If you’re planning to escape winter’s cold by spending the season in a warmer clime, make sure you secure your home so problems don’t arise while you’re gone. Here are a few housing tips for snowbirds:
1. Prevent water damage. To keep your homeowners coverage for water damage in force while you're away, most insurers require you either to maintain adequate heat (55 to 65 degrees) or to shut off the water and drain the pipes, says Ana Robic, chief operating officer for Chubb Personal Risk Services. (Call your insurer to see what it requires.)
In lieu of turning off the water and draining pipes, you could have a plumber install an automatic water shut-off valve, which will detect an abnormal rate of flow and shut off the water before much damage can occur. The Water Hero Leak Detection and Automatic Water Shut-Off system, for example, costs $695 plus an hour or so of labor. You can monitor it from your smartphone. In most states, Chubb offers a premium discount when policyholders in single-family homes install an automatic water shut-off valve.
2. Unplug electronics and appliances. You’ll prevent “vampire” usage (electricity drained when a device is turned off but still plugged in), reduce fire risk and avoid damage from power surges. Empty your refrigerator’s automatic ice maker and turn it off. If you want to unplug the fridge, completely empty it, clean it and prop open the door to avoid mold. Turn down the water heater to low.
3. Suspend services. Ask your newspaper for a vacation hold to suspend delivery. Cable and internet providers generally allow you to suspend service from one to nine months during the year for a small monthly fee — about $6 to $10. You needn’t turn in equipment, and your phone number and email address will stay the same. On the date you set, service will be automatically restored without a service visit.
4. Have someone keep an eye on your home. Notify police that you’ll be away. If you aren’t going to have a family member, neighbor or friend regularly visit your home, you could hire a home-watch service, which will periodically inspect your house, give you updates and provide routine maintenance (from replacing lightbulbs to removing snow). The price varies with the location and size of your home but generally runs about $50 per visit. To find one, visit www.nationalhomewatchassociation.org (all members are bonded and insured), or search the web for “home watch service” in your location, and verify the contractor’s credentials.
For an extra layer of security, you can install a network of smart components (including door locks, thermostats, moisture and motion sensors, cameras, and alarms) that you can control from your smartphone. Or you can hire a monitored smart-home system, such as ADT's Pulse (starting at $99 for installation plus $53 per month for monitoring), which may earn you a premium discount from your home insurer.