One burst pipe is all it takes to turn a dream home into a nightmare. Imagine opening up your summer home next spring to find a wet, soggy, moldy mess because you forgot to winterize your house this fall. The worst can happen; take it from someone who’s seen it all. Lucas Papageorge, Jr., president of LCP Contractors, LLC, a Fairfield, Connecticut-based contracting, remodeling, and home improvement firm, said he’s seen home owners face hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage from water disasters that occurred in homes unoccupied for the winter.
“We had clients who moved to California while their home was on market,” he recalled. “During the cold winter months, a valve on a toilet broke and burst. The water supply hadn’t been turned off, and over a thousand gallons of water filled the basement. They found out because a neighbor saw water coming out of the basement windows.”
Wet Walls Can Lead to Mold
The chain of events set in motion by burst pipes can cause problems far worse than wet floors. In another situation Papageorge encountered, a homeowner hadn’t properly winterized his vacation home, and neglected to clean the gutters before leaving for the winter. In one section, water built up in the gutter, froze, and the entire gutter fell off. But what happened to another gutter was far more concerning.
“In this case, water had crept all the way up the gutter back to the roof line, and froze over the winter. A ridge of ice (an ice dam) formed along the roof, and on warmer days, the melting snow seeped into the home through nail holes,” said Papageorge. “The homeowner eventually found wet sheetrock inside the home where mold had grown—all the way up to the attic.”
Identifying someone who can check on your vacant home every three to four days is also a key strategy to preventing environmental disasters, according to Joe Houlihan, partner at Houlihan & O’Malley Real Estate in Bronxville, New York. He said not taking steps to winterize a vacant house might even affect its future sale.
“I had a client with a burst pipe in an upstairs bathroom that caused water to gush through the walls down into the dining room below. The wood floors were ruined and the walls were soaked,” he said, noting that wet walls that are not dried quickly can be a breeding ground for mold.
Houlihan also recommended having the home’s systems serviced prior to vacating the home, recalling a messy incident with a client who forgot to have their boiler serviced for the season before relocating. “When we opened the house to a prospective buyer for a home inspection, the inspector turned the boiler on—soot that had built up was suddenly everywhere. It made the buyer think twice,” he said.
Tips to Winterize Your House
Experts agree, there are simple steps to take now to prevent your home from becoming a house of horrors later.
Clean gutters, check the roof
It’s important to keep the gutters free of debris to prevent damage and ice damming on your roof. Make sure winter’s rain and melting snow will drain down and away from your house. Check the roof for leaks and missing shingles in order to prevent mold from growing.
Perform routine maintenance on home systems
Have technicians service your boiler and all heating and air conditioning units and change all filters. Dirty filters impede air flow, promote mold growth and at worst, can cause fires.
Turn off the main water supply
Prevent pipes from bursting by cutting off the water supply, and opening all faucets to drain them of water. Toilets and water heaters can also be drained of any remaining water, as can appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers.
Set the thermostat
Many homeowners want to save money and turn the heat down too low in a vacant home. The heat should be left on and kept well above freezing in order to prevent pipes from freezing, bursting, and causing a dangerous mold situation.
“Taking the time to prepare your home to be unoccupied is worth it,” said Houlihan. “A little bit of effort now can prevent a lot of problems from occurring later.”