A Michigander’s Guide To Winterizing Your Home

DIY, How-To, Seasonal, Water Temperature,

Once your holiday decorations and lights are put away for the season, it’s time to get serious about winterizing your home. While frigid most of the time, the Great Lakes can indeed surprise us with unseasonable warmer temperatures. Michigan’s changing weather can be unpredictable, and being prepared sure comes in handy.


With the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to forget that Old Man Winter can do a number on your house, including your plumbing system.


Michigander's Winter Home Guide

Here’s a guide to winterizing your home:


1. Exterior Home Structure

Michigan is a beautiful place to live, but it can get cold and you may be vacationing south, in search of someplace warmer for the winter months. If you’re going to be gone for any length of time, or if the holidays bring you closer to more sunshine, it’s time to plan ahead.


General exterior household preparation will keep your home safe and sound for a welcome return during the winter holiday months. Timed lights and cleared snow on your driveway and walk will deter burglars during winter months.


Drain exterior hoses prior to storage. Water in the tubes can freeze, even while sitting in your garage for the winer. Michigan has a way of getting cold and the rubber on the hoses often split and sever if there’s still excess water inside of your hoses. Storing your garden equipment free of moisture will allow it to last longer.


“When we leave for Florida, all I want to do is go and not have to worry about the house. The last thing we need is expensive plumbing costs on top of the expense of the trip. For that reason, we plan ahead and winterize.” —Joe G.


Make sure your gutters have been cleaned and your surrounding trees are clear of dead branches and debris that can settle in your home’s gutter structure. If you forgot some items on your fall checklist, or if more leaves collected since it was done, it’s not too late. Get your outdoor structures cleaned during one of Michigan’s mild stint. Gutter clogs result in basement flooding. Snow melts, freezes, then melts again—resulting in multiple trouble.


Your home’s foundation, including your roof and chimney. Replace missing or damaged roof shingles too. Exterior home structure often can have gaps or openings where water can puddle during Michigan’s fierce winter. Replace roof shingles that are damaged or missing.


Michigander's Winter Home Guide


Install (or replace) weather stripping on your house or place your storm windows and doors if you have them stored. Make sure you have adequate caulk around all exterior windows and door trims. Install storm windows and doors.


If you don’t already have storm windows, consider putting this item in your budget for next year. Some windows aren’t made from modern insulated glass. As result, you lose heat during colder months.


2. Water Valves

Take preventative action by turning off water valves that allow water to flow inside of your home, then drain all valves and faucets. It’s important to identify your specific valves in advance and then let them run until your pipes are empty.


Water running through your system can freeze mid-stream, causing your pipes to expand from excess ice pressure. Running water in these outside valves can freeze pipes, causing leaks and cracks—or worse, bursting pipes. Frozen plumbing systems can lead to serious damage, which is an expensive fix. Flushing out your piping system prior to Michigan’s winter months will help avoid costly problems.


“Winterize. Winterize. Winterize.” —Gerry B.


Flush your toilets and pour denatured alcohol into your sinks and toilets. Denatured alcohol will prevent water traps from freezing. In event there’s trouble with your water system, avoid using automotive antifreeze. Antifreeze can contaminate your drinking water. Nontoxic antifreeze, made for winterizing motor homes, is acceptable.


Michigander's Winter Home Guide


3. Plumbing and Pipes

When Michigan weather is frigid, allow cold water to drip from your faucets, especially those that are served by exposed pipes. If you’re gone during the winter, keep a small steady stream of water running in your faucet spouts for adequate system function. While this may increase your water bill during the time you’re away, it will help keep your pipes running well, even when there’s snow and ice. Running trickling water helps prevent freezing pipes.


Heating tape wrapped around your main plumbing system will give you an extra level of protection in keeping your plumbing warm. Frozen pipes are no fun and can be an expensive fix. Keep your pipe function in good working order by taking one extra step.


Thaw Frozen PipesWDIV Channel 4, Click On Detroit

  • Keep faucet open and check all other faucets in your home to discover any  additional frozen pipes. (If one pipe freezes, others may freeze.)
  • Treat your frozen pipe by applying heat to the section of pipe by using a hair dryer or an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe. (A portable space heater can also do the trick. But, keep heaters away from flammable materials. In a pinch, wrap pipes with hot water soaked  towels. Do NOT use kerosene, propane heaters, charcoal stoves, or an open flame device, such as a blowtorch.)
  • Run water through the pipe to help melt ice in the pipe. As you treat the frozen pipe and ice begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area.  Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to thaw or locate the frozen area—or if the frozen area isn’t accessible—call your licensed plumber.


