Initial work orders for a vacant property will instruct the contractor to winterize the property. Winterizations are generally performed during the months of September through April in regions where temperatures can be expected to drop below freezing. Winterizing is simply the process of removing water from plumbing supply lines and adding antifreeze into plumbing drains.
To be prepared to winterize a property, the contractor must know how to complete both a dry winterization as well as a wet winterization. A dry winterization is one where the house utilizes dry heat, as opposed to heating with water (radiant heat system), which would require a wet winterization.
Protect Yourself From Liability... Winterize Properly
Your potential exposure to liability for damage to the property is greatest when you perform an improper winterization. You need to pay very close attention to this: if you perform an incomplete winterization, you can be held liable for damage caused by frozen water in pipes or for leaking pipes when the water is turned on in the future.
Please don't dismiss this very serious warning. We have paid over $20,000 in damages for winterizations that were done improperly! So, pay very close attention to the details of this presentation, and note especially where we have included special warnings of liability.
Dry Winterize Following These Steps
The following steps must be completed in order to properly perform a dry winterization and to protect yourself from liability for pipe damage and water damage. Each step needs to be documented by photos. • Make sure water is shut off at curb/street and at main in house. Use zip ties to show that shut off valve has been shut off and secured in "off" position (include photos). • Turn off power or gas to water heater (include photo). • Attach garden hose to water heater and drain outside (include photos). • Attach air line to washer valves (cold water or both) and compressor (include photos). Your compressor should meet these minimum standards: 1) 5 gallon tank; 2) 3.8 SCFM@90psi.
• Use 35-40 pounds air pressure to drain the water heater and all of the plumbing supply lines.
• Beginning upstairs, open every water valve in the house one at a time, until water is evacuated from all the supply lines. Don't forget the kitchen sprayer, the ice-maker water supply, and all outside faucets.
• Close all the valves to pressure test the system at 40 psi (include photo). • Pour antifreeze in every drain (include photos). Remove water from toilet tank and bowl before adding antifreeze. Don't forget floor drains and the drain in the bottom of the dishwasher.
• Place stickers on every plumbing fixture (include photos). Don't forget the front door/window (affix it to glass) and the electric panel (affix it over the water heater switch). Write the date on at least these three: kitchen sink, water heater, and front door/window.
• If it is a well system, shut off and zip-tie the main, drain the well tank, turn off the power to the well, and affix stickers to the well tank and well switch in the electric panel (include photos).
If the compressor stayed off for at least 20 minutes while you added antifreeze and affixed stickers, then you can confirm that the system held pressure. If the compressor did not not stay off, but continued to cycle on and off, then the system did not hold pressure. If the system did not hold pressure, try to discover where the leak is.
If you can discover the source of the leak, then take photos and supply a bid to repair it. If you cannot discover the source of the leak, then supply a bid to meet with a licensed plumber to find out where the leak is.
"How To Winterize" Video
The accompanying video shows an actual winterization. Take the time to watch Parts 1-4, so that you can be very familiar with all of the procedures necessary to complete a winterization properly. Here is Part 1...you will need to go to YouTube to find and view Parts 2-4:
Special Liability Concerns
When you winterize a property, these are the things you need to be very careful to do properly and to document fully:
• Take a photo of a zip tie on the water meter valve. (If the water gets turned on later, you have evidence that you turned it off and secured it.)
• Take a photo of the water meter and serial number. (For the same reason as above.)
• Be careful to blow all the water out of every valve and put antifreeze in every drain, and include photos of pouring antifreeze in each drain. (This will insure that there will be no future damage from water freezing in the pipes, and if there is, all of these photos will be invaluable to proving that it's not your fault.)
• This is very important: make sure the system holds pressure after you've blown all the water out and closed all the valves. (If you report that it held pressure, and then the pipes leak when the property is dewinterized, you are liable for any damage caused by leaking pipes!)
Performing a Wet Winterization
Having performed winterizations on well over 3,000 properties, we have found that less than 1% of them have been wet winterizations. Our efforts to winterize these properties have not been easy. It seems that each system is different and has its own unique challenges. Some have no valves to which you can hook up a garden hose and air compressor. Some have pumps for each zone. Others have one pump for the entire system.
I am reasonably familiar with these systems, having personally installed a radiant heating system in my own house, and yet I still find each of these systems to be a significant challenge to winterize. Our recommendation is to study the system carefully, then provide a bid to your client to complete the work, including the installation of one or more valves, as may be necessary.
While you are performing the winterization, you will likely have time to complete your property condition report.