It’s a great time to prepare your home for the winter, especially if you’re about to leave town for the holidays. Here’s how to protect your home for the winter - and get some valuable homeowners-insurance discounts at the same time.
Many homeowners-insurance claims in winter are caused by frozen pipes, which can result in thousands of dollars of water damage and expensive cleanup. Even though most of your house may be warm, pipes can still freeze in cold spots, such as your basement, garage, and the back of your closets and cabinets. “I was called in on a claim where a pipe was installed between the living room and the unheated garage,” recalls Keith Weinhold, an appraisal technical specialist with Chubb Insurance. "The water came out at such high pressure that it drilled a hole through the drywall, and the living-room floors were all destroyed,” adds Weinhold, who has more than 30 years of experience assessing homeowners’ insurance claims. Here are some of his tips for protecting your home.
Simple steps such as checking the insulation in your home’s cold spots and opening cabinets and doors to let warm air circulate can make a big difference. "Whenever the wind blows and the temperature drops, the wind is forcing air into every crack in your house, and your cold spots are going to be even colder." he says.
Don't turn your thermostat down too low when you're going out of town. "The problem is if you turn your thermostat down to 50 degrees, that’s 50 degrees at the thermostat - but the temperature could be down in the 30s in the cold spots in your basement," says Weinhold. "You always have to be conscious of what the temperature is in the coldest part of the house." He recommends reducing your thermostat to no lower than 60 degrees when you leave your home for a winter vacation.
If you travel frequently, you may want to consider an automatic water shut-off system, which cuts off the main water line if it detects a malfunction in the pipes. This type of system could reduce your homeowners-insurance premiums.
An automatic back-up generator can also help protect your home's plumbing from freezing. If the electricity goes out - which isn't unusual during winter storms - your heat may go out and your pipes could freeze. The generator will not only keep your house warm, but it will power your alarm system.
Make sure you disconnect and drain any hoses outside your house, shut off and drain the outside faucets.
Trimming trees can protect your home, too. Winter weather and ice storms often make tree branches brittle, causing them to break off and land on your house or your power lines.
One of the best ways to protect your home while away is to have someone checking your home on a daily basis.
10 Ways to Protect Your Home While You’re Away/On Vacation
When you leave your home, either for a weekend getaway or an extended vacation, you'll want to take some basic safety precautions to keep your house and belongings safe. This makes most of us think about burglarproofing, but preparations extend beyond locking your doors or setting timers for your lights.
1. Hold Your Mail
A huge pile of mail on the front doorstep, or envelopes pouring out your mail slot is an instant tip-off that no one’s home. If you’ll be gone for more than a few days, go to the post office to place a hold on your mail. Put a hold on your daily paper, too. If you don’t have the time or inclination, ask a trusted neighbor to collect the goods daily.
2. Create the Illusion of Someone Home
Beyond setting your lights on a timer, you can also set the television and radio on a timer to create the typical noise and flickering lights of an average family home at night. But wait that’s not all! Leave a car in the driveway. Arrange for someone to mow at least once a week (an unruly lawn is as bad as a pile of mail). During the winter, arrange for snow removal in case of a storm (neighborhood kids are great for this, if you get their parents’ word that they’ll remember). If you normally leave toys outside, or keep a hose unrolled, or do anything that shows signs of a home being lived in, don’t tidy up too much before you leave.
3. Mum’s the Word
Never, ever announce your departure or vacation dates on social networks. Sharing settings are not foolproof and with new security updates it’s always hard to tell what’s public and what’s private. Stay on the safe side, and don’t mention your trip – until you’re back, with tales to tell and photos to upload!
4. Trust a Friend
Give your vacation contact info and a spare key to at least one friend or neighbor. That way, they can check on your home on a regular basis and they’ll know how to contact you in case of emergency.
5. Advertise Your Security
Especially when you’re away, it can be a great idea to advertise your security measures. If you’re worried that alarm company signs will clue thieves in to how to break in, buy signs from a different company. Install fake security cameras (the kind that look authentic). Do whatever it takes to get across the message, “This is not the home you are looking for.”
Unplug all unnecessary appliances (except those on timers, of course) to protect your home from an electrical fire or power surge. This goes for the big stuff, like TVs, but also for your toaster, your coffee maker, and other small appliances.
7. Hide the Hide-a-Key
It’s impossible to forget your key if you’re not even home, so go ahead and take any hidden spare keys out of commission. Just don’t forget to re-hide them when you return!
8. Keep Your Cool
Turn down (or up) the thermostat to save on electricity while you’re gone. In the winter, set the heat to about 60° – warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing, but cool enough to save – and during the summer, set your air-conditioning to 85°. You can also lower the temperature on your water heater.
9. Safe-Keep Your Valuables
Lock up jewelry, the deed to your home, wills, and any other valuables or sensitive documents in a fire-proof safe. This is a good idea whether your are on vacation or at home.
10. Alert Your Alarm Company
Call your home security company to let them know you’ll be away. Make sure the alarm is set and working when you leave.