Winterizing a vacant homestead? How?

Discussion in 'Country Living Questions' started by PopPopT, Sep 26, 2018.

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  1. Sep 26, 2018 #1

    PopPopT

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    We are winding up our growing season here on the homestead. Fall is upon us and it won't be long before cold weather will be here again. We moved to the place last November and winter was the first thing we experienced here. It's not that winter is dreadful. It has it's pretty moments. But a lot of it is rather bleak and we don't have a whole lot going on around here after New Years and before it's time to get the little seeds planted for spring. We're on the Cumberland Plateau of north-central Tennessee. I don't remember there being a lot of time below zero around here but there are usually a few weeks when it never gets up to freezing. Weather varies from year to year so it could be really nasty or could be fairly mild, we just don't know.

    So, my wife and I would very much like to take a couple of months, January and February, and travel 2500 miles across the country and spend some time with our son and his wife in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. We don't get to see them a whole lot but we've had similar visits in past years that have been really good. They've bought a new house since we were there and son has some remodeling projects he wants help with. I think it could be a good thing for all of us.

    The worrisome part of that, though, is our homestead. At this point, we have no animals so that's not an issue. The garage and barn aren't heated and won't be a problem. But the house... what do we do with the house?

    I hate spending a bunch of money to heat it during the coldest part of the year if we're not even going to be here. But it would be a royal pain in the posterior to try to winterize the place to the point where temps could drop to below freezing inside and not have plumbing damage or loss of home canned produce. (We don't have a root cellar.) So I'm guessing it's probably best to have at least minimal heat running while we're away. How low do you think the thermostat could be set and still avoid problems? There are a couple of rooms we could shut off from the house that would help, a large sunroom, two bedrooms and the master closet, nothing in any of those that would suffer much from being cold. I could also put some small space heaters set on low in strategic places in the crawl space. I did that during the coldest part of last year anyway.

    Of course, I'll need someone to come by every couple of days or so to make sure all is OK. I have a friend that could probably fix just about anything anyway so it's not like no one could keep an eye. I do plan to put things like the lawn mower in a place that won't be convenient to just walk off with should someone get the idea to do so. Placed in a particular part of the garage and a vehicle (maybe two of them) we're leaving here strategically parked in the way would make it a pain to steal the mower and similar equipment. I doubt anyone would but that at least lessens the richness of the target environment. Honestly, the house doesn't have a lot worth messing with. Guns are almost non-existent. Money... yeah, right, if we had any, it wouldn't be laying around. Drugs, nope. A few vitamins, maybe, we don't take any prescriptions and don't use any "recreational" stuff beyond the coffee, and if they want the jug of Folgers that badly, they can have it. Alcohol, nope, none of that either, other than perhaps a tiny bit in that bottle of vanilla and a little in the mouthwash. Electronics, not much of that either. Our "big" TV is an old 29" flatscreen. Our computers are old laptops we'll be taking with us. Seriously, there's just not a lot here. And we rather like not having a lot of "stuff" to own us.

    Anyway, I still don't quite know if there might be some things I should do that might be fairly easy that might be prudent to be away for that long over the winter. Anyone have any thoughts or ideas they'd like to share? I'm definitely interested.

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Sep 26, 2018 #2

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    What's your primary heating system now?
    Do you have well or city water.

    I'd set the thermostat down to about 50°.
    Shut off your water main and drain the water from your water lines. (Shut off main, open all spigots. The water should drain out of the lowest spigot).
    Don't forget your toilets. Put some winter windshield washer fluid in the bowl and tank. You can also use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).
     
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  3. Sep 26, 2018 #3

    SheepDog

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    Drain the water pipes and heaters if you have them. shut off the water supply to the homestead and board any animals out. Winterize any vehicles and secure the home from damage by wind or snow. Make sure your canned goods are stored someplace that will stay above freezing. (root cellar or a neighbors home) Secure doors and windows to make it harder for honest people to go dishonest and the same for any outbuildings. Have a trusted friend check on the place weekly and stop any mail delivery for the time you are away.
     
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  4. Sep 26, 2018 #4

    Terri9630

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    On the house we are working on now we drain all water lines, use RV antifreeze in the toilet tank, shower and sink drains. For the stuff we don't want to freeze we put it in the pantry and have a small heater and leave it set on the freeze setting. That way we are only heating the smallest space possible and can leave food there instead of hauling it back here every time.
     
