Ask the Expert

Prep home for winter

What steps can we take to prepare our homes (pipes/plumbing) for the cold winter weather, especially if we will be traveling?

When your electricity or heat goes off during the cold weather, it can be expensive at best, and it may be even dangerous. Knowing how to keep utilities functioning, whether you’re gone for the day or a couple months, is important because you want to keep things secure.

Stoves can have problems with fuel flow due to a blocked stovepipe or blocked air intake. The second thing that can inhibit fuel flow is extreme cold. To make sure your fuel does not gel, only buy No. 1 fuel oil or, if you are going to use No. 2, then shelter and insulate the fuel tank and the oil supply copper tubing. Don’t wrap or string electric heat trace/tape on the fuel supply line.

Check your tank’s fuel filter before it gets cold and drain any water if the housing has a spigot, or replace the entire filter unit if it is similar to an oil filter. Have fuel pipes cleaned before the cold season and remember that while a chimney rain cap keeps the rain out of your boiler, it can cause problems with frost blockage.

The other main issue to take care of is your plumbing. Retrofit any pipes under or outside the house with foam pipe insulation. If you’re building a new house or remodeling, consider installing plastic piping (polybutylene). This type of tubing is designed to go through freezing without bursting by blowing out the end compression-like fittings if there is fluid expansion. It can then be thawed and ends reapplied.

Taping an electric heat trace/tape along the bottom of pipes under the house, inside cupboards or behind paneling/sheetrock can help prevent freezing. If you are going to be leaving the building for some time, you can drain the pipes and follow up with a nontoxic propylene glycol mix to keep the p-traps from freezing.

Art Nash is the statewide energy specialist with UAF Cooperative Extension Service and answers questions related to energy, housing and radon.