Do you escape to warmer weather down south once there’s a chill in the air and the leaves start to turn? If you’re a snowbird (or Winter Texan!), you need to know how to protect your home up north while basking in the southern sunshine. Homeowners in Canada and in the Northeast, Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions risk expensive problems that can be prevented by taking basic actions before leaving.
- Don't let your pipes freeze! If you live where the mercury drops below freezing, it’s important to keep your pipes from freezing when the temperatures dip. No matter what kind of community you live in, make sure the pipes in your home or building are properly insulated. If you’re not sure, ask! Water damage from a burst pipe can lead to serious mold problems and be very expensive to repair. Make sure you understand whose responsibility it is to protect which pipes and then follow through. If you don’t understand what you need to do, call a plumber and ask for advice or an evaluation. Your property manager should have a list of plumbers and other contractors you can trust to help.
Double your protection by turning off the main water valve, then run each faucet to make sure the pipes are free from any water. Another tip – keep at least some heat on when you’re away. While it’s tempting to save on heating bills by shutting it off completely, a little bit of warmth can go a long way especially if no one is checking on your home to discover an issue early. One last tip to protect your pipes: Open cabinet doors to allow heat to more easily reach pipes inside the walls.
Are you on the board of your association? Taking extra precautions to keep pipes from freezing can have a financial benefit to your association beyond preventing costly repairs. “Water damage is the major claim that most affects policyholders,” says Sean Kent, senior vice president at FirstService Financial, the financial services affiliate of FirstService Residential. “Any capital improvements a board makes to help prevent water damage can be used as ammunition to negotiate with underwriters. Those capital improvements can be related to replacing boiler or risers or other piping in the building. Maintenance plans for water pipes or requirements for replacement of washing machine hoses can help, too.”
- Make sure your house looks occupied and is secure. Overflowing mailboxes, a stack of newspapers or packages piling up at your front door and lights that are always on or always off are dead giveaways that no one has been home for a while. Place a temporary hold on all mail and newspaper deliveries or recruit a trusted friend or neighbor to stop by every few days to retrieve your stuff and make sure everything looks okay. Let your alarm company and local police and fire departments know you’re away for an extended time. Change all your smoke detector batteries and check that your alarm system works properly before you leave, too.
If you live in a high-rise, make sure your front desk or concierge knows that you’ll be away, for how long and how to reach you. They may be able to hold packages until you return or deliver them inside your unit, depending on your building’s level of service. No matter what kind of community you live in, let your security team and management office know that you’re away for a long time and how to reach you.
Take advantage of smart home technology to play music and put lights on timers or even turn them on and off from 2,000 miles away. Random patterns of lights and sound make it seem like people are coming and going. You can make that happen through smart light switches or even Wi-Fi light bulbs! Smart home tech can allow you to see anyone who rings your doorbell, and smart security systems and keypad-controlled locks make it more difficult for people to break in. You can even control your thermostat from a distance with smart home tech, too. If you know a storm or deep freeze is coming, turn it up a few degrees to keep pipes warm. (And then turn it to your comfort level a couple of hours before you get home!)
- Consider unplugging major appliances. Some severe storms can cause power surges, which can damage your appliances, or worse, start a fire. To be on the safe side, unplug computers, TVs, coffee makers and all other major appliances. Consider emptying your fridge and freezer – leave fridge doors open so it will air out. Definitely empty your ice maker and turn it off! An extended power outage will turn it into a watery mess.
The smart tech we mentioned above does require that your internet and Wi-Fi stay on. Make sure there’s a battery backup attached to those so that the system won’t be disrupted in a short-term power outage. If a close friend or family member has a key (or smart door code), ask them to reboot the system and its components if there’s an extended power outage.
Unplugging appliances protects them and lowers your energy bill, too. Even when they aren’t in active use, appliances use small amounts of electricity. So go green, save money and protect your investment by unplugging what you can.
- Plan for snow removal. Depending on where you live, snow removal needs can be hard to plan for. Although we can pretty reliably count on heavy snowfalls in the Midwest and Canada, there are places in the mid-Atlantic region that may have a white Halloween one year and no snow until January the next. But planning for prompt snow removal when needed is important for a few reasons.
First of all, snow piling up on the driveway and walk makes it clear no one is home, and that’s the last thing you want to do. Beyond that, cycles of freezing and thawing without any maintenance can cause layers of ice to build under the snow, and that will be harder to remove later. Those same cycles can also cause damage to sidewalks and driveways.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution. Either find a reliable neighbor or neighborhood kid you can pay to remove snow after each storm or pay a snow removal company to do the job. Try to find one that will only bill you for work that is done rather than a monthly fee even if the grass stays green until Christmas. If possible, ask them to check your gutters for ice blockage, too. Check with your property manager – they should have a list of approved vendors you can count on.
Being able to escape the cold and snow for sunshine and sand is a gift. Take the time to make sure that the home you return to is the same one you left.
Now that we’ve talked about what snowbirds should do to keep their homes safe, what can you do to keep your community in good shape too? Learn how to prepare for winter so your budget doesn’t get snowed in.