Protect Vacant Properties From Water Damage This Winter

Of the three leading causes of property damage—fire, theft/vandalism, and water damage—the last one is usually the easiest to prevent. Your investor clients can avoid frozen pipes and water damage at their vacant property by taking some simple steps to winterize it properly.

Investors will want to do the following, starting at the exterior:

Shut off the water at the street.

Most water meters are found in the yard, close to the sidewalk or street. If your investor doesn’t feel 100 percent confident about doing it themself, it is best to play it safe and have the utility company come out.

Open the lowest faucets on the property.

This is most likely an outside spigot or in the basement. After removing any hoses, investors should drain these faucets first, and keep them open until the rest of the system has been drained. After everything is drained, the exterior spigot should be given an extra layer of protection with a hose bib cover.

Give some attention to the water heater.

First, investors should turn off the electrical or gas service to the water heater. If its drained but the electricity or gas is not shut off, there is risk of burning out the heating element which can cost about $60 to $70 to repair. After turning off the water heater, it should be drained completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


Drain the system.

Drain all the toilets, toilet tanks and any other pipes, making sure that there is as little water in the system as possible. The spigots should be opened for the showers, sinks and bathtubs, starting at the uppermost level of the house, systematically working downwards until getting to the lowest level. Those low-level faucets opened a bit earlier will help the draining process now.


Don’t forget the laundry, garage, and basement.

Bathrooms and kitchens will be the primary target areas, but investors should be sure to attend to all rooms with running water. Also, they should drain any exterior water lines, such as the sprinkler system. Some in the industry also recommend blowing out the lines with compressed air after the lines have been emptied.


Pour environmentally safe, biodegradable antifreeze in each of the drains.

Many recommend the type used in boats and RVs, for example. This will help any remaining water in the P traps to resist freezing. The investor should be sure to treat toilet bowls and tanks, sinks, and any other drains in the house. Some in the industry also recommend running antifreeze through the dishwasher and washing machine. Simply running an empty cycle or two before restoring these appliances to regular use should do the trick.  


Tape the toilets shut and post signage.

So that people don’t inadvertently use them, the investor should tape the toilets shut and post signs on each winterized item. The signs should say something like “CAUTION – WINTERIZED – DO NOT USE.” Also, the client should post signs over the thermostats so that prospective buyers or renters do not mess with them and cause the investor to have an unexpectedly high energy bill!


If the heat is left on…

The investor client should be sure that the temperature is set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit (or even higher if the property is further north). Even if the heat is left on, the water should be shut off, and the system should be drained, too. What if the power goes off during a winter storm? The pipes would freeze. Some recommend shutting off the heat completely, in addition to turning off the water and draining the system. Uninvited guests will be a lot less likely to stay in a cold house. But be sure that the insurance policy does not require that the home be heated before doing so.

What to do if the water must be left on (Renovations & properties on the market for sale):
  • Insulate pipes on exterior walls, crawl spaces & the attic.
  • Open cabinet doors to allow heat to circulate around un-insulated pipes under sinks & appliances.
  • Let warm water drip overnight to keep pipes from freezing.

About insurance coverage regarding burst pipes:

Depending upon the type of policy your investor client has, Water Damage caused by a burst pipe isn’t always covered. Even if your client does have Water Damage coverage, if they do not follow the procedures as outlined by their insurance policy, such as maintaining heat in the building or shutting off and draining the plumbing system, that damage may NOT be covered.

One Last Tip: Call in the Pros

If your investor client has a boiler or wet system, or if they feel uncomfortable with any of these winterizing steps, they should contact a licensed plumber. Most will have experience with proper winterization techniques and can get the job done quickly and thoroughly for your client.