Many of us Midwesterners are in the same problem. We either vacate a summer home in northern Michigan for the winter or leave the state entirely for a few months in a warmer climate.
But what about that house you’re leaving behind? How can you help it survive the winter and be ready for you again in the spring?
Water is the biggest area of concern, whether it’s the wet form of the roof or burst pipes, or high humidity from crawl spaces and concrete slabs.
Walk around the house and look at the roof and eaves.
Are the gutters cleaned, properly sloped and well secured to the eaves? Do the downspouts carry water well away from the foundation?
Steep roofs are more likely to shed snow. If you have a low pitched roof, plan to have someone haul loads of snow off it.
Shingles are meant to shed water. Heavy snow accumulations will create a melt layer at the bottom where water can then back up under the roofing material and cause a leak. Snow can weigh from 4 pounds per cubic foot for soft new fall to 25 pounds per cubic foot for wind-packed snow and your home is not designed to carry that additional “dead” load.
Bluetooth capability is a huge convenience in a vacant property.
You can monitor temperature and humidity remotely and adjust your oven accordingly.
You can monitor water consumption and flow in the home, and you can perform visual checks with cameras strategically placed around the property. Stream Labs makes a WIFI system that can be connected to your domestic water to detect any leaks and notify you.
It is good practice to shut off the home’s main water valve during your absence to reduce potential damage from a leaking pipe.
Using remote Bluetooth, you can also control lights and items like televisions to make it look like the building is occupied.
Your sump pump should be backed up by another unit that is either battery powered or run by municipal water pressure. You can also connect the pumps to a wireless network that communicates with your phone.
Because water is such a concern, it’s a good idea to have an established relationship with a professional plumber who knows your home and its systems.
Plumbing traps throughout the home should be filled with an RV-type antifreeze to prevent them from drying out and letting in sewer gas. This includes traps in toilets and the basement floor as well.
Do you need to drain the water heater? If the mains are turned off, it is a “can’t hurt, might help” strategy to turn off the unit and drain it completely. Some choose to open all the household faucets once the mains are off and the supply pipes are draining.
And, how about the oven? Should we leave the heat on in empty houses?
The structure of our homes is primarily wood and during the wet fall months that wood absorbs moisture and swells, which may cause a door or window in the home to “get stuck”. Winter’s extreme dryness “steals” all that moisture from the house just as it does from your chapped lips and prolonged freezing can “shrink” the house frame and cause drywall and plaster to crack.
In most older houses, we also count on heat loss through the foundation into the surrounding soils to prevent the soil around the house from freezing. Wet soil that freezes can expand and cause the foundation walls to crack and bow inward.
Better to leave the thermostat on a low setting and keep the house above freezing.
Keep doors open around plumbing fixtures to circulate air. Do the same in closets and go one step further by pulling boxes and other stored items away from exterior walls to reduce the chance of stagnant air where mold can thrive.
Place rodent bait carefully and safely around the exterior of the house and in garages and storage sheds. A technician from Rove Pest Control in Novi once told us that “it just seems like the animals know when a place is empty and inviting.”
A well-lit home is a safer home. Instead of bluetooth controls, you may be able to purchase inexpensive plug-in timers to control various interior lights around the house. Consider installing exterior perimeter spotlights in the corners of overhangs controlled by motion sensors.
Use a written checklist to keep track of everything you do. Reversing the process when turning north is easy and painless.
And that trusted person who goes to check your roof snow loads? Also, let them kick rides and walks to avoid the appearance of an unoccupied home. You may also consider notifying the local police about the vacancy so they can keep an eye on you.
A well-prepared home will weather the cold months without incident and welcome you back when April showers begin to work their magic.
Get professionals to help you with any of these preparations at insideoutsideguys.com.
For housing advice and more, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM or contact us at insideoutsideguys.com.