A READER WROTE: I will be winterizing homes this next season and was wondering if you could point out some areas to watch for in regards to refrigerators with ice makers and Jacuzzi tubs. I have seen tubs with built-in framing that leave no access to the pump, etc., and have no way to drain or check without ripping something apart. As far as the ice makers go, is there a sure way to make sure they are cleared of water without becoming an appliance specialist or should that part of the job be referred to someone in that business?
Thanks for your help.
Frank's letter brought to mind strong memories of freeze damage in "winterized" homes where the procedure consisted of shutting off the main valve, opening a basement drain in the potable water system and turning off the heat. Come spring, or the sale of the home and its heat restored, the home's plumbing system became a sprinkler system — resulting in thousands of dollars in damage.
After removing the plastered ceilings and walls, the reasons for frozen and split or separated water lines became obvious: low spots, or bellies, that allowed water to be trapped or pooled. It was abundantly clear that relying on gravity alone was not a reliable method for winterizing homes. Pressurized air is one method promoted to forcefully blow water from distribution lines, but that too can leave enough residual moisture in the lines for low spots to collect and freeze. With owners and real estate agents requesting winterization of properties that required a guarantee against freeze damage, I needed to come up with an ironclad solution.
Come spring, the home's plumbing system became a sprinkler system.
I'd long been using a self-priming pony pump to evacuate water heaters in basements where there was no floor drain or one that was too slow. The little beast has male hose thread ends and, at 10 ft. of head, will pump water at 300 gph. Its rubber impeller can withstand chunks of debris without suffering damage and rebuild kits are inexpensive.
Recreational vehicle antifreeze, which is rated for potable water lines, is non-toxic and bright pink in color so it's easy for you to see where you've pumped it. RV antifreeze is an ethanolbased product rated to -58°F!
Here's how I winterize a home.
I survey the home for all plumbing sites — especially the water closets to ensure they've been recently flushed by visitors (homes-for-sale category!); another lesson learned in the school of hard knocks.
That whirlpool tub is next. If there's an air pump, I turn it on to forcibly eject any trapped water and then I'll use the pony pump, with rubber hoses attached, to force the RV antifreeze through one of the jets until I see it coming out of the suction strainer. Let it drain (approximately 10 minutes) and then turn on the faucet to clean up any surface RV antifreeze remaining.
Then it's off to the basement to the washing machine connections. Turn off the valves, disconnect the hoses and drain the washing machine, including the solenoid valve by activating the "warm" wash cycle for a moment (hoses removed). Pour a bit of the RV antifreeze into the washer's drum and activate the pump-out cycle until it's empty and you see the pink solution being pumped into the drain.
Now's the time to decide if you're going to shut off the water service at the curb line or add a heat tape where it enters the building — up to the main shut-off valve or last drain-down point. Turn off the home's water, but don't drain anything — yet.
Fill a clean 5-gal. bucket with 2 gal. of the RV antifreeze. Connect the pony pump to the cold line washing machine connection and let the suctionhose pick-up rest in the RV-antifreeze solution. Turn on the pump, open the automatic clothes washer cold connection and take off for the upper floor(s)! Rapidly travel throughout the home to every cold outlet and run water until it is pink. At each water closet, depress the float or ball-cock mechanism until pink water is visible (don't flush yet).
Here's where you'll need to decide how you'll tackle the ice maker in the fridge. Either dismantle and drain the solenoid or run the fridge through a harvest cycle until pink water is seen in the ice tray.
Go back to the basement to open the main valve's waste nut and bleed until pink. Repeat this exercise for the hot side, and the dishwasher must be cycled on and pumped out too.
The water closets and fixture traps are next. Non-toxic, phosphate-free Sierra antifreeze is made with propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol and is environmentally friendly. The toilet tanks should get a healthy dose and then flushed (hold handle down to evacuate the tank) to allow the mix to cascade through interior waterways and fill the bowl's trap. Fixture traps get a dose too.
Open the water heater's drain and return to the upper floor(s) to open all faucets for gravity drainage, which will treat the water heater (make sure you disabled the fuel source).
Finally, look for other things like humidifiers and hose bibs to be drained.
Dave Yates owns F. W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].
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