While we’ve been spoiled with summer-like days well into the fall season, freezing temperatures and winter snows are not that far away. (At least we hope so!) In a region where many homes sit vacant for extended periods of time, it’s important to take proper measures to prevent pipes from freezing. While the common practice is to drain pipes of water, some homeowners have instead taken to putting automotive antifreeze into their plumbing system to prevent freezing.

Mountain Hardware and Sports hardware and plumbing manager Dough Farley recently told Moonshine that he’s had a number of people come into the store who have put the wrong type of antifreeze in their household pipes. That got us thinking: Is using antifreeze intended for an automobile in pipes really a good idea?

“Generally speaking, the TDPUD does not recommend the use of antifreeze products in residential plumbing,” Truckee Donner Public Utility District Assistant General Manager and Water Utility Director Brian Wright wrote in an email to Moonshine Ink.

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Wright stressed that there are two different types of antifreeze, and should a homeowner choose to use an antifreeze product to prevent frozen pipes, it is extremely important to understand that the two varieties of antifreeze have different chemistry. One is the ethylene glycol-based variety, such as the antifreeze commonly used in vehicles’ coolant systems. There are also propylene glycol-based products which are less toxic and available in food-grade compositions. The latter is often used for the winterization of recreational vehicle plumbing systems.

“If a homeowner or resident is not familiar with the differences between the two, it may present some serious health concerns to occupants of the home who later drink from water passing through the plumbing,” Wright explained. “Oftentimes, a home may have been winterized with antifreeze in the plumbing and the first occupants the next spring were not aware that the plumbing required thorough flushing. It is important that homeowners fully understand which product they are using and consult with professional plumbers on making these decisions.”

Jim Winterberger, president of second-home management company Tahoe Getaways, which often oversees the winterization process for homes that will remain unoccupied during cold winter months, told Moonshine that he has not had anyone use automotive antifreeze in a home setting, but is familiar with the use of RV antifreeze.

“Most RV antifreezes are ethanol based, and generally recognized as safe for use in potable water systems,” said Winterberger, noting that using a “stop/drain” is standard practice for his company, as well as maintaining heat at 55 degrees. “Even with the water supply stopped and drained, there are a myriad of areas that will hold water, an icemaker line being one of many examples I can think of. There are ways to completely flush a water system, but most of our properties are used somewhat regularly, so that’s an overkill.”

Wright shared a number of ways homeowners can prevent pipes from freezing, without resorting to chemical assistance:

  • Close vents to the space under the house (crawl space) to prevent freezing temperatures from developing under the structure. (This is a very important step and a common cause of freezing pipes.)
  • Turn off (isolate) the primary water line (stop and drain valve) and drain the plumbing if you plan to be away for prolonged periods of time.
  • Keep the inside thermostat at 45 to 50 degrees when away during the winter to ensure the interior temperatures do not drop below freezing on those extremely cold nights and damage internal plumbing.
  • Properly insulate exposed plumbing structures under the home. There are heat tape products for insulation but be cautious of electrical fire hazards and consult a contractor.
  • Ensure irrigation systems are turned off and drained (blow out empty irrigation lines with compressed air).

Should using antifreeze remain your number one solution to prevent pipes from freezing, Wright advises homeowners to contact a licensed plumber for guidance. He also noted that there are many do-it-yourself tutorials that can be found online on websites like homeadvisor.com and mrrooter.com.

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