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  5. Sep 26, 2018 #5

    txcatlady

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    The first year we were in our house, our traps on the Nw side of the house froze. Didn't realize it til I started to wash clothes. I now put alcohol in shower traps and washing machine on nights where we expect a drop below freezing for more that 5 hours. All our water lines are in the floor and protected. Husband still insists on leaving water in house dripping. I wrapped the traps and where the water line enters house. Don't want to take any chances.
     
  6. Sep 26, 2018 #6

    Weedygarden

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    For people who live where it freezes, and who have concerns about frozen pipes, there is a product that is a heat tape. You wrap it around your pipes and plug it in. It will keep your pipes from freezing. People who have mountain cabins in Colorado are big fans of it. There are a few makers and a few varieties. You can find it online and at some Home Depots. Your local hardware store might have it.
     
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  7. Sep 26, 2018 #7

    The Lazy L

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    When my folks winterd in Florida Dad would:

    1. Turn off the power to the water well
    2. Drain all of the water lines
    3. Turn off the hot water heater and drain
    4. RV antifreeze down all of the drain lines to displace the water in the P-traps.
    5. Turn off the furnace.
    6. Turn off the natural gas to the house.
    7. I would check the house once a month (because of the travel distance).
    8. Dad would worry about the house all winter long.
     
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  8. Sep 26, 2018 #8

    PopPopT

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    Thanks for the thoughts!

    Things I didn't answer...

    Primary heating and cooling system is electric (heat pump). I have a propane tank and some backup propane heaters.

    Water supply is county water. We don't have a well. It would not be difficult to turn the water off right there at the meter if that would be desirable but I do not know if there is any way to drain the water right there at the meter, at least easily, such that I could get the water back into the system when I'm ready to do so. That point is several feet below the level of any of the household water lines or fixtures. Finding the lowest spigot might be a challenge because the house is all one level. I suspect it would be one of two spigots meant for hooking up a garden hose.

    When I think about it, something like the refrigerator with built in ice maker and in door water dispenser would likely be difficult to truly winterize.
     
  9. Sep 26, 2018 #9

    PopPopT

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    Weedygarden, I appreciate the idea of heat tape. My concern with that would be whether it would help anything at all should we have a spell where the electric goes off.

    In 2015, we spent the winter in our RV about 25 miles south of our current homestead. It was a rough winter. The electric was out for 7 or 8 days. That wasn't a lot of fun in an RV. We survived but it was pretty rough there for a bit. But I do know that if we'd been relying on electric from the power company, we'd have been screwed. As it was, we shared a small generator with a neighbor, which was the equivalent of about one 15A outlet. Our heat was propane. We don't have a backup generator here that would kick in should the electric go off and solar is still in the pre-planning stage. We're kinda vulnerable.
     
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  10. Sep 26, 2018 #10

    Terri9630

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    The water pipe from the meter to the house should be below the frost line. The hose bibs are usually the lowest with the shower generally the highest.

    I'd disconnect the water line from the frig and let it drain. Try pushing the water valve in the door and see if it will let the water be siphoned back out the water line.
     
  11. Sep 26, 2018 #11

    The Lazy L

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    IF the water meter does NOT have a tamper seal on it, just remove the water meter to drain your lines. If it does have a tamper seal on it I'd suggest calling the water utility and ask them how they would prefer replacing the tamper seal after you drain the lines?
     
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  12. Sep 26, 2018 #12

    Amish Heart

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    We do exactly what Zoom Zoom said when we leave our farmhouse. We'll be up in a week or so for a few days, and don't know when we return, so the heat will be at 50 and the water will be drained.
     
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  13. Sep 26, 2018 #13

    Caribou

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    I have a home that I leave vacant in -40* weather with no heat. I drain the water pump and waterlines. I blow the waterlines clear with compressed air. I blow the system clear from each faucet and more than once. I've replaced the copper lines with Pex incase I goof up. I disconnect all the lines to the faucets and toilet and let them drain. I flush the toilet. I pour antifreeze in the toilet, and all the P-traps.

    I fill the oil tank and set the thermostat at 50* with the knowledge that one tank of oil will not heat the house for a winter.

    I've seen people put a valve under the house at the lowest point in order to drain the system with gravity.

    I would suggest that you get a small box trailer, build shelves in it, and take it to a heated storage unit for the duration of your vacation as a way to keep your food from freezing. I'd prefer a root cellar but the trailer would work.

    I was talking to a friend today about this and she is going to install a propane vented heater with a pilot light. This system will be set lower than her other heating system. If the heat goes out when they fly out to their cabin the heater will automatically come on and protect the home from freezing. A couple 100# propane tanks will be an adequate emergency heat source for their needs.
     
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