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What if you had to prep your house for complete heat loss in winter ?

Dave Carpentier
Dave Carpentier Member Posts: 414
As per rules, lets keep this non political.

If you live somewhere that gets below the freeze point and were faced with a no heat scenario, would you be able to prep a house for minimal damage when temporarily abandoned ? Maybe the gas and/or power is off or prices are 100x current and/or you have zero cash flow .. something like that.

RVs are easy enough to drain or mix in glycol to be able to sit outside in -30 temperatures. A house just isnt designed the same way.

30+ yrs in telecom outside plant.
Currently in building maintenance.

Comments

  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,982
    I don't know about 'prep' but the standard empty vacation house scenario would help. Drain the system, antifreeze in the traps.
    In general, you should always be 'prepping' in all areas of your life, in my opinion.

    You should have a generator. A lot cheaper than destroying your house from freezing.
    steve
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • Dave Carpentier
    Dave Carpentier Member Posts: 414
    People do the "seasonal" thing here, they leave their home in winter and head south. I assume some have house-checkers (I think insurance demands it ?) and likely leave everything running. I dont imagine many completely drain and shut down power/heat... too much potential for foundation damage I bet.

    We have a generator (country living) to help with the few outages every year, but I was thinking of a more pessimistic situation on a longer timeline.

    I could certainly put glycol in my drain traps, but what about the septic tank ? Have it emptied I suppose (mine's concrete so its stable when empty, people with plastic tanks might lift out of ground).

    I could drain the water heater, pressure tank and most lines (never thought I would need to slope back to drain), but what about line from the well ? Id have to climb down and remove foot valve.

    Heating loops I'd have to glycol, drain the remaining stuff.

    30+ yrs in telecom outside plant.
    Currently in building maintenance.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,500
    If you use glycol as an antifreeze, propylene glycol only, please. Made for RVs. Never, ever use ethylene glycol where it could get in drinking water -- or ground water, like a septic system. The stuff is incredibly toxic.

    There is no need to drain the septic tank. Even if the top is relatively shallow, in the continental US and most of Canada it sits deep enough so it won't freeze (it's not exactly pure water, which helps).

    Similarly, the line from your well SHOULD have been set below the frost line. Not saying it is -- but it should have been. If you pump is a submersible, not to worry. If you pump is a jet pump, however, make sure it gets really emptied -- and you might want to reprime it with a water/RV amtifreeze mix and leave it that way.

    A house checker is a good idea, even if your house is fully closed down -- and I would say it's mandatory if you leave it running. In most areas, even the most remote, there are a few hardy souls who stick around and will take that responsibility. Generally speaking it's not free -- but it can save a lot of money, even for a fully closed house (that one broken window can cost a bundle, come spring). I have heard of people advocating wi-fi alarms as a good substitute. They aren't. If the house is fully closed down, remember that the power is shut off. If the house is left running, the power can still fail, and there goes your alarm. Not to mention that the internet can fail... or the device...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,322
    There have been attempts at draining plumbing that ended up badly.

    One guy drained all the piping, forgot to open the shower valve.....shower head riser split.

    Same guy did not flush the WC, let alone add antifreeze to tank and bowl.
    Some frozen china splits resemble art work.

    A shower house at a camp was plumbed for yearly drain down 35 years ago.
    New person doing drain down did remove the plugs from the bottom of old school surface mount 2 handle shower valve, but did not open the shower valves. All the down feed supply pipes split.

    I feel pretty good as I did do the plumbing back then and only this year there was a problem of operator error by new caretaker, as previously person had passed away.

    Also I put some antifreeze in floor drain traps.

    One quirk I had for our museum was the WC riser split even though the stop was opened and basement system drained. Apparently water trapped below the flush valve in the tank.
    So now simply loosen the supply nut right under the tank.....in the spring you know if you forget to tighten it again....ask me.


    Thinking of all the houses I plumbed or remodeled.

    Just water off and drain down would empty all piping of most water unless there was piping that dipped down and back up, for example to get under a beam.

    Any underfloor supply lines that will hold a full load of water need blown out with glycol added to remaining water.

    Jamie reminded me of heating coils. In this case there is a copper tube bundle in a shell.
    This is top fed and cannot be drained. Would need the same treatment as underfloor lines.
    Tough to drain a tube bundle because of the return bends.

    Then in this house is maybe 2000' of tubing, water filled, in floors and walls.
    Plus the water tube Lochinvar boiler itself.

    I guess for the price of glycol and the pumping means I could buy a generator.
    Convert the boiler to LP if needed.


