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Winterizing your Vacation Home or Snowbird Nest


Posted: November 06, 2019 by Cori Seraydarian

It’s that time again. We look up into the sky and see flocks of them leaving us – the annual migration of the Mid-Atlantic snowbirds heading to their winter homes. If this is your first year away from snow and ice, or even if you have racked up millions of airline points, here are a few pointers.

1. Protect Your Pipes to Avoid Water Damage by Turning Off Your Water Supply

  • If a pipe bursts or leaks while you are away, it could cause significant damage. Consider completely turning off the water supply if you will be away for an extended period of time. 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. Also, if your home is protected by a fire sprinkler system, make sure that you do not turn off the water to this system.
  • If you have turned off the water supply, drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets, and flush your toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl. Always use non-toxic antifreeze rated for plumbing systems.
  • Before you consider pouring antifreeze in toilet tanks and bowls to prevent any remaining water from freezing you may wish to hire a licensed plumber to handle these steps. The plumber can also confirm that the pipes have been fully drained by blowing compressed air through the pipes.

4. Keep Your Home and Plumbing Warm if Your Water Supply Stays On

  • If you decide against draining your water pipes, keep the furnace running to help ensure the home stays warm and the pipes do not freeze.
  • Jack Milne from Tri-County Inspections recommends setting the temperature at 60°F rather than 55°F to help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities, where the water piping is likely located above freezing temperatures. The 5-degree difference in temperature will almost guarantee that a pipe will not burst if it gets too cold. Keeping room and cabinet doors open can also help heat to circulate and warm the areas where pipes are located.
  • Shut off the water to washing machines and dishwashers where possible, to avoid any leaks or broken hoses while you are away.
  • Turn off the heat source and water supply to hot water heaters (if separate from your boiler).
  • Consider shutting off and draining outdoor faucets to prevent water damage due to freezing.
  • Have a water flow sensor and low temperature sensor installed on your main water supply pipe and hooked into a constantly monitored alarm system or your smart phone.

5. Perform Routine Maintenance Before You Leave

  • Have your heating system inspected and serviced by a licensed professional before the onset of cold weather. Have your fuel tanks filled before you leave and make sure you have set up periodic fuel deliveries, if needed. Have someone check on heat and fuel levels regularly while you are gone.
  • Be sure to maintain electrical power if required to keep the heating system running. If electrical service to the home is to remain on while you are away, consider having a licensed electrical contractor inspect your main electrical panel, wiring and outlets. Repair or replace anything that may be defective.
  • Have your roof inspected 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, such as your stove and microwave, before you leave.

6. Make Your Home Unattractive to Pests

  • 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. Also clean the oven.
  • 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.
  • Check weather-stripping, insulation and exterior doors and windows to ensure no major deficiencies are present. Water and insects can enter through these openings.
  • Chimneys should be inspected by a chimney service and, if necessary, cleaned to ensure that they are free from obstructions such as nesting birds. Install chimney guard screen-caps to help prevent any infestation.

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