Winter Home Shutdown
Winter Home Shutdown
We will be away from our house at the end of January for about two weeks. We live close to Buffalo, New York and we have an oil furnace. Would it be better to turn off the furnace altogether or set the thermostat to a low temperature? If a lower temperature is better, what temperature should we use? Also, are there other things that we should do to safeguard our home? Thanks for any help or ideas.
Safeguard Your Home
To safeguard your home, leave lights on timers, including outside lights if possible. Time them as close to your typical pattern of activity as you can. Perhaps you could even put a radio or TV on a timer for a short period each day. If possible, have a friend or neighbor stop by and "disturb" something. Have them clip a bush, make tracks in the snow in your driveway, change the timers, or move a piece of furniture. Lastly, you might see if your local police department does vacation checks of homes in your area.
Turn Furnace Down, Not Off!
Do not turn off your furnace when leaving a home in cold. Otherwise, you are likely to return home to a frozen mess when water pipes burst. I speak from experience.
Instead, turn your heat down to about 55 degrees and turn off your water heater if it is in an enclosed area which never goes below freezing. If you wish, slightly lower the setting on your refrigerator. You can do this because it will not be opened, which lets in warmer air.
It can be useful to invest in a variable timer, which turns lights on and off at random times, so the house looks lived in. In the resort area where my parents live full-time, their neighbors ask them to park in their unused driveways while they are away. You might have neighbors who are willing to do this to make your house look occupied.
Open Doors Under Sinks
The main thing with a home in the winter is to keep the pipes from freezing. Talk about expensive to fix! Leave your furnace on, but at a low 50 degrees. Open all of the doors under each sink, so that what heat there is in the house will circulate under the sinks to keep the pipes warm. If the temperatures really drop, have a neighbor go by and turn your faucets to a very slow drip. If the temperatures increase before you get home, have the neighbor turn the water off. Your water bill will increase slightly, but the cost is nominal compared to what frozen water pipes will cost.
Inform Insurance Company of Plans
I suggest the following:
- Be sure to leave the thermostat on a low temperature at least 55 degrees.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors where pipes are located to prevent them freezing.
- Make sure a friend or neighbor picks up your mail, or have it forwarded, and don't forget your newspapers! A pile of newspapers on a porch or sidewalk is a welcome mat to burglars.
- Have your lights set on a timer to come on for a brief period at night to give the appearance that someone is home.
- It's worth the little bit extra to pay a neighborhood child to come and shovel your walks and driveway when it snows. Again, it gives the appearance that someone is home.
- If you have plants that cannot tolerate the cool temperature in your home, let them winter over with a friend or neighbor. Your friend or neighbor may just enjoy the extra plants!
- Leave a key with someone you trust and just have them check your home over once a week or so. Have them check all the entry doors and windows and that the heater is functioning properly, and that no pipes, faucets or toilets are running or leaking.
- Be sure your insurance company knows that you are leaving for the winter. This goes for your home and auto insurance. If you are leaving a car behind in the garage, you can save on your insurance premiums by placing the car in storage. Simply inform your agent that you will not be driving the car for the winter, and ask them to place storage coverage on the car. This usually means comprehensive coverage only, which would cover your car in the event that the garage it was stored in collapsed, or caught fire, and damaged your car. Check with your agent to see if this option is available to you.
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