4. Heating and Electrical

Check your heating system by a licensed heating and air-conditioning professional and access for any cracks around electrical outlets on exit or entering walls. Most HVAC manufacturers recommend annual inspections to avoid expensive repairs.


Lower heat temperature, but don’t turn it off completely. Your home’s walls host most of your major plumbing piping. Keeping your temperature set to the same temperature (at least  55° F) day and night.


If you will be going away during cold weather, leave a consistent lower heat temperature in your home. Higher nighttime temperatures will incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a more costly repair expense if your pipes freeze and burst.


If there’s a power emergency, turn off the furnace emergency switch. Once the switch is off, drain your furnace boiler by opening the valve that looks like a garden faucet. It’s typically located at the bottom of your unit. Before your furnace is restarted, open your radiator vents and fill your boiler with water again.


After an outage, your electric water heater tank will keep your water warm for the first few days, but the tank can freeze after extended cold temperatures. Below freezing temperatures, drain it after three days.


Michigan winter months don’t call for air conditioning units to run, however, if you turn up your air conditioning system, this extra step will allow air to flow through your home, keeping your entire heating system in check.


Michigander's Winter Home Guide


5. Warmth and Insulation

An insulated winter home will keep your plumbing function without internal ice blockage. “R-30” insulation is considered the minimum for your attic. If needed, add another layer of insulation if your home is older. If your house is relatively new, it probably meets insulation standards.


Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. If your bathroom and kitchen sink cabinets have pipes that are near an outside wall, leave under-the-sink cabinet doors open. (Remove harmful cleaners and household chemicals so that they’re out of reach of pets or children.) Heat from your house will circulate in and around your drainage and garbage disposal pipes.


“If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.“WDIV Channel 4, Click On Detroit


Keeping pipes from being exposed to the elements will allow your interior and exterior walls to remain warm. Exterior walls create a chill in the room, so you can imagine what that temperature can do to your plumbing if pipes are exposed to that Michigan cold for long periods of time. Also, close garage doors if there’s water supply lines located in the garage.


Allow the winter sun to come in by opening your blinds and drapes open during the day. This small adjustment can make a huge difference when warming up your home. Close the blinds and drapes in the evening in order to keep the heat in.


6. Walk-Throughs and Mail

If you plan to leave town this winter, you may want a payment method other than your mailbox. You may even consider paperless bill notification. By doing your banking online, you can avoid unnecessary paper being sent to your home.


You don’t want excessive solicitation notices or newspapers to pile up. Or worse, finding your tax bill stuck in a snow drift can cause you unnecessary delays and grief. By forwarding your mail, or providing a mailbox key to a trusted neighbor for regular pick up, you keep on top of bills, as well as prevent unwelcome intruders by keeping your home looking lived in—all year round.


“One year, I left Michigan in the winter to travel out west. I assumed my bills were all squared away and hadn’t exercised due diligence. I totally forgot a payment that came in the mail and landed in my neighbors shrubs. To my surprise, I forgot about my home insurance statement too. Unfortunately, that statement landed in the wrong hands and I was hit with tons of late fees. Don’t leave town without taking care of business.” —Bob Z.


7. Winter Home Inspection and Alarm System

Setting your alarm will give you peace of mind. Perhaps you can link your cell phone or computer up with an alarm app, so you can turn your alarm system on and off remotely. That way, if you have a family member that’s house watching, they can enter your house on your control.


“I have good neighbors. Whenever we leave Michigan and head south, we always make sure that we have a family member do regular “drive-bys”, as well as many footsteps in the snow on our porch steps.. It makes our house appear to have traffic all winter long.”  —Bonne B.


Michigander's Winter Home Guide


Having a friend or neighbor walk through your house on a regular basis will allow your home to be accessed for disturbances before they occur. By hiring someone to observe the exterior and interior of your home while your away will keep maintenance items in check.


Winterizing your home not only means plumbing, but that’s a good place to start. If you live in Michigan, make sure you plan ahead and create your own guide to winterizing your home this season.


Need a dependable plumber in the Metro Detroit area to assess your plumbing needs this winter? Consider WaterWork Plumbing! Call us today: 248-542-8022 to schedule an appointment.


Michigander's Winter Home Guide