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 cleaning a foreclosure, 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 winterization down to the last nut and bolt.

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.

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.[1]

Open all faucets and drain all waterlines.[2] 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. 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.
  • Remove and empty any “whole house” or “in line” type filter canister.
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.[3]
Turn down the thermostat. Set your thermostat to a level adequate to keep the inside temperature above freezing and to keep things dry. If the home is located in a warm, damp climate, you should have a humidity indicator installed and set to maintain a reasonably dry interior.

Clean out the refrigerator. Don’t keep anything that is likely to go bad during the time you are away.[5]

  • Empty the freezer. Don’t leave anything in it in case the electricity is off for an extended period of time; you won’t necessarily be aware if this occurs, and the food will have thawed and refrozen, which is very dangerous.
  • If you must keep frozen food, here is one method for determining if your freezer has warmed during the winter: freeze a container of water solid, then place a coin on the surface of the ice; if the coin has sunk into the ice when you return, then the freezer warmed, letting the ice melt and then refreeze.
  • 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.
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.
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.
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.

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.[6]

  • Vacuum carpets and floors. This will ensure that no crumbs or other sources of food remain for vermin.

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.

Store outdoor furniture. Place tables, chairs, hammocks, delicate garden ornamentation, and other outdoor accessories in a garage, shed or storage unit.[7]

  • Leave nothing outdoors that can be blown about by a strong wind.

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.

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.

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.[8]

Stop your mail. This can be done online at USPS.gov. 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.
  • Ask a neighbor to be on the lookout for packages which may come to you by UPS, FedEx or any another service.

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