FROZEN PIPE IN VACANT HOUSES
Last week we had a statistic of 1 in 15 houses we inspected that had damage from frozen pipes when the water was left on. I would strongly suggest that if you have a listing with heat and water on that the water should be shut off at the main. Shutting the water off at the main may pose some risks as well, like a leaking incoming valve that did not leak before you touched it. If the seller can shut the water off, that certainly would be better. If the valve does not work, it could require the water company to turn it off, and if water is flowing into the home that would be a bad time to find the valve is not working. I was recently at a cocktail party and heard a story from a very determined listing agent who removed some clothing and waded through feet of water
to save the house and I’m glad she is still alive to have a cocktail with us.
The problem with entering a flooded basement or room with the power on and the electrical control board in the bottom of the furnace or boiler being in contact with water, may cause you to become the path to ground (shocked or worse). It only takes .5 of an amp to kill a human and the circuit feeding this and other things are a minimum of 15 amps. If the dryer and the outlet are in the water, it would be 30 amps at 220v. Distilled water is not conductive but tap water…even clean tap water…can be highly so. This risk is unnecessary if the valve is tested by the seller and then if it needs to be repaired, it can be done with no emergency going on, and it will be much less expensive.
Also open the sink and drain the water to the lowest level of the home and flush the toilets. I would suggest Saran wrapping the toilets so they do not get used when the water is off. One further suggestion is to leave notes that the water is off since the house is vacant but can be turned on for the home inspection. Other things I would recommend are turning the power off to the stove and anything with a heating element so that prospective buyers don’t accidently leave them on. If the
water is drained from the hot water heater, it must be filled before being tested or it can be damaged. Unless the heat is to be left off, I would leave it full and the power turned off so that it can be brought up quickly for testing. Heating equipment on delivered fuel like propane and oil need the most attention, but even gas fired units that are modern do not have pilots and rely on heating or piezo igniters every time they light and they do fail on a regular basis.
There are some easy common sense things that we can do to make our listings, and our vacation homes winter proof while they are left vacant. When the thermostat is lowered, the heat that protected the piping will not be as warm as usual, so even though we never had a problem at normal temperatures when we leave the thermostat at 55 degrees, things may be different than when they are set at 68 degrees. As a company we think that 60 degrees should be minimum. At that temperature, we still think turning the water off is important. Some simple precautions will allow our houses and listings to survive the harsh temperatures during the cold winters we have been seeing.