Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Here's How To Winterize A Vacant Home

I'm borrowing a nice article from wikiHOW on how to winterize a vacant home.  Just in case you ever need to know.....It's the best article on the subject that I have found.

How to Winterize a Vacant Home

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit
Whether you're closing up a summer vacation home or leaving your very own home during winter for an extended period, it's important to close up for the season. So what should you do to ensure that when your family returns months (or even a year) later, you won’t find a nightmare waiting? The following suggestions will help you to plan and execute a winterization down to the last nut and bolt.


  1. Look carefully around the exterior and interior of your home and decide what needs to be done. Write it all down to create a checklist. This essential “plan of action” will come in handy when it’s time to open up the place again, because without it, you probably won’t be able to remember all the things that have to be “un-done.” To help you develop your own checklist, the following suggestions, though not applicable in every case, identify potential problem areas that warrant consideration.

 Prepare the outdoor areas

  1. Water, outdoor items, plants, and external fittings all need some attention when winterizing. Here are some things to consider.
  2.   Turn off the water at the main supply point. If you don't know how to do this, find out where the main (inside) shut off valve is. Turn off the supply line to the washing machine hose. These hoses are a bit flimsy and can burst while you're away.  If nobody is using the home during the entire period of winter, make sure that the water supply is turned off completely at the mains.
  3. Drain all water that can be drained. Drain spas, swimming pools and ponds of water.
  4.  Protect the garden and outdoor plants. Cover any plants that are frost intolerant and would benefit from covering.

    • Trim shrubbery so doors and windows are not blocked from view (better security). Arrange to have the lawn mowed and shrubbery trimmed.
    • If possible, cut tree limbs and branches that overhang the house—they offer rodents easy access to the home’s roof and eaves from which they have easier access to a home.

  5. Bring in outdoor furniture, hammocks, seats, delicate garden ornamentation, hose pipes etc. - anything that you consider will not winter well under snow or prolonged cold should be stored indoors.

    • Keep ladders inside or otherwise secured.

  6.  Block up any holes in the eaves or walls. Block anywhere that may provide an entry point to little furry creatures seeking warmth and home for winter; otherwise, you may have a surprise next spring that includes babies.

    • Check that all holes and cracks in exterior walls and foundations and around pipes that penetrate the exterior walls are sealed; otherwise they are entry points for rodents and insects.
    • Rodents and birds can also gain entry via stovepipes and chimneys so these must be secured as well. Shut your fireplace dampers and cap the chimneys. A #10 can (large coffee can) may be used to cap an open stovepipe (the kind that on top takes the shape of a T or an H), but a chimney should be capped with a permanent, stainless steel cap with wire mesh venting. Close flues and dampers.

  7. Lock away all pleasure craft such as boats, ATVs, bicycles, canoes. kayaks, cars etc. in the garage or shed and ensure that the lock is strong.  Block window views into this storage space.
  8. Take all the trash out of your home before you leave, especially any food waste.  Cover compost bins thoroughly.  Move dead plant material away from the sides of the house to prevent moisture build-up (mildew problems) and possible fire fodder for the late spring in case you can't get back any earlier.

    • Leave nothing outdoors that can be blown about by a strong wind or washed away by a lake or river overflowing its banks.

 Fix the heating and plumbing

  1.  Turn off the main water-supply valve or stop the pump. If the furnace should fail on a very cold day, water in a pipe could freeze and burst the pipe. Open all faucets and drain all waterlines—empty or mainly empty pipes cannot burst from freezing water.

    • Pipes can be drained at their low-point drain valves or, if there is insufficient slope to the lines, by opening a pipe junction. If unsure if all water has drained from pipes, use an air compressor to blow out all water pipes.

  2.  Turn down the heat, but don't turn it off. Keep it at about 58ºF/14ºC or so, in order to avoid problems with freezing plaster (which will crack in unsightly ways) and pipes.

    • Unless you're using your summer vacation home for winter sports, you may want to consider not heating it at all if freezing problems are not an issue.

