Easy Fall Steps to Prepare Plumbing for Winter

Fall is the Cue to Winterize Your Home’s Plumbing

The kids are back in school; the weather’s getting colder and the leaves are quickly falling from the trees. This can only mean one thing: fall is here, with winter weather on its tail.

Chilly temperatures in fall should serve as a reminder of the harsher winter months ahead, so make sure to keep up with your house’s plumbing basics, so you’re well prepared for any would-be problems associated with freezing temperatures.

Just as you switch up your wardrobe when the seasons change, it’s essential to keep up with seasonal house plumbing basics. Simple maintenance tasks performed in the fall will potentially save you a lot of time and money during the colder months. A simple mistake, like forgetting to disconnect your hose before winter, can lead to frozen, cracked or burst pipes and eventually wreak havoc on your entire plumbing system.

In addition to the harsh weather, the holidays can add extra stress to your plumbing due to increased activity from both family and guests. (Some plumbers claim that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year!)

There are specific “cold weather” preventative measures that will help sustain a healthy water system and prevent excess water loss and higher water bills.

So, instead of taking chances and playing the odds that nothing will go wrong, our expert team of plumbers at J&A South Park suggest you take advantage of any remaining nice weather and use it to prepare your plumbing for the upcoming winter.

Caution: Don’t wait till the first day of winter to start your preparations; take care of all the work before you are worried about snowstorms. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to begin your fall plumbing maintenance.

By follow these plumbing tips, you can help make sure your plumbing system is well prepared for the colder temperatures that lie ahead.

Around the Yard and Outside the House

Disconnect your water hoses from faucets. The number one problem plumbers run into when the mercury drops are damaged outdoor faucets. Make sure to remove water hoses from the spigot before they freeze on to the pipe. Even better, get your hoses clear of water and into your garage or basement as part of your fall plumbing maintenance plan. A connected frozen hose could damage the faucet or pipes – or even cause it to burst, so disconnect those hoses for winter.

Shut off those valves for outside faucets. If you have inside shut-off valves that lead to your outdoor faucets, be sure they are closed, and those outside lines are fully drained. Lastly, you might want to consider covering outside faucets using a Styrofoam faucet insulation kit available at home centers or stop in at J&A South Park.

Speaking of valves. In case of a major incident, when you might need to shut off all the water immediately. It’s critical to know where the main water valve is located. This valve is usually located next to the water meter and should be kept in good condition. To maintain your home’s main water valve, open and close it once a year.

One of the simplest ways to keep the plumbing working correctly is by cleaning up the potential trouble spots. It’s important to take note how much leaf clean-up you might need to do when cooler months roll in. What many homeowners don’t realize is that falling leaves often accumulate in hollows in their yard. You’ll find them in basement window wells, inside gutters and eaves. Cleaning up these areas helps ensure you don’t end up with a blockage in the drainage system which can eventually clog your plumbing.

This is especially true for gutters and downspouts, which are essentially drainage systems on the outside of your home. It’s important to ensure they’re in good working order and cleared of any debris. Once the leaves have stopped dropping, be sure to clean them out of your gutters and downspouts. When leaves are compacted, they hold water, slowing the flow of wastewater away from your home. Additionally, the leaves can plug up your drain lines, causing basements to flood.

Excess water left in the gutters will eventually freeze and can lead to ice dams, which is the accumulation of ice in the gutter systems that blocks water from draining off the roof. Ice dams can lift roof shingles, allowing water to leak inside your home. Pressure and weight from dams can also pull off gutters and lead to structural damage that can cause flooding. which can lead to any number of problems

What about exposed piping? Exposed piping is another area of concern for potential freezing. It’s a widespread misconception that piping in a garage, crawl space, under the porch or in another confined area is safe from the cold.

The truth is, these pipes are just as prone to freezing as other outside pipes and could lead to a burst pipe that spells trouble for your plumbing system.

Make sure to insulate (or at least cover) these exposed pipes. Simply covering them can make a big difference between healthy pipes and frozen ones. Covering pipes means they are no longer directly subject to those frigid temperatures. However, an insulation kit is still the best choice to make sure those pipes remain protected. A bit of investment here can save a lot down the road.

