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Snowbird’s Leaving for the Winter Checklist

Category: Home and Garden

Updated October 10, 2017 — 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! There is also a helpful checklist you can print out at the end of the article.
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 their homes in warmer climes. Harry, one of our esteemed 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 forward your mail and have it sent to your winter address (our experience with that has not always been perfect, with important mail being returned to sender, addressee unknown). USPS also has a premium forwarding service where you can do a temporary usps address update and 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 important mail to your winter 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 home 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, verify the Thermostat Wiring Colors Code before putting it to work. If you go too low you could risk frozen pipes and extensive damage to your home when they burst. As an example, let’s say you set your thermostat to 55 degrees, and then an ice storm creates a power outage that lasts a day or more. The starting temp is so low that you risk frozen pipes with an outage of just a few hours (some experts recommend 58 degrees, but the best temperature for you might be different). Home monitoring systems of all types can give you or a monitoring service alerts about conditions within your home (search online for monitoring systems). There are many apps you can get that will let you monitor and control the heat, lights, etc. in your home from far away.
Water. Turn off the water 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 fireplace.
Critters. 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. Just like you, mice are always on the lookout for a warm place like your home or car to spend the winter. Some people swear by dryer sheets, spread liberally in your car, garage, basement – wherever mice might like to set up housekeeping. Seal up holes where pipes and cables enter your home, and along the edges and bottoms of garage doors.

Photo by Tina Nord from Pexels

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. There are some simple new ones that will let you monitor what is going on at your home and who is visiting from afar – check out Simplisafe and Ring for 2 examples. 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.
Cars. If you are leaving a car for more than a month you don’t want to come back to a dead battery. You can easily install a trickle charger, have someone start it once in a while, or disconnect the battery (you can buy a switch that does this easily).
Pets and plants. Obviously you need to 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 don’t like getting too cool, but will survive in a dark basement or garage. 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 lightning and fire risk. Switch off your water heater at the circuit breaker. If your main boiler also heats the hot water, get a switch installed that cuts that function off.
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 does, 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; that 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 and take down artwork 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? If you are going to file your taxes from the south you will need all your tax files. If you take a trip abroad, you will need your 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. Here is a Sample Checklist you can use or adapt in plaintext. Go through your checklist at least 2 days before you leave, and then create a final, 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
Rental Frustrations for Snowbirders and the Buy vs. Rent Dilemma
Annual Moving Challenges for Snowbirds
What do you think?
Do you have some personal tips you would like to share. Go ahead and use the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on October 25th, 2010


  1. I saw your list of things to do before leaving for the winter and it is very close to the list I have.

    A few additional things I might note as being useful:

    1. We forward our home phone to my wife’s cell phone. We have a package that gives us call forwarding, plus free nationwide calls on both our home and cell phones, so we incur no charges.
    2. Per our septic maintenance man’s advice, we run our washing machine on hot right before we leave to flush the solids out pipe leading into the tank.
    3. We empty out our ice maker before leaving. There is enough ice in the bucket that it would make a good mess if we lost our power. Needless to say, keep the refrig and freezer as empty as possible.
    Hope this helps!

    by Len — October 25, 2010

  2. Don’t forget to get perscriptions transfered of have enough of your meds with you for the entire stay

    by steve g — October 27, 2010

  3. Hi, we’ve been doing this since 1988 because we teach overseas and return to Wisconsin every summer. I would add the following:
    1) Put storm windows and doors back on and lock all windows
    2) If you have two mailboxes, one being the kind that is used for propaganda junkmail, remove it entirely; otherwise, your absence will be obvious
    3) If your winter home is a house, consider buying a 2nd floor condo instead–much safer and during the winter you benefit from the downstairs heat
    4) One more comment about mail–the US Postal Service will only forward mail for 6 months now (used to be 12)

    by Barbara — October 27, 2010

  4. We’ve been spending our winters at Lake Tahoe skiing and our home is a 4 hour drive. Our special problem has been free local newspapers and flyers that are left on the sidewalk and driveway on a weekly basis. We tried to have the free papers stopped, but didn’t even get a reply. This means you need someone to physically come by and throw this material away so they don’t accumulate, the first sign to the world that you aren’t home.

