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Closing Your Vacation Home


by Carl Brahe – Certified Home Inspector


Everyone dreams of a vacation home where they can relax, play and live part of the year carefree. A vacation home that is not properly cared for can lead to spending more time working on your vacation home than playing or relaxing. A few precautions when you leave your house unoccupied can help assure more time enjoying your vacation.

This guide is specific to areas where it gets cold enough to freeze during the winter. Homes located where there is no threat of freezing plumbing will not need to have water drained from systems, but everything else applies.

Unless you plan to heat your vacation home and have someone to check on it regularly, it’s best to take precaution to protect your investment. Many things can happen in your absence to cause great damage.

The enemies of your vacation home are the same as the enemies of your full time home. A small drip in the wrong place can soak into walls, floor or foundations causing degradation. An unsealed gap in the wall, roof or foundation can invite unwanted guests. Deferred maintenance can reach emergency status while you are not there.

The number one agent of damage to your home is uncontrolled water. The roof is the first line of defense against outside water penetration. Make sure your roof is in good condition and the gutters are clean. Be certain that the water shed from the roof drains away from the foundation.

Check caulking around windows and weather stripping around the outside doors. Gaps at these places can allow entry of mice. Mice can squeeze through holes only ¼” in diameter. Rats can make it through ½” gaps.

Walk around your house. Look for places where pipes, wires and vents go through the wall or roof. If there are even small gaps around these penetrations seal them. If all entry points for insects and rodents are sealed it is less likely you will have these guests. Check at your local hardware or building supply for the proper sealing material for the specific job.

All vents and open drains must be covered with wire mesh or air operated flaps. Vents with flaps can be covered with mesh as long as it doesn’t interfere with operation of the flaps. Screen should never be used to cover dryer vents. This can create a fire hazard when used.

Make sure there is no place where the dirt is piled against the foundation closer than 6” from the siding. This gap helps keeps insects from gaining access to the wood in the sill plate, framing and siding.

If trees or other plants contact the sides of the house or roof, this provides access for rodents like squirrels and insects. If trees hang over the roof, gutters can fill with pine needles or leaves. A blocked gutter can cause major damage. The branches also pose a danger to the roof itself if blown or broken by storm. Rotting needle or leaves hold moisture that promotes insect growth and decay of some roofing materials. Clear off any buildup.

If you have a chimney or stove pipe make certain they have spark arrestors covering the top. A spark arrestor will also keep animals out.

When you leave your vacation house it is best to evacuate all water from your plumbing system. Burst pipes can be a nightmare in the damage they cause and the repair cost. The first step is to turn off the main water valve. If you have a pump turn off the power. Drain the pressure tank if applicable. Connect a hose to the drain cock and run the hose outdoors away from the foundation. Open the drain.

The pressure tank accumulates water and builds pressure to distribute water throughout your house. If you don’t have a pump, you probably don’t have a pressure tank.

Open all faucets to allow water to drain. Water in pipes can freeze and burst. A frozen pipe may not leak until spring thaw or may choose an illogical time to spew water everywhere. It’s as unpredictable as the amount of damage it can do if left undiscovered.

If water pipes are under the floor in a crawlspace you must drain these pipes, or protect them from freezing. You can wrap them in electrical heat tape or take other measures. Your local hardware store will know what works best in your area. If there is not a drain at the lowest point in your fresh water system consider having one installed. It’s a small price to protect your pipes.

Drain your water heater tank. A burst water heater can gush a lot of water fast. Before you open the drain, turn the control knob to “off”. Connect a hose and drain outside.

If you have hot water heat you will need the help of a plumber to drain the system.

If you have a forced air furnace, turn off the emergency switch. It may be located outside the furnace room. Drain and clean the humidifier if present.

Electric heat requires only to be turned down or off.

If you plan to leave the heat on consider installing a low temperature thermostat. Most thermostats have a lowest setting of 55º. A low temperature model can be set as low as 40º.

Bathrooms have several places where water might freeze. The toilet, sink, tub and shower all have water traps that prevent sewer gas from backing up into the house. These traps need to be cleared and protected.

Flush the toilet to drain water from the tank. Dip the water from the bowl. Water will remain in the trap. If this water freezes, the porcelain will break. Use a plunger to force water through the trap. Pour about a quart of 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze in the toilet. Propylene glycol is preferred. It has an unpleasant taste for animals and is said to be more environmentally sound. This will eventually be flushed into your septic tank. Be as kind to it as possible.

Repeat the process of plunging out water and replacing with antifreeze mixture in the sink, tub and shower drains. A pint in each should be sufficient. Drain any hoses for handheld showerheads.

Find all floor drains in the house and repeat.

Repeat the process in the kitchen. Drain the sprayer. Disconnect both ends of the dishwasher supply hose and drain. Remove the drain hose and place end in a bucket. Operate the dishwasher on the drain cycle for a moment to be certain all water is cleared. If possible, disconnect the power supply.

Washing machine hoses cause 150 million dollars a year in damage. While preparing your washing machine for your absence, take a good look at the hoses. If they are worn or have bubbles plan on replacing them before you use the machine again.

Disconnect hoses and drain the hoses. Run on fill cycle to clear inlet valve. Run on warm water setting for a few seconds. Run the drain cycle for a few moments to clear water from the pump. Drain the drain hose.

Clean washer, dryer and dishwasher and apply a coat of appliance polish to protect the finish from corrosion.

Empty your refrigerator and freezer. Unplug the power. Block the door open with a piece of wood to prevent stale odors. Clean and polish.

Check in pantry, cupboards and bathroom for things that can freeze and break. Remove these items. Take food that could be a meal for bears or other animals, or store in metal containers.

Hide or remove items that might tempt a burglar. Things like guns, tools, televisions or stereo equipment are sources of quick cash for thieves. Make your home as unenticing to burglars as possible. Look through your windows. If anything of value can be seen, move it or remove it.

Before you leave place the makings for a fire in the fireplace or wood stove so you will have a quick source of heat if you return in cold weather. Close the flue to cut down on cold air entry.

As you are leaving place this guide where you can easily find it when you return to help restore everything to working order. Turn off electricity and gas if you are not leaving the heat on or relying on electrical heat tape.

It takes a little time and effort to properly close down your vacation home but it pays off. The time you’ll spend on repairs cuts into your vacation time and enjoyment, as well as your budget. A little precaution pays big in the long run.


Copyright 2004: Carl Brahe - Inspection Perfection Inc. All rights reserved.


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