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PLUMBING SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
ANTIFREEZE for BOILERS
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEWER LINE
BLOCKED DRAIN REPAIR METHODS
CLEANOUTS, PLUMBING DRAIN
CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
FREEZE-PROOF A BUILDING
FROST HEAVES, FOUNDATION, SLAB
HEAT TAPE USAGE GUIDE
HOT WATER HEATERS
INSULATION INSPECTION & IMPROVEMENT
NO HEAT - BOILER
NO HEAT - FURNACE
ODORS & SMELLS DIAGNOSIS & CURE
OIL FIRED WATER HEATERS
PIPING IN buildings, Clogs Leaks Types
PLUMBING FIXTURES, KITCHEN, BATH
PUMPS, PONY PUMPS
RELIEF VALVE LEAKS
SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
SUMP PUMPS GUIDE
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
WATER HEATER PROBLEM DIAGNOSIS
WATER HEATER PROPERTIES
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE, WELL PUMP
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
This article series provides step by step details in winterizing a building or freeze protection for buildings where heat may be lowered or left turned off. Avoiding freezing pipes in buildings also means avoiding later leaks, water damage, or possibly mold contamination. The articles at this website will answer most questions about freeze protection for piping and other building plumbing and heating system components: how to winterize a building to avoid frozen pipes, and how to thaw frozen water supply & drain piping, wells, & water tanks.
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What happens when water freezes in a copper pipe?
Our separated copper pipe solder joint (above left) shows how freeze damage to a heating system baseboard pipe can cause the copper pipe to simply slip apart at the solder joint. Our freeze-bulged and split copper water pipe (above right) shows how a copper water pipe can freeze, expand, and burst.
The resultant building water flooding and damage can be extensive and in some cases may involve a costly mold remediation project as well. Also, failure of an owner to take appropriate steps to prevent freezing pipes and water damage can result in loss of insurance coverage in some instances. For example, turning off heat without also winterizing a home would be an improper practice likely to lead to frozen burst pipes and water damage and mold contamination.
Our photo at left shows a separated solder joint caused by freezing at a heating baseboard copper pipe. The repair of this leak is shown later in this article.
Our page top photo shows a frozen, burst water pipe close to an elbow. We suspect that the process of heating the pipe during soldering of the elbow connection might soften the copper in this location, permitting the very rounded expansion shape at the point of pipe rupture. The elbow itself may be more resistant to bursting during freezing.
Freezing water pipes or drain pipes in a building are worse than inconvenient: often the frozen pipes burst, risking serious water damage and even toxic mold growth in a building when the frozen, burst pipe later thaws and leaks into the structure.
Our photo (left) shows what we found on arriving at an unoccupied home that was for sale in New York. Shortly after freezing conditions had lifted a water trail was visible running down the curb adjacent to the home. We thought perhaps there was a leak at that fire hydrant but that was not the problem. The water supply line beween the home and the curb had burst.
The most extreme water and mold damage to buildings where pipes burst occurs in unoccupied structures whose conditions are not being monitored, such as a house for sale, or a remote, weekend home. Other freezing weather damage besides floods from frozen pipes can include cracked plaster in older homes or cracked and dislocated wood flooring.
For buildings facing these extra risks, we provide a range of suggestions for winterizing or freeze-proofing a building as well as for monitoring building conditions so that prompt action can be taken to deal with a burst pipe.
Here is our list of key topics to consider when working to winterize or freeze-proof a building, along with links to more detail on these subjects:
1. Prepare the building to be left unattended: regardless of whether heat is to be left on or off:
2. Decide if the building heat going to be left "on" or "off" : the answer determines the type and extent of freeze-proofing steps needed.
Below we list topics of special interest for people who are leaving a building unattended in freezing weather.
How to Protect Shallow Water Lines from Freezing
Reader Question: how can I prevent a too-shallow water line from freezing outside
I have an outside pump and tank attached to 50' 3/4" hose (buried in ground about 12")which draws water from a buried tank. The tank is deep enough to not freeze but my poor design does not allow me to drain the tank or the 50' length of hose with a foot valve at the end of it. What can I put down the line to prevent freezing like last year which blew up my hose. - Tony 10/13/2012
Reply: 4 tips on how to freezeproof a buried water that is too shallow for normal frost protection
Tony, I can think of several suggestions in escalating levels of trouble and detail
How to Empty the Water Tank or Pressure Tank - Building Freeze Damage Protection
Question: How do we get water out of inaccessible water heater & water pressure tanks?
