Question about winterizing a house.
10 September 2005
A. I am very reluctant to advocate winterizing a modern house the way we traditionally know and understand the term. Completely shutting down and draining a hot water heating system, plus the water heater and interior plumbing lines and, with a well, dra ining any well equipment that may be in danger of freezing, such as pressure tanks and conditioning system, to me is a sure recipe for trouble. Boilers, thatís what the water heating device supplying your baseboard heaters is called even though it doesní t produce steam, donít like to go cold. Metals shrink and gaskets get loose and they end up leaking. And even a teaspoon of water left in a water line in the wrong place can freeze and cause trouble that you only find when you turn things back on. That ís why when you enter a professionally and traditionally winterized house you see big red warning signs on all of the plumbing fixtures warning you that it has been turned off and drained down and returning it to service requires special attention.
Additionally, houses themselves donít like to get cold. It takes a while but all the construction materials get cold and some may begin to change shape. Shrinking and cracking of wood and drywall takes place and things donít necessarily return to their original condition when they warm back up. I told my thrifty sister this who has a vacation home in Vermont that she would close down between visits during the winter months. It wasnít so much the cracking materials that changed her mind but the experie nce of returning to a cold house and, even with the furnace going full blast, having it take up to six hours to finally warm the house all the way that finally got her attention. Now they drain the water system down, put antifreeze in the traps and toil ets and leave the furnace set at 48ļF. She tells me she can get back on line in about an hour now. Vermont winters routinely get well below zero so we can count ourselves lucky as zero is rare here but it does get cold. Houses begin to become at risk of interior freezing when the thermometer gets to about 25ļF and lower outside, assuming no wind.
Given what can go wrong by completely winterizing your house by turning the boiler off and draining it down versus the cost of keeping the system at a bare minimum is for me a no-brainer. The cost and hassle of repairing what may happen makes the cost o f oil look pretty cheap. And yes, you do need to keep supply water going to the boiler. The boiler probably has a low-water cut-off in the event its water level decreases for some reason and a malfunction is the only reason I can think that would cause that. Your ace in the hole is the neighbor who will be looking in from time to time. Make sure your neighbor has any of the contact numbers, such as you boiler service provider, plumber and especially you in the event calls need to be made. And when you come home remember to treat this friendly neighbor to dinner in appreciation. Thatís money well spent.
Q. I've been inspecting my 21 year old house as we prepare to put it on the market. I noticed that some of the copper water supply pipes are green at the solder joints. There does not appear to be any water leakage at those joints. Should I be worried ?
A. No. Thatís slight oxidization caused by the flux that the plumber applied to the pipe end prior to soldering to assist in a good joint. Itís normal. But if you see green spots about a quarter inch in diameter along the open run of pipe away from the joint that could be a pinhole leak thatís sealed itself. Look carefully for any wetness and donít scrape the green spot with a knife blade unless you have the replacement pipe in your hand ready to install.