20 Quick Tips to Winterize Your Investment Properties (+5 bonus tips)

Winter means low temperatures and higher heating bills for most people. If you own property, especially vacant property, it can also bring unnecessary expenses. I don’t like unnecessary expenses, so each winter I repeat tasks at my properties to winterize them.
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Our two guiding principles are these: keep cold air and water out of the property. Remove water from inside the property and plumbing where it can freeze and create issues. How we’ll do that for occupied and unoccupied properties differs only by how far we’ll go, so we’ll start with our checklist for occupied properties.

Here’s the entire list of stuff we’ll need before we start:

  • Caulk and caulk gun
  • Plastic bubble wrap and tape
  • Ladder and a bucket
  • Draft guards
  • A bucket of tar (If your home has a flat roof)

Additional for unoccupied properties:

  • Air-compressor
  • RV anti-freeze

Occupied Properties

1. The most important thing here is to clean your gutters. Blocked gutters trap water, trapped water creeps under your roof and into the building. During the winter it can freeze and cause even more issues. So, a little problem turns into a big problem. I still haven’t found a better way to clean gutters than just getting on the roof, using my hands and getting dirty.

2. Check your flue and dampeners if you have a chimney. These are designed to allow air to pass, so only let them do their job when you’re using them.

3. Make sure all your windows are fully closed and locked.

4. For extra insulation you can hang bubble wrap against your windows. Cheap. Effective.

5. Check your windows and doors for any air gaps; if you find some, fill them in with caulk. My general rule is if I can see light through a crack on a sunny day, it needs to be filled.

6. Remove any air conditioning window units unless they’re properly installed to be left in year-round.

7. Use draft guards on any door that has a gap at the bottom.

8. If you have landscape sprinklers, empty them.

9. Bring in hoses and make sure that the spigots are closed. Put spigot covers over them if your area calls for it.

10. Flush your water heater, for which you can use the hoses you just brought in, to clear it of sediment.

11. Check your heating system and replace your furnace filter.

12. If you have ceiling fans, turn them to run clockwise so they push rising heat down.

13. If you have a flat roof, check it for any cracks. Fill those with tar to prevent water seeping into the crack and freezing.

Non-Occupied Properties

Here we get a chance to save a bit more by turning off the water, which in Saint Louis County stops other bills like trash and sewer. I’d suggest doing this for any property that will be vacant for a long time when there’s a chance of freezing weather, including vacation homes. Even if you’re going to leave the heat on in the home to keep the inside from freezing I’d still follow this list – better safe than sorry.

Do everything above if you haven’t. You won’t benefit from putting plastic up on the windows if the heat will be off, however.

14. Turn off the main water line. In Saint Louis City that’s normally in the basement towards the front of the house, but it might be outside. Also call the water division to be sure the water is shut off, to ensure the other bills stop too.

15. If the house has any sort of water filter on the main line, remove that after you turn the main water line off.

16. Find the lowest point in the house; that’s almost always underneath the water heater. Let that drain if you haven’t yet.

17. Open the valves on the washing machine. If there are hoses attached to it, disconnect them.

18. Go to all the sinks and tubs and open those valves. By now you should start to hear the plumbing gargle as it drains down.

19. Flush all the toilets at least twice to clear them of water.

20. Get the air compressor. I connect it to the washer and dryer hookups and blow out all the remaining water from the system.

21. Get your RV antifreeze solution. Make sure it’s RV antifreeze – that’s safe for water supplies. You can find it at auto supply stores and hardware stores and a jug typically costs $4. You’ll pour this into every drain, in the showers and in the front and backs of toilets so the porcelain doesn’t crack. The solution is usually colored and I pour it until the remaining water turns the color of the RV antifreeze. In drains I pour roughly two-cups.

22. Pour some of the RV antifreeze into the dishwasher too – that’s another drain.

23. If the property will be vacant for a long time put saran wrap over the toilet bowls to prevent the water in the S-trap from evaporating. If you don’t and it does the house will fill with sewer gas.

24. If you’re leaving the gas and heat on turn the thermostat down low. When I do this I turn off the gas to the water heater and make sure the water heater is also shut off.

25. If you’re turning the heat off then turn off the gas at the main meter. You can also turn off the gas bill by calling the company if you want to be sure.

That’s the list. Once you get used to the process you’ll be able to do this to a property pretty quickly. When spring comes and the pipes haven’t burst you’ll be happy you did.

Next up in our series is our 2015 market forecast for St. Louis.

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