  3.  Drain. If you live in an area where freezing pipes can be a problem, drain toilets, water heater (turn off gas or electric supply first) and if on a well and pump system, the expansion tank. You'll also need to completely eliminate or dilute the water in drain traps by pouring an "RV" type antifreeze solution in them as directed by the instructions.

    • RV antifreeze is commonly used to protect pipes from freezing in RVs and mobile homes; this antifreeze is a type that is safe for use in and around drinking water systems when used as directed. Never pour "regular" automotive antifreeze in the locations listed here.
    • 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.
    • Read How to turn off the water supply to a toilet for more information.

  4. Deal with septic systems. Drain the water storage tank and consult a neighbor or local plumber to learn if the septic system should also be drained. Turn off the water heater before you drain it. Drain water from a pump by using its drain plug. For dishwashers, refrigerators (with a water dispenser or an ice maker) and clothes washers, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Remove and empty any "whole house" or "in line" type filter canister.  Remove any water filter inside refrigerator.  If you find the task daunting, get a local plumber to do it for you.
  5. Read How to winterize your evaporative cooler for instructions regarding your evaporative cooler.

 Prepare the kitchen

  1.  Clean out the fridge and don't leave anything in there which is likely to go bad during the time you are away.  If you have things in the freezer, empty it; don't leave anything in it in case the electricity is off for an extended period of time; you won't necessarily be aware and the food will have thawed and refrozen, which is very dangerous.  If you must leave 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.
  2. Remove all food. All foods should be removed so they don’t lure rodents and insects. 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 screw-on lids.
  3. Clean 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.

    • You may have to turn off the icemaker and loosen refrigerator bulbs.
    • To further thwart odors, place an open bag of charcoal on the inside of the open refrigerator.

  4. Guard against insects and rodents. Wash kitchen trash containers and put away soap, sponges, candles and other possible sources of food for vermin. Spray a long-lasting insecticide along baseboards and under the sink. Place insect traps under the sink and on kitchen counters and use chemical rodent deterrents under the sink and in the garage, too.
  5. 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.


  1.  Clean 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. Remove all trash.

    • Vacuum carpets and floors to ensure that no crumbs or other sources of food remain for vermin.
    • In humid regions, use desiccants (water-absorbing material) in closets; most hardware stores sell them.

  2. Cover furniture with sheets or cloths. If you are closing up a vacation home, cover the furniture to protect it from dust and light discoloration.
  3.  Remove all fire hazards. Dispose of or move potentially flammable items such as oily rags and stacked papers, before you leave.
  4. Unplug all electronic and electrical appliances such as the TV, VCR, toasters, dryer, washer,  etc. Any charging devices should also be unplugged. This is a good idea if there is an electrical storm so that no surges get to your computers, etc., and blow them out.
  5. Ask a neighbor to be on the lookout for packages which may come to you by UPS, Fedex or any another service. Give the neighbor your phone number and ask them to call you if you get anything. Alternatively, they can keep packages for you in their home until you return.

    • Arrange for indoor plants to be watered if necessary.

  6.  Pay all your bills before you go, or make arrangements to pay remotely by internet, through relatives or some other convenient and reliable means. If it's a vacation home, make sure that the municipality has the correct billing address for you to send rates bills etc. to during the time that you are away; you don't want a nasty summons because you forgot to inform them of your winter absence.
  7.  Make sure that your insurance coverage is adequate for being absent during winter. Due to the increased potential for something to go wrong (for example, burst water pipes, leaking gas heating systems, etc.), insurance companies can be  tough on requirements. Ask about special requirements for vacation homes and for homes vacant due to traveling or snowbirding elsewhere.


