October 18, 2014

Preparing Your Home For An Extended Absence

A reader reminded me that I promised to prepare an overview of what Betty and I did prior to our 2 month RV trip this summer to get our home ready. While everyone's situation is different, maybe this will be helpful if you ever find yourself needing to do something similar.

Some of these steps can be taken ahead of time, others just before leaving:

Inside the home:

* all electric appliances, computers, TVs, etc connected to power strips.
 All power strips then unplugged from wall.
*Microwave, stove, dishwasher, clothes washer & dryer unplugged.
*refrigerator ice maker emptied and turned off.
*refrigerator emptied, unplugged, cleaned, doors propped open.
*water heater turned off.
*Internet modem and wireless router unplugged.
*plastic wrap over toilets (to keep any bugs from entering house after water evaporated from bowls).
*overflow drains in sinks and bathtubs covered with blue painter's tape.
*disposal run, baking soda down both kitchen drains.
*stoppers placed in kitchen sinks.
*wooden braces put in downstairs window and patio door tracks to keep closed.
*new light bulbs in lamps connected to timers.
*timers on three lamps to come on at different times during evening.
*cancel Netflix DVD service.
*garage door opener put in locked position. 
*garage door openers and keys removed from car in garage.
*door from garage to house locked.
*doggie door panel put in place and locked.
*upstairs windows locked.
*amateur radio antennas disconnected from radios and electrically grounded.
*store heat sensitive candles at daughter's house.
*new batteries in all smoke detectors
*AC set at 90 degrees

Outside home:

*turn water off to house but leave on for sprinkler system.
*new battery in sprinkler timer (in case electricity fails).
*make arrangements with neighbor to remove door hangers. 
*forward all mail to daughter's home.
*have lawn service keep front weeded (normally my job).
*have family member check on house, inside & out, every 2 weeks.

Even though some sources suggested unhooking the car battery from the vehicle left at home, I did not. When we returned it started right up. If gone for a longer period, it might be a good idea to run fuel additive through the car and unhook the battery cables.

One possibility that Betty and I discussed before we left: if we came home to find the TV, computers, or whatever, stolen, we would not let that sour us on the idea of leaving for long trips. We realize we could be robbed if we are gone for a few hours to a movie. The fear of losing some possessions was not going to keep us from enjoying the experiences that awaited us on the road.

Welcome home!
The outcome? When we returned there was not a single problem and nothing missing. The water in the toilet tank had not completely evaporated but I felt more comfortable with the plastic wrap keeping anything outside. Everything powered back up, the refrigerator started making new ice within a few hours, and the lights on timers still worked.

We had hot water in 45 minutes and the house cooled down to our normal 79-80 degrees within 4 hours. The lawn looked great, all the plants on drips were alive and the front yard was weed-free. 

The list (and trip) was a success.


  1. It's good advice to unplug outlet strips. I will add that to my checklist. We also cover the toilet bowls and tanks with plastic wrap. We've never had the tank or bowl evaporate over the long, hot Arizona summer. One other thing we do is to put a cup of mineral oil in each drain (including the washer standpipe). The oil sits on top of the water in the trap keeping it from evaporating.

    1. When a power strip is turned off but still plugged into the outlet, a nearby lightening strike can send a surge of power into your home. Better power strips have surge protection, but it doesn't operate if the unit is turned off. So, unplugging it gives the electric surge fewer ways to get into your electrical equipment and fry them! As you well know, John, violent monsoon storms are commonplace in Arizona in the summer, so this is an added protection I take.

      I like the mineral oil idea. I will add that to my list.

  2. If your house is not being checked every three days, you may find you have no insurance coverage. But what do I know.

    1. That doesn't apply if you are on vacation, only if the house is unoccupied, and then I believe it is more like 6 months.

  3. *overflow drains in sinks and bathtubs covered with blue painter's tape

    Is this in case the plumbing backs up? Oh, or to stop bugs from getting in! Just a little confused.