    by Rob — October 27, 2010

  5. Thanks for the great ideas. This will be our first winter away from our home.

    by Diantha — October 27, 2010

  6. Great stuff. My two cent….We have been heading to Florida for each of the past 3 years now and have put together a simple Excel spread sheet that has target dates next to each of the items that we need to attend to.
    We atart 3 weeks ahead of time and when each item is done, we cross it off. We have 55 items at this point. Just a few examples: empty and turn off ice maker, set termostadt for heat and cooling settings, set multiple light timers, unplug tvs & appliances, notify prescription services of new temporary address, pack tax return material, check out library books on cd (you can mail them back), etc. etc. One thing we have also done, is purchase a trickle charger for our car that is left north. But as an additional safety measure, it is plugged into a timer, set to go on for 3 hours, 2 days a week. (We also over inflate the tires and put fuel stabilizer in a full tank of gas) And of course, having a good neighbor or relative checking on things when you need them to is very critical. We do the same thing when we are ready to leave Florida and head north!!

    by Ted — October 27, 2010

  7. Is it ok to leave water on rather than turn off to house, if neighbor comes over and runs it and flushes toilets once a week?

    by Barb — October 27, 2010

  8. […] further reference: Snowbird’s Leaving for the Winter Checklist How to Find an Affordable Retirement Budget Strapped Parks Trade Retirees Work for Rent How to […]

    by » Why Your Best Place to Retire Might be… 2 Places Topretirements — April 18, 2011

  9. I like these suggestions. Barb, there are 2 schools of thought about shutting water off. One, it is the safest policy, assuming you thoroughly drain everything that has water in it that could break or leak. Two, if you have to come home unexpectedly you will have to go through that again. And totally turning off the heat is usually a bad idea – paint and walls might crack.

    More thoughts: Keep the mice out with mothballs and dryer sheets. They can cause damage to stuff in your house and make nests in your car. The guy who repaired our refrigerator cautioned against unplugging it if it has an ice maker (which means a water connection). Instead, turn up the temperature in fridge and freezer compartments. Don’t forget to bring your tax records if you plan on filing before you get back!

    by John Brady — November 28, 2011

  10. Barb – I left for a month once and came home to a running toilet – thankfully the water was still being contained in the toilet system, but the amount of water I wasted (according to the water bill) was criminal! So, having a neighbor come over to flush toilets might be a good idea, but toilet flappers give up whenever they feel like it – and never at a good time!

    by Holly — November 29, 2011

  11. John – I read your comment about using mothballs to keep mice out. My understanding is that mothballs have been determined to be cancer causing for humans. They may keep mice out, but everyone please be careful about using them.

    by Holly — November 29, 2011

  12. […] Snowbird’s Leaving for the Winter Checklist TopretirementsOct 25, 2010 … further reference: Snowbird’s Leaving for the Winter Checklist How to Find an Affordable Retirement Budget Strapped Parks Trade Retirees … […]

    by Checklist snowbirds | Oniendus — December 9, 2011

  13. Does anyone have information on nice rentals in Palm Springs Calif in the 92262 zip code or close. Near shopping etc. one/two bedrooms. good area. Rents around $800.00 a month.We are retired.
    Thank you. Nuala

    by Nuala — October 10, 2012

  14. If you’re going to be gone longer than the requirements for USPS hold mail, you can always consider a service like Earth Class Mail, which will shred useless mail, scan useful mail, deposit checks (where needed), and forward on anything you need sent to you. A lot of expats use it as well.

    by Jason Hull — October 11, 2012

  15. All great suggestions. I’ll share them with our friends who leave Canada each December for 6 months in Florida.
    JASON HULL: There are those who hate Earth Mail – here’s one bad review

    by sheila — October 12, 2012

  16. I know of a handyman who provides a service to “snowbirds”. He checks on the house each week and even waters the plants. He is able to address any issue he finds and let the homeowners know that it is taken care of. Great peace of mind. Perhaps there are other handymen that you already have a relationship with that will provide the service for you.

    by Holly — October 13, 2012

  17. I’m traveling cross country NOW I post a daily log with pics on facebook anyone interested can find me as doug0613 there…mention topretirements if you comment

    by doug061363 — October 13, 2012

  18. “Needless to say, keep the refrig and freezer as empty as possible.”

