A Guide to Winterizing Your Home

These tips are provided to assist in winterizing your home if you will be away for any extended period.  While nobody can guarantee against frozen or broken pipes, it is important that you take these preventive winterizing steps.  You may prefer contacting a registered Master Plumber to do the work.  If you do, be sure to obtain the plumber’s WSSC license number. 

The purpose of winterizing your home is to remove water which can freeze from within the pipelines and other areas. 

"Winterize Yourself":
  • Turn off the heat source to the furnace and water heater.
  • If the water heater is electric or oil, turn off the power at the switch.
  • If the water heater is gas, you must turn off the gas valve. In most cases, you can turn off the furnace by switching off the electrical power supply.
  • Close the main water valve or supply to your home. This valve is usually located in the basement or laundry room of your home.
  • After the main valve has been securely turned off, open (or turn on) all inside faucets -- kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, tubs, showers and laundry room basin -- and all outside faucets. Also, be sure to remove garden hoses from the outside spigots. The purpose of opening all faucets is to drain all water from the pipelines within, and outside of, the home.
  • Drain the water heater.
  • Wrap "exposed" pipe with insulation. When water cannot be totally removed from the exposed pipelines, a heat tape can be used. 

If you own an electric hot water heater -- Read This!

Special precautions must be used in draining and filling an electric hot water heater.

Electricity must be turned off before draining or refilling the water tank.


Drain your Water Heater:
  • Connect a hose to the drain at the bottom of the heater and allow the water to run into the floor drain.
  • If you do not have a floor drain, extend the hose to the outside of the house, or establish a line to a nearby laundry tub to remove the drained water from the heater.
  • Once the heater has been drained, be sure you close the valve at the base of the heater.  (After all the pipes are drained, they should be protected.) 
Flush your toilet with the water supply turned off. This will clear the tank of any water.
  1. Next, sponge out any excess water remaining in the tank.
  2. Dip out some of the remaining water in the toilet bowl
  3. Then add a dilution of propyleneglycol anti-freeze as this is non-toxic. (do not use the type of anti-freeze that you put into your car/truck to winterize the vehicle). The reason you leave some water in the toilet bowl is to adequately seal the traps so sewer gas will not enter your home through the drainways.
  4. Pour the non-toxic solution into all the drains in your home.

The traps in the toilets, all basins, sinks, tubs/showers and laundry tubs should also be protected from freezing.


If you own an electric hot water heater -- Read This!


Fill your hot water heater before you turn on the electricity!
Special precautions must be taken in filling and draining your hot water heater. The electricity must be off.



If the Electrical Heating Element is turned on before your fill the tank with water, there is a possibility that the heating element will burn out!

  1. Turn off all faucets before opening the main water valve. While the water is filling the system, stand by one fixture with the faucets open. When the water begins to flow from the cold water faucet, turn it off and leave the hot water faucet open until water flows from that spigot. This indicates that the hot water heater is full. Now turn off the hot water faucet. Pause - then open each faucet until water flows without any air spitting out of the spigot.
  2. Turn on the hot water heater.
  3. Flush the non-toxic solution from all the toilets.
Hot Water Heating Systems

If your home has a hot water heating system (with baseboard or conventional radiators), this system must be drained when you are winterizing your home.

Draining the Heating Systems:

  1. Turn off the electrical power source and water supply. If you have a natural gas powered system, the gas valve and pilot must be turned off.
  2. Open the drain valve on the bottom of the furnace.
  3. Drain the expansion tank. The tank is usually suspended from the ceiling above the furnace and should have a drain valve for a hose connection. 
  4. While draining the tank, the pressure reduction will cause the draining process from the furnace and tank to slow down.
  5. Open all radiator or baseboard air vents on the top floor after the tank is drained and, as water levels drop open the vents on the lower floors.

Turning the Heating System on Again:

  1. Close all the vents, boiler drains, and expansion tanks.
  2. Turn on the water feed valve and begin venting the radiators, starting on the first floor and working your way up.
  3. Turn the power back on.

Special Notes:

If you will be gone a short period of time, find a reliable neighbor to check the property daily.  It is a good idea to have your utilities’ telephone numbers in an obvious location. 

If you have any questions on this guide or run into problems, please call the WSSC code enforcement section for more information, (301) 206-8525.


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