Updated October 15, 2014 — (Editor’s note: This article was originally written in 2010, but has been updated many times. Don’t miss the Member comments at the end – they are really terrific!)
When falling leaves start to hit the ground in the Northeast and Midwest, snowbirds across those regions start to get itchy. Winter is coming, and their thoughts turn to winter homes. Harry, one of our members suggested that we prepare a “Leaving for the Winter Checklist” to help these lucky folks in their preparations. Here you go:
– Mail. There are several ways to handle this important function, none of them perfect. The P.O. will hold your mail for a month. If you will be gone longer than that, you need to find a different solution. You can put in a forwarding address and your mail will be sent to your winter address (our experience has not always been perfect, with important mail being returned to sender, addressee unknown). USPS also has a premium forwarding service where they will forward your mail via Priority Mail at a reasonable cost. See USPS for your options. If you don’t trust the Post Office the most reliable solution is to pay someone to get your mail at your house or PO Box, stuff everything but the junk mail into a Priority Mail box, and mail it to you once a week or so. Changing to your new address or using eBills are good ideas.
– Phone, cable, utilities. Turning off your utilities isn’t as easy as you think. If you have the “triple play” Comcast has a pretty good “seasonal” program that allows you to drop cable and internet but keep some basic phone service for a small monthly fee. If you do cancel your cable, it is best to drop off your converter at a cable location so you don’t get charged for not returning the unit. Change the setting on your phone to forward to your cell phone. Check carefully with your provider about reinstatement fees and cancellation policies. Consider downgrading or stopping your service if the re-install fees are not too high. Stop your garbage service.
– Heat. Most people in cold climates turn down the thermostats to save fuel. The temperature you set needs to be chosen carefully. If you go too low you could risk frozen pipes and extensive damage to your home. As an example, let’s say you set your thermostat to 55 degrees, and then an ice storm creates a power outage. The starting temp is so low that you risk a flood with an outage of just a few hours (some experts recommend 58 degrees, but the best temperature for you might be different). Some people use a red light attached to a thermometer device, which can alert neighbors to cool inside temperatures (unless your watchers are also away). Home monitoring systems of all types can give you or a monitoring service alerts about conditions within your home (search online for monitoring systems).
– Water. Turn off the water at the point at the main valve where it enters your home. Some folks drain their pipes to avoid worrying about it. But use a professional, because it is not as easy as it sounds. Turn off the water to your washing machine and any outside fixtures, including your irrigation system (which should be drained). A water leak inside your house is the most serious problem you face, after fire.
– Chimney. Close the flue on your wood-burning or gas fireplace. If you don’t have a wire screen over the top of your chimney, get one. It is expensive and a hassle to get rid of the critters who think your unused chimney makes a great winter condo.
– Security. Most police departments have a policy and a form to use, letting them know how long you will be gone, how you can be contacted, and when you will return. A close neighbor or friend should have the same information. Buy a few timers and hook them up to some lamps (with efficient bulbs) to come on and off at different times. Have someone shovel your walk so it looks like you are home and to avoid fines or liabilities. Consider getting an alarm system. If you have an alarm system, let your provider know you will be away and how to contact you. Arrange to have a friend check on your home at least weekly, and give them a list of the repair people you’d like them to use if something goes awry. Put small valuables in a safe deposit box or safe.
– Newspapers. Call at least a week in advance to suspend your paper and provide a re-start date, if you know it.
– Insurance. This is a risk and an opportunity. Let your insurance company know you will be gone if your house will be vacant for more than 30 days. You might have to get a vacant home policy. The opportunity is that if you are gone for more than 30 days you can probably switch your auto insurance to storage on any car(s) you leave at home, and get a much better rate. (But be prepared for a dead battery upon your return unless you install a trickle charger of have someone start them once in a while.
– Pets and plants. Obviously you should know if pets are welcomed and under what terms in your winter digs. If Tabby is staying up north for the winter, you will need to interview individuals or a service to look after her. Our preference is an individual who you know loves pets – your animal will get much better attention than in a kennel. Leave information about vets and medications. Remember, your vet might not let a 3rd party make decisions about your pet – so ask in advance about policies for emergency situations. Regarding plants – board them out, find a waterer, or prepare to begin anew when you return. Some house plants won’t like getting too cool. Put tender outside plants in the garage so the pots don’t freeze and burst.
– Saving energy. Unplug every appliance you can think of, including spare refrigerators. Cleaning out your main fridge and freezer and unplugging it might be cheaper than keeping a quart of ice cream and your soy sauce cool all winter. A lot of electrical appliances like microwaves and electronic gear like TV’s use energy even when turned off. Unplug them and save, while also reducing fire risk. Switch off your water heater at the circuit breaker.
– Medical information and prescriptions. Bring copies of medical
records with you in case you have to make an unscheduled visit to the
doctor or hospital. Check with your doctor and local drugstore to be
sure you won’t have trouble refilling necessary prescriptions.
– Shipping. It’s silly and a hassle to bring everything you need with you. Consider using UPS or the like to ship some of your bulkier items, either to your winter address or a friend. If you won’t arrive before your stuff, ask or pay a friend to ship your pre-packed items on a specific date. Or buy duplicate items if you can store them there.
– Bill paying. Pay bills before you leave. Set up auto payments or pay online so that you don’t miss any bills and incur penalties, it will also save you a lot of time.
– Housekeeping. Wash sheets and towels before you leave. Take out the trash (Suspend pickups if you use a private service). Cover furniture to protect from light and dust. Clean out the refrigerator. Bring outside furniture and BBQ inside your garage or basement.
– Everyday life. What papers do you need to bring with you? Particularly if you are going to file your taxes or take a trip abroad, you might need some documents like a passport while you are away. Don’t forget checkbooks, address books, stationary. Likewise if you plan on working in your winter digs, bring the essentials of your office –like scissors, stapler, computer, paper, printer. Or buy it down there.
– Get started early. If you wait until the morning of departure you are bound to forget something. Go through your checklist at least 2 days before you leave, and then create a new – out the door checklist.
For further reference:
How to Find a Great Snowbird Rental for the Winter
Our Ideal Snowbird Pairings (Summer and Winter)
Sandy’s Adventures Part ii: How to Find a Great Snowbird Location for the Winter
What do you think?
Do you have some personal tips you would like to share. Go ahead and use the Comments section below.