Protecting Your Home While You're Away: Essential Tips

Posted by Excelsior Realty Team on December 7, 2023

If you're planning to embark on a long journey away from home, it's crucial to prioritize the protection of your property during your absence. We've partnered with the knowledgeable Mike Gottsacker at True North Home Watch,  to equip homeowners with the essential tips for preparing before their departure. As an expert in the field, he crafted an exceptional checklist to guide you through this process. True North Home Watch Company is available to help you with additional home protection needs should you need them. 

Home Exterior
___ Items left outside home creates damage risk in high wind or become theft targets; store and/or secure.
___ Secure spa/hot tub covers for heavy wind (sandbags work well)
___ Disconnect external water hoses (connected hoses trap water in all spigots which can freeze, expand and cause damage) 
• For non-freeze-proof spigots: turn off water to spigot at valve inside home then open spigot to drain. Consider insulated spigot covers.
___ “Winterize” irrigation system.
• Controller set to off, water valve off if plumbed separately, lines drained/blown out, back flow preventer valves left @ 45-degree angles
___ Establish a snow removal plan for home and communal areas you are responsible for such as sidewalks, pathways or mailboxes. 
• Mark driveway/walkway boundaries to minimize unintended snow removal damage to landscaping, irrigation lines etc.…
___ Inspect/address trees around property for branches that may potentially damage home in heavy snow/wind.
___ Turn off gas valves to exterior grills, fire pits etc. (ensure to remove grill brushes & food remnants from grills that can draw pests)
___ Inspect gutters, downspouts, and roof prior to departure for damage, blockages, loose shingles etc.… 

Home Interior
___ Consider turning off the main water supply valve inside home.
• Some equipment requires constant water supply such as fire suppression systems, 
humidifiers, and boilers. Consult w/expert or manufacturer if not sure. TNHW will turn on for home visits to run water/flush toilets, check for leaks & replenish traps to minimize risk of sewer gas back-up or fixtures/lines from drying out. If visiting service providers such as cleaners need water - train to turn back off 
• If main water valve will stay ON consider separately turning off water supply to nonessential equipment such as wash machines or toilets and add under-sink waterproof cabinet liner(s) and water/leak detection devices - be very careful turning stop valve handles
___ Set thermostats to a minimum temp that minimizes risk of damage/freeze (60 degrees minimum suggested) 
• Consider adding battery operated, Wi-Fi enabled temperature monitoring devices that alert to significant temperature drops 
• Check/replace furnace filters and/or humidifier water panels prior to departure (if 
humidifier remains on)
___ Hot Water Tanks
• Gas Models: if hot water not needed, consider placing gas water heaters in 
pilot/vacation/low setting 
• Electric Models: if hot water not needed simply turn off (at unit or breaker) if there is no VAC setting 
• Tankless Models: consult manufacturer for guidance on your specific model
• FOR SAFETY: tank water heaters & re-circulation pumps should be on at least 24 hrs. prior to use AFTER running water for 2 min to expel air
___ Flush toilets before departure and check that tank refilling stops in reasonable time. Defective toilet plumbing/flapper or a water level set too high can add to water usage cost (water valves turned off mitigate risk of water constantly running in a toilet).
• Chlorine or bleach in toilet bowls after flush reduces stain risk. 1/2 cup baking soda + 1/2 cup white vinegar for in-sink disposals followed by cold water rinse & run minimizes bacteria/odor risk (TNHW can do this on visits at no extra cost) 
___ Open under-sink cabinet doors for areas where plumbing lines are on/within exterior walls to help circulate warm air.
___ If shades/blinds can be left open without creating risk, natural sunlight helps heat a home during winter.

___ Contact alarm company if there is a responder change/addition in your absence (provide unique alarm codes if possible) 
___ Undisturbed snow is clear sign of an unoccupied home - ideally have a snow removal plan.
___ Check lighting, security device & timer functionality. Consider timers w/battery backup and plan for varying on/off times.
___ Verify doors, windows, and gates are locked AND latched (PVC/wood stick or rod in track of sliding doors & windows suggested) 
___ Forward mail and discontinue newspaper/periodical delivery. Have a plan for removing deliveries or handbills left outside home or overfilled mailboxes which are signs of your home being unoccupied. USPS offers a free INFORMED DELIVERY service.
___ Secure valuables and take photos (interior, exterior, vehicles and valuables). Note & save any pertinent serial numbers.
___ Change batteries in protection devices & garage door openers prior to departure
___ Consider informing trusted neighbors, family & HOA of Home Watch service in case issues arise and to minimize concerns of seeing a ‘stranger’ at your home. Consider allowing a trusted neighbor (or family) to hold a key for immediate response needs.
___ Have a plan for resetting Wi-Fi devices if necessary, especially if cameras or critical equipment in home require Wi-Fi

___ Change essential filters, batteries, bulbs prior to departure (TNHW can change as needed; concierge svc)
___ Refrigerator/freezer(s): Turn off/empty if possible. If not remove items that will become out of date and turn off ice maker & discard ice (Ice left in trays/bucket w/augers will fuse together over time creating risk to auger). Garage refrigerators can be negatively impacted by extreme cold temps (unit can stop cooling/freezing) 
___ Unplug unnecessary devices & electrical cords.
___ Contact service providers to discontinue or discuss service frequency as needed (TNHW will monitor any service that continues) 

Landscapers Snow Removal Cleaners Mail
Pool/Spa Pest Control Garbage/Recycle Recurring Service Providers
___ Create a plan for stored vehicles. Consult a dealer or technician to understand your vehicle’s specific care requirements.
• Battery tenders work great but performance can be impacted by extreme cold temps 
___ Having replacement items on hand such as batteries and filters can minimize unnecessary store visits.
___ Soap left in ‘in-sink’ dispensers can solidify & harden in dispensers over time causing clogs upon return - empty & rinse out.
___ Consult home insurance policy holder to understand requirements/stipulations for extended absences.
___ Discard accumulated garbage & consider pest repellent solutions for garages especially if a vehicle will be stored

And Enjoy Your Time Away!

Thank you to True North Home Watch for providing this invaluable and informative piece!

If you are looking for a caretaker to check in on your property and handle some of the maintenance needs contact Mike for assistance. 

Mike Gottsacker- True North Home Watch Company