As the winter approaches, you need to take steps to protect your plumbing pipes from frost. Without a regular flow of water and no heating running, your pipes are at risk of freezing, causing them to burst or leak.

You can’t leave your indoor or outdoor faucets running unattended for long periods, nor can you leave your furnace blaring with no one at home. So, knowing how to drain pipes for winter remains the best way to eliminate the threat of pipe damage.

In this article, our highly experienced plumbing services team reviews simple ways to protect your plumbing pipes every winter you’re not at home.

How Does Ice Damage Pipes?

You may be wondering how freezing temperatures can affect your pipes. Well, it’s just physics at play.

After you use a faucet or hose anywhere in your home and close it off, water will remain inside the pipes. It won’t reverse into the tank completely. In the winter, the remaining water will freeze as the temperature drops, and this is where the problem begins.

Water expands by 9% when it freezes. As a result of the expansion, the pipes will feel more pressure, leading to leaks, cracks, and outright busts.

Why Should You Prevent Pipe Freezing?

You should prevent your pipes from freezing if you don’t want them to bust or crack under the influence of the winter weather. The resulting water leaks can be highly problematic when the cracks occur in the more hidden parts of the home.

First, it will likely increase your water bill significantly. Secondly, it may lead to costly water-related damage such as mold growth, hardwood flooring decay, and foundation damage.

So, frozen pipes can force more than just plumbing expenses on you.

How to Drain Pipes for Winter in Six Steps

If you want to know how to drain pipes for winter, follow these six steps.

1. Shut Off the Water Main

The first step to draining your pipes is to cut off all water to your property. When possible, cut the water supply right outside the street instead of your house. The pipes inside your yard can also burst, just like the others inside your house.

Thus, it’s best to ensure there’s no water in the pipes inside your property by cutting off the water supply as far out as possible.

2. Unlock all the Indoor and Outdoor Faucets

Unlock all the faucets in your home, starting from the lowest floor — your basement or crawl space. Leave them turned on until they no longer have any water coming through. The risk of frozen pipes is lower if there’s little to no liquid to freeze.

Since you’ve already shut off the water supply, opening the faucet will only release most of the water left in the pipes.

3. Flush Your Toilets

When draining pipes for winter, you must look beyond your faucets. The next step is to flush your toilets until the tanks are empty. The water in the tanks freezing will almost certainly cause cracks, so it’s best to make sure none of them remains filled up.

The water in the “U” part of the bowl will not go away, though. Fortunately, it’s unlikely to freeze and cause cracks around the toilet base.

4. Empty the Water Lines to Your Water Based Appliances

If you have any water-based appliances in your home that have their own water lines, you should turn them on to ensure there’s no water left inside the pipes.

For example, you should run your dishwasher and washing machines on cold and hot water until there is no water coming through. Depending on the length of the lines, the water should run out fairly quickly if you’ve turned off the water at the source.

5. Empty Your Water Heater Tank

If you use a conventional water heater, you should ensure there’s no water left inside. Running the appliances above would have the tank close to empty, but it’s important to drain it completely in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

6. Force Compressed Air Through the Pipes

Feeding compressed air of about 70 psi through your hose connector or basement faucet is an excellent way to blow out any residual water from your property.

With no residual water left in the pipes, there’s very little chance of your pipes freezing up in the winter weather. However, you can take a few more steps to ensure complete protection.  

Most of these firmly qualify as overkill (especially for properties in Pacifica, CA, and the surrounding areas), but it’s best to have all the options in front of you.

Other Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Draining your pipes isn’t the only way to prevent them from freezing. Follow these additional steps for winterizing your pipes.

Run Antifreeze

If you have reasons to believe there’s still some water left within your pipes and plumbing fixtures, you can run non-toxic antifreeze down those fixtures and drains.

You can also run antifreeze inside your water heater. The chemicals in antifreeze include methanol, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol. The combination will keep any liquids left in your pipes and water heaters from freezing.

The one downside with this option is that you’ll have to spend time flushing out the antifreeze when you’re back home and ready to resume using your plumbing system. The body will quickly metabolize these chemicals into toxic alcohol byproducts if ingested. So, it’s probably best to reserve this option for your toilets or pipe systems that don’t deliver cooking or drinking water.

Leave Your Faucets Open

An open faucet takes on the role of a relief valve if your pipes freeze up in cold weather. Even the slowest trickle of water coming through the faucet will prevent ice from forming inside the pipes.

This option requires allowing the water supply to keep running. So, you can expect a slight increase in your bill when you check your water meter. However, it’s a trade-off many people accept with open arms as long as it reduces the risk of ending up with far costlier home repairs.

Insulate Your Garage Doors

If you have water pipes in your garage, you can keep them from freezing by insulating the garage door. If your garage gets excessively cold in the winter months, consider insulating the entire structure to give your pipes the highest level of protection.

Garage insulation can help lower your heating and cooling bills overall. Thus, you get a two-for-one deal if you insulate your garage to protect your pipes.

Insulate the Pipes

Do you have pipes in unheated areas like crawl spaces, attic, and garage? You can protect them using pipe insulation. However, you should keep in mind that most pipe insulation materials cannot prevent freezing on their own without extra help. Some insulation materials can also prevent warm air from reaching the pipes.

Seal Possible Sources of Cold Air Intrusion

Cracks or holes in the floor and rim joists will allow cold air to reach your pipes faster. You can seal off these areas using expandable foam. You should pay close attention to areas where the pipes pass through an exterior wall.

Sealing off these areas can also help to keep conditioned air inside your home. It’s another pipe protection approach that will lower your energy bill.

Install a Heat Cable

For truly vulnerable plumbing pipes, you can install heat cables to keep them safe in the winter weather. Most heat cables have a built-in thermostat that can sense the thermostat pipe temperature and turn the heat off and on as necessary to prevent pipe freezing.

However, as you’ve probably guessed, you’ll need an outlet to plug in the heat cable, and you can’t completely shut down electricity while you’re away.

Setup a Smart Thermostat System

Another option that involves keeping the lights turned on in some capacity is to use a smart thermostat to control your home’s heating while you’re away.

As the temperatures start dipping to the levels where your pipes are at risk of freezing, you can turn on your home’s heating for the duration of the cold snap.  

It’s not the most efficient option, but like other options we’ve covered above, the heating cost will almost certainly be cheaper than the cost of repairing broken pipes or remedying water damage.

Get Professional Pipe Draining Services This Winter

Knowing how to drain pipes for winter is one thing, but going through the DIY process is another. Our team at Works Plumbing can take this task off your shoulders. Our technicians have more than two decades of experience helping homeowners prepare for the winter weather.

We can assess the state of your pipes and plumbing systems to determine the best way to prepare them for the winter weather. If we spot already broken water pipes, our water line repair team will swing into action to keep the problem from worsening over the winter months.

Call our experts at Works Plumbing today at (650) 414-5831 to learn more about how to drain pipes for winter in Pacifica, CA.

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