Burst pipes and flooded basements. Every winter, homeowners on the East End have to dip deep into their pockets for emergency repairs that are avoidable, Marshall Prado said last week. Prado heads Marshall and Sons, a Montauk company that has been making such emergency calls for more than 75 years. Such house calls can lead to repairs that easily cost six figures. It is all preventable, Prado says.
“We recommend that you have a reliable house watcher, and a system in the house that will call you if water comes in,” he said. This, he said, is preferable to draining water out of the pipes. There is nothing better than to have someone step into your house during extreme cold periods, to make sure that all is well. And that someone should not be a friend or neighbor: friends and neighbors tend to go on vacation, and when they do, your house will not be the first thing on their minds.
House watchers check for all sorts of things, like whether animals have gotten into the house. Prado has seen occasions where deer, being chased by dogs, will crash right through a window. That opening for the East End wind and cold can lead to disaster during the winter months. Rodents are another problem. Racoons and squirrels can wreak havoc on a house’s electrical system. Rodents can also create the small opening needed for a winter wind to enter a house and do its worst.
Of course, not everyone can afford to hire an insured, experienced house watcher. If the decision is made to drain the plumbing in a house, Prado said make sure you are hiring an insured professional. Marshall and Sons drain and winterize a couple of hundred houses a year. Not only are the pipes in the house cleared of water, but anti-freeze is placed in the drain traps.
Homeowners also need to clean their gutters. Frozen, clogged gutters allow for water and cold wind to enter the house.
A common mistake made by people who live elsewhere during the winter season is forgetting to shut down outdoor showers. Prado said he has seen numerous cases, over the years, of owners, frequently surfers, coming out for the weekend, and turning on the outdoor shower, then leaving without shutting it down. These frequently are on separate systems, and can be a costly repair if frozen.
It is important, Prado said, to contract someone to plow the driveway to the house. If there is an emergency, such as a freeze-up, service vehicles may have to get to the house, unimpeded by several feet of snow.
Also, during the winter, Prado recommends leaving plumbing cabinet doors open, so that whatever heat is in the house can get to the interior of the cabinets and the plumbing.
Another step in surviving an East End winter is something most homeowners might not think about: their insurance policies. Review your policy and make sure it covers you in even the worst-case winter scenario.
A generator for power outages is another important tool in the fight against winter damage. Power outages on the East End can last for days.
The proliferation of Nest thermostats that run off your phone is problematic, Prado said. During winter storms, Wi-Fi may go down, and stay down, leaving the homeowner blissfully unaware of the pending danger to the house.
Some people put antifreeze in their heating systems. The problem with that approach is that antifreeze will dissipate over the years, so the homeowner must make sure that there is enough present to protect the system.
Have a sprinkler fire suppression system in your home or business? You likely will need a specialist to come in and winterize it for you. Last winter, at Sloppy Tuna in downtown Montauk, the plumbing system was drained, but not the sprinkler system. The result was a cascade of water onto South Edison Street.
One step a homeowner can take happens before the house is even built. Most homes today are designed around the view, with an eye on open spaces. It is important, during the design, for owners and architects to avoid placing plumbing in north-facing walls, “where the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind hits,” Prado said.
“You can’t consider your house a summer home,” Prado added, not when a winter mistake can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.