How to Get Your Home Ready when Leaving for Winter Vacation

The only thing better than a vacation is a long vacation! But homeowners can stress over leaving the home behind for a few weeks or a few months. It’s a little simpler for those from the Sunbelt, but if you’re from cold zones and want a winter getaway, you’ll need to take a few more steps to prepare your house for a vacation in winter.

When planning for winter weather during a vacation away, remember to check outdoor faucets and indoor faucets, water heaters, hoses, washing machines, valuables, chargers, garbage disposals, gutters, heating systems, home security systems, water pipes and water valves for proper unplugging, protection and shutting off before you leave. During the winter months with colder temps, snowbirds (older people who like to vacation to warmer places) will leave their vacant homes for an extended period of time.

In these times, some homeowners return to burst pipes, water damage, power outages, mildew, frozen pipes, or even results of burglars being in their homes as they have not properly prepared their home before their leave. Cold weather means making needed checks and changes to your home before leaving to ensure your smart home or overall home safety tips are being properly followed when in your vacation mode in a new vacation home.

Refer to Your Home Insurance

Before planning your vacation, know where you stand with your household insurance policy. Let’s say you go away for a week and leave the water turned on. Did you know ‌some insurance policies are invalid‌ if you haven’t turned the water off for an absence of four days or longer? Some are invalid if you haven’t hired a house sitter for absences of more than 21 days.

For two or more months, you may need a house sitter. These days, it’s easy to sign up for a house-sitting website, which is often free. Sites like Trusted Housesitters will run criminal background checks and credit checks, giving you greater peace of mind that someone reliable is on the watch 24/7 in your absence.

Standard Practice in a Digital Age

Once, it was recommended to put lighting on timers while away, but now experts say thieves casing neighborhoods look for lights that literally come on like clockwork. Today, options like “smart bulbs,” such as the Philips Hue lightbulb and other gadgets allow you to control lighting through your smartphone – even from half-way around the world! Consider “smart plugs,” which you put in an outlet and plug appliances into, which allows you to remotely control that appliance from wherever you are, whether it’s a TV or a lamp.

Look for other digital solutions for a secure home while abroad. A ‌digital thermostat,‌ such as the Nest system, allows you to monitor weather at home and raise or lower ambient temperatures as needed. Nest Protect is a smoke alarm that remotely monitors smoke and carbon monoxide, ‌sending you a push alert‌ if levels grow hazardous. The same company also makes indoor and outdoor cameras for watching your home ‒ and even your cat ‒ remotely.

These digital solutions can sometimes fail, for example, if your router conks out, the power goes out, or your cable goes down, so does your remote connection. Entrust a neighbor to step in when your Wi-Fi needs rebooting. And be smart about social media when away – unless you have a house sitter, don’t make public updates on accounts under your real name, because smart thieves search for “gone fishing” announcements.

Household Basics

  • Be selective about the ‌appliances you leave plugged in‌ and why. A TV can be a good deterrent and so can the odd lamp, but everything else should be unplugged, except the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Always leave the heat on. The ‌best temperature to leave your house on vacation in winter‌ is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but achieving that can mean adjustments during weather changes.
  • Will the pipes freeze even if the heat is on? They can, so ‌turn off your water supply‌ and drain your pipes. Install a water-flow sensor and low-temperature sensor on your water main. Connect this either to a constantly monitored alarm system or your smartphone.
  • Shut gas lines off,‌ unless the heat and hot water furnace run on gas, in which case the company should be notified that you will be out of town. Ask if they have recommended procedures to follow for absences.
  • What if a storm blows in? Make sure anything loose or freestanding outside has been secured or put in the garage, just in case high winds come along.