How Snowbirds Can Winterize Their Homes: A Winter Preparedness Checklist

12/01/2021

If you're a snowbird, you're probably used to fleeing one nest for another at the first sign of frost. Whether you're headed to sunnier climates or seeking a cozy chalet, splitting your time between two or more residences is not uncommon, especially in the winter. But before you lock the door and wheel your suitcases away from one home to head to the next, there are a few things you need to take care of so everything stays in good shape while you're out of town.

Below we offer a winter preparedness checklist to help get you started. As you go through it, consider beginning with the outside of your home and working your way back in, so you can keep your tasks organized and cover every area where things could go wrong in your absence.

Outdoor spaces

Plumbing and irrigation systems: These include your hoses, sprinkler systems and outdoor faucets. Make sure to shut off the water supply to these pipes before you leave, and ensure they are properly drained before the first frost hits. While this isn't necessarily a difficult task, it does take some time and attention to detail, so you may want to call a professional company to take care of this for you.

Backyard: Any outdoor furniture like pool equipment, patio sets and chairs should be moved out of sight and into storage to avoid attracting attention from thieves. Clear your lawn from leaves and weeds and trim any tree branches that could fall down in a winter storm and cause damage to your property.

Roof: Get your roof inspected and ensure your roof isn't leaking, as it could cause a lot of damage if it's not fixed on time. The National Roofing Contractors' Association recommends getting it inspected twice per year, and as soon as possible after a significant weather event. This helps diagnose problems early before they become unmanageable.

Gutters: Ask your roof inspector to also clear the gutters while they're up there. Any water build-up in the gutters could drip close to your home and cause extensive damage when it freezes in the winter.

Indoor spaces

Plumbing: Drain all your faucets and toilets; you may be able to do this yourself, but you may want to consider hiring a professional plumber to come in to manage some of the nuances for you. Turn off the water supply and gas line to avoid gas or pipe leaks. Make sure to keep your faucets open, but just a crack so they drip slightly. This will relieve any pressure buildup from any residual water still left in the pipes.

Indoor temperature: Set your thermostat to no lower than 55 degrees. This will allow you to save on your energy bill while ensuring your house never gets cold enough for the pipes to freeze.

Windows and doors: Keep them locked so they don't accidentally swing open on a windy or stormy day. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, consider securing plywood over your windows or hurricane shutters.

Furnace: Make an appointment with a HVAC professional who can check your furnace before you leave but also flush out your water heater, replace any filters and inspect your fireplace and chimney. Ensure the flue is closed so no rain or snow gets into your home.

Smoke detectors and security systems: Replace the batteries with fresh ones before you leave for the winter and do a test run with your security system to make sure everything is properly set up.

Unplug all your appliances: This will help prevent potential fire hazards. It will also cut down on your energy bill.

Clean out the fridge and freezer: Throw out all your perishable items so they don't rot over the winter. Wipe down the doors and keep them open to prevent mold and mildew. Make sure you defrost and unplug them as well.

Keep yourself legally protected

Terra Gross, founder of Illinois law firm Attuned Legal, LLC, specializes in legal issues pertaining to homeowners. She offers snowbirds the following tips on protecting themselves legally before they go away:

Read your home insurance policy carefully. Homeowners' policies often include important information related to vacancy, rentals and freezing pipes. Make sure to review your policy before your trip and ask your insurance agent to clarify your coverage and your responsibilities.

Take inventory of your belongings. You can do this by snapping photos or taking a video of your home before you leave. This will be a good reference point for how you left things upon your departure.

Reduce your risk of identity theft in case of a break-in. Store any important paperwork such as birth certificates, social security cards and wills in a safety deposit box at your bank or off premises before leaving town. Verify with the safety box provider that you can authorize a trusted family member or representative to access it in case of emergency.

Check whether you need to leave behind a spare set of keys. If your residence is part of a condominium, cooperative or homeowners association with shared spaces, check with a property manager or board member before you leave about whether or not they require you to leave a key behind.

While you're away

Pull your blinds and curtains over the windows. This will protect your privacy and ensure people can't peek in. Consider timing your lights to turn on and off at certain intervals to make it look like someone is home. You can do this remotely with a virtual home assistant like Alexa or Siri, smart light bulbs controlled over Wi-Fi, or other digital apps you can download on your phone.

Ask someone you trust to check in. Ask a neighbor or friend to keep an eye on your property, pick up any mail that arrives and make sure everything is in working order.

Taking the time to properly winterize your home before you depart will ensure not just a stress-free time away, but also a much more pleasant arrival when it's time to come back.