Concern: We have a crawlspace containing a hot water tank and pressure tank. The water supply is from our well. We need to close-up for the winter and need to let the water out. The crawlspace door is at other side of the cottage. Kinda far to crawl back and forth over hilly ground.
The crawlspace vents are screened. We almost bought a tube that is powered by a drill, to let the water out via hose, I believe it is called; a drill pump. I asked a nearby plumber and he said, take it back, may not work next year, etc. Also this plumber does the service for us, with a pump. Also a plumber will remove the sediment from the tank.
Our photo (above left) of a horizontal water pressure tank was provided courtesy of reader Doug Mehak.
We want to empty the hot water tank and pressure tank ourselves, have been doing so for over 35 years. This crawlspace is new, this year. My husband just emptied the other 02 house pipes, in case it got below zero this week, and water is everywhere. Next week, we will go to the cottage one more time and then close for the winter, any suggestions as to how we can empty the hot water tank and pressure tank, ourselves?
Cottage with crawlspace is in Haliburton, Ontario, Canada.
At least thanks for reading my concern, Ha Ha. - R.M., Ontario, Canada. 10/2/12
P.S. These are some solutions we are considering: --empty water by opening kitchen and bathroom faucets above, then only a bucket full will remain in hot water tank. take the bucket out with you and voila. (my husband says must mean city piping because we have a well) --just let the water go through dirt floor, in time will go through ground. (we are talking a 40 gallon tank, it will be muddy for a long time) --another hardware guy suggested, drain the water into a bucket or pail, creating a contained puddle, so to speak. then sump pump that water out.
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem, such as noting the location, position of the problem water tank, what tappings on the tank are actually present and just where they are located, e.g. where there are only top tappings on the tank it may be possible to pump it out via a TP valve opening.
That said, thanks for writing with your own suggestions; on first reading your question, I hesitated in a prescription because lacking a clear description of the tanks involved, it appears that it not be possible to remove water from a water heater tank nor a water pressure tank located in an inaccessible crawl area. While I'm not surprised at the description as often we find tanks squeezed into such areas, the installation does not sound correct, nor does it afford a means to empty the vessel; the result is not just a risk of freeze damage, but also other servicing cannot really be accomplished.
Watch out: water pressure tanks or hot water tanks in an inaccessible location are not only hard or expensive to service, repair, or replace, they may be unsafe - because the lack of ability to inspect the tanks means that safety devices such as temperature/pressure relief valves could be leaking or clogged - resulting in risk of a dangerous explosion. And of course a tank could be leaking into a hard-to-access crawl area for a long time before anyone discovers the problem.
The view that "only a bucket full will remain in hot water tank" does not sound reliable to me; the output from a water heater is delivered by the pressure of incoming water to the tank; if the tank has no drain whatsoever and we simply run water in the building with incoming water shut off (say by an inlet valve or by turning off a well pump) water is delivered only until the pressure in the whole system drops down close to zero (actual pressure depends on location and elevation of components). But the tank will still be full of water.
Watch out: I do not advise dumping water into a crawl area - it's asking for mold and insect problems.
Draining water pressure tanks and hot water tanks using the tank drain
When the water tank or hot water tank is located in a below-grade basement or crawl space or any other location where it is not convenient to drain the tank by gravity using a garden hose, we attach a pony pump to the tank drain and pump the water out of the tank and over to a suitable drainage location.
Details about types of pony pumps (or transfer pumps) including both self-contained pumps and the drill powered transfer pump you mention, are given at PUMPS, PONY PUMPS.
Some bladderless water pressure tanks and some water tanks using an internal bladder can work in any position. Most water heater tanks are intended to work properly installed in an upright position, not jammed horizontally into a crawl space.
Watch out: if a water heater tank or water pressure tank that was designed to be installed in an upright position is installed horizontally the installation is improper, violates the manufacturer's installation instructions and warranty, may have a reduced life, will not work properly, and may be unsafe.
Emptying plumbing systems using compressed air
Some winterizing companies charged with emptying building tanks and pipes to prevent freeze damage open all pipes and drains to drain out what water they can (after shutting off incoming water of course), and then try blowing compressed air through the system.
While this helps move water out of pipes and might push some water out of water tanks or water heater tanks, I have not found this a completely reliable approach. Air can move through water pipes or tanks while leaving water behind, more so for piping that is not straight and pitched and still more so for tanks and vessels. Nevertheless, it's a useful step that reduces water in the system even it it can't completely eliminate it.
