Plumbing Checklist for Winter Trips and Snowbirds

Excited family packing their bags for a winter trip.

We all know how unbearable Minnesota winters can be, and the bitter cold and harsh weather place extra stress on our plumbing systems as well. If you’re planning an extended getaway this season, use this plumbing checklist for winter trips and snowbirding to help prevent disaster while you’re gone.

Shut Off Main Water Valve and Drain Remaining Water

Flooding and expensive water damage from a burst pipe is typically the biggest concern for homeowners leaving their house vacant in the winter. To prevent this, first locate and shut off the main water valve. Then, turn on all the faucets around the house to drain all water from the pipes. Leave them open until you return home.

Set the Thermostat and Open Cabinets and Closets

Extreme cold is no stranger in our state. Many homeowners try to save money in the winter by lowering the thermostat, but remember that the risk of frozen pipes in exterior walls gets higher as the setting gets lower. If you’ll be gone for an extended period of time, it’s recommended to set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees.

Additionally, you should open cabinet and closet doors so warm air can reach hidden pipes. If you’re a snowbird leaving the home vacant all season long, consider insulating exposed pipes for additional protection, especially if you decide not to run your HVAC system while you’re away.

Protect Outdoor Plumbing

It can be easy to forget about outdoor plumbing during winter but prepping it for the harsh weather is crucial when you’ll be away. After you disconnect, drain, and store all hoses for the year, close the shut-off valve. This may be separate from the main valve for outdoor spigots, faucets, etc. Drain the lines and leave them open. If you have an outdoor faucet with a back-flow prevention device, make sure it’s disconnected so the water line drains.

Prepare Your Sump Pump

Don’t neglect your sump pump and come home to a wet basement. Clear out any debris in the sump pit to help prevent clogs. Keep the pump plugged in but be sure to remove the discharge hose to prevent freezing during the winter. Make plans with a friend or family member who can reattach it for you should a warm front or rainstorm come through while you’re away (especially if there’s a chance you’ll still be away when the spring thaw begins). As an added safeguard, consider having a battery backup and extra discharge hose handy in case there’s a power outage or other emergency.

Seal Off Your Crawl Space

Crawl spaces typically provide access to electrical, plumbing, ventilation, and gas line hook-ups beneath homes without basements or concrete foundations. Freezing cold winter air enters via open vents and air leaks and increases the risk of frozen pipes, decreases heating efficiency of the home, and rapidly cools the floors above. If you have a crawl space, cover vents with custom-cut cardboard and duct tape and use caulk to seal any leaks you find.

Seal Cracks and Seams on Exterior Walls

Cold outdoor air can also sneak into the home through cracks in the exterior or foundation. Check around your house and seal any potential leaks with caulk to help protect against frozen pipes. Pay extra attention to surfaces near windows and doors. Also, double-check that all windows and doors are shut AND locked to ensure a tight seal.

Ensure Gutters and Drainage Routes are Clear

Make sure water from melted snow or surprise rainfall can be safely guided away from the home. Double-check that your gutters and drain spouts are secure, in good working condition, and clear of clogs and debris.

Make Plans for Monitoring

Once you’ve done all your preparation, don’t just hope everything goes to plan. Consider talking to your local plumber about remote monitoring systems for safety and peace of mind. Notify close friends, family, and neighbors that you’ll be away so they can keep an eye out for any trouble. If you’re comfortable doing so, it’s a good idea to give someone you trust a spare key so they can check on the home, update you regularly, and help in case of an emergency.

‘Tis the season of shorter days, holiday arrangements, and bitter cold. Around here, we know winter can be a mixed bag of good and bad. And for many of us, a getaway to someplace warm gets us through it. Just remember to prepare! Use this plumbing checklist for winter trips to help keep your home protected until you return.

Need help prepping your home for winter? The master plumbers at Robillard Plumbing are here for all your plumbing service and product needs. Contact us to learn more.