Ask the Carpenter: How to winterize your home

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
Turning down your thermostat super low is a recipe for disaster. Paul Tessier/Shutterstock

Q. Is there a way to shut down for the winter a house that has forced hot water? We have a summer house in Hull, and three years ago, our first winter there, a pipe burst, causing nearly $50,000 in damage. While the kitchen walls were open, we added closed-cell insulation in that outside wall. Last winter, a pipe froze in our upstairs bathroom, forcing us to cut a pipe in the basement to thaw it. We raised the thermostat to 65 degrees, which works well but is costly. We are checking the house more often now. What can we do to solve this problem?


A. I recently looked at a customer’s home that was damaged by frozen water pipes, and found that they had failed to winterize properly. This customer turned down his heat super low, went on vacation for two weeks, and came back to 5 feet of water in his basement. His hardwood floors, kitchen cabinets, furniture, and all of the walls were ruined.

Closing a summer vacation home or leaving your main residence unattended for an extended period in the winter means taking a series of steps to protect your investment.


Shut off your water by turning off the well pump or closing the valve if you’re on municipal water. Some folks ask their city/town to turn off the water at the street.

Open ALL of your faucets and allow them to drain. Many summer homes have a drain valve at the lowest point under the house for this purpose. If you don’t, have a plumber install one.

Flush the toilets and get all of the water out of the flush tanks. Pour antifreeze specially designed for home winterization and recreational vehicles into the bowl and drain.

Drain water softeners so that water will stay away from the soft-water pipes and controls. Your brine tank probably will not freeze.

Drain your water heater.

Your heating system:

■ Electric systems require no maintenance other than shutting off the power to the heating units.

■ Hot-air heating systems should have a burner emergency switch. It’s usually at the top of the stairs. Turn it off.

■ With forced hot water and steam systems, you should drain all of the water in the system unless the liquid contains anti-freeze. It is wise to have a plumber drain this type of system unless you are well informed on the procedure.

Drain your humidifier, which is usually located on the furnace.

Clothes washers and dishwashers have hoses and internal components that can cause damage when they freeze.

Your clothes washer:

Shut off the water supply to the washer. Remove and drain the inlet hoses. Clear the water valve by setting the timer for the fill cycle. Press the warm-water button and run your machine for a few seconds. Drain the water from the drain hose, and disconnect the electrical supply. Some washing machines have an internal reservoir or tank that needs to be drained and filled with antifreeze. Consult your manual or appliance contractor for specifics.

Your dishwasher:

Remove the inlet and outlet connections to the valve. Operate valve to remove any water. Remove drain hose from the pump and drain. Disconnect the electrical supply.

The sewage system:

Force as much water as possible out of the traps with a plunger. Add antifreeze to each trap so you have a solution that’s at least 50 percent ethylene glycol and the rest water. Check for traps in these locations: kitchen and bathroom sinks, bathtub/shower drains, toilets, washtubs, floor drains, and sump pump.

I hope this helps.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to [email protected] or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to our newsletter at