    I have installed furnaces and boilers with a cord connected to them.
    Then change the service switch to an outlet.
    Unit is then cord connected, powered by an outlet......I know not NEC approved.
    My AHJ understands and has allowed it.....aware but "never saw it".

    But with power failure you run a cord into the building thru a window from your outside generator to power the heating system. Also ration power to freezer and fridge as needed.

    No transfer switch. No danger to back feeding as long as you use only the cords.
    Do not unwire anything....just plug it in as needed.

    What does anyone do with the Sloan type flush valves??


  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,322
    A submersible pump usually has a check valve down the well right above the pump.
    So the line into the building will remain full of water.

    You could disconnect the inside line and if line sloped down into the building it would drain.
    If uphill into the house then would stay full of water.

    Maybe shop vac most of the water out?

    Or, with a pitless adaptor, if you pulled the pump up enough to disengage the "shoe" then the horizontal line would have air to drain in either direction. This is a fairly involved procedure....but if needed....


    But just a note if you still have heat:

    Shallow outside sewer lines can freeze if there is a trickle of water constantly flowing from a running WC, condensing furnace draining or the attempt to keep water lines from freezing by leaving a small stream running. This has happened when we have little or no snow cover.
    MikeL_2
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,914
    How cold will it get inside? How much antifreeze to save HHW pipes and terminals?
    Propane heaters can prevent interior from freezing. How much propane are you willing to store?
    I remember houses without heating except for kitchen stove and separate washhouse.
    There's no substitute for several winters' supply of solid fuel.
    Anybody want to move forward to yesteryear?
    Larry Weingarten
  • sunlight33
    sunlight33 Member Posts: 378
    edited July 2022
    I put wifi temperature sensors throughout my house when I leave in the winter, along with cameras (both inside and outside), a standby generator, and a close friend who checks it every 3 weeks.
    STEVEusaPA
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,982
    I agree with the camera idea. Mine notify me on the app if they go off line (same with the generator app). So upon getting a notification you could deploy someone to check on the house.

    I recall our long lost pal @icesailor used to winterize homes quite often, using a small compressor. I'm sure he had it down to a science and employed the best methods.
    steve
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,130
    edited July 2022
    For the average American, keeping a supply of RV glycol and all of the other bits to, for example, blow out a water line is just not going to happen. And when you need it is when it's most probably not going to be available.

    Realistically the best we could do is provide advice on minimizing the damage? 

    I really was astonished by all of the images and videos of flooded houses and ceiling fan iceles in Texas during that freeze. I couldn't believe how many homeowners had no idea what would happen during a deep freeze and what to do to mitigate the damage. At least turn off the water line so it doesn't just keep flooding...?


    For me personally if I had to close up shop and bug out for a while, I'm going to shutoff the gas line at the meter, drain the boiler, which drains quite easily being an old gravity system. Turn off the water, and drain as much as possible from the water lines, and if power is still available and time allows use the compressor to blow them out starting with the upstairs bathroom and working down to the basement. For me at least all of the domestic plumbing is all right in one corner of the house so if something blows it'll really just be maybe the kitchen getting a little wet and really just the basement right around the floor drain. Next up draining the hot water tank. I'd even go as far as disconnecting it so I could tip it to get out as much as possible. As far as traps on sinks and tubs are concerned if no glycol or limited amount I'd just let whatever happens, happen. Those are quick, and easy, and cheap to replace. Toilets not so much but still not catastrophic(in my mind anyways) if the water is shut off to it. Flush it till the tank drains and use a shop vac to get whatever is left if really concerned about it and if power is still available. If no glycol is available would dumping a bunch of salt in the toilet bowl make any difference? If would be pretty corrosive for anything metal but a porcelain toilet it wouldn't hurt I don't think?

    If time and weather, and power permits, especially if there was a threat of looting or civil unrest(unlikely in sub freezing temperatures lol) I would also board up the windows on at least the ground floor. I do have a good supply of boards and plywood. 

    After all that I'd throw the main breaker and lock it up. This is all assuming one has time to actually do any of this. In a truly SHTF scenario, we all like to think we'd do this and that to survive but ya'll know the old joke about God and Plans?


    Edit: silly me, I forgot I have a large aquarium. I'd absolutely hate to do it but I'd have to drain that. I don't think I could bring my self to out right kill the fish so I would probably put a lot of the water in large Rubbermaid bins in the basement laundry room and move the fish there. Maybe they'd survive? Probably not seeing that they require 75-80f water and constant water circulation through the filter. Down there at least when the bins split from freezing it would just go down the floor drain. 

