Steps to Take With Your Plumbing & Heating Before Leaving for Your Winter Vacation

Home Prep for Winter Vacation

Haha! You’re doing it! You’re finally about to escape the barren tundra that the Midwest becomes every winter. Where will you go on vacation? Florida? Arizona? Or Mexico, which sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low? You’ll have to send us some pictures.

Sadly, nothing kills the post-vacation mellow quicker than coming home to discover your home’s plumbing and heating in ruination. But avoiding disaster is easy – just follow these steps with your plumbing and heating before leaving for your winter vacation!


  1. Turn off the main water valve. Water damage and freezing were accountable for nearly one-third of home insurance claims in 2019. You don’t want a burst pipe causing thousands in property damage, so turn off your main water valve before you leave on vacation.

  2. Drain the faucets. This will let out any water that could have frozen, expanded, and burst your pipes in your absence. Ironically, you’ll want to drain your faucets in the event that your pipes have already burst!

  3. Set the thermostat. You don’t need to make your empty home comfortable. You just want to set its thermostat to 50° so any water remaining in your pipes and appliances won’t freeze. (Although some sources recommend setting the thermostat between 55 and 60°.)

  4. Open the cabinets and closets. This will ensure that relatively warm air can reach any pipes underneath your sinks and hidden behind your drywall.

  5. Insulate any exposed pipes. Insulating your hot water pipes won’t just raise your water temperature by 2 to 4°. It can also prevent a catastrophic burst when the weather gets bitter!

  6. Prepare the outdoor plumbing. You would ideally prepare your outdoor plumbing for cold weather every fall, but it’s never too late in the season to avert disaster. Detach, drain and deposit any hoses that are still hooked up to outside faucets, and then shut off the valve that supplies water to outdoors. Finally, open up any lines and leave them that way.

  7. Ready the sump pump. If your home has a sump pump, then you don’t want it to fail and allow your basement to fill with meltwater. Clear its pit of debris, and then remove its discharge hose so water can’t freeze inside it. But this is crucial: If you do remove your sump pump’s discharge hose, make sure a friend or neighbor can enter your home to reattach it in the event of heavy rain or a thaw!

  8. Seal off cracks, seams, and the crawl space. You want to make sure no frigid outdoor air can infiltrate your living quarters to reach the sensitive pipes within. Pay extra attention to the areas surrounding doors and windows as you look for exterior cracks and seams to seal up with caulk. Then use duct tape and cardboard to close up your home’s crawl space (assuming it has one; only 15% of homes do).

  9. Clean out the gutters. This is not a savory chore while it’s cold and icy outside, but you want to ensure your gutters are draining freely so they can reliably divert rain and meltwater away from your foundation. (Only if it’s absolutely safe, of course. Falls from ladders send over 100,000 Americans to the emergency room every year!)


  1. Set the thermostat. You may recognize this step from earlier. We’re repeating it because it’s so vitally important. This also gives us an opportunity to sing the praises of programmable thermostats, which you can set to raise the temperature in preparation of your arrival so you don’t return to a chilly home!

  2. Replace the furnace’s air filter. Convention holds that you should replace your furnace’s air filter every 90 days. But even if you changed your air filter somewhat recently, a fresh one will enable your furnace to operate more efficiently in your absence – and avoid the kind of overwork that could cause a mechanical malfunction.

  3. Dust your home. Too much dust in your ducts will eventually impact your furnace’s efficiency. You don’t want that unit to become unable to fully heat your home – or fail altogether in your absence – so take a damp rag to any parts of your house which accumulate dust, vents included. If they haven’t been cleaned within the past three to five years, consider having your whole duct system vacuumed out by a professional.

  4. Ensure the area surrounding the furnace is free of clutter. Conventional furnaces draw air from their immediate surroundings. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, homeowners often leave boxes of Christmas ornaments and tableware within the immediate vicinity of the furnace, thus impacting its efficacy. Keep the 30″ radius surrounding your furnace clear!

  5. Turn down the water heater. This step is purely a money saver, but that just means you’ll have a bigger budget for colorful souvenirs and knickknacks during your vacation. There’s no need to keep the contents of your water heater scalding while you’re cavorting around on white-sand beaches!

  6. Recruit a friend or family member for sentinel duty. Have someone you trust pop into your home from time to time. They can check for signs of water infiltration and take steps to mitigate damage, as well as ensure your furnace is still performing its all-important duty.

Despite your best efforts, have you returned home from vacation only to discover heating or plumbing problems? If you live in the greater Sioux Falls area, never fear. You can always reach out to PrairieSons for all your HVAC and plumbing needs!