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I live in Austin and we are going to have some pretty cold weather in the near future. I recently bought a house that I'm not living and since the electricity is out (and cannot be turned on until an electrical inspection is completed), the heater won't be running there. In order to prevent any pipes from bursting, I was thinking about maybe shutting off the water to the house, draining the pipes, and just leaving all the faucets and hose bibs open while it's cold. Any reason not to do that?

Post snowpocalypse update

I thought I would follow up with what I ended up doing and how things worked out. Local news recommended (very adamantly but without explaining why) that people do not drip outside faucets, inside only. So we decided to wrap the outside faucets very well and put hand warmers on them for an extra punch of heat and not drip them. We did leave the water on and drip the inside faucets.

We did this at both houses and basically everything worked out fine. We did have older hose bib crack and gush water. Luckily I had a replacement bib so we were okay. I know other people that dripped their outside lines and were fine. I also know someone who just turned the water off and it was fine. I also know a lot of people who had pipes burst, including my wife's parents in Dallas. They left the house for a few days and didn't come back until after things thawed out. A pipe in the ceiling burst near the kitchen and flooded the much of lower floor of the house. Not great.

Anyway, thanks again for all the advice. It was a pretty crazy week, but we made it through without any major issues.

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    Ah, you Texans are so funny... (Just got off the phone with my daughter in Houston). Yeah, seems like a good plan. – FreeMan Feb 11 at 20:02
  • The pipes pretty much rely on heat in the house to prevent freezing Because 72 hours of cold is predicted , draining pipes is the least you can do . The water heater tank is probably safe. – blacksmith37 Feb 11 at 20:19
  • @FreeMan I know, I'm sure it's all very cute how worked up we get over temps in the teens. :) What can I say, it's just not something we have to deal with much out here. – d512 Feb 11 at 20:38
  • @blacksmith37 Sounds good. If there are other reasonable steps I can take without electricity available, please let me know. I'm probably not going to get a generator though. – d512 Feb 11 at 20:39
  • Depending what you have handy, one other thing to do would be to take a tank of compressed air (assuming no handy portable compressor that doesn't need electricity) and bodge up a connection to a garden hose, so that after you drain all that will drain you can blow out all that you can't drain or that won't drain. And I second the RV antifreeze (which there will probably be a run on, so shop early.) Salt is an alternative, moreso in the toilets (ceramic won't corrode) or plastic traps than in metallic traps (where corrosion can be an issue, but if you find you can't get RVAF, salt beats water – Ecnerwal Feb 12 at 0:17
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Shutting off and draining the water is a good idea. If for no reason other than an unnoticed leak could cause considerable damage. Don't forget the water heater and fridge if it has an icemaker since the power is off. Also the toilets, flush them after you have the water off. Then use a large sponge to sop up the water in the bottom of the bowl. Dip the sponge in and wring it out into a bucket. For extra insurance pour some RV antifreeze into the toilets and sink traps. Use RV antifreeze not automotive antifreeze as the RV type is nontoxic and flushable. When it comes time to turn the water back on remove all the faucet aerators or they can become clogged with sediment. Run the water until clear before reinstalling them.

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    Remember the washing machine connections as well. And the dang water softener, if any. – Ecnerwal Feb 12 at 0:16
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    Use caution when draining water from the toilets that you don't also drain the traps or you'll end up with sewer gas in the house. Less physical damage than a broken pipe, but very unpleasant. – FreeMan Feb 12 at 12:16
  • For the washer, turn off the valve, disconnect the machine end of the hoses and move them into a sink or bucket, then turn the valve back on. If you had power I would say to then run the machine for a few seconds to empty the internal piping into the tub. – jay613 Feb 12 at 13:01
  • The point of RVAF (or salt water, if not available) is to fill the traps with somehting that won't freeze. In the "olden days" we used mineral oil (the stuff you get at the drugstore) for the traps in our camp over winter - RVAF is a better option. – Ecnerwal Feb 12 at 15:59
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I have to disagree with the others on this one you are asking for trouble, water can pool in the low spots in the plumbing and fracture it. I've had it happen even in pipes where the supply to the pipe was shut off and the hose valve was left open.

You need to call the power company and do whatever you need to do to get the heat back on. I don't understand the reticence to do this, around here they will turn the power on within a day.

Without heat your next best option is to leave ALL of the valves in the house open just a small amount so that a thin stream of water comes out of the valve. You will throw a couple hundred gallons of water down the drain doing this for the week but the water flow will keep the water temp in the pipes high enough so they won't freeze.

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    The power is out because we had our electrical panel replaced and they won't turn it back on before inspecting it and inspections are way backed up right now. I'll consider your alternative option of running the water rather than draining the pipes. It's just that keeping the water away from the foundation can be hard. And preventing the flow from slowing down and freezing is also tricky. I've tried it before and the trickle ended up freezing into an icicle. – d512 Feb 12 at 0:04
  • Many apartment complexes where I live (in Indiana) post notices to their residents to leave at least one faucet with a trickle running the help keep pipes from freezing when temps drop below 0°F. However, that's also in heated buildings. @d512's concern does seem valid in an unheated structure. Might take more than a "trickle" of water, more like a "thin, steady stream". – FreeMan Feb 12 at 12:19
  • You can make a partial attempt at avoiding pooling in low spots by thinking about the locations of pipes and fixtures and opening exactly two at a time to drain parts of the house in a way that will add some siphoning action to help empty these low spots. It'll be far from perfect but can't hurt to try. I was going to suggest you do this for at least the hose bibs, then realized that with no heat there's nothing special about them. :( – jay613 Feb 12 at 12:48
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    You can put table salt in the toilet bowl and sink traps (assuming they're plastic, not metal). This should protect them down to -10°C [ - 5 °F ]. For the toilet, you can pour the salt in, and stir it. For the sinks, pour in some pre-mixed salt and water. – CSM Feb 12 at 14:51
  • @d512 If that's the case, consider some type of indoor kerosene heater to at least keep the interior of the house just above freezing, at least the area around where the water comes in. Even with the water off, the shutoff valve will be inside the house and if the incoming water pipe freezes and bursts then the basement will flood when it warms back up. If you have an outdoor, underground shutoff this can be less of an issue, but you still need a way to chase the water out of all the piping that enters the house. – J... Feb 12 at 15:16
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Yes you should do exactly what you wrote. Try to find a drain at the lowest point in the house. If there isn't one look for a compression fitting or the house side of the meter if that is low, to disconnect.

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Cold water pipes will mostly drain from outdoor faucets. But if you have a pier and beam house with the plumbing underneath the house there is no way to drain the hot water lines that are under the house. This may or may not be a problem with houses on a slab since there is more insulation from the slab. So for a pier and beam house and maybe a slab house you are probably better off letting all faucets indoor (both hot and cold) and outdoor drip.

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  • it's a slab foundation – d512 Mar 4 at 5:24

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