Did I screw up winterizing water heater?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by Fred_PA_2000, Dec 5, 2005.

  1. Fred_PA_2000

    Fred_PA_2000 New Member

    Messages:
    1
    Last weekend I attempted (for the first time) to winterize a vacation home.

    I (1) shut off the inlet & outlet valves to the electric water heater, (2) shut off the feed line coming into the house, (3) drained the system by opening a valve at a high point and opening a drain valve at the lowest point, then (4) reopened the inlet & outlet valves to the water heater. I could find no way to shut off (or even lower the temperature of) the water heater.

    So I think I've got a full water heater, open to the (empty) inlet & outlet lines, that is still keeping the water hot. (I was told to keep it full to prevent corrosion. It is in a poorly heated area, so I kept it heated lest it freeze.)

    Since then a worrisome thought has occurred; Will it now boil itself dry, since no new water can come in? If it does, is there some sort of safety that will turn off the electricity (or have I created a fire hazzard)? In the process of boiling itself dry, will it fill the (closed) plumbing system with live steam, and is that a problem?

    Obviously, I need your advice / help.

    Thanks,
    Fred_PA_2000
  2. PEW

    PEW DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    487
    Has the home been winterized before? Can you count on draining the lowest point removing enough water everywhere to prevent freezing?

    If the home had been plumbed with the idea of winter draining, gravity will be your friend, if not it can make for spring surprises. Your best bet would have been to blow the pipes out with compressed air, and drain the water heater completely from the bottom drain. There is no way I would trust the heater to keep things from freezing for many reasons, what about an extended power outage?

    Depending on the location of your heater, you may still have water in the lines going to it.

    A few other thoughts, were the toilets completely drained, or filled with RV antifreeze? How about any sink traps? Is the water shutoff at a place where it will not freeze. Is there a well involved?

    After you get it all pulled together it is not a bad idea to make a close down check list. Can't tell you how many times over the years I have gone through a shut down and get home to start questioning myself.... did I actually open that valve etc.

    Paul
  3. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,382
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    In addition to the previous advise, I agree with your concern, the water heat was not drained. To drain the tank, you first turn off the electricity or gas, open the hose bib at the bottom of the tank, AND open the intake and outlet valves on the tank. There must be air into the tank for the water to drain. The hose bib is intended to be used for this purpose. Compressed air will rid the system of any water caught in low spots in the plumbing. RV antifreeze in all traps including toilets will maintain the trap seal and protect from freezing.
  4. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,317
    Location:
    New Hampshire
    Winterizing Procedure

    The water heater switch is usually a two-pole circuit breaker. It MUST be off before you drain the heater or you will VERY QUICKLY burn out the elements. And it must not be turned on until the water heater is filled in the spring.

    If the house was not plumbed with the intent to drain the supply, then you have a bit more problem than if it was so designed. I use the following procedure.

    1. Turn off the power to the water heater and pumps.
    2. Open all the faucets and the drain of the water heater (You probably need a hose). This will drain most of the water to the lowest faucets and out of the system.
    3. Inspect for places that can't drain or be blown out. A common place is where the water supply enters the house because it is often a low spot and the shutoff valve prevents draining back. You may have to disconnect a union or something to drain that area. You will also have to drain or protect anything that may freeze on the inlet side. That is usually only a problem if you have a municipal supply that is always on; unusual for a vacation home.
    4. Blow out the water lines. Most people don't have a big enough air compressor to do the job. If you don't have any bad low spots a shop vacuum will work. Put the blower end on each of the high faucets, using a wet rag for a seal, and blow it out. Have someone at a downstairs faucet tell you if there is air coming out. To be safe, do every faucet. Then go to the downstairs faucets and use the vacuum end to pull out anything left.
    5. After you have all the water out of pipes, you can deal with the traps. A shop vac will blow out a trap if you use the rag seal method. Toilets can be drained with the lower half of a soft drink can and finished with a sponge, or you can blow them out with the shop vacuum. Don't forget the toilet tanks because it doesn't take much water to freeze and break the tank. IF YOU BLOW OUT THE TRAPS, REMEMBER THAT THE HOUSE IS OPEN TO THE SEWER OR SEPTIC SYSTEM. Shut all the stoppers and stick a wad of newspaper in the toilets if you are concerned. The vents will take care of the rest.

    SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS:
    Filters, water pumps, water tanks, softeners, dishwasher pumps, washing machine pumps, liquids in the pantry or cleaning closet.
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