10 Steps to Winterize Your Vacation Home


If you have purchased an OBX second home, the end of the shoulder season is a sad time of year. Time to winterize the property for a few months, while it remains vacant, until you are able to visit your Outer Banks vacation home again. Investment property owners on the outer banks may have the property professionally managed and some of the tasks below may be completed by the property management company or the home may remain heated for off season rentals throughout the year.

While the winters in the Outer Banks are not severe, we do get freezing weather and precautions should be taken. The main purpose of winterization is to prevent damage to the property due to pipes freezing and bursting. Prevention is more than worth a pound of cure using the steps outlined below. The cost and amount of damage resulting from busted water pipes, especially when not discovered right away, can be catastrophic and should not be taken lightly. Many absentee owners are installing sensors to provide notice of an event immediately to minimize damage and reduce insurance costs.

Regardless of whom performs the winterization tasks, these 10 steps should be completed prior to an extended absence from your OBX real estate if you are not keeping the heat on. Of course, any plumbing repairs should be completed prior to winterization to enable adequate pressurization.

The most common heating method for OBX real estate is a heat pump. The winterization method used is dry winterization since this heat source does not use water. Many investment property owners on the outer banks will leave the heat on around 50 degrees as added insurance against broken pipes in the coldest months even while the property is vacant.

10 Steps for Dry Winterizing:

  1. Turn off the water service at the meter and place a zip tie on it. If necessary, contact the water company to have the service turned off at the street. Homeowners are responsible for any leaks between the street side service box and the house.
  1. Turn off and drain the hot water tank. If gas fired, the gas must be turned off before draining. If electric, turn off the breaker at the circuit box. Typically, a hose is used to drain it outside or to a utility tub located nearby. After draining, close valve and turn off hot water heater.
  1. Flush all toilets and turn off at the shut off valve.
  1. Use an air compressor to pressurize pipes. Pressure should be set around 35 psi but no higher than 60 psi.
  1. Go to every sink, shower, toilet, valve (don’t forget outside showers and hose connections) and turn on and off. Allow each to sputter for 30 seconds or so. You many need to make a few trips around the house to make sure you have as much water drained out of the system as possible.
  1. Disconnect and plug at the water meter. Make sure you have the right size plug for your water service (most common is ¾ or 1 inch).
  1. Now that most water is removed from the pipes and water is no longer coming into the house, use RV/marine antifreeze (contains propylene glycol) to prevent freezing of remaining water in toilets, sinks, tubs, showers and “J” traps under sinks and showers. Do not use car anti-freeze as it is toxic. Remove as much water from the toilet reservoir. Fill with antifreeze beginning with the tank and ensuring an adequate level in the toilet bowl. Filling from the tank ensures you are getting antifreeze into the trap for adequate protection. Place plastic wrap over bowl to reduce evaporation.
  1. Consider insulating pipes in all unheated spaces like outside kitchens and showers, crawl spaces, attics and outside walls. Add an insulated cover to outside hose connections after draining back and disconnecting / storing the hose.
  2.  Additional winterization steps are required for pools, hot tubs/Jacuzzis, dishwashers, ice makers, humidifiers, water softeners and purification systems, well pumps, sprinkler systems, outside kitchens etc.
  1. Ensure adequate notice of winterization. Put a note on the breaker box to refill hot water heater before switching the breaker. Place stickers and or tape over toilets, sinks and the hot water heater so that the system is not used prior to de-winterization. While I have seen notices posted on the front door, I would not recommend this as it could be an invitation to intruders that the house is vacant. A notice inside the property in a conspicuous place is recommended.

Remember to follow the 10 dry winterization steps listed above to protect your OBX real estate so you can begin to enjoy your Outer Banks vacation home as soon as warm air of spring arrives. No one wants to incur higher costs for their investment property with preventable repairs. 

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