    Unfortunately this is not good advice from an energy cost standpoint. A refrigerator and freezer should always be as full as practical while still allowing for the interior fans to push cold air by the contents. This will reduce the amount of time the unit operates to maintain the setpoint. If you are concerned about food spoilage, fill plastic containers (gallon water jugs work well) about two inches from the top to allow room for the water to expand as it freezes, and fill your refrigerator and freezer with these. As a single person I use only about half of my freezer space for frozen food and the other half is filled with frozen plastic containers of ice. My power bill when I’m away is less than $10 a month.

    by Casey — October 13, 2012

  19. Here is an interesting article from WSJ MarketWatch that highlights some hidden costs of being a snowbird. Interesting things to think about beyond the subject of getting ready to leave for the season

    by Admin — February 23, 2013

  20. You are not correct about vacancy clause in the Homeowners policy. A home left for the winter is not vacant but considered unoccupied. As long as precautions are made (heat left on, pipes drained, etc ) there is no coverage issue

    by Ed Ricks — November 11, 2015

  21. We have hot water baseboard heat and in-floor heat in the bathroom. Can we shut our water off?

    by Lily — November 11, 2015

  22. Check with your insurance company before you leave it unoccupied. When my Mom died, we were in the process of emptying the house out and we sold her car. Well, that set off the bells and whistles with the insurance company. They asked why the car was sold considering we were not replacing another on the policy. I told them Mom had died and we were selling her things. This is when they told me when the house insurance policy expired, they would not reinstate the policy because no one was living there. This was through AARP The Hartford. I was totally shocked! If I had moved in, I think they would have reinstated it. I was so mad! So, then I had to go through some local insurance company and they went through some odd ball insurance company and got us a policy that was through the roof expensive! I believe it was a 6 month policy and they told us if we sold the house in 3 months we would get half back. HAHAHA, We did sell the house in less than 3 months but they didn’t give us half back. They had special fees and things and what we got back was way less than half. OMG, what a nightmare that all was.

    Also, I worked with a guy who went to Florida in February one year. He turned the heat off and had hot water base board heat. His pipes froze up and had massive water damage that required a renovation of his home. If you shut your water off, I would suggest you call your heating company. They should be able to drain your pipes professionally and blow out the water. But don’t forget, all your sinks, tubs, toilets, and ice makers are attached to water lines. Check with a plumber on how to shut those sources of water off too. That might require antifreeze or some kind of treatment!

    Another thing to consider is leaving a radio on. We talked to a police officer and he told us the best thing to do it to leave on several radio’s in different parts of the house. Leave them on fairly loud so they can be heard outside the house and very important to have timers on lights in different parts of the house, going on and off at different times. This will at least make a would be robber think twice if he wants to enter a house that is possibly occupied.

    by Louise — November 12, 2015

  23. Louise, the example with your mother is a vacancy issue. In that case there could be a coverage issue. There is a huge difference coverage wise between vacancy and being unoccupied. If you leave heat on or drain plumbing and shut off water you should be OK

    by Ed — November 12, 2015

  24. Ed, I don’t pretend to know anything about unoccupied or vacant houses but here is an article that addresses the subject:

    The Hartford insurance company refused to even insure the house at a higher price or any price. We were dropped like a hot potato. My Mom had that insurance for around 25 years. The Hartford was very rigid and the local insurance company found some odd ball company to insure us. Getting half our money back was another nightmare. The local company who I paid the insurance money too, would NOT refund the money and made us wait for the Odd Balls to send a check and it was around 2 months later, maybe more. I hounded the local company every week asking for my money back. Two or more months is unacceptable considering they wanted MY money immediately. Funny how that works. We and my Mother have/had excellent credit. We felt like we were treated like Lepers with Ebola!

