The last thing you want to do is add another list of chores for yourself before you leave for your relaxing vacation. But taking precautions to make sure you don’t come home to a flood due to a burst pipe or faulty water heater is well worth the effort.
At best, you’ll help prevent the need to fix the costly, complicated damage that even a small leak can cause.
And at worst, you’ll vacation with the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home will be just the way you left it when you return.
Many of these vacation precautions we recommend will save you money on your water and energy bill for the time you’re gone. You’d be surprised how much a small leak will run up the cost of your water bill.
Before embarking on your next vacation, prepare yourself and avoid the unforeseen “gotcha” by observing these seven plumbing precautions.
1. Shut off your main water valve.
The easiest thing you can do to prevent any plumbing disasters is to shut off the water supply to your home.
In some cases, this may be impractical. For example, if you have a lawn and need your sprinkler system to run while you’re gone, you’ll still need your water supply. That said, you can still turn off the water supply to individual appliances such as washing machines and toilets.
In some homes, it may be possible to turn off the water supply to your home while keeping the water supply to your sprinkler system on.
2. Inspect your plumbing fixtures.
Small leaks or a damaged supply line can spell disaster if left unattended. And these disasters have a knack for waiting until you’ve left your home for vacation to rear their ugly heads.
Check your sink and bath faucets, inspect appliance supply lines, and look over outdoor fixtures too. If you see any signs of damage or leaks, take steps to fix whatever is wrong before you leave. Many small issues can be fixed quite easily for a minimal cost (if any), but not if they’re left unattended.
3. Clean your drains.
Nobody wants to come home to a foul-smelling home after a relaxing vacation. But it’s easy to forget to clean out the kitchen sink before you leave, especially if food is sitting in the drain.
Check your kitchen sink drains for any leftover food and run the garbage disposal or remove it yourself. This is also a good time to check the drain for any clogs. If you find any, be sure that you fix it before you go on vacation.
4. Check on your sump pump, or have a licensed plumbing pro look it over.
If your home has a sump pump, make sure you have someone qualified to inspect it before you leave on vacation. Sump pumps keep water out of your home, but if it malfunctions while you’re gone, you could come home to a flooded basement.
The damage from a malfunctioning sump pump will be far more than the small amount you’ll need to pay to have it inspected regularly.
5. Inspect and drain your water heater for longer trips.
If you’re going on a long vacation, you may want to think about draining your water heater. If you choose not to drain it, at a minimum, you should inspect your water heater. If your heater is raised, check the collection pan for water as this may be an indication that there is a leak. If the unit is on the floor, check the area around it for any signs of water.
Look over the pipes and valves and keep an eye out for any signs of corrosion, leaks, or other damage.
Assuming you’re leaving the water heater on while you’re gone, listen for any strange noises as this could be an indication of damage. If you’re not confident you can conduct a proper inspection by yourself, have a professional look over your water heater before you leave.
6. Take preventive measures in cold weather.
If you’re leaving your home during the winter for an extended period of time, you’ll want to take precautionary measures to avoid frozen pipes. A frozen pipe can burst and spill gallons of water into your home.
Drain all your plumbing fixtures including washing machine hoses and dishwasher drain lines. Make sure excess water is not sitting in your toilet’s tank or bowl. Go around the house and open up the faucets to allow any excess water to drain out of the pipes.
If you’re only leaving your home for a short while and don’t want to turn everything off, make sure pipes are properly insulated and don’t turn the heat completely off. Also, make an extra effort to look for any pipes that are particularly exposed to cold weather and insulate them.
7. Ask a neighbor to check on your house.
If all else fails, asking a trustworthy neighbor or family friend should provide the peace of mind you need to enjoy your vacation. Just make sure they’re stopping by the house every day or so to check that everything is running smoothly. And leave them with the phone number of a plumber that provides emergency services should anything go wrong.
8. Use vacation mode settings, or shut off power to the water heater.
Check to see if your water heater has a vacation mode setting. Enabling this feature will reduce the energy consumption by lowering the temperature of the water heater, while supplying just enough energy to prevent pipes from freezing.
If you’re away during warmer months, placing the water heater in vacation mode is unnecessary, and the heater can just be powered off. This goes for both gas and electric water heaters. For gas, twist the thermostat dial to the OFF position. For electric models, turn off the water heater at the circuit breaker. Just remember to turn it back on when you return, or you may have an unexpected cold shower!
Run Through This Checklist and Then Go Enjoy Your Vacation
We never think a plumbing disaster is going to hit our home… and then it does. But the steps you can take to prevent plumbing issues while you’re away are simple and quick. So why not run through this checklist to vacation-proof your home?
If you’re not comfortable completing any of these tasks yourself, or you think there may be an issue with your plumbing, don’t hesitate to call a plumbing professional.
Fixing small problems is far easier and affordable then scrambling to minimize the damage when those small problems turn into big issues.