With the nights getting colder and colder and winter approaching it is time to properly prepare vacant homes for winter. Over the years we have seen homes lose as much as 50% of their market value from fall to spring when pipes freeze, break, and then leak, ruining the floors, walls, and even flooding basements. It can destroy a house and cost thousands of dollars to fix.
Both plastic and copper pipes can burst when they freeze. An eight-inch crack in a pipe can leak up to 250 gallons of water a day, causing flooding, structural damage, and the potential for mold. The most basic homeowner insurance policies do not cover homes when they become vacant. If you do have adequate vacant home insurance, check to see if there is a clause requiring someone regularly checking in on your vacant home.
Whether you plan to sell or return to your vacant home, protect your investment by winterizing your home with these main points:
The Most Important Steps in Winterizing a Home:
- Hire a plumber who is qualified to winterize your home. This involves shutting off the water supply to your home, and blowing air through all the pipes in the house with an air compressor. The plumber will also properly drain water heaters, spas, sprinkler systems, and any appliances that use water. A good winterization on a regular 2-bathroom house will probably cost $400 to $800, but this is thousands less than what you would pay for repairs and hassle.
- Clean your gutters and downspouts to reduce the risk of ice forming inside them.
- Place moth balls throughout the home to prevent insect infestation.
- Close fireplace dampers and seal all openings (i.e., dryer vents). Birds and rodents will try to make nests in chimneys and attics.
- Store firewood away from the house. Remove leaves near the house under and around the porch or deck.
- Disconnect any propane tanks. Call the gas company and have them turn off the natural gas.
- If you have kept the electricity on: Buy light timers and set them to turn on automatically in the evenings. Invest in motion detectors or timers for both your indoor and outdoor lights. Make sure all light bulbs around the house are in working order.
If you have turned off the electricity: Make sure battery-operated smoke detectors are in working order.
- Schedule plowing for driveways and walkways for potential buyers. Nothing says “vacant house” more than a walkway that hasn’t been shoveled. Make sure buyers, service workers and mail carriers have safe, easy access into your home. If a buyer can’t easily park or gain access to the home, it won’t sell. Shovel and salt your walkway and driveway on a regular basis.
- Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses.
- Trim branches that hang over your home.
It’s a good idea to have a neighbor or friend check up on the home if you’re not available. Once your home is winterized, place signs throughout the house to warn visitors and buyers that the plumbing has been shut off.
Related: Massachusetts Snow Removal Law