Emptying plumbing by cutting pipes
Professionals will also actually cut pipes if necessary to assure the piping system is drained fully, figuring that it's much less expensive to later repair the cut than to repair burst pipes in unexpected locations and to clean up and repair water damage to a building left unattended.
How to empty a water pressure tank or water heater tank using a pony pump or a drill pump
I agree that based just on the description provided, the most effective means of getting most of the water out of the tank in this circumstance would be to use an available tapping on the upper tank to insert a tube and use a pony pump or drill pump to pump water out of the tank, through a hose, to outdoors or to a nearby drain.
When circumstances demand tank replacement or when there is an opportunity for any other reason, I'd either relocate these tanks to an accessible area or provide easier access (in one such case we made an openable floor panel).
Our photo (left) shows our little pony pump at a job where we used it to empty a water heater tank through a garden hose to an outdoor location. Here I had not yet hooked up the pump but you can see the white pump body and the washing machine hose needed to hook it up to a tank drain. (See PUMPS, PONY PUMPS for details. This pony pump use procedure is described at DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater)
How to Empty Well Piping or Prevent Well Pipe Freeze-ups When Winterizing a Building
Reader Question: When draining water for winterizing, how do we get water out of the well, well piping, and submersible well pump?
When draining the water from a dwelling that is allowed to freeze, how does the water supply from the submersible pump, supplied with foot valve, drain so the at or above grade pipes don't freeze and break? - Nate, 10/12/11
Great question, Nate. There are two approaches to preventing water lines between the building and the upper part of piping inside the well from freezing
well with pitless adapter. I'm only concerned with the piping, inside the building, that is above frost level. I need to know if it will drain over a certain amount of time, or if I need to insert a tube and pump out the supply tubing to a level below frost line. Thanks - Nate
Nate if your well pipes are NOT below frost line (option 1) the answer is that you need to determine if you have a snifter valve and in-well drain or not (option 2). If you don't, you'll need to use approach like #3 below or your own suggestion.
First we decide the level of building winterization to be undertaken. There are two very different approaches to protecting a building and its mechanical systems from freezing-damage:
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to winterize a building to prevent freeze or frost damage
Question: will an un-heated house develop a mold contamination problem?
James, no, yes, well ... it depends.
Wherever I've found an unheated home that had become a mold palace there were additional causes or conditions that led to wet or high humidity indoors, usually combined with the home being left unattended - no one watching for problems - which means that the mold palace could be horrible. The mold catastrophe shown in our photograph above occurred in a home that was left unattended for more than a month. The home suffered a burst pipe leak that wet the interior with hot water; the combination of wet conditions, heat left on, and very delayed discovery of the leak and mold problem led to extensive mold and water damage throughout the home.
The most severely mold contaminated buildings I've investigated have usually been cases in which there was a significant leak such as from a burst water pipe (with water supply and pressure left on) or burst hot water heating system piping that soaked building areas in a building that was left unattended for a long period (from 5 days to several months).
Question: How do we winterize a home that has not been used in months and with no central heat?
I'm not seeing how to approach a house that hasn't been used in months. The owner died. No central heat, and the water heater leaked months ago too. Well water. Very well insulated home. Air is in the lines of the house. Can I empty the pressure tank to the well, and run RV antifreeze and leave it at that? The house seems to go down to the lower 50's on average and has outstanding passive solar set-up. - Sean 12/15/11
When closing down a house with the Heat off method, will any frost damage occur to the drywall, etc. if So how would you prevent this? - Sean
When a home has already been unoccupied for some time and without heat as well, start by a complete inspection of the building for damage, including leaks, rodent infestation, etc. If the building is intact and undamaged, then proceed to winterizing it using the Heat-Off procedures we describe in this article series.
It is better for most buildings to be left with heat on, albeit at a low temperature to reduce the cost of that house "mothballing". Leaving heat "on" in a stored building means that the heating system must be safe and reliable, and still the building should be inspected frequently for leaks or damage. But if heat must be left off and the building is dry (without leaks) and winterized, it may survive reasonably well.
I agree that a building left with heat off in a freezing climate will be exposed to extreme temperature swings as well as humidity swings and that cracks and damage can occur as a result. Minor drywall cracks shouldn't be a significant repair problem, but leaks or even high humidity swings in a building can lead to serious damage to hardwood floors as well as risking a mold contamination problem.
Questions & answers or comments about how to protect buildings, piping, heating equipment, water softeners, wells, & foundations from freezing, ice, & frost damage.
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Technical Reviewers & References
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