Sweaters and a pot of tea on a coffee table in a cozy home

Preparing your primary residence for an extensive vacancy is an important part of the snowbirding lifestyle.

As the cooler months loom closer, snowbirds often feel increasingly excited to head somewhere warmer for the winter. However, the weeks leading up to this seasonal migration represent the best time to slow down and make careful plans for your home while you’re away. Whether you’re an experienced snowbird or brand new to the lifestyle, winterizing your primary residence is a crucial series of steps before beginning your snowbirding journey. 

Active adult homeowners who winterize their homes can ensure that, when spring comes around, they return to their primary residence to find it in good shape. Unfortunately, a home that has been ill-prepared for vacancy can be subjected to an array of issues while homeowners are away. From freezing pipes to pest problems, the potential for catastrophe in your home while you’re away can seem like an insurmountable concern.

However, with careful planning and preparation, active adults can set themselves up for a relaxing and worry-free winter. The following guide shares several tips and tricks about how to prepare your home for snowbirding. 

Keep Your Home Warm Through Winter

An older woman adjusting the thermostat in her home

A temperature above 55 degrees should keep your home heated enough to withstand any freezes.

Many snowbirds head to a warmer climate in order to avoid the freezing winter temperatures of their home state. However, temperature drops can still be a burden on homeowners even when they're not there to experience them. A common worry for those who leave their homes vacant for the winter is that the pipes and plumbing might freeze and then burst, causing costly damage. However, snowbirds can take several steps to prevent this from happening.

For starters, make sure to leave the heater on during your absence. Since your home certainly doesn’t need to be warm and cozy while you’re gone, a temperature above 55 degrees should keep your home heated enough to withstand any freezes or record-low temperatures. It’s also a good idea to change your furnace filter before you leave so that dirty air is not circulating around your home.

In addition to adjusting the thermostat, remember to completely shut off the water to your home via the main valve that can often be found in the basement, garage, or utility closet. Then, drain all of the water from the pipes or hire an experienced plumber to facilitate the process. Logically, your pipes cannot freeze if there’s no water in them. You can also turn off your water heater while you’re away since there won’t be any water to heat.

The outside of your home will also need some attention to properly thwart the wrath of the cold. Make sure all of your outdoor furniture and decorations are properly secured, or better yet, put away in storage, so they cannot be blown away or damaged. Next, clean your gutters or hire someone to do so in order to prevent ice from building up on your roof and damaging it. Finally, if you have a sidewalk in front of your home, arrange for someone to shovel snow in order to prevent fines.

Prevent Critters From Coming In

A baby raccoon on a brick wall

Clear out all unsealed food from your pantry and fridge that might attract unwanted house guests.

Without anyone in the house to shoo away pests on a daily basis, critters may be inclined to make themselves at home in your vacant space. Luckily, there are ways to keep them out and prevent them from ever stepping inside your home.

Clear out all unsealed food from your pantry and fridge that might attract unwanted house guests. Likewise, empty out all the trash and make sure all countertops and floors are free of food debris. Do your best to fill any gaps in the walls, including around pipes and windows, to create a seal between the outside world. An often overlooked entrance for pests is the fireplace, so make sure you close the flue before packing up and heading out.

Ensure That Your Empty Home Stays Empty

A white home security camera with tree branches behind it

If you have an alarm system, remember to arm it before leaving.

Unfortunately, an unpopulated home can be an attractive opportunity for intruders, but that’s what makes protecting your home a necessity. To start, make sure all your doors and windows are securely locked, including windows and decks or balconies on upper floors. If you have an alarm system, remember to arm it before leaving. If you don’t have an alarm system, you may consider the benefits and peace-of-mind that it might bring while you’re several states away.

At a minimum, some active adults set up timed electrical switches that turn on a lamp or television every evening, since lighted homes are less likely to be targeted for break-ins. Still, secure all valuables left behind in the home, or store items with family or friends for safekeeping.

Remember to notify trusted neighbors and friends, as well as your local police station, that you're leaving and that your home will be empty. Share your contact information with them so that if anything happens while you're away, you'll be notified. A neighbor can also check on the home on a regular basis and even receive mail or packages for you. However, avoid posting specific details about your extended vacation on social media sites, as you don’t want to broadcast that your home will be empty for an extended period of time.

There are a couple more tasks to check off your list before you get going. It’s a good idea to open all interior doors, including closets and even cupboards, so that the air sufficiently circulates in your space. Speaking of air, some homeowners cover their drains and toilets with plastic wrap in order to prevent any sewer gas from evaporating and hanging in the air. Most importantly, just be thorough when you're preparing your home for the winter.

Take Care of Appliances and Utilities

Household and kitchen appliances on table against a blurred kitchen background

Unplug any appliances and electronics that will not be used for a couple of months.

You’re almost ready to enjoy your winter in the sunshine, but there are still a few tasks at hand to make sure you’re properly prepared for departure. Importantly, make sure you're not paying unnecessary utility bills for services you will not be using. Your gas and electric utilities should stay on to power services such as your heater and security system, but call your internet and television provider to suspend your service until you return since it will not be in use. Likewise, suspend your water utility bills since your water should be turned off in your home.

Next, check that all of your electronics and appliances are not unnecessarily wasting energy. Unplug your televisions, internet modems, all of your appliances, and any other electronics that will not be used for a couple of months. Open up your empty fridge and dishwasher doors so that mold doesn't accumulate.

Stay In Touch While Snowbirding

An active adult woman talking to her neighbor over a fence

Stay in contact with your neighbors and maybe even have one of them check on your home from time to time.

Make sure that your communications follow you when you are switching residences for the season. Contact your local post office to arrange for your mail to temporarily be forwarded to your winter residence. You can schedule in advance a date to begin forwarding mail, so this can be arranged long before you head south. If you receive any regular deliveries, from the pharmacy or bank for example, contact these senders directly to let them know of the temporary change in address.

If you have a house phone, you can also request that calls are being forwarded to a different phone. You can also change your answering machine to notify callers on how to get ahold of you. And, of course, stay in contact with your neighbors and maybe even have one of them check on your home from time to time. You should also arrange for someone to come and take care of any houseplants or aquariums while you're away. 

Lock and Leave

A key with a house keychain in a door's keyhole

A little preparation goes a long way when you're preparing your home for snowbirding.

Although there may be a long list of tasks to complete before you leave for the winter, careful attention to these necessary steps can save you from problems that might occur without properly preparing your home for snowbirding. At a minimum, winterize your plumbing and keep your home at a good temperature. Additionally, take measures to prevent unwanted guests, such as pests and intruders, to give yourself better peace of mind while you’re away.

Of course, there are many other small tasks to complete that are less obvious, such as unplugging appliances and opening interior doors. However, small jobs such as these shouldn't take too much time, and you can plan to complete them as the final steps before walking out the door.

One of the best ways to prepare your home for snowbirding and ensure your home is well taken care of centers around keeping in contact with neighbors back home. Ask neighbors to keep an eye on your property, perhaps even walking around it every once in a while, to make sure the home withstands the winter season. A little preparation goes a long way when you're preparing your home for snowbirding, and you'll be happy that you took the time to make sure everything was properly taken care of when you return to your home in the spring.