Attention Snowbirds: Protect your home while away for the winter

If you are a snowbird heading south to avoid the winter cold, there are steps that you can take to help keep your home safe and sound while you are away. A little preparation can go a long way towards protecting your home against theft, damage from water, heating or electrical system malfunctions and other possible threats to your property. Here are some guidelines to consider before you take off.

Make it look like you are home
Your home should look like someone is still living in it. Forward your mail and stop newspaper delivery. Ask a neighbor, friend or relative to collect flyers or other items that may be left at your door. Arrange to have someone mow the lawn if the grass gets too high or remove snow that may accumulate on the driveway and walkways. Also, make sure your alarm systems are in good working order and have been activated. Motion-sensitive exterior lights are good for helping to discourage prowlers, as are lights inside the home. Put lights on timers and set them to come on at varying times.

Protect your pipes to avoid water damage
Take extra care with your plumbing and water before you leave. If a pipe bursts or leaks while you are away, it could cause significant damage. If no one will be home for a long period of time, consider turning off the water supply completely. Drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets and do not forget to flush your toilet to clear the water from the bowl. To help ensure that the pipes have been drained, consider having a plumber blow compressed air through the pipes.

Washing machines and dishwashers can also cause expensive water damage even when not in use. Shut off the water to these appliances, where possible, to avoid any leaks or broken hoses while you are gone. Consider draining and shutting off outdoor water faucets to prevent vandalism and freezing damage.

Keep your home and plumbing warm
If you decide to keep your water on, the best defense against freezing pipes is to keep the furnace running and the home warm. Leave the heat at 55 degrees or higher to 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.

Every year, 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 to ensure you do not run out.

Make your home unattractive to pests
Cleaning your home thoroughly helps discourages new “residents” from moving in. Clean, defrost and unplug refrigerators and freezers, wiping them dry and leaving doors propped open to prevent mildew. Also clean the oven and give away or throw out any uneaten food.

The kitchen is not the only place where you can find unwanted visitors. Inspect your home for any openings where animals can enter. For example, make sure your fireplace flue is closed; bats, birds and squirrels are known to get inside this way. If there is any chance that someone will be using the fireplace in your absence, have chimneys inspected and cleaned to eliminate creosote buildup and make sure there are no obstructions such as bird nests. To help prevent against this, consider installing chimney guard screen caps.

Also, regularly check the insulation, exterior doors and windows, and any weather stripping to help ensure there are no openings where water or insects may enter.

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 check for heating, electrical or water issues. If the weather turns frigid, have them also check the roof for ice dams, and inspect for leaks inside. Make sure they have your contact information and a list with numbers of local people they can reach if repairs or service are needed.

A few more ways to prepare...

  • 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.
  • Do not post your vacation or travel plans on social media sites as potential thieves can then learn your house is vacant.
  • Have a licensed electrical contractor inspect your main electrical panel, wiring and outlets, and have anything defective repaired or replaced.
  • Store valuables, which you aren’t taking with you, in a safe deposit box or other safe offsite location.
  • Unplug all appliances and telephones before you leave.
  • Remove dead trees or large overhanging limbs that could cause damage.
Winter safety

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