    Second edit: Keep in mind that sheltering in place during a shtf scenario and running a generator or having any other signs of activity could be an invitation to someone who's desperate to attempt to take what they don't have. 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,500
    edited July 2022
    "Keep in mind that sheltering in place during a shtf scenario and running a generator or having any other signs of activity could be an invitation to someone who's desperate to attempt to take what they don't have. "

    That, much as I hate to admit it, is what the armory is for... and the occasional deer, of course, in season...

    Edit -- I should add, as it may not be obvious -- if someone in such a situation came to me in peace and in need, I would share willingly what I had. If they come to take by force...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    JakeCKMikeL_2
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 4,994
    edited July 2022
    I remember a vacation home that was built in the 1940s that the homeowner specified that all the hot and cold water pipes have 1/4" per foot pitch. Just like all the cast iron drain pipes. There were 2 valves under the house that when opened both the hot and cold water pipes would drain completely. There was no heating system. Just a fireplace in case Memorial Day (called Decorations day back in the day) was unusually cold. The home was not used between Labor day and Memorial day.

    This was fascinating to me as a boy, that someone had the foresight to make this annual task so easy. Just add antifreeze to the traps and lock the door until next summer.
    Edward Young Retired HVAC Contractor & HYDRONICIAN Services first oil burner at age 16 P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
    PC7060Zman
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 7,207
    Technically doesn't the plumbing code require that all of the supply piping is drainable?
  • MikeL_2
    MikeL_2 Member Posts: 395
    edited July 2022
     I agree with all of the above with several additional thoughts....we prefer to sponge dry toilet tanks during winterization; propylene doesn't always play well with gaskets.
     Pay close attention to solenoid valves at washing machines, ice makers, dishwashers, humidifiers, etc.
    Also be sure to drop / lower the washing machine & dishwasher drain hoses on the final pump out.
      Water main curb valves used to have a drain back feature, so be aware there, too. And private well supply piping may need to drain back through the pitless adapter, depending on the water tank location, depth of water line, etc.
       In new construction we're always careful not to trap water in the supply piping.......

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,907
    When I redid the plumbing in my house I laid it all out so the entire system can be drained via a garden hose right after the water meter. The meter and before I obviously can't do anything about.

    Toilets can be drained.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,322
    Did you install a drain back curb stop when you upgraded?

    Shutting curb stop off open a drain port under ground to drain the customer line.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,907
    edited July 2022
    JUGHNE said:

    Did you install a drain back curb stop when you upgraded?

    Shutting curb stop off open a drain port under ground to drain the customer line.


    This may come as a surprise @JUGHNE but I'm not a water works company so I can't install curb stops. :D

    But no, my curb stop did not appear to have any drain port. I think some frown upon them as they could introduce dirt / mud into the line when opened.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,322
    I thought you were shopping for curb stops and you installed your own new water line.
    A few years ago.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,907
    edited July 2022
    JUGHNE said:

    I thought you were shopping for curb stops and you installed your own new water line.
    A few years ago.

    Service line yes, I did do that.
    But the curb stop was left alone. Everything after it was replaced. 2020 I think, when the whole covid thing started. Getting the permit and inspections was, interesting.

    Working 54" down in such tight conditions was also lots of fun.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    JUGHNE
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,914
    How long would it take to suck pipes dry with a venturi eductor/ejector?
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 18,268
    MikeL_2 said:
     I agree with all of the above with several additional thoughts....we prefer to sponge dry toilet tanks during winterization; propylene doesn't always play well with gaskets.
     Pay close attention to solenoid valves at washing machines, ice makers, dishwashers, humidifiers, etc.
    Also be sure to drop / lower the washing machine & dishwasher drain hoses on the final pump out.
      Water main curb valves used to have a drain back feature, so be aware there, too. And private well supply piping may need to drain back through the pitless adapter, depending on the water tank location, depth of water line, etc.
       In new construction we're always careful not to trap water in the supply piping.......

    Some RV antifreeze is PG, some us alcohol based. PG should be safe with rubbers and plumbing seals and gaskets. Maybe not the alcohol based, it is more like wiper fluid.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,496
    Winterizing a home is not difficult at all, in most cases. I've been doing it forever as a little side hustle for seasonal homes here in MN and have done several of my own homes (a bit of a real estate investor). Once upon a time I forgot to flush a toilet which resulted in a cracked tank, but beyond that it's not much different than winterizing an RV. Now, the structure of a home takes a decent beating if allowed to freeze like that, but from a plumbing perspective it's a couple hour job most of the time. Even at 0 degrees outdoors, it takes days to freeze a decently insulated home especially if there is a basement or south facing windows.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 18,268
    In a home, I don't think you would want to winterize, un-winterize, multiple times a season. Seems like a spring and fall ritual. I'd agree with @GroundUp that everything in the home takes some stress going through a 70° or more delta. Expansion and contraction of all the woodwork, sheetrock, flooring, etc.

