Why Winterize Pipes and Plumbing in Your Building?

Fall has arrived with changing leaves, shorter days and crisper air. It also means the first frost of the season could happen at any time. This means it’s time to Winterize pipes to help ensure that sub-freezing temperatures won’t wreak havoc on your building’s plumbing and ultimately your budget. Check out these tips from the experts at TELS® Senior Living Building Management.

9 Steps to Winterize Pipes and Help Keep Your Pipes and Plumbing from Freezing

Whether you’re looking at how to winterize a house or a Senior Living building, you can help protect your plumbing and avoid emergency situations and repairs. Identify the pipes most vulnerable to freezing. Look for pipes located outside walls and windows, uninsulated pipes, and pipes installed near unheated spaces. It is important to check for any cracks or openings in walls, floors, and ceilings. If you find holes during your inspection, caulk them to keep cold air from entering those gaps and freezing pipes.
how to winterize plumbing

Are frozen pipes just for cold climates?

It is a common misconception that frozen pipes are an issue only for buildings in typically cold climates. However, the buildings that may be more vulnerable to frozen pipes are those in typically warmer climates because the pipes may not be properly insulated against frigid temperatures, or they may be located in unprotected areas (or even outdoors). Abnormally cold weather puts these pipes at risk.

Nine essential steps to help prevent frozen pipes

  1. Check space heaters: Check to ensure the space heaters in your unconditioned mechanical rooms, fire system rooms and/or water heater rooms are functioning properly.
  2. Drain dry fire systems: If you have a dry fire system, drain as many low points as possible to prevent freeze breaks that would activate the system.
  3. Inspect pumps: Inspect your domestic hot water and heating water circulating pumps to ensure they are running and in good working condition.
  4. Inspect heat trace tape: If you have any piping where there is heat trace tape installed, make sure the tape is still wrapped around the pipe and touching and that the heat trace system is working.
  5. Leave end-of-line faucet dripping: Find a resident room, shower room or janitor’s closet at the end of your domestic water branch line for each corridor and leave the hot and cold side on the faucet dripping.
  6. Heat unoccupied rooms: Turn the heat on in any unoccupied resident rooms to keep the interior temperature above freezing.
  7. Inspect attic insulation: Make sure the insulation on any of your exterior piping or piping that is located in the attic is in good condition and installed correctly.
  8. Install insulated boxes: Cover all hose bibs and frost-proof faucets with insulated boxes. If you have any above-ground exterior double-check or RPZ valves, make sure they are wrapped and covered with insulated boxes. For any below-ground valves, make sure the lids are in place on the valve and meter boxes, and that the boxes are not full of water.
  9. Check for air leaks. Even the smallest hole allows cold air to freeze pipes. Check around doors, windows, wall sockets and switches. Seal the leaks around the hose bibs, behind or inside cabinetry. You can use caulking weather stripping or insulation. Pay close attention to the north side of the building that doesn’t see sun during the cold season.

What happens if I don’t winterize the plumbing?

While you may not have much time on your hands nowadays, it is essential to continue winterizing your pipes. If you don’t, you may find yourself facing some pretty expensive fixes that could include:

Frozen or plugged water line: if you notice little or no water from your fixtures, you may have a frozen or plugged water line. This can lead to burst pipes.

Burst pipes: as you may know, water expands when it freezes1. This expansion can cause cracks to appear in your plumbing, and induce water leaks. While not all pipes burst,  when they do you could potentially have a large bill on your hands due to:

Water damage: when water leaks from burst pipes, the water can damage the area around it.

Mold: if you don’t catch the leak right away, you could face a common side effect of resulting mold from the sitting water.

Takeaway tip: Frozen pipes typically burst during the end of winter season, when the ice starts to thaw2.

When a facility gets water damage, it has more than just a physical impact. It also affects your bottom line. Now, you’re inconveniencing staff, residents and families. Depending on the severity of the leak and resulting damage, you may need to move a resident from the room or close off a section to the residents as you repair it. And, of course, it also affects your deductibles with insurance. Winterizing your pipes is a small step you can take to help avoid this outcome.

Ken Nyhouse

Senior Building Services Consultant, Direct Supply®

What materials handle cold weather better?

Due to age and demographics of facilities, many have galvanized or copper piping. However, if you are undertaking a plumbing project, you may want to consider using Uponor or Wirsbo Pex if you live in a cold climate. This material is made to expand and contract, so even when they freeze, they have a higher chance of withstanding the expansion and contraction of the ice as it freezes and thaws, potentially preventing bursts.

DIY tips and tricks on winterizing your plumbing

  1. Put a bit of pink antifreeze into toilet tanks, floor drains like showers, mop sinks, etc; anything that is susceptible to freezing that you don’t utilize frequently. It’s cheap insurance to help your pipes make it through the winter.
  2. On cold nights, open your kitchen cabinet doors to help pick up ambient temperature in the room.
  3. In extreme cold, let water drip from your faucets and flush your toilets more frequently to get the water moving.

Do Plumbers Winterize Homes and Senior Living Buildings?

These actions can be performed by Senior Living maintenance personnel. But if you’re unsure how to manage these tasks or lack the time or resources, a certified plumber from the TELS® Building Services network can perform and execute a cold-weather inspection for you to winterize pipes and help you keep your pipes from freezing.

For TELS® Platform subscribers, you can load ongoing events just like what’s outlined above as maintenance Tasks, or seasonal, weather-related events as Work Orders in TELS Platform to help ensure work gets done efficiently and is recorded for reference.

Call 888-433-3224 anytime for service or sign in to TELS today.