    There was no working with The Hartford. I live a mile and a half from where my Mother lived and was there every day to check out the house for water problems or any kind of problems. They didn’t care. If no one was physically occupying the house and sleeping there, no insurance.

    Like the article says: Don’t even think of trying to pull a fast one on your insurer by pretending that your empty home is occupied. Lying to your homeowners insurance company will give it grounds to deny your claim and could result in the cancellation of your policy.

    by Louise — November 12, 2015

  25. My husband and I are retired.We stay in our camper in New Hampshire from May 15 to Oct 15. We are looking to house sit and pay an affordable rent to someone from New England who winters in Florida . Very responsible and neat’

    by Marie — November 16, 2015

  26. This is a great article – very useful and handy tips. Cleaning out your main fridge and unplugging it is definitely cheaper than keeping your ice cream and other perishables. We actually wrote an entire guide on winterizing your home for those who need more info.

    by Gabby — December 1, 2015

  27. For several years I have followed suggestions posted here in order to look for a ‘Snowbird Rental’ to no avail.
    I will once again start looking for the 2017/2018 season very soon
    I wonder if there are any services out there that can provide leads on winter rentals
    I would appreciate any suggestions for same, especially in Florida – Clearwater & south
    Thanks in advance

    Editor’s note: The winter rental market in Florida is very competitive. Best time to look is at the end of the preceding winter season. The comments made at the end of the linked “how to find a snowbird rental” article has all kinds of ideas. If VRBO, Homeaway, searching on Google turn up nothing, consider a residential hotel. Good luck

    by Cathi Lauperi — October 12, 2016

  28. I was so happy to see this article and all the comments. It’s our first winter as snowbirds and now I see all I need to get started on. I think I opened a can of worms however with my homeowners insurance – when I called to ask about it he said he would write up a “unoccupied policy” for me. When I said it’s a condo and neighbors would be checking it he said that did not matter nor did it matter that my niece who is a college student nearby would be staying some of the time. He said the homeowner needed to be there. Maybe better to be safe than sorry-not sure what it will cost for this policy- but I am still happy to have found this blog and all the great suggestions.

    by Jemmie248 — October 26, 2016

  29. Something that will tighten up the central Florida rental market has just happened. We had a house ready to rent for the third time when our landlord emailed us that she is selling the house in downtown Orlando. Apparently, it is now a major code violation to rent any house with a R1 or R2 zoning, which are single family homes. This is in effect for all of Orange County. A $1000/day fine is liable. She had bought the house with intentions of short term rentals. I verified this with a couple people I know who rent short term.

    by LocoBill — October 27, 2016

  30. Wondering how you get your mail? I suppose you can do General Delivery, but how long will your home PO forward it for?

    by Staci — October 28, 2016

  31. Staci: See the “Mail” section in the main article above for suggestions on how to handle mail. You can use General Delivery but they won’t hold it for you for more than 30 days. See Don’t know how it would work if you have your home post office forward to General Delivery. Anyone else have experience with this?

    by Admin — October 29, 2016

  32. This firm handles mail for RV’s, snowbirds, etc. and has been mentioned on this forum previously.

    by dan — October 30, 2016

  33. USPS now has a service called temporary change of address. Your mail can be forwarded for up to 6 months, no charge. The UPSP does not tell the people sending the mail your “new” temporary address. There is a $1 fee. You must use a credit car to pay the dollar because this verifies who you are..

    by Christiana Dean (Home) — November 14, 2016

  34. I would add, if you have a well, make sure the pump is turned off, as well as the water supply and have someone stop by to periodically check on your property. I say this as the pipe leading from our well into out home broke and the water poured in with no shut off valve to stop it.

