In the winter of 2012-13 hundreds of homes in the San Bernardino Mountains suffered extensive damage due to burst pipes during a cold snap, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. Unfortunately, much of this heartache may have been avoided if homes were properly winterized before being vacated. Simply turning off the water to the house is not enough!

Whether you own a vacation home or simply plan to be away from home for a few days during the winter months, it pays to spend a bit of time winterizing your home's plumbing system ahead of time. This small investment could potentially save you huge expenses and headaches. Even if temperatures never drop to a dangerous level, having the water off could also save you in the event of other plumbing emergencies such as a burst washer line, cracked toilet or other leak.

Ideally, hiring a qualified plumber, such as Hilman's Plumbing, to complete the winterization process is recommended, especially if the home will be vacant for weeks. A qualified plumber can perform services beyond the scope of the typical homeowner to make sure that all pipes are drained down completely, including blowing out lines with a compressor and properly draining down water heaters, spas, sprinkler systems, and any appliances that use water.
PLEASE NOTE: This procedure list mainly applies to those who are leaving your house unattended during the cold weather for a few days to a few weeks. If you are leaving your house unattended for the entire winter (or longer), there are other steps you should take. Please consult a professional. By no means is this an exhaustive list and cannot replace the assistance of a professional plumber, but we offer the following tips to assist our customers and friends in protecting your investment.


  1. TURN OFF WATER. Locate and turn off the main water shut-off valve. If you do not have a valve, you may consider calling the water company to turn your water off at the meter.
  2. WATER HEATER. After the water is off, if your water heater is a standard storage type heater (30-40-50 gal.), turn your gas water heater to “LOW” or “VACATION”. Electric water heaters should be shut off at the breaker and drained. Tankless water heaters should be drained. (If installed by Hilman's Plumbing, they can be.) If your TWH cannot be drained then leave the power turned on.
  3. DRAIN SUPPLY LINES. Water should then be drained from the entire water supply system. This is typically done by opening up drain-down valves on the hot and cold water piping and opening all fixture faucets to ensure a more complete drain. Remember to drain all exterior hose bibbs and remove and drain hoses, as well. If you don't have frost-free hose bibbs, an insulating boot is recommended. If the house is on a well, the pressure tank should also be drained.
  4. BLOW OUT THE WATER SUPPLY LINES. If your water distribution system does not have proper drain-down valves to sufficiently “dump” the system, there will be standing water remaining in some pipes. Even with the water system no longer under pressure, this remaining water could freeze and burst pipe and/or fittings. Copper, galvanized steel and PVC plastic piping can all be prone to splitting or cracking. (Fortunately, PEX piping is not prone to splitting or cracking.) We recommend that water be blown out of the water supply lines with an air compressor. A professional plumber can provide this service, if desired.
  5. ANTI-FREEZE. Once all the water supply lines are completely empty, flush the toilets until they are empty, then winterize toilets and other drain traps in sinks, tubs, showers, and floor drains by filling them with a special non-toxic RV type antifreeze solution (typically pink in color and available at most hardware and auto supply stores).
  6. OTHER ITEMS TO DRAIN. Water softeners, water filters, and water treatment systems also need to be drained (the brine tank in a water softener can usually be ignored).
  7. OTHER APPLIANCES. Keep in mind that water also runs through many appliances such as the washing machine and dishwasher, as well as the water supply line to the ice-maker in refrigerators. You may need to consider draining and/or disconnecting these appliances.
  8. HEATING SYSTEMS. We always recommend you leave your heat turned on to a minimum 50-55 degrees. Though it might seem like a waste of money or energy at first glance, a minimal heating bill will be considerably less expensive than the cost of potential repairs if everything were to freeze up. Also, the rigors of extreme winter temperatures and low humidity in a winterized home stress the interior of the house and the appliances. Wood flooring, trim and furniture dry out, and seals in appliances can dry and crack.
  9. SPECIAL HEATING SYSTEMS. If the home has any sort of a more elaborate heating system such as a hot water boiler, or radiant floor heat, then we recommend VERY strongly that it be handled by a professional familiar with these systems.
  10. POST SIGNS. Last of all, post signs in conspicuous locations (“Winterized - Do NOT Use Plumbing”) just in case there are unexpected visitors.


When returning to occupy the house, it is equally important to de-winterize in the proper order, in order to avoid a unpleasant surprise. The entire process must be carefully reversed, such as turning off faucets and fixture shut-off valves before turning on the water supply (or well pump).