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Preventive Maintenance - Winterizing the Plumbing and Heating System

Updated on March 7, 2011
The Beach House
The Beach House

Shutting down a house, vacation home, or cottage for the winter is not an easy task. If you've never done it before and your skill level is low, I suggest you call a professional. Although the steps below make it seem easy for some people, it will still take an adequate amount of time and an investment in tools you may never need again, a compressor for one, which will set you back at the very least $200.

Having a professional do the job may be safer and faster. I've gotten estimates from $500 to $2000, depending upon the size of your house and system. However, regardless of the cost there is no guarantee that there wouldn't be any damage come spring. If you do find someone that will guarantee the job, the price will be substantially higher. In any case, you'll be able to use the steps below as a reference, guideline, and/or checklist, on whatever your decision will be.

The Main Water Supply

  1. Enter the crawlspace, basement, or garage and shut off the valve on the main, the 3/4 inch pipe that brings the water in from the street into the house.
  2. Open all fixtures, faucets, shower valves, and flush toilets, etc.,to drain the water out.
  3. Your clothes washer and dishwasher have pumps located at the bottom and there's always water left in them. Take the discharge hose on the clothes washer and place the end on the floor so it will be lower than the pump. Any water left in the pump should flush out.
  4. The dishwasher drain pipe has to be disconnected from the sink drain or disposer, or locate the end of the discharge hose attached to the pump and disconnected it from the pump. Any water left in the pump should flush out.
  5. Another method is to attach a wet/dry vac to the end of the discharge hoses and suck the water out.
  6. Flush the toilets so there wouldn't be any water left in the tanks. Use a small container or a sponge to remove any excess water present in the bowl and tank.
  7. At this point, gravity is the only vehicle to move the water out of the pipes, which ends up bleeding out at the lowest point. However, due to sometimes improper application of pipes or the house settling, you may have dips (sections of pipes leaning towards the opposite direction) causing pockets of water within the system.

    Follow these steps to insure the system is clear of water.

    • Attach a compressor hose to one of the spigots outside the house. You'll need an adapter for the compressor which you'll find at your local home improvement store.
    • Make sure all the faucets, shower valves and feed lines to the toilets are on the off position.
    • Set your compressor at 40-50 pounds of pressure and fill the pipes with air.
    • Leave the compressor running and turn on the valve on one of the fixtures. There will be a gush of air coming out and any water left in the pipes.
    • Close it back up again and go to the next fixture.
    • Continue this process with each of the fixtures. Include shower valves, toilet feed lines and other outside spigots. The air pressure will force the water out of the pipes.
    • As a precaution repeat the process two more times.
    The Water Heater
  8. Shut the power off from the main panel if your heater is electric, if it's gas, shut it off at the gas cock from where it comes into the house.
  9. Wait two to three hours for the water to cool down, as pressure does build up in a tank filled with hot water.
  10. Located at the base of the tank there's a valve with a garden hose attachment. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve.
  11. Place the other end into a utility sink or outside.
  12. Treat the water heater like one of the fixtures. Open up the drain valve and let the water drain out then close it back up again.
  13. Set the compressor at 30 pounds of pressure.
  14. Fill the pipes with air as you did in the step above for the main water supply.
  15. Open up the water intake valve located at the top of the tank and fill the tank with air.
  16. Open the drain valve and you'll hear a gush of air coming out from the open end of the hose. The air pressure will push any water left inside at the bottom of the tank.
  17. Repeat the process two more times.

    The Hot Water Storage Tank

    The storage tank is different then the water heater. In this case the boiler heats up the water and places it in a storage tank. Treat the storage tank like one of the heating zones as you will see below, shutting down (The Boiler).
  18. Turn the boiler off from the main electrical panel and let the water cool down, 2-3-hours.
  19. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank.
  20. Place the other end into a utility sink or outside.
  21. Open the drain valve and let the water drain out.
  22. There's always some water left at the bottom of the tank. Flush out the water by following these steps:

    • Turn the valve off where the garden hose is attached.
    • Attach the compressor to the valve with the garden hose attachment above the isolation switch at the top of the tank, (Sometimes the isolation switch is placed alongside the heating zones. In order to locate the one for the water tank follow the pipe that leads to the tank.) fill the tank with air at about 30 pounds of pressure.
    • Open the drain valve at the bottom of the tank were the garden hose is attached. You'll hear a gush of air coming out and any water left in the tank.
    • Repeat the process two more times.
    The Boiler (forced hot water)

    As you've previously done with the storage tank above, do the same with the boiler. Shut it off from the main electrical panel and wait 2-3 hours to cool down. Proceed with the following steps:
  23. At the base of the boiler close to the floor there's a drain valve with a garden hose attachment. Hook up a garden hose to the drain valve and place the other end into a utility sink or outside.
  24. Open the valve and let the water drain out.
  25. Close the drain valve.
  26. Each boiler has one or more zones,depending upon the size of your system. Treat each zone separately. Each zone has an isolation switch with a valve and a garden hose attachment above it..
  27. Hook the compressor up to the valve and fill the pipes with air set at 30-40 pounds of pressure.
  28. Open the drain valve and you should hear a gush of air coming out of the hose along with any water left in the system.
  29. Close the drain valve.
  30. Repeat the process two more times for each zone in the system.
  31. Leave all valves opened when you leave the house.

  32. Pour anti-freeze into the sinks, toilet bowls, showers, and/or bathtubs. Pour enough anti-freeze into these fixtures to replace the water in the traps. Usually there's about a gallon of water in the toilet bowl trap so pour a gallon of anti-freeze to replace the water. Use the RV Anti-freeze available at your local home improvement store.
  33. Make sure any crawlspace windows or entry ways into the crawlspace or basement are closed and sealed. Also, if there's a scuttle hole into the attic make sure it's closed and sealed.
  34. Lastly, contact the Water Dept. in your area and have them shut the water off from the street. When they get there have them open the bleed valve next to where they shut off the water. Open up the valve on the main before the meter and leave it opened. This will release any water trapped in the pipes.


Make sure all the fixtures, i.e. faucets, shower valves, spigots, toilet tank feed valve, and all boiler valves are left on the open position before you leave the house.

The above information was gathered by interviewing 3 professional plumbers, building officials and utility companies in the North East Region, specifically the New Hampshire coastline. If this is your first time winterizing a home seek advice from your local town officials. Also contact your utility companies and inform them on what you're doing, you'll need to shut off the utilities anyway.
If you're not comfortable using this method for the first time, hire someone, pay attention on how a professional does it, then try it on your own the next time.


I started this blog because it gives me a chance to do what I love to do. I love to write. Also, as a teacher, I find pleasure in helping people by giving advice on how to maintain and improve their homes. I've been in the building trades for over thirty five years, and a third generation carpenter builder. If you have an issue or a project you're working on and need advice or assistance, please mention it in one of your comments. I will gladly work on it and do the appropriate research to get the solution.

Please, look for other upcoming posts on home maintenance and improvement, cooking, and photography. Hope this post was helpful. Thank you for visiting.


This is merely advice and to take the mystery out of winterizing a property. Please, do not attempt this if your skill level is low or you don't feel comfortable. Seek advice from a local professional. We will take no responsibility for any damage caused to any property.


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