Here in the Valley of the Sun, we’re saved from a lot of the hassles that plague people who live in cold climates. We don’t have two full wardrobes and need to pack away our summer clothes and haul out those winter duds. We don’t have to worry about snow chains or insulating the water heater or winterizing the pool. When we do have the occasional freeze, all we have to do is throw a few blankets or towels over our plants and call it a day, since it’ll be 50 degrees again by noon. Preparing your plumbing for winter? Is that even a thing?
If you have a home in the high country, you know that you do, indeed, need to prep for winter, particularly when it comes to your plumbing. Even though it’s a whopping 99 degrees as I type this in Gilbert, Flagstaff mornings are literally freezing and it’s only October. You see similar temps in Pinetop and Show Low, as well as at the Grand Canyon. In the high country, winter hits hard and you have to be prepared.
Preparing Your Outside Faucets
We’re starting with the item many homeowners forget when winterizing their homes: the outside faucets. If your outside faucets freeze (and they’re more likely to, being outside and all), your plumbing system may sustain serious damage. Even down in the valley, you need to worry about your outdoor faucets during a freeze.
To prepare your outdoor faucets, first disconnect and drain any connected hoses, then store them for winter, preferably in the garage or a shed. Next are any other faucets with an outside exposure, including swimming pools, cooling units, sprinkler systems, and outdoor taps. Drain them completely. You may also turn off their water supply. In fact, you should turn off the water supply to any items that aren’t necessary during the winter months. You should also insulate any exposed outdoor pipes (see the next section).
Insulate Exposed Pipes
Any exposed pipes should be insulated. Here in Phoenix, we had a few freezing days this past winter. Our recommendation was to simply wrap outside pipes with a towel or a pool noodle, a very convenient and easy-to-work-with substitute for foam insulation. However, if your home experiences more sustained freezing temperatures, you probably want to protect exposed pipes with insulation foam, both inside and outside the home.
Insulating your pipes not only helps protect them from freezing, it also saves you money on hot water, which becomes much less hot when traveling through an icy plumbing system. You find exposed pipes outside as well as in your garage, attic, or crawl space.
Drain Cooling Units
Another source of potential trouble is your air conditioning unit. You want to drain its pipes completely and shut off the water valve if the unit has one. If your home is in an area that’s cold enough to freeze your pipes, you aren’t going to need that air conditioner any time soon, anyway. Just be sure to reconnect the water later, or you’ll be wondering why your A/C isn’t working.
Find and Repair Leaks
When a deep freeze strikes, what was once no more than an annoying leak quickly turns into a major problem. Look for leaks in all of the common areas – tubs, showers, sinks, and toilets – and look for pooled water in other areas, especially basements and crawl spaces. If you haven’t had your pipes examined in a while (or ever), now is a good time to bring in a certified plumber. Isley’s recommends annual maintenance to help discover problems in their early stages, while they’re still easy (and cheap) to repair.
Don’t Turn off the Heat when You Travel
When you go out of town, it’s really tempting to try to save a few bucks by shutting off your heating system. After all, why heat an empty house? The answer? To save your pipes, and the thousands of dollars it will cost you to repair the water damage sustained when a pipe bursts.
When the house is empty, set the thermostat to around 55 degrees and then shut off the main water supply. For added protection, drain the water from your pipes by turning on faucets throughout the home.
Locate Your Water Main
Just as you should have an exit plan in case of fire, you need to know what to do if a pipe bursts. You’ll minimize the damage if you shut off the water quickly, so it’s important to know where your water main is. This is also how you’ll shut off the water if you go out of town for a day or more.
Check Your Sump Pump
If your home has a basement then it likely has a sump pump, which helps get rid of pooling water in the sump basin or pit. You want to make sure it’s operating properly, so open the lid to look for clogs and make sure the pump is clean. Also, pour water into the pit and then watch to be sure it drains properly.
Flush Out Your Water Heater
Preventive maintenance on your water heater is just as important as regular maintenance on the rest of your plumbing system, especially with the hard water common in Arizona homes. Hard water causes a great deal of buildup in your water heater, making it less efficient and reducing its lifespan. When you call your plumber to perform your annual plumbing maintenance during the fall, he or she can also clean and drain your water heater.
Be Proactive with Your Pipes
When it comes to preparing your plumbing for winter, it’s better to act too early than too late. Start with a plumbing inspection during the fall, before it actually freezes. When you know the temperatures are about to drop, insulate your pipes, shut off the water anywhere it isn’t actually required, and keep your home warm enough to ward off freezing. Don’t forget your outdoor taps and air conditioner, and turn down the thermostat before leaving town but don’t turn it off. With a bit of care, you’ll keep the hot water flowing all winter long.