freezing it, then putting it in the trash just before it is collected.

Turn up the water heater slightly to preserve hot water. It shouldn't be heated above 125 degrees, however, to avoid possible scalding.

If water pressure is weak, make sure the shower head is clear. Soak it in vinegar to clear mineral deposits.

Provide a good wastebasket in the bathroom, so the toilet won't be used to get rid of trash.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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