    by Staci — December 11, 2016

  35. Re: USPS. If you are leaving the country for the season, the post office WILL hold your mail. We go to the Caribbean for 3 months and come home and pick up several boxes of mail fromth4 PO.

    by Robin — December 18, 2016

  36. I’ve had terrible luck with temporary mail forwarding with USPS. In 6 straight years, they have never turned it back on when I specified at the beginning. Important things like property tax bills and car registration renewals are not forwarded. I remembered property taxes, but not the registration date on my newer car. So $125 penalty there. And this year, even after my mail was turned back on, random pieces have been returned to sender as ”refused” many months after resuming service. Some things get through, some don’t. They also put a note in my mailbox the whole time I was gone that basically said I wasn’t home. Thank goodness no one took that as an invite to break in!

    I think I’m going with Priority forwarding this year in hopes shelling out several hundred bucks means they get it right. Or researching some of these scan and email services.

    by CC — April 14, 2017

  37. […] But to accomplish snowbird status you really need to do some serious planning. If you want to be a snowbird there truly is more to it than just forwarding your mail. […]

    by Dee Lee Of WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Money Matters Discusses The Snowbird Migration « CBS Boston — October 9, 2017

  38. Looking to rent snowbirds house for Jan-Feb 2019 on Long Island. One bedroom ok

    by Charlie — April 1, 2018

  39. Another great mail forwarding provider is Your Best Address ( They are the FMCA’s preferred mail forwarder and have been providing vehicle registration, residency, and mail services in SD for over 12 years.

    by Patrick — July 24, 2018

  40. Some snowbirders might be interested in this article:

    by Louise — November 4, 2019

  41. Louise, thank you for that link. As we’ve gotten older, I become constantly more thankful for the large one-time expenditure I put in our long-term budget for a possible world cruise. That link helped me recall why I did it and that, yes, it’s possible within the next 10 years.

    by RichPB — November 5, 2019

  42. Good list. I learned a few new things. Two additions.
    1- besides turning off the water, be sure to flush your toilets and close the covers. I came home to find several drowned mice one year.
    2- My plumber told me to turn off the ice maker in the refrigerator if you are turning off the water but leaving the refrigerator on.

    by Carole — September 23, 2020

  43. Okay, we are going to be “HurricaneBirds”. I have lived in Southeast Texas most of my adult life, it is home, but I’m done with hurricanes and 52″ of water. I told husband I wanted 4000ft of elevation between me ans the next hurricane season
    (6/1 – 12/1) so he said, let’s move to Las Vegas for 6 months. I said okay & that is what we are doing. Any tips on closing up the house when weather will be between 80deg F and 110deg F with MINIMUM 65% humidity? Will be turning off items at the breaker box, and turning off water, but how do keep the dampness off of EVERYTHING? Wall art will be taken down & put in a closet, sheets draped on furniture etc. Only thing I can think of is to put a bunchbof DampRid in the house. Any suggestions would he appreciated.

    by 2Dachshunds — March 4, 2021

  44. I wasn’t sure from your description, but in addition to all of the other good things you are doing, are you leaving the A/C on? That is about the only sure way to prevent mold and mildew. At what temp is the question, maybe 78 or even 80? But it has to run for a fair amount of time to keep humidity down.

    by Ric — March 5, 2021

  45. We moved to an area with high temps and humidity. The accumulated moisture has been a problem for us when we have had to leave. I just found out that there are some people here with the same problem. They have installed a product called Sensibo from Amazon. It can be programed to control a minisplit AC remotely. They use the dry mode and it works as a dehumidifier. They turn it in and off as needed.
    If you have central air and have a programable thermostat, could you program your central air to come on and off and run for a designated period of time?
    We have a new build going up right now. We are having LG Dual Converter Mini splits installed. They are Wi-Fi capable so we should be able to turn ours on from any location.

    by Deb — March 10, 2021

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