How to Winterize a Vacant House

A vacant summer hosts sits in snow with mountains in the background.

If you have a house that's going to be vacant this winter it's important to take winterizing measures, whether it's your summer home or you're leaving your only house for an extended holiday vacation. Returning to pipes that have burst, cracked woodwork or damaged flooring would be an unhappy -- and expensive -- homecoming.

Turn off the Water

The first, and most important, thing you can do is shut of the water at the main valve, which should be located outside. If you have a well, you can shut it off by turning the breaker to the pump off. Leaving the water lines open when you're not gong to be there for an extended time just encourages a leak or burst pipe when no one will be there to repair it.

Turn the Thermostat Down

While in the summer you want a vacant house to have a higher setting on the thermostat, in the winter you should turn it down to about 60 degrees. Turning it completely off can allow pipes to freeze and break.

Insulate Pipes

Placing pipe insulation around your pipes is a good idea whether or not you turn off the water. Insulating your pipes can keep them from bursting during deep winter freezes. It is easy to install -- just slip it around the pipe and you're done.

Drain the Water From Pipes

Turn on two faucets, the one closest to where the water comes into the house and the one furthest from where the water comes in to help drain the water from the pipes and open the shut-off valves. If your water supply comes from a well, drain the pressure tank.

Blow out Pipes

Once the pipes have drained as much as they can by opening the valves, you want to blow the rest of the water out of the pipes. This is done by using fittings to connect an air compressor to the water system and blowing through the pipes while opening and closing valves, starting with the furthest one and working to the nearest.

Other Things to Drain

To prevent water from freezing in the house if the thermostat happens to stop working, drain water softeners, systems for water treatment, filters, washing machines, dishwashers and ice makers and toilets. To drain a toilet, shut off the water supply and use a plunger to push the water away through the pipes, flushing slowly to drain the water from the tank. Add RV antifreeze to the toilets, the bottom of the dishwasher and the bottom of the washing machine.

Turn off Breakers

You can turn off the electricity to appliances and other things that are not going to be used while you are gone. However, when you return home make sure that the water heater and other appliances that use water are filled before turning the electricity back on.

Unusual Heating Systems

If you have a boiler, radiant floor heat, heat pump, condensation furnace or air conditioner, it would be a good idea to have an HVAC specialist winterize them. These systems can have water in them and be a little more complicated than other systems and a plumber may not be familiar with them.

Weatherize Windows and Doors

Use caulk around the edges of windows and door jams to seal small cracks in the joints, keeping the cold out and the heat in. Use weather stripping around parts of the windows and doors that open and shut.

Winterizing your home takes a little time, but the money it will save in repairs is well worth it. Follow the preceding steps and your chances of returning to a damaged home will be greatly reduced.