winterizing vacant home

What is Winterizing?

If your home is going to be vacant this winter it’s important to take winterizing measures before you vacate. Winterizing your home properly can mean the difference between coming home to find your pipes have burst or damaged floors.

How Do I winterize my Home?

To properly winterize your home these are our recommended tips:

1Turn off the Water. Shut off the main water valve, which is usually located outside. If you have a well you can shut it off by turning the breaker to the pump off. Leaving the water lines open in a vacant building has a higher chance of bursting or leaking.

2Turn the thermostat down. In the winter you should turn your thermostat to 60 degrees. Turning it completely off will allow the pipes to freeze and break. 

3Insulate pipes. Insulating your pipes can keep them from bursting during a deep winter freeze.

4Turn off your gas line. This prevents gas leaks or other gas related incidents.

5Unplug everything. This protects your home in case an appliance shorts out, which could cause a fire.

6Close the damper or flue on your fireplace.This will prevent snow, rain or animals from finding a way into your home.1

Prevent your Home from Appearing Unoccupied

  • Forward your mail, stop newspaper delivery, and ask a friend to pick up items that may be left at your door.
  • Arrange for someone to remove snow after storms.
  • Put motion-sensitive exterior lights and interior lights on timers and set them to come on at varying times to discourage prowlers.1

Protect Your Home From Thieves

  • Confirm that your alarm systems are in working order and have been activated.
  • Secure external doors and windows with deadbolt locks, security-type hinges. Install slide locks or other equivalent security locks on sliding glass doors.
  • Store valuables that you are not taking with you in a safe deposit box or other secure offsite location.
  • Avoid posting your vacation or travel plans on social media sites, as potential thieves can use that information to learn when your house will be vacant.2

Protect your Pipes by Shutting Off Water

  • If a pipe bursts or leaks while you are away, it could cause significant damage. Consider completely turning off the water supply if you will be away for an extended period of time. If your home is heated by an older steam heating system, consult with your heating professional to determine if it is safe to turn off the water supply for your particular heating system. Also, if your home is protected by a fire sprinkler system, make sure that you do not turn off the water to this system.
  • If you have turned off the water supply, drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets, and flush your toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl. Consider pouring antifreeze in toilet tanks and bowls to prevent any remaining water from freezing.* Always use non-toxic antifreeze rated for plumbing systems.
  • You may wish to hire a licensed plumber to complete these steps. The plumber can also confirm that the pipes have been fully drained by blowing compressed air through the pipes.3

Make Your Home Unattractive to Pests

  • Clean your home thoroughly to help discourage new “residents” from moving in.
  • Clean, defrost and unplug refrigerators and freezers, wiping them dry and leaving doors propped open to prevent mildew. Also clean the oven.
  • Inspect your home for openings that animals could use to enter. For example, make sure your fireplace flue is closed, as bats, birds and squirrels are known to get inside this way.
  • Check weather-stripping, insulation and exterior doors and windows to ensure no major deficiencies are present. Water and insects can enter through these openings.
  • Chimneys should be inspected by a chimney service and, if necessary, cleaned to ensure that they are free from obstructions such as nesting birds. Install chimney guard screen-caps to help prevent any infestation.4

Be Ready For Emergencies

  • Notify the police department that the property will be vacant, and provide emergency notification numbers.
  • Install smoke detectors on at least every floor (preferably tied to a constantly monitored fire alarm system so the fire department will automatically be notified in case of alarm), and confirm that the sensors and system are tested regularly.
  • In higher wind-exposed or coastal areas, install storm shutters (or consider using other mitigation measures, such as 5/8” marine plywood) to secure windows. Properly anchor personal property that will remain outdoors.
  • Ask a trusted friend, neighbor or relative to keep an eye on your home and be available in emergency situations. Give them access to your home so they can regularly monitor heating, electrical and water systems.
  • If the weather turns frigid, have them look at the edge of the roof for ice dams and look for leaks inside. Make sure they have your contact information and a list of local contractors they can reach if repairs or service are indicated.5

The are some measures you should take when vacating your home for the winter. While we can’t always predict disaster, we can sometimes prevent it.