Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shutting down a house

One of the debates among snowbirds is what to do about your northern house while away for the winter. There are two main schools of thought here. One group says to keep the heat on. The other group is in favor of shutting it down.

Keeping the heat on seems the easiest, but it has problems of its own. My big issue is that it's wasteful. Even if the heat is turned down low, it still uses a lot of energy. Then there are the things that can go wrong.

The fuel delivery guy can be late and the furnace runs out. That happened to a place just down the road from me. His plumbing froze, broke, then caused extensive water damage. He also had over 300 gallons of paint stored in the basement for his house painting business. All that got ruined. Even though he was insured, it took many months for everything to get back to normal.

Furnaces can break. Last winter mine malfunctioned and shut down. Since I was home, it was no big deal to burn wood until the furnace was fixed. My friend's dad's place had a red warning light that would go on if the furnace failed. That worked fine until the light burned out. After that, he installed a second light to back up the first. Eventually, he gave up and moved to Florida full time.

I'm from the "shut it down" school of thought. Why use energy when you don't have to? If the furnace is a hot water system, the water has to be either drained, or have antifreeze added to the pipes. It's really a job for a good furnace man. My house has a hot air furnace, so that's not a problem.

The plumbing has to be dealt with. All the water has to be drained out of the system. For years I successfully drained the plumbing in my house. The only damage ever suffered was to a $17 valve. It was easily replaced.

Then there was the year my mother was dying way down in Florida and I shut the house down hastily. My mind certainly wasn't on what I was doing. Weeks later, when I turned the water back on, the upstairs bathroom plumbing leaked like crazy. Noticed that when the ceilings downstairs collapsed. A toilet broke. The water supply lines for the washing machine sprayed water everywhere. Also lost a water heater. It was a depressing end to a depressing trip.

This year I'm taking my time -and using a check list. Can't forget it if it's written down.

The drainage system has to be winterized. Most of my sink traps have drains on them. (remember to put them back when you reopen the house.) A water vac works well to suck the water out of the toilets. Afterwards, some nontoxic RV antifreeze is poured into the bowls. Also pour a liberal amount in the shower and tub drains.

The original section of the house was built as a seasonal cottage. The plumbing was drained every fall, so it was designed to drain easily. When I added on to the place, the new plumbing was installed with draining in mind. The pipes have no dips in the lines that trap water. Everything is designed with a slant towards the drain valves. There are even extra drain valves built into the system to make sure the pipes clear.

All I have to do is make sure I actually use them.



  1. I'm betting some of those smowbirds wished they stayed home this week. It's been cold down here! Today it's just wet. Looks like we'll be socked in...

  2. I had -10 this morning. Will warm up to 20 above. That's pretty much with the week looks like. How does that compare?