Winterizing Your Plumbing and Home to Prevent Water Damage
Even in areas like Maryland, Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania that have relatively mild winters, sudden snow or ice storms can do major damage to your property if you’re not prepared. Your plumbing system is especially vulnerable to sudden freezes and cold snaps. Fortunately, a little pre-season preparation can save you a lot of plumbing headaches later in the winter. Here are some fast and easy tips that you can do now to prevent potentially thousands of dollars worth of water damage later.
First thing you should do is identify all areas in and around your home that are most likely to freeze. This includes parts of your home’s plumbing system that are located in an unheated crawl space, a basement or an exterior wall with little insulation. Also check outside pipes and hoses. Look for any signs of leaks or damage. If you see any, fix them now. are the most likely to freeze.
If you have had problems with frozen pipes that have frozen in the past or think a pipe is vulnerable to freezing, insulate them. The easiest and cheapest way to prevent a frozen pipe is to use foam insulation tubes on pipes exposed to cold climates. These insulation tubes are inexpensive and easy to install; just measure your pipes to get the correct size. You can also use heat tape to prevent freezing in pipes that have already been insulated. Heat tape is attached to the pipe and gives off a slight heat when plugged in. It is easy to install and can be found in most hardware stores.
To prevent pipes from freezing never turn off the heat in your home. Broken water pipes can cause thousands of dollars in repairs and water damage clean-up and keeping your heat on, even at a low setting, will keep pipes warm enough to prevent freezing and bursting.
During the winter season, try not to let your plumbing lines be idle for too long; instead, periodically run water through each of your major fixtures. You can also leave a sink faucet on a fast drip to keep water flowing through your pipes, as moving water doesn’t have a chance to pool and freeze. Even a little water flow can significantly warm up pipes or melt/loosen any ice that may be starting to accumulate.
Be sure to drain and shut off any unused supply or drain lines, pipes, toilets, water heaters and fixtures, especially if they will be exposed to cold temperatures.
Drain and shut off water from outdoor hoses, sprinkler systems, and swimming pools. Remove and drain any external hoses; Store them inside the house or garage, when possible, to protect them from the cold.
Besides your plumbing, here are some other potential water damage threats you should also prepare for over the winter:
One of the most important considerations before the first snowflake ever hits the ground is to make sure your home’s roof is in good shape. If you notice any water spots or leaks inside your house have a professional come inspect the structure for problem areas. Even small leaks or gaps can mean big trouble during a major storm or when winter snow starts to melt. Make necessary repairs before cold weather sets in to prevent costly damage.
It’s also important to keep snow and ice off your roof. Your best bet is to hire someone to do this for you, as it can be very dangerous work. You might even consider installing a roof heater system that will melt snow and ice on your roof, preventing it from accumulating. There are also chemicals available at many hardward stores that you can toss onto a snowy or icy roof that can stimulate melting.
Ice dams are a major concern for many homeowners. Ice dams form when attic spaces are insufficiently insulated, making them warm in the winter; this warmth melts snow on your roof. The snow melts and refreezes over and over again, piling on layers of ice until a dam is formed. These can become so heavy that they can rip gutters, soffits and trim away from the side of your house. Make sure your attic is properly insulated—it should be cold in the winter and warm in the summer. Proper attic insulation will also increase your home’s energy efficiency and can save you money on utility bills.
Clean your gutters thoroughly before the first snowfall of the season. Get rid of leaves and debris that can clog gutters and storm drains, which increase the chances of an ice dam forming on your roof.
If you are physically able to do your own snow removal, consider purchasing a snow blower. While expensive, they will make short work of clearing driveways and sidewalks. If you can’t buy a snow removal machine, invest in an ergonomic snow shovel to ease strain on your back and arms. If physical limitations prevent you from shoveling, think about hiring a contractor to plow your driveway or asking a neighbor to clear your sidewalks. Regular snow removal will prevent damage to your driveway and walkways, and will make your home safer for your family and guests.