Turning on water+electric in long empty house

My aunt has a place down in New Orleans that has been abandoned for some time. While I’m living down here I’ve agreed to try and do a little work on it and see if I can make it livable again. I checked it out the other day and it looks like structurally the house is pretty good but I’m not sure about plumbing, electric, ect as those aren’t my specialties. My first goal is to get the water and electric turned back on so I can use them to deep-clean the place.

Sometime after the storm the city came in and ‘winterized’ all the plumbing, ie. all the bathtubs, toilets, etc have little bits of paper saying they have been ‘winterized’. Would this mean that the plumbing is in working condition, or not necessarily?

As for the electric, I have no idea if it’s functional or not, and don’t know how to check. If I call the utilities company to turn it on, will they check all that for me? Is that the same for water/plumbing?

Also, are they going to ask for some sort of proof of ownership to turn these on? I know there are a lot of squatters here in NOLA after the storm, and I don’t want to be mistaken as one! Obviously I’m not living in the building, but all the same I’m worried…
Right now I don’t have any paperwork for the house, but even if I had the paperwork it’s in my aunt’s name. Do you think I’ll need her to write me up something legal to show the utilities companies? If so, can anyone point me to a free form of some sort? I was looking at lease agreements but that doesn’t seem right as I’m not living there, and I’m not paying rent. Is there something like a lease agreement which just gives access to property? Or do I not even need to worry about all this?


Winterizing can mean anything from pouring anti-freeze (like in your car - ethylene glycol) in the traps and toilet to putting in a gel-like substance. This is just to keep water from sitting in the pipes and causing them to burst when the water freezes since the volume expands as it turns to ice.
If you want to get all that out of the system, you’ll just have to flush it out with water. If the water meter isn’t locked, you can by a water meter tool at your local hardware store for about $10-12. The valve only turns 90 degrees from off to on. You can turn on a few fixtures to let the water flow. There’s probably trash in the lines. Expect the aerator on your sinks to clog up so you might want to unscrew them. Once you shut off all your fixtures, go check and see if the water meter is spinning or not. If it is, you’ll have a leak somewhere. If the house is on a crawlspace, you can look underneath to see if you have water flowing or not.

For electric, there may be some sort of inspection required just due to everything that happened in NO. Generally the owner (your aunt in this case) just calls the power company and tells them to turn it on. Where I am, the power company will just bill me for the hook up.
If there’s no inspection required, but you’re in doubt about the status of the house’s electrical system, you could shut off the master breaker (or unscrew the fuses if it still has fuses) prior to them cutting on the service. The power company will generally just install the meter to cut on the service. They’re not going to come in and inspect your house. That’s for an electrician.

I would just have your aunt call the company and tell them she wants the power turned on. That will be the easiest. No one should have to be there at the house for them to get you power. This eliminates any paperwork messes about her giving you permission for anything.

More than likely everything will be fine once the utilities are turned on. If the house is winterized, usually all that means (in Dallas) is that the water has been drained from the most of the pipes - and is shutoff. All you will need to do is turn on all the end-user faucet controls at the sinks and toilets, and most importantly at the water heater prior to turning on the electrical, and then you can have the city turn on the water.

In regards to the ease of turning the utilities on - that varies by utility provider and or the city. For example, in Dallas anyone (they do not have to be the owner) can turn on water at any address - as long as they pass a credit check or put down a deposit and there is no back due bill at that address. This has posed a problem for some people, as there have been cases where someone accidentally schedules water to be turned on at the WRONG address, then they cancel the request or change it to the correct address, and the person who originally had water on at that ‘accidental or incorrect’ address has to schedule to get it turned on again … even if they were a water customer who had uninterrupted service for years prior to that! And note - you can get around the back due bill issue by presenting Dallas Water Utilities with a new lease on the property - which is nice for both the landlord and the new tenant.

But in Mesquite, a neighboring suburb, they are far more restrictive when it comes to turning water on. In Mesquite the house has to be inspected for residential occupancy, there must be NO back water bill under all circumstances and a lease must be presented if it is a non-owner occupied property, before anyone other than the owner can turn water service on.

Ultimately - you will want to dewinterize the house, turn off all the breakers, get the utilities turned on (water & electric) and then fire up the breakers one by one to check for electrical shorts/issues which will probably be non-existent.

Call your local utility companies anonymously if you want to do a little research before turning them on (for pricing, signup requirements, etc). Good luck!

Turn off;

  1. Water Main
  2. Gas Line Main
  3. Electrical Main Breaker

Have the utilities turned back on…

Test each service individually.

The utility company’s can typically check for leaks as well when they turn services back on but check with them first.

Turn off;

  1. Water Main
  2. Gas Line Main
  3. Electrical Main Breaker

+1 ^

The only thing I’ll add is that aearators are easy to unscrew. Do that. The toilets attract crap because they turn on as soon as the water is on, and stuff gets stuck in the valve of the toilet, making it run. Shut off the water at the toilet first, and flush all the crap out of another place, then turn the toilet on last.

The mixture of rust in the line with air and water tends to have a sandblasting effect on the inside of the lines and all that stuff has to go somewhere.

Don’t worry about the electricity - probably no issues there.