It may be a ocean-side cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, a cabin on a lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a chalet in Vail, Colorado, or your own special place anywhere it gets cold in the winter. Winter is coming and you need to think about what’s involved in winterizing your vacation home for the period you are not there. When the time comes to close up your seasonal home there are numerous steps that should be taken to winterize it and protect it against the elements. Since every structure is different this article will provide some basic procedures to follow. These should be adapted for your own situation and adjustments made accordingly. Obviously, in this case, winterization infers that the cabin, cottage or seasonal second home is located in an area where the temperatures go below freezing. You will see that many of these steps will also pertain to structures being closed for a period of time in more moderate climates.
In order to have an orderly approach to preparing for winter it is suggested that a checklist be developed and used faithfully. All it takes is forgetting one step and you may face an expensive or time-consuming repair in the spring when you reopen the building. It works best if the list is developed to follow the steps chronologically so that you don’t have to jump around on the pages. Adding a checkmark in front of each step when completed allows you to scan the list later to make sure you haven’t overlooked a step.
Some of the major areas to address in winterization of your seasonal home follow. Water systems are one of the primary areas that need careful attention due to the possibility of pipes freezing and breaking. Many seasonal cabins and cottages have non-standard water supply systems. These may include shallow dug wells, drilled wells, springs, water tanks and lake water. If you have an electric pump you should read the manufacturers recommendations on draining and winterizing it. Most often it will involve draining the water from the pump from both the inlet and outlet pipes in addition to removing one or more threaded plugs on the pump body. Once the pump is disconnected from the water pipes it can be turned on for a few seconds to make sure there is no water remaining. If there are threaded plugs a small amount of lubricant should be used on the threads.
Draining the water from the water lines will be highly dependent on your particular layout. Suffice it to say it is very important to thoroughly drain the water from the lines to prevent burst pipes. Often valves will have a small screw off cap near the handle, which allows residual water to be drained from that area. Some residences have central manifolds that allow the water to be drained from the entire system at one location. It is important to look at each branch of the water supply such as supply lines to toilets, showers, faucets, etc. to make sure there are no hidden areas water can get trapped and freeze. If there are areas you are not sure of you should consider using a compressor to blow out the lines to insure they are empty.
It is important to carefully winterize toilets, and shower and sink drain traps. After the water system is shut down, the toilet tank should be drained by holding the flapper valve up until it empties. Then use rubber gloves and a disposable plastic or paper cup to scoop the water out of the bowl. When you have emptied it as far as possible pour a cup of recreational vehicle antifreeze in the bowl. This will mix with the remaining water and prevent freezing. Drain traps for showers cannot typically be emptied so it is best to estimate the volume of the trap and pour enough recreational vehicle antifreeze in it to prevent freezing. Follow the instructions on the antifreeze container. In the case of sink traps some can be easily disassembled and drained or drained by removing an access plug in the bottom of the drain. If there is no plug on the trap use recreational vehicle antifreeze in the same manner as used on the shower traps.
The hot water heater should be turned off and totally drained through the hose spigot at the bottom of the tank. While the water system is still on you may want to flush some water through the tank and out the spigot to remove accumulations of sediment and sand.
Your seasonal home may have special systems such as water conditioners. These should be winterized according to the manufacturers recommendations. Likewise with washing machines, dishwashers, icemakers and any other appliances that may have water remaining in them. Devices such as flexible spray hoses on sinks, and showerheads should be drained. Dehumidifiers should be emptied and their filters cleaned.
If your seasonal home has a high efficiency furnace there may be a condensation pump and water accumulator that could freeze. If the furnace will be turned off over the winter you may want to either empty the pump and chamber or fill it with recreational vehicle antifreeze until it triggers the pump and circulates it through the system. Older homes with hot water heating systems will require special treatment that is best determined by an experienced plumber. In addition if your place has a wood or coal burning furnace, wood stove, or fireplace be sure the flue is closed and consider whether to use a closed chimney cap. If the latter is used be sure to leave a sign on the wood stove or furnace to indicate the cap has to be removed before use.
Sewage systems such as septic tanks typically do not need special winterization. This, however, is highly dependent on your installation and you should initially consult a plumber for specific advice. If you have a septic system that employs a pumping station this is especially true since you need to know whether to leave the power on to the station over the winter months.
Structural winterization can involve a number of steps. Generally it is a good idea to do a through cleaning prior to closing up for the winter. You should consider whether you want to remove any screens and store those inside to prevent wear and tear from the elements. Door locks should be checked to make sure the latch plates are screwed into the wall studs and not just the doorframe. If you have electronics, phones, TV’s and other small expensive looking items to move those out of sight so that people looking in the windows will not see them.
There is no right or wrong way of deciding whether to close curtains or blinds over the windows. Some police departments advise leaving window curtains open to show that there is nothing expensive sitting around that could easily be carried off during a break-in. Others suggest covering the windows although this may suggest there are things of value behind the curtains. Be sure to lock windows, place bars in slider door tracks or use pin locks in addition to handle locks.
Since the structure will not be heated all perishable and canned or bottled items that might freeze and break should be removed. This includes not only food items but also beverages, medicinal and cleaning items. In addition the refrigerator/freezer should be turned off and cleaned thoroughly. It is suggested the refrigerator and freezer door be propped open with a towel during the winter. If you have knotty pine walls consider removing any hanging pictures since this will reduce the amount of shadows that form behind the pictures over time due to the gradual darkening of the surrounding wood exposed to light.
Carefully preparing your vacation home for winter by following a checklist, such as discussed in this article, will reduce the chances of facing expensive repairs the next time you open it up.