If you are a snowbird heading south for the winter, there are several key things you can do to help protect and winterize your home. Taking these steps can help protect your vacant home from theft, water damage, heating or electrical system malfunctions, and other possible threats while you are away for an extended period of time.
Make Your Home Appear Occupied and Protect it from Thieves
An unoccupied home is more vulnerable to burglary. These tips can help disguise the fact that you are away from home for the winter and discourage prowlers:
- Forward your mail, stop newspaper delivery, and ask a friend, relative, or neighbor to collect flyers or other items that may be left at your door.
- Arrange for someone to periodically remove snow.
- Put motion-sensitive exterior lights and interior lights on timers and set them to come on at varying times.
- Ensure your alarm systems are in working order and have been activated.
- Secure external doors and windows with deadbolt locks, security-type hinges, and sturdy door frames that cannot be spread apart. Install slide locks or other equivalent security locks on sliding glass doors or French doors.
- Store valuables that you are not taking with you in a safe deposit box or other secure offsite location.
- Do not post your vacation or travel plans on social media sites, as potential thieves can use that information to learn that your house is vacant.
- Make sure you can retrieve messages on your home answering machine or voicemail so it does not indicate full or unattended when someone calls.
Protect Your Pipes to Avoid Water Damage
If a pipe bursts or leaks while you are away, it could cause significant damage. Consider completely turning off the water supply if no one will be in the home for an extended period of time. Or, if you choose to keep the water on, make sure to keep the furnace running to ensure that your pipes don’t freeze. Here are some other things to keep in mind regarding your pipes:
- If your home is protected by a fire sprinkler system, do not turn off the water to this system.
- Set the temperature at 55°F or higher to help ensure that the interior of the wall cavities, where the water piping is located, does not drop below freezing. Keeping room and cabinet doors open also helps heat to circulate and warm the outside walls where pipes are located.
- If your home is heated by an older steam heating system, consult with your heating professional to determine if it is safe to turn off the water supply for your particular heating system.
- If you do not plan to heat your home while you are away, drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets and flush your toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl. To help ensure that the pipes have been drained, consider having a plumber blow compressed air through the pipes.
- Consider pouring antifreeze in toilet tanks and bowls to prevent them from freezing and cracking. Always use non-toxic antifreeze rated for plumbing systems.
- Shut off the water to washing machines and dishwashers where possible, to avoid any leaks or broken hoses while you are gone, as these appliances can also cause expensive water damage even when not in use.
- Consider shutting off and draining outdoor water faucets to prevent vandalism and freezing damage.
Perform Routine Maintenance Before You Leave
Prevention is the goal when it comes to routine home maintenance. Address any potential issues before you leave for vacation. It will be far less stressful (and less expensive) to fix potential problems now versus fixing the damage they may cause later. Some things to consider:
- Have your heating system inspected and serviced before winter. Have your fuel tanks filled before you leave, and ask someone to check on heat and fuel levels regularly while you are gone.
- Have a licensed electrical contractor inspect your main electrical panel, wiring, and outlets, and repair or replace anything that may be defective.
- Have your roof inspected annually and clean your gutters to help prevent ice from building up.
- Remove dead trees or large overhanging limbs that could damage your house.
- Unplug all unnecessary appliances before you leave.
Make Your Home Unattractive to Pests
A little cleaning can go a long way! Keep unwanted pests from invading your home while you are away with these simple housekeeping tips:
- Clean your home thoroughly to help discourage new “residents” from moving in.
- Clean, defrost and unplug refrigerators and freezers, wiping them dry and leaving doors propped open to prevent mildew. Give away or throw out any uneaten food.
- Empty out all of your garbage cans.
- Inspect your home for openings that animals could use to enter. For example, make sure your fireplace flue is closed, as bats, birds and squirrels are known to get inside this way.
Be Ready for Emergencies
So many unpredictable things could happen while you are away, so we advise that you ask a trusted friend, neighbor, or relative to keep an eye on your home and be available in emergency situations. Give this person access to your home so they can regularly check for heating, electrical, or water issues. Also, if the weather turns frigid, have them check the roof for ice dams and inspect for leaks inside. Make sure they have your contact information and a list of local contractors they can reach if repairs or services are needed.
Wish these tips were in a checklist you could easily print? They are!
Click here to download the Preparing Your Vacant Home Checklist from Travelers.