  1. Consider turning off the electric power. Some experts suggest turning off electric power completely but this depends solely on local conditions. For example, in a region subject to freezing you may elect to leave the heating system on but at a lower temperature to avoid frost damage to the home’s interior and its contents. If you use an electronic alarm system, then continuous electric power is required (apart from back-up batteries).
  2. Unplug. 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. 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 humidistat installed and set to maintain a reasonably dry interior.
  4. Don't forget the gas. If there are gas appliances in the home that have been approved by the American Gas Association, they would have automatic shutdowns that will close the gas valves if their pilot lights go out. Such appliances may be left on if properly vented, but if in doubt, check the owner’s manuals. For long absences, some experts recommend shutting off gas hot-water heaters completely.

 Security measures

  1. Lock it up. High quality locks for your doors and windows are a must! Check that all your windows and doors are shut and locked. This includes checking the small attic, bathroom, and basement windows. Close skylights and ventilation shafts.

    • If in a damp, humid climate, periodically lubricate pin tumbler locks with white lithium grease; using anything else will cause the mechanisms to gum up over time.
    • Secure the doors. Strike plates and door hinges should be secured with wood screws at least three inches long.
    • Close window shutters. Aside from enhancing security, shutters will, along with drapes, blinds and curtains, keep carpeting and fabrics from fading.
    • Unplug garage door openers.

  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. Do this online at USPS, Canada Post etc., using their hold mail sites; or, go into your local post office and ask them for a form. A small fee may apply.

    • Stop any other routine deliveries as well.

  5. Check back-up systems. If an electronic alarm system is used, make certain that back-up batteries (if any) are in good condition and able to provide coverage in the event of power interruption; you may want to consider other standby power options as well. If the alarm system is monitored, don’t forget to inform the security company of your date of departure and tell them where you can be reached in an emergency. Give the same information to the local police and fire departments.
  6. Have someone make regular check-ins. If there is a neighbor who’ll remain in the area while you’re gone, try to work out an arrangement by which someone will come over every now and then to look the place over.

    • If you can trust your neighbors completely, you may wish to leave them with a key for emergency entry if something should go wrong. Also leave them with your cellphone number, home phone number, e-mail address or any other alternative ways to reach you while you are living elsewhere or traveling.

 Opening the home on your return

  1.   Use the checklist provided here to open up the home. For starters, open all windows and turn on the furnace fan to air out the home. Readjust the thermostat and humidistat. Close all drain valves and plugs; open the main water valve or turn on the pump. Flush waterlines.
  2.  Uncap stovepipes and open flues and dampers. Check the interior and exterior of your home carefully for signs of rodent and/or insect infestation, mildew and fungi.
  3.  Turn on gas and electric power.
  4.  Go down the checklist to put your home back to the way it was before you left it. And don’t forget to announce your return to everyone you had informed of your departure.


Learn how to winterize your pond, stream or water garden.


  • Keep in mind that any water leaks which develop while you are away could run up your water bill significantly, and could also cause massive damage. This is especially true of a popped washing machine supply hose. Once these things burst, there is nothing to hold back the large stream of water which will start to flow. Turning off the water at the main is the best way to guard against such leaks.
  • If anything is certain about a log home—or about any home, for that matter—it’s the fact that you can’t just walk out the door and leave the place empty for months without having first taken some precautions. So be prepared to spend a few hours getting it ready before you and the family leave; your efforts will maintain the home’s value and ensure its continued enjoyment.
  • A log home company in Maine notes that in the event of an unexpected, heavy snowstorm in the state’s remote areas, hikers, hunters and snowmobilers can often be stranded for days. The company thinks it might be a good idea for a vacation home owner to leave some food and a supply of dry wood to help those people survive until help arrives. Of course, this means leaving the home unlocked unless there is another shelter nearby.


  • Check your insurance policy carefully! There are often clauses to shock, such as a requirement to have someone checking your home regularly if you are more than 72 hours away from your home. This unfriendly little clause could void your insurance coverage if you haven't arranged for someone to check.  Also, check the age of your heating system; if it is over a certain age, you may not be covered by insurance. Give yourself plenty of time to have it replaced, if necessary.

 Related wikiHows

 Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Winterize a Vacant Home.  All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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