Closing Your Vacation Home for the Winter
By Bob Vila
Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, owners of second homes around the country perform the annual ritual of closing up their unwinterized rural cottages, beach retreats and mountain cabins. Best practice varies by region, but if you plan on vacating a seasonal property for any extended period of time, there are a few basic things you can do to help safeguard your house through the cold months ahead.
Sealing the envelope
A few weeks before you leave, begin evaluating the condition of your home top to bottom, inside and out. Find out what broke over the summer, or what’s about to, and arrange to have repairs made. Tradesmen in towns with seasonal occupants are usually inclined to negotiate when the population ebbs.
On the exterior, check the foundation, siding and trim for cracks and crevices that could admit moisture or provide an entry point for unwelcome creatures. Closely examine where the roof overhang meets the house. Pests as teeny as wasps and as large as squirrels often seek to nest in the solar-warmed space of house attics.
Clear the gutters so that rain and snowmelt run freely away from the base of the house, and using a ladder or binoculars, inspect the roof for raised shingles, making repairs if necessary. Another prudent defense is to trim back any tree branches near the house that could cause damage in a strong storm.
Power, gas and plumbing
Electricity should be shut off at the main, but leave on circuits that control such essentials as the alarm system. Also be sure to unplug appliances, especially the large and expensive ones, just in case lightning strikes. Gas can be turned off at the main, but for many, it’s probably safer and easier to call the utility and temporarily suspend service.
All water pipes should be drained: Accomplish this by turning off the main water supply, opening all faucets and leaving them open. Remember also to drain the supply hoses to indoor outlets like the dishwasher and outdoor outlets like the sprinkler system. If winter conditions are brutal in your area, take the precaution and hire a professional plumber to do the work.
Indoors, clean out closets and cabinets, leaving them open to ventilate. Remove and store all bedding in plastic (throw in moth balls if you have them) and for protection against burrowing mice, cover all mattresses.
The kitchen deserves time and attention, since food can attract animals and canned goods can explode if they freeze. Store non-perishable food in metal containers and relocate cans to the basement if possible, or take them back to your primary residence.
Go easy on yourself and get started with the close-down process sooner rather than later. By thinking ahead and gradually ticking things off your checklist, you can avoid having to solve last-minute challenges on the final days of your vacation. Most important, shutting the house properly in the fall helps ensure that your summer abode is healthy and sound upon your return in the spring.
Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.