Get the sewer line cleaned and snaked. This is an item not often thought about, but it’s best to be proactive and keep the system running the way it’s supposed to run. Remember, the sewer line is not the city’s problem; it’s yours. Get those pesky roots out of there as they won’t be growing much in the winter. To further protect those pipes that are easily frozen, you can add heat tape under the insulation to help provide a constant flow of temperature in your water systems. Your plumbing professionals at J&A South Park will be glad to assist.

In the Basement

Check and clean the water heater. Winter weather usually means you’re most likely to be using your water heater more than any other time of the year. Because it works overtime, you want to make sure it’s ready for the workload. Keep your water heater healthy by checking it to ensure it’s clean, clear, and ready to run before it gets colder. This includes a flush to remove any accumulated sediment that may be at the bottom of the heater.

One sign of excessive sediment is a popping or rumbling sound coming from the heater tank. That’s the sound of steam bubbles percolating through the buildup of muck. On a gas heater, sediment can create hot spots that can damage the tank. On an electric unit, sediment buildup can cause the lower heating element to fail.

For further specifics concerning the make and model of your water heater, you’ll want to take a look at your manufacturer’s website.

Tip: When it comes time to adjust the water heater’s temperature, don’t set the dial above 125 degrees F. This will prevent scalding water as well as reducing energy waste.

Ensure your sump pump is clean and functional. Sump pumps are one of the most pivotal components of home plumbing, as they pump water away from homes to prevent folding and water damage.

Like your heater, you should prep your sump pump for winter by checking and cleaning it to make sure it’s fully functional.

Ensuring that your sump pump is in proper working order in the fall will keep you from a potential mess when the snow starts to melt. First, you’ll want to disconnect and clean the pump to remove any sediment, dirt or small stones that have settled in the pump. Also, clean any dust off the pump. If possible, remove the grate from the bottom of the pump and wash it separately. Model-specific instructions may be available for fall cleaning tips on the manufacturer’s website. After cleaning, make sure you check the discharge line for the sump pump to ensure it’s clear of any obstructions.

Around the House

Inspect for leaks. A slight leak in your indoor pipes may go unnoticed, but if left to leak, can lead to a massive headache down the road. Take some time to search for would-be leaks (sinks, toilets, shower heads, etc.) and get them fixed now. The last thing you want is to discover those leaks during the first frost of the year when your leak issue turns into a busted pipe issue.

Investigate any water pressure problems. If you notice any water pressure problems, don’t overlook them. They can escalate out of control and lead to uber-expensive repair or replacement projects. Your best bet is to get in touch with the professionals at J&A South Park to examine any plumbing nuances and allow their team to implement the proper solution. By remedying water pressure problems now, you can avert more serious problems down the road.

Don’t clog kitchen drains and be careful with that disposal. The holiday season can be the motivation to concoct some of the biggest meals you’ll prepare all year, so how you dispose of the related messes, leftovers and table scraps can ultimately affect your plumbing system.

As an example, fats or oils accumulate while preparing some meals, but these leftovers should NEVER be poured down the drain. They can thicken and clog pipes. Instead, allow grease to thicken in the pan, then scrape it into the trash.

As for the garbage disposal, it’s best to turn it on first, then add the trash. After the disposal has done its work, shut it off and run plenty of water down the drain to clear the system for the next use.

Take Extra Precautions when Leaving for an Extended Winter Vacation

If your plans include taking a long road trip (or perhaps you’re a “snowbird”) this winter, you’ll need to ensure your home will be safe while you’re gone – there’s nothing worse than coming home after an extended stay and finding your home under a few inches of water or some other plumbing nightmare. (According to State Farm Insurance, the average homeowner’s expense for a pipe rupture is about $15,000.)

Start by locating your main water valve and shutting it off. Next, open the faucets at the highest and lowest points of your home to drain your plumbing system. Also, don’t forget to set the heat at least to 55 degrees F.

If you take these precautions before you depart, you’ll significantly increase the chances of not encountering some major, costly problems when the temperatures begin to drop. If you want a registered plumber to test your system for any issues before you depart, call J&A South Park at your earliest convenience.

By following the above tips, you can help ensure avoiding major plumbing accidents this winter. As much as some of us Pittsburghers love winter (we know, not all of us do), we do not like substantial plumbing bills or unexpected costs that can take away from our winter get-away funds.

When in doubt, call us out!

If you do find yourself needing a professional for any of the above, give J&A South Park a call. We would be happy to help keep your home healthy throughout this fall and winter seasons.

Have a warm and festive fall!