When you live in Chicago, you learn to adapt to harsh winters. In 2014, Chicago saw close to 79 inches of snow, just 10 inches short of its all-time record. And in November, 2015, the surrounding suburbs O’Hare, Moline, and Rockford received a total of 11.2 inches, 9.9 inches, and 8.8 inches, respectively.
These frigid conditions wreak havoc on your home. And if you don’t exercise care, your plumbing and water softeners will suffer irreparable damage.
Fortunately, these four steps will help protect your plumbing this winter season, no matter whether you stay at home or go abroad.
When you stay at home for the winter season, you can monitor your water heaters, water softeners, and plumbing closely. If you see any problems, don’t hesitate to call in a professional for a closer look, and be sure do the following:
Let the Faucet Drip
Standing water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but winter nights in Chicago can drop far below that. Currently, Chicago’s average low temperature is 18 degrees, with a record low of -27 degrees. If you have standing water in your pipes, the cold weather may cause the water to freeze. As water freezes, it expands, putting pressure on your plumbing until it bursts.
Flowing water, however, has added kinetic energy, so it requires even colder temperatures before the molecules slow enough to form solid bonds. As a result, if you have water flowing through your pipes, they’ll be less likely to freeze and burst during the winter.
Before you go to bed each night, set your tap to a slow drip. If you want to conserve water, place a bucket in the bottom of the sink to catch the drip and use the water the next day.
Your attic insulation protects your home from temperature fluctuations. It keeps the heat out during the summer, and keeps the cold out during the winter. When you have proper insulation, you not only save money on utilities but reduce wear and tear on your air conditioning as well.
The same principle applies to your water softener and water heaters in the garage or basement. If your units sit in a chilly room all winter, they have to work harder to keep you comfortable. And if the temperatures drop too low, the water may freeze in the pipes.
Talk to a contractor about properly installing insulation in your garage or basement. If you can’t afford full insulation, at least invest in pipe sleeves that will protect your plumbing from the cold.
If you plan to vacation in a warmer climate, you can still protect your home with these techniques:
Unplug the Softener
Even when you don’t use your water softener, your unit will continue to draw power while it awaits your return. And if the pipes freeze while you are gone, the backflow could backwash into the water heater and water softener, resulting in flooding and electrical damage.
Before you leave for your trip, unplug the water softener. Then, find the bypass valve on the top of your tank. Turn the valve so it stops water from flowing into the tank. Drain the remaining water in the tank, and scoop out any leftover salt.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing these tasks on your own, hire a technician to do it for you.
Adjust Your Thermostat
Understandably, you want to save money on utilities whenever you can. You don’t want to waste your income heating an empty home, so you may feel tempted to turn off your thermostat before you go.
But frozen pipes and flooded basements will cost you thousands of dollars in repairs, far more than you’d save if you leave the thermostat on. Rather than switching off your heating entirely, set the thermostat between 50 and 60 degrees. This temperature is high enough to prevent frozen pipes without costing you a fortune in utilities.
Did Winter Damage Your Softener?
Although these tips should prevent a large majority of problems, you may still see cracks, leaks, and other damage at the end of the year. To extend the life of your water softener, talk to a professional about inspecting your unit and replacing corroded parts as needed.