The snowbird guide to home winterization

Every year, countless people migrate south to get away from the cold temperatures, leaving their homes in the north to face some rough winter weather.

Even if you have just one residence or multiple properties, clothes shouldn't be the only thing packed up before you leave for an extended period. Failure to winterize your house ahead of time could lead to accelerated deterioration—and a high bill to pay when you return from vacation.

Can't figure out where to begin? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Laying the groundwork
Before you even begin thinking about what to pack up or take down, you first need to suspend most of your home services. This includes:

  • Forwarding mail to a post-office box or a neighbor's home.
  • Canceling or pausing phone, cable and internet.
  • Stopping the water bill.

Not only will these steps save you some money in the long run, but they help to create an appearance that someone is home to ward off would-be thieves. A pile of mail at the front door is like a red carpet for prowlers, but a clean pathway coupled with a motion sensor front door light—or one that's on a timer—deters most from trying to break in, Travelers Insurance reported.

Setting a motion sensor or timed light can help deter prowlers.Setting a motion sensor or timed light can help deter prowlers.

Heavy-duty work
Now that the groundwork is laid out, it's time to get your hands dirty. Remember that water service you canceled? You're not all set just because you stopped paying the bill. Now you have to flush the system.

Find the main valve where water flows into your home and turn that off, as well as the electricity to the water heater. Now you'll want to drain the system at every endpoint—sinks, toilets and appliances. Property Casualty 360 recommended contacting a professional if you don't have a great handle on how to do this. If you do it yourself, make sure you remember to fill the pipe traps with antifreeze to prevent cracking or bursting. Workshop On Wheels reported that homeowners should use the nontoxic propylene glycol mixture of antifreeze.

"Don't forget to fill the pipe traps with antifreeze."

Take time to clean your home's exterior and interior to remove any debris. Get leaves out of the gutter, seal off the flue to the chimney and trim any branches you think could put a hole in the roof during a storm. At this point, you want to be proactive with your cleaning. As Murphy's Law states, anything that could go wrong, likely will go wrong.

Since you're already in cleaning mode, this is a good chance to canvas the home for maintenance needs. This includes general cleaning, greasing door hinges and fixing anything that just needs a simple turn of the bolt to get it working again. Cold weather can exacerbate many minor repairs—especially if rust is involved.

If you're leaving your vehicles at the house, don't forget to winterize those as well. Many people forget to add fuel stabilizer before they go on an extended trip, and return to a car that won't start.

Before you set the timers
It's likely your home is looking all set to take a vacation of its own at this point, but before you lock it up one last time, there are a few last-minute tasks to do. Make sure to unplug all appliances in the household. Don't forget to defrost the freezer!

Make sure all windows are closed and locked, as well as the doors. Ensure the smoke detectors are in working order, and take one last look around the home before you head out. Making a list of everything that needs to be unplugged—there's a lot—can help put your mind at ease.

Turn on your home alarm system before you leave, then take one last look before driving to the airport to board your plane. Winterizing your home is as simple as that, and you'll give yourself a pat on the back for doing so the next time your home is inspected.