This article is brought to you by one of our partners, Travelers Insurance.
If you have to leave your vacant at any time during the winter, there are several things you can do to help protect your home. Taking these steps can help you protect your home from theft, water damage, heating or electrical system malfunctions and other possible threats while you are away for an extended period of time.
How To Winterize Your Vacant Home
Make your home appear as though it is continuously occupied.
- Stop newspaper delivery and forward your mail. Ask a friend, neighbor or relative to collect any advertising flyers or any other items that may be left at your door.
- Utilize motion detecting devices on your outdoor lights to discourage prowlers.
- Put timers on interior lights and set them to come on at varying times.
Take steps to protect your home from thieves and vandals.
- If you have alarm systems, make sure they are working and have been activated.
- Store valuables that you are not taking with you in a safety deposit box or other safe location.
- Do not post your vacation plans on social media.
- If you are leaving cars parked outside while you are gone remove the garage door openers and store them somewhere in your house until you return.
Protect your pipes to avoid water damage by turning off your water supply.
- If a pipe bursts or leaks while you are away, it can cause significant damage. You can avoid this by completely turning off the water supply. If you have an older home that utilizes a boiler, you should contact your heating professional to determine if it is safe to turn off the water supply.
- If your home is vacant for long periods of time, this might be a wise choice. It is not uncommon to have power shortages due to ice storms.
- Drain your pipes of all water by turning on all the faucets in the house, especially the lowest faucet or hose in your house.
- Then turn off the main water supply. Flush your toilets to clear the tank and toilet bowl.
- It’s a good idea to put in some non-toxic antifreeze to protect the water that still remains in all the P-traps in all the drains.
Pro Tip: If you turn off the heat, most people don’t realize the ice maker has an internal water tank that can freeze and destroy the refrigerator.
Keep your home warm if the water supply stays on.
- If you decide against draining your water supply, make sure the home stays warm enough that the pipes don’t freeze.
- Set the temperature at 55 degrees or higher to protect the pipes. There are other steps that can help.
- You can shut off the water supply to the washing machine and the water supply for your toilets. One of our customers arranged to turn the heat off in most of the house and keep only one room heated. In that room you store any liquid that could possibly freeze.
- Consider shutting off and draining any outdoor faucets.
- Most modern home are equipped with sillcock valves that shut off the outdoor water supply about 18 inches inside of the house.
- Be aware that there are commercially available water sensors that shut off your main water supply if it detects any anomalies in water usage.
- The companies that we represent are test marketing these devices and are trying to gauge the consumer demand.
Perform routine maintenance before leaving.
- Have your heating system inspected and serviced annually.
- Clean your gutters to prevent ice dams.
- Remove dead trees and trim overhanging limbs that might damage your house.
- Unplug all unnecessary appliances before you leave.
Make your home unappealing to pests.
- Be aware that damage caused by vermin are not covered by your homeowner policy. Some policies include bats in their definition of vermin.
- Clean your home thoroughly to discourage any new “residents” from moving in.
- Clean, defrost and unplug all refrigerators and freezers, wipe them dry and keep the doors propped open to prevent mildew.
- Inspect your home for openings that animals could use to enter.
- Make sure your fireplace flue is closed to prevent squirrels, bats and birds entering your chimney.
- Check weather stripping, insulation, exterior doors and windows to make sure that no major deficiencies exist.
- Water and insects can enter through these openings.
- Have your chimney inspected and if necessary install chimney screen caps to discourage pests from nesting in your flue.
Be ready for emergencies.
- Ask a trusted friend, neighbor or relative to keep an eye on your home and be available in emergency situations.
- Give them access to your home so they can regularly monitor heating, electrical and water systems.
- Make sure that you leave them the number for an emergency clean-up service they can call if there are any water-related incidents.