    Might be better to rent or Airb&b the place and make money instead of spending money :)
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,500
    hot_rod said:

    In a home, I don't think you would want to winterize, un-winterize, multiple times a season. Seems like a spring and fall ritual. I'd agree with @GroundUp that everything in the home takes some stress going through a 70° or more delta. Expansion and contraction of all the woodwork, sheetrock, flooring, etc.

    Might be better to rent or Airb&b the place and make money instead of spending money :)

    This is absolutely true. It is the cycling of temperature up and down which causes stress, and the slower you can do it -- and the less often -- the better. Close it up in the fall, and open it -- bring the temperature up slowly -- in the spring, and that's it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    MikeL_2
  • rick in Alaska
    rick in Alaska Member Posts: 1,396
    I don't know. I have been using an air compressor to blow out all the plumbing lines in snow bird houses for over 30 years, including a lodge with 13 bathrooms, and I have only had three breaks because I forgot something. People who fill all their pipes with rv antifreeze are just wasting money. As long as you start at the point where the water comes in and blow every line until nothing comes out, and then do it again, then there is nothing left to freeze. Houses that have boilers in them usually have antifreeze in them, or more commonly around here, have someone watching them.
    I have never known someone that had a draindown system where something didn't break. Usually because the shower valve did not let the water drain out the head. Or the toilet fill valve, or anything with a solenoid valves. An air compressor is a guaranteed thing. Then use a shop vac to get all the water out of the toilets and add rv antifreeze to all the traps and go home.
    Of course if we follow the stat of this thread, and the power goes out, then we can't use the air compressor. I guess make sure there is a generator on standby for that.
    Rick
    GroundUp
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,322
    Jamie may be on to something about sudden temp changes.
    Our 3 story museum building was built in 1912.
    It has had no heating since the early 60's.
    Never any AC of any sorts.

    It just goes with seasons for temps.

    For over a 100 years old the plaster/horse hair/wood lath has had little problem.
    Leaky roof issues (which are now supposed to be corrected) were obvious in a couple of spots.

    It was newly plumbed about 40 years with all lines set up to drain down.
    Only once because of operator error by a loser, was there a freeze up over the winter.

    I have plumbed several seasonal public restrooms/shower houses to drain by simply opening a few hose bibs near the floor drain.

    Twice because of operator error was there a failure.
    One was a hose cap left on drain down line because it was dripping when pressurized, how somebody can screw up something so simple IDK. All lines visible in mechanical room. You just have to stop and think why that lowest hose bib was there in the first place.
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,542
    To drain domestic water pipes, I've always used compressed air. Never had a failure. 

    Drains placed for gravity draining of the water heater are not necessary due to compressed air action, I just garden hose out the window and let the air force the water out. Got around and do every faucet 3x starting at the furthest away from the source, where the air compressor should be connected at the drain valve. 

    Honestly this is what I do for camps/seasonal places. 

    If it were my home, generator and a wood stove and 1/2 or more cord of wood inside. I'd never let my home freeze if I were in it. Cracked sheetrock etc. And I don't like sleeping in the cold....
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
    rick in Alaska
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,368
    edited July 2022
    We have a mountain home that sits empty the majority of the year. We open the breakers to the HVAC, hot water heater, and stove. Close the main water valve in basement, drain what can be drained, heat tape and 1" fiberglass insulation on what can't be drained including main water valve (Partially to keep heat on pipe but mostly for fire protection if heat tape shorts out) . RV anti freeze in toilet and traps. Unplug all electrical devices except the fridge ( this and the opening of breakers are mostly for lightning protection). We have been fortunate for the last fifteen years. Nothing more than cracks in ceiling for damage. I rate the electrical service as reliable. Rarely off for a full day and after 12pm, the basement receives full sun on western wall with windows which helps during power outages.

    The first year it was unlived in, when F-I-L was unwell, we tried to keep house conditioned. The furnace is NG and grossly oversized. We found it unaffordable to keep heated at 50F, not to mention, dangerous.

    We also learned last winter that we can survive in it when the furnace failed to operate. We made use of fireplace and oil filled radiators in bedrooms. But, without cash flow, all this would be just uncomfortable but still better than being homeless.