How to De-winterize Your House

A red house in a winter storm
Todd Ryburn Photography / Getty Images

A home that has been "winterized" in order to leave it empty for the cold months of winter will then need to be "de-winterized" when you return to the home to occupy it once again. This is generally a matter of reversing whatever actions you took to winterize the home. Some common winterizing actions can include:

  • Shutting off the water and draining the pipes to prevent freezing
  • Disconnecting flexible supply tubes for sinks, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, and other appliances
  • Unplugging appliances
  • Programming thermostats and alarm systems
  • Draining the water heater and water softener and disconnecting its water pipes
  • Canceling or forwarding mail service

To reverse the process and de-winterize a house that was winterized by a professional service, the easiest solution may be to have the same professionals return to systematically do the work—they know, after all, exactly what was done and how to reverse it. But if the same professionals are not available, you can also do the work yourself by following some basic steps.

Dewinterizing an RV or Mobile Home?

Professional services winterizing an RV or mobile home often fill the water lines and drain traps with a special anti-freeze solution. If this is the case, it is difficult to do the de-winterization yourself. You'll need to call the service to come and drain the water pipes and properly dispose of the solution. The pipes will need to be thoroughly flushed to remove all traces of the antifreeze solution.

A standard, home, though, can usually be brought out of winterization yourself.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

How to Dewinterize Your Home

  1. Turn on Any Electrical Circuits That Have Been Shut Off

    It's not uncommon for a home's electrical service to be shut off in a manner that leaves only the essential circuits operating, such as the circuit for the furnace or a few essential lighting circuits. Go to the main service panel and examine all the individual branch circuit breakers inside the panel. Turn on any circuit breakers that have been shut off. You will need all light fixtures operating in order to get plumbing fixtures operating again.

  2. Connect All Water Supply Tubes and Pipes

    If your de-winterizing procedure included disconnecting the flexible supply tubes from various plumbing fixtures, you will now need to systematically inspect all these fixtures and reconnect the flex tubes to the shutoff valves or the appliance inlets. This is best done on a room-by-room basis, carefully looking at the sinks, toilet, showers, tubs, and any other water-supplied appliances. Use channel-lock pliers or a wrench to carefully re-secure all the flex tubes to their fixtures. Do not turn on the fixture shutoff valves yet; in fact, make sure they are all still fully shut off.

    Make sure to also inspect the water heater, water softener, and other utility appliances to make sure their water connections are also re-connected.

    • Note: The winterizing process may have included stuffing drain openings with rags or seals to prevent sewer gases from rising up into the home. If so, make sure to unblock all the drains in the home, including the toilet, shower, and floor drains.
  3. Turn On the Main Water Supply

    When you are sure that all disconnected water supply tubes and pipes have been properly reconnected, slowly turn on the main water supply. This valve is usually found at the main entrance pipe delivering the water supply to the home. If there is a utility sink near the main shutoff valve, it is a good idea to turn on that shutoff valve and open the faucet as you gradually turn on the main water supply. This will allow trapped air to escape as the pipes refill with water.

  4. Open the Water Heater, Boiler, and Water Softener Water Valves

    If these major appliances have been shut off during winterization, turn the water supply back on at this time. This is normally done at valves located on the pipes running to and from to the appliances. Follow the manufacturers' recommendations for how to fill these appliances; it may involve opening escape valves to allow trapped water to exit as they fill up with water.

  5. Turn on Plumbing Fixtures, One at a Time

    With the main water supply valve opened about halfway, visit each plumbing fixture in each room. First, open the fixture shutoff valve, then open the faucet on each fixture. Air will likely rush out of the faucet as trapped air in the pipes escapes, and the first flow of water may be a loud and vigorous splashing; this is normal. When the water runs steady and clear, you can shut off the faucet. Check the fixture shutoff valves for leaking, and tighten any joints that are seeping or actively leaking.

    Make sure to check all fixtures, including refrigerator icemakers, water filters, dishwashers, etc. to make sure their water supplies have been restored.

    Test toilets to make sure they are operating correctly. When toilet tanks sit empty for long periods, the seals on the flush valves may harden and prevent the toilet tank from sealing properly at the end of each flush cycle.

    When all fixtures seem to be operating properly, turn the main water supply valve on to the fully open position.

  6. Check Exterior Hose Spigot Faucets

    Freeze-proof faucets can leak after de-winterizing, as well. Check every exterior spigot to makes sure it opens and closes properly without leaking. Low pressure here may mean there is a leaking split in the stub-out pipe that extends from the inside of the house. To check this out, you may need to enter a crawlspace or inspect the basement.

  7. Double-Check All Plumbing Fixtures

    As a final step on restoring plumbing service, go back through every room in the house and carefully double-check all plumbing fixtures and appliances for proper operation, and to make sure the water supply connections aren't leaking.

  8. Plug in Lamps and Appliances

    It is standard practice to unplug most lamps and other appliances for winterization. Reversing the process involves now plugging those essential appliances back into their electrical outlets.

  9. Turn on the Gas

    Often, natural gas is turned off when a house is left unattended in winter to prevent danger from gas leaks, and you'll now need to turn it back on. In some climates where winter heating is not needed, the gas may have been shut off at the main shutoff valve. Turning this valve back on will restore gas throughout the house. In cold climates where a gas furnace must run at a low temperature to prevent serious freezing, the main gas supply may still be open, but individual fixtures may have their local shutoff valves closed. Open all these valves.

  10. Light Any Standing Pilots

    Most gas appliances now use electronic ignition systems that ignite the gas, but if you have older appliances that operate with standing pilot lights that burn constantly, now is the time to relight these pilots. Older furnaces, water heaters, and stoves may have this kind of pilot light, but your home may not have any such appliances.

  11. Check the Sump Pump

    If your home has a sump pump that serves a drain-tile and sump pit system, check to make sure it is turned on and operating correctly. Spring rains or melting snow runoff can flood basements unless the sump pump is up and running.

  12. Check the Roof Gutters

    Over the winter, leaves and other debris may have clogged the roof gutters. Make sure they are clear and that the downspouts will carry water away from the house.

  13. Reprogram the Thermostat and Alarm System

    Programmable systems may have been adjusted for special settings for the winter when you were away from the home. Reprogram them to the needs of an occupied home. Also, check the thermostat on the water heater and make sure it is adjusted for proper temperature.

  14. Welcome home! You are now pretty much ready to resume living in your house. All that's left is to tell the neighbors you're back, reset the time on clocks, and restart the discontinued mail service.