How to Prepare Your House For Winter Vacancy

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Make sure your house if ready for winter before you leave. Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash
While taking a vacation from your home when the temperature turns cold might sound like a great idea, you need to do a few things to prepare your house for a winter vacancy. This can help prevent damage from frozen pipes or minimize extra utility bills if the heat is left on. In addition to preparing your utilities for your vacancy, there are a few other key issues you need to take care of before leaving for the winter.
In this article, we’ll explain how to prepare the utilities before leaving your home for the winter, how to get the kitchen ready for your absence, what to do with the rest of the house, information on preparing your lawn, and other areas of preparation for a winter vacancy of your home.

Part 1: Preparing the Utilities

It seems simple — when the weather gets colder, just crank up the heat, right? But running the heat at too high of a level during the winter months can lead to an unnecessary electric or gas bill, especially if you aren’t occupying your home. In addition, water pipes can freeze, causing them to burst and leading to potential water damage.
You can take some steps to reduce your utility bills and minimize the possibility of frozen pipes while you are away. The section below covers how to prepare your utilities in more detail.
Plumbing
Start by draining the plumbing system of any unnecessary water. Some easy ways to do this is to drain the toilets, the water heater, and the expansion tank, as well as removing any excess water from the water lines. Some other steps you can take include:
  • Closing the drains for the sinks and tubs
  • Leaving the lid and seat up on the toilet and covering the bowl with saran wrap to prevent the water from evaporating and letting sewer gas into the home
  • Draining the pool, if you have one
  • Draining any fountains or other sources of standing water
  • Draining the dishwasher
  • Pouring RV antifreeze into dishwashers, refrigerator ice or water dispensers, and washing machines
  • Blowing any excess water out of the water lines using an air compressor
  • Removing or emptying any type of filter canister that serves your home
Heat
You should also turn down the thermostat to save money on the electric or gas bill during the winter. Many experts recommend setting the thermostat to 50 degrees, although this can cause your heat pump or heater to have to work even harder to warm your house up upon your return. A temperature of four degrees less than what you would normally set the thermostat at for the winter represents a more conservative setting for your thermostat to make it easier on your equipment. If you have a gas heater or gas hot water heater, shut off the gas at the cutoff valve to prevent any problems, such as a gas leak.
Cable and internet
If your cable company offers a seasonal program, take advantage of it by dropping your cable and internet while keeping basic phone services. Also, make sure to forward calls to your cell phone. If you end up having to cancel your cable and internet, make sure to drop off any equipment so you don’t get charged for it.
Household appliances
Make sure to also turn off and unplug any household appliances. Some, such as the microwave or TV, use electricity — even when they are not in use — to run internal clocks and other subsystems.

Part 2: Getting the Kitchen Ready for Winter

The kitchen represents an area of your home where you need to take extra steps when preparing for a winter vacancy. Otherwise, you could attract some unwanted visitors like mice or other pests, or even come back in the warmer months to find rotted food. When getting your kitchen ready, perform the following steps:
  • Clean out the refrigerator.
  • Empty and clean the freezer.
  • Wipe the refrigerator and freezer down with baking soda.
  • Prop open the doors on both the refrigerator and freezer to help prevent odors.
  • Remove all food from the pantry.
  • If you must leave food, place it in airtight containers.
  • Dispose of all food that could attract vermin.

Part 3: Cleaning the Rest of the House

In addition to the utilities and kitchen, you need to take some other important steps in other areas of your home. The following section outlines steps on how to clean and prepare the rest of your house for a winter vacancy.
Step 1: Wash everything. Start by washing everything, including your bed linens, towels, and other items.
After you wash them, store the items in a box or other container.
Vacuum any carpeting and mop any floors to remove crumbs that could attract vermin into your home.
Step 2: Remove any flammable items. Remove any items that could cause a fire while you are gone, including stacks of papers, oily rags, or other potential fire hazards.
Step 3: Close points of egress into your home. Make sure to close any flues, dampers, or other entryways for vermin into your home. If there are any crawl spaces in your house, make sure they are tightly sealed off from the outside.
If you expect an intrusion by vermin, set traps to mitigate the damage.

Part 4: Preparing your Lawn and Garden

Just like your house, keeping up your lawn can give the appearance of occupancy, even when you are away. In addition, you also need to take steps to protect your yard and garden, including:
  • Mow the lawn or arrange for someone to do the job for you. While most lawns do not need mowing in the winter, keeping your lawn up until that point is important.
  • Make sure to cover any outdoor plants that have a susceptibility to frost.
  • If necessary, take any indoor plants with you or arrange for their care.

Part 5: Preparing the Structure of your House for Winter Vacancy

Winter can be very hard on houses. Heavy snow, falling branches, and ice can all damage the integrity of your house. That’s why it is important to make sure your home is in good shape, especially if you won’t be there during the winter months to monitor it. Make sure your roof is structurally sound and leak-free before winter.

Part 6: Other Preparations for a Winter Vacancy

You must also keep some other important factors in mind when leaving your home for the winter, such as stopping your mail, notifying your neighbors of your winter vacation, and letting your homeowners insurance company know your home will be vacant for an extended time. You can find more details about these and other factors in the section below.
  • To give your home a lived-in look, make sure to put a hold on your mail with the post office and suspend newspaper deliveries. Nothing says, “I am not at home,” better than a stuffed mailbox or newspapers piling up on your porch.
  • Notify your neighbors of your plans to be away so that they can keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around your home.
  • Notify the police so they can also be on the lookout for any suspicious activity around your home. Leave an emergency number so that the police department can notify you if anything happens while you are gone.
  • Make sure to notify your homeowners insurance company, especially if you expect to be gone for more than 30 days. Most insurers look at a vacant home differently than one you are living in, and they require separate insurance when you are gone.
  • Check all of the locks for your doors and secure external doors. In addition, move your valuables to a safe location offsite in case you do have a break-in. And, as you head out the door, don’t forget to arm the security alarm.
Preparing your home for an extended vacancy during the winter can save you on energy costs and the headache of a busted pipe. Plus, doing a few key steps can make is look like you’re still at home and keep thieves away. Remember to notify the necessary people that you will be away, and move any valuables to a safe location away from your home while you’re gone.