How to De-Winterize Your House

A home that has been winterized in order to leave it empty for the cold months of winter will then need to be de-winterized when you return to occupy it once again. This is generally a matter of reversing whatever actions you took to winterize the home. Some common winterizing actions can include:

Shutting off the water and draining the pipes to prevent freezing
Disconnecting flexible supply tubes for sinks, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, and other appliances
Unplugging appliances
Programming thermostats and alarm systems
Draining the water heater and water softener and disconnecting its water pipes
Canceling or forwarding mail service

To reverse the process and de-winterize a house that was winterized by a professional service, the easiest solution is to have the same professionals return to systematically do the work—they know, after all, exactly what was done and how to reverse it. But since the process is relatively simple, many homeowners choose to learn the steps themselves and save on labor costs as it only requires a few basic tools and supplies.

De-Winterizing

De-winterizing a home is the process of reopening pipes and water lines for use after leaving the building vacant during the cold season. Homeowners or professionals can de-winterize houses in the spring after winterizing to preserve them through freezing temperatures.

Turn on Any Electrical Circuits That Have Been Shut Off
It’s not uncommon for a home’s electrical service to be shut off in a manner that leaves only the essential circuits operating, such as the circuit for the furnace or a few essential lighting circuits. Go to the main service panel and examine all the individual branch circuit breakers inside the panel. Turn on any circuit breakers that have been shut off.

WARNING

If your home has an electric hot water heater, make sure it is refilled before you turn on the circuit that powers it to avoid any potential water leaks.

Connect All Water Supply Tubes and Pipes

If your de-winterizing procedure included disconnecting the flexible supply tubes from various plumbing fixtures, systematically inspect all these fixtures and reconnect the flex tubes to the shutoff valves or the appliance inlets. This is best done on a room-by-room basis, carefully looking at the sinks, toilet, showers, tubs, and any other water-supplied appliances. Use channel-lock pliers or a wrench to carefully re-secure all the flex tubes to their fixtures. Do not turn on the fixture shutoff valves yet; in fact, make sure they are all still fully shut off.

Make sure to also inspect the water heater, water softener, and other utility appliances to make sure their water connections are connected. Remove aerators on kitchen and bathroom faucets (including tubs) to clean any buildup before turning the water back on.

The winterizing process may have included stuffing drain openings with rags or seals to prevent sewer gases from rising up into the home. If so, make sure to unblock all the drains in the home, including the toilet, shower, and floor drains.

Turn on the Main Water Supply
When you are certain that all disconnected water supply tubes and pipes have been properly reconnected, slowly turn on the main water supply until it is about halfway open. This valve is usually found at the main entrance pipe delivering the water supply to the home. If there is a utility sink near the main shutoff valve, it is a good idea to turn on its shutoff valve and open the faucet as you gradually turn on the main water supply. This will allow trapped air to escape as the pipes refill with water.

Open the Water Heater, Boiler, and Water Softener Water Valves
If these major appliances have been shut off during winterization, turn their water supply back on at this time. This is normally done at valves located on the pipes running to and from the appliances. Follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for how to fill these appliances; it may involve opening escape valves to allow trapped water to exit as they fill up with water.

Turn on Plumbing Fixtures, One at a Time
With the main water supply valve opened about halfway, visit each plumbing fixture in every room. First, open the fixture shutoff valve, then open the faucet on each fixture. Air will likely rush out of the faucet as trapped air in the pipes escapes, and the first flow of water may be a loud and vigorous splashing; this is normal. When the water runs steady and clear, you can shut off the faucet. Check the fixture shutoff valves for leaks and tighten any joints that are seeping or actively leaking. Carry rags or paper towels with you as you check these fixtures in case there is a small leak or drip.

Check all fixtures, including refrigerator icemakers, water filters, dishwashers, etc. to make sure their water supplies have been restored.

Test toilets to make sure they are operating correctly. When toilet tanks sit empty for long periods of time, the seals on the flush valves may harden and prevent the toilet tank from sealing properly at the end of each flush cycle.

When all fixtures seem to be operating properly, turn the main water supply valve on to the fully-open position.

Check Exterior Hose Spigot Faucets

Freeze-proof faucets can leak after de-winterizing. Check every exterior spigot to make sure it opens and closes properly without leaking. Low water pressure here may mean there is a leaking split in the stub-out pipe that extends from the inside of the house. To check this out, you may need to enter a crawlspace or inspect the basement.

Double-Check All Plumbing Fixtures

As a final step to restore the plumbing service, go back through every room in the house and carefully double-check all plumbing fixtures and appliances for proper operation, then make sure the water supply connections aren’t leaking.

Plug in Lamps and Appliances

It is standard practice to unplug most lamps and other appliances for winterization. Reversing the process involves now plugging those essential appliances back into their electrical outlets.

Turn on the Gas
Often, natural gas is turned off when a house is left unattended in winter to prevent danger from gas leaks, and you’ll now need to turn it back on. In some climates where winter heating is not needed, the gas may have been shut off at the main gas shutoff valve. Turning this valve back on will restore gas throughout the house. In cold climates where a gas furnace must run at a low temperature to prevent serious freezing, the main gas supply may still be open, but individual fixtures may have their local shutoff valves closed. Open all these valves.

Light Any Standing Pilots

Most newer gas appliances use electronic ignition systems that ignite the gas with use, but if you have older appliances that operate with standing pilot lights that burn constantly, now is the time to relight these pilots. Older furnaces, water heaters, and stoves may have this kind of pilot light, but your home may not have any such appliances depending on its age.

Check the Sump Pump
If your home has a sump pump that serves a drain-tile and sump pit system, check to make sure it is turned on and operating correctly. Spring rains or melting snow runoff can flood basements unless the sump pump is up and running.

Check the Roof Gutters

Over the winter, leaves and other debris may have clogged the roof gutters. Make sure they are clear and that the downspouts will carry water away from the house.

Reprogram the Thermostat and Alarm System
Programmable systems may have been adjusted for special settings for the winter when you were away from the house. Reprogram them to the needs of your occupied home. Also, check the thermostat on the water heater to make sure it is adjusted for proper temperature.

When to Call a Professional

While a standard home can usually be de-winterized yourself, you’ll likely need to call a professional to de-winterize an RV or mobile home. Professional services that winterize these homes often fill the water lines and drain traps with a special anti-freeze solution. If this is the case, it is difficult to do the de-winterization yourself. Call the service to come and drain the water pipes and properly dispose of the solution. The pipes will need to be thoroughly flushed to remove all traces of the antifreeze solution.

Welcome home! You are now ready to resume living in your house. All that’s left is to tell the neighbors you’re back, reset the time on clocks, and restart any discontinued mail services.

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