Snowbird? How to winterize your house

November 19, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you are retired, your home is likely one of your most valuable assets. So if you are a snowbird who spends several months each winter in a warmer climate, it’s important to protect your investment by winterizing your vacant house before you leave.

Here are ten things to do before you head for the airport:

  1. Thermostat: Adjust your thermostat to a lower temperature but do not turn off the heat completely as your pipes may freeze.
  2. Plumbing: Turn off the water and open all the taps to drain the pipes. Don’t forget taps in the garage or outside in the yard. Also flush the toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl. Then fill the bowl with antifreeze, preferably a non-toxic RV solution.
  3. Refrigerator: Get rid of all the perishable foods. Check any condiments that will be stale-dated when you get back and dispose of them as well. It’s also a good time to clean out your freezer.
  4. Unplug small appliances: Unplug small kitchen appliances like the TV, computers and other electrical equipment that will be unused for an extended period. Electronic devices left plugged in, even when turned off, still use a significant amount of power. It’s called phantom power, and it’s costing you money.
  5. Stop the mail: There is nothing that screams “vacant house” like a stuffed mail box and a front porch littered with fliers. Have the post office hold your mail and stop your newspapers. Ask a neighbor get rid of unsolicited fliers etc. periodically.
  6. Snow: Arrange to have your driveway and walk cleaned after every snowfall so it looks like someone is living there. Depending on when you plan to return, you will appreciate not having to climb over frozen piles to get in your door.
  7. Theft avoidance: Remove or hide electronics, televisions and computers so they can’t be seen by anyone looking in the window. Store jewelry and important documents in a safe or safety deposit box. Close the blinds and curtains and put lights on automatic timers.
  8. Check with your home insurance company: offers home insurance tips for snowbirds. The standard home insurance policy requires that in the heating season either you arrange for a competent person to enter your home and check daily for heat loss and freezing; or drain your home’s plumbing system and water containers, similar to a cottage owner.
  9. Talk to your neighbours: Keep your neighbours informed about your travel plans. Exchange email addresses and telephone numbers so you can be quickly contacted if something out-of-the-ordinary occurs. Let them know if anyone will be using your home in your absence or coming at regular intervals to clean or check up on the property.
  10. Security alarm: Double check that all windows and doors are locked. If you have a security system, make sure it is operating and turned on before you go. Ensure that anyone who is checking on the house or that may be staying there for any period of time when you are away knows how to disarm and arm the system properly.

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