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How to Winterize a Vacant Home

When you’re leaving your house during winter for an extended period, closing up a summer vacation home, or preparing a home for vacancy, it’s important to winterize your property to prevent it from deteriorating while you’re away. Take precautions to avoid using unnecessary utilities, keep out animals and insects, and keep your possessions safe from theft. Whether you’re leaving for a few weeks or a year, the following suggestions will help you to plan and execute a successful winterization.

Make a checklist. Look carefully around the exterior and interior of your home and decide what needs to be done. Write it all down to create a “plan of action”. This will come in handy when it’s time to open up your house again, because without it, you probably won’t be able to remember all the things that have to be “un-done”. Divide your checklist into the following categories:

Utilities and Plumbing

1. Turn off the water at the exterior. Make sure that the water supply is turned off completely at the main supply point. If the furnace should fail on a very cold day, water in a pipe could freeze and burst the pipe.

2.  Open all faucets and drain all waterlines. If you live in an area where freezing pipes can be a problem, drain the toilets, the water heater (turn off the gas or electric supply first) and the expansion tank.

Get an air compressor to blow the lines of excess water. (Anywhere between 15 – 80 psi would probably be fine–just don’t exceed 80 psi. The main thing you’ll need is air volume, not pressure.) Eliminate or dilute the water in drain traps by pouring an “RV” type antifreeze solution into them, as directed by the instructions.

Close the sink and tub drains. If a house is to be vacant for a long time, you may prevent water in a toilet’s trap from evaporating (and thereby permitting sewer gases to enter the home) by raising the toilet’s lid and seat and covering the bowl with saran wrap.

If you have an indoor or outdoor pool, drain the water.  Turn off and drain fountains and other sources of standing water.  Drain water from dishwashers and pour RV antifreeze. with refrigerators (with a water dispenser or an ice maker) and washing machines, following the manufacturer’s directions. Remove the water filter from inside the refrigerator.

3. Turn down the thermostat. Set your thermostat to a level adequate to keep the inside temperature above freezing.

4. Unplug all appliances. If you leave the electric power on, unplug electric appliances, including microwave ovens and TVs, to avoid the risk of fire in the event of a faulty switch or a rodent gnawing the wires.

5. Don’t forget the gas. For long absences, some experts recommend shutting off gas hot water heaters completely.

Prepare the Kitchen

1. Clean out the refrigerator. Empty the freezer. Wash the refrigerator and freezer thoroughly. Prop open their doors, the better to forestall mold and mildew (which like to grow in the dark) and their odors, which may transfer to the refrigerator’s plastic parts.
To further thwart odors, place an open bag of activated charcoal on the inside of the open refrigerator.

2. Remove all food from the pantry. Dry foods that remain should be locked in tin- or aluminum-lined cupboards or cabinets, and seeds and grains should be stored in metal containers with tight lids.

3. Guard against insects and rodents. Wash kitchen trash containers and put away soap, sponges, candles and other possible sources of food for vermin. Place a botanical rodent repellent under the sink and on kitchen counters and use rodent deterrents under the sink and in the garage, too.

4. Remove items that could freeze. In areas subject to freezing, remove all bottled liquids, such as mineral water, soda, beer and paint, because their containers may burst when their contents freeze. Empty water from jars, vases and even decorative indoor mini-fountains.

5. Take all the trash out of your home before you leave.

Prepare the Rest of the Home

1. Wash everything. If linens, bedding, towels and the like remain, they should be washed or cleaned and then stored in boxes, preferably rodent-proof ones. Strip beds to allow the mattresses to air out. Open empty drawers and closets; use mothballs in the others. Vacuum carpets and floors. This will ensure that no crumbs or other sources of food remain for vermin.

2. Remove all fire hazards. Dispose of or move potentially flammable items such as oily rags and stacked papers, before you leave.

3. Close flues and dampers.

4 Remove any live indoor plants to protect from freezing.

Outdoor Areas

1. Protect the yard and garden. Arrange to have the lawn mowed and shrubbery trimmed. Cover any plants that are frost intolerant. Arrange to have your garden watered if necessary.

2. Store outdoor furniture. Place tables, chairs, hammocks, delicate garden ornamentation, and other outdoor accessories in a garage, shed or storage unit.
Leave nothing outdoors that can be blown about by a strong wind.

3. Lock away expensive vehicles. Pleasure craft such as boats, ATVs, bicycles, canoes, kayaks and cars should be locked in a garage or storage shed. Block window views into this storage space.

Security measures

1. Lock your house at all entry points. High quality locks for your doors and windows are a must. Check that all your windows and doors are shut and locked. install a hasp on doors that do not have a deadbolt. Close window shutters. Aside from enhancing security, shutters will, along with drapes, blinds and curtains, keep carpeting and fabrics from fading.

2. Make it look like someone is home. Buy a couple of light timers and set them up to turn on automatically in the evenings. If it’s a summer vacation home, this may be less viable. Instead, have neighbors keep an eye on your home occasionally.

3. Do not leave valuables in a vacation home that may attract thieves. At the very least, move them out of the line of sight from windows. Take all small valuables with you.

4. Stop your mail. This can be done online at Stop any other routine deliveries as well. Pay your bills before you go. You may also wish to make arrangements to pay remotely by internet.

Now that you have your vacant home prepared for the cold winter months, you might want to have someone make regular check-ins. Your Realtor may be able to be of assistance, or if there is a neighbor who’ll remain in the area while you’re gone, leave them with a key for emergency entry if something should go wrong. Also, leave them with your cell phone number, home phone number, and e-mail.

You could consider adding a remote monitoring system to check on your temperature, humidity and power conditions in the house. There are even systems that operate over a cellular connection so that you don’t need an active landline or internet connection.

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