    1. Yes, that is for bugs. With the water to the house turned off a flood isn't a problem, but with no water in the pipes I didn't want to risk any home "invasions."

  4. We will be using your list when we travel. Thanks so much for the tips.
    In case you haven't thought of this....I would like to mention that when we are gone more than a month, we call our satellite tv carrier, our internet provider and our trash service. We suspend our account with each and call and have them reinstated upon our return. It saves a good deal of money that we can use toward condo rent. Everyone probably knows this but I wanted to mention in case it would help a reader.

    1. Another important tip is to notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling. This helps prevent them from declining your card's use someplace out of your usual area.

      We can't shut off the Internet for any period of time without canceling it and losing some of our e-mail addresses. You are lucky!

    2. We were going to suspend our internet service, but found out we needed it for our security system. Now we have installed the Ecobee3 wi-fi thermostat which also needs the internet.

  5. I am mostly worried about our financial info being stolen, so we rent a small inside storage locker for the three months that we snowbird. I also put a few irreplaceable sentimental items in it. The unit costs around $160 but it's worth it for my peace of mind.

    Good list, Bob.

    1. That is a good idea in your situation. All my credit card and investment info and bills are now paperless and we take all our credit cards with us, so the only thing someone could get are my checks. I do look at the balances and activities every few days so I would hopefully catch a problem quickly, but, you are right: those are at risk.

  6. Wow, so much to do! (And you don't even have to worry about your pipes freezing.) I don't think I'll be going on an extended absence anytime soon!

  7. Bob,

    The subject comment reminded me why I don't want to live in a hot climate. I live in New Hampshire, and anything above 70 degrees is uncomfortable.

    1. It is interesting how our bodies adapt. Growing up in Boston my parents always kept our home in the low 70s. Now, 79 feels cold to Betty and me. Of course, compared to the outside temperature that is often a 20-25 degree difference so if feels great.

  8. Always kept our house at 80-82 in summer, in the Valley. Lower at night for sleep.Now, in the mountains, I went through the whole summer with NO A/C and the windows open!!!! I still enjoy warm weather more than cold! But a little seasonal temp. change will be fun this year..

    1. I'll be interested in your reaction to a winter season. Every once in awhile I think it might be fun to spend few months in a cold and snowy climate again, but quickly decide I'm too used to 65-70 degree January days.

  9. Love the list you created, and looks very similar to ours. For those living in the north, and heading south for the winter, I would add: arrange for your driveway to be plowed, at least enough to keep it looking lived-in. We also drain our pipes to prevent pipe bursting, in the event the heat is lost during our time away.

    I'm curious why you unplug the microwave and dishwasher.

    A note on financial preparation...We learned the hard way that it is important to notify your financial institutions of your temporary change of address. We thought we had it covered because we do all of our banking on line. We also receive and pay our bills electronically. The glitch occurred at tax time. The bank mailed us a tax form in one of those envelopes that say "do not forward"; thus we did not receive it. It created quite a hassle as we were trying to complete our taxes from FL.

    On our return, we had to go to the bank, in person, show our ID's, and correct what they considered a "bad address". Lesson learned; we will notify our banks ahead of time of our temporary address change.

    1. Unplugging electrical appliances is probably overly cautious on my part, but it is to prevent damage/fire in case of a nearby lightening strike during one of our monsoon storms. An electrical surge into the home could fry anything plugged in or even cause it to burst into flames. So.....

      Good point about the "do not forward" situation. I can get tax statements from our bank or investment people on line, but there are situations where important information may not get to you if the mail isn't sent along.

      I know you had problems posting this comment. Every once in awhile Google becomes uncooperative and comments are lost or not accepted. I "lost" a reply to a comment on Sunday.

      For all readers,If that ever happens, the best bet is to send your thoughts to me as an e-mail and I will be sure to add your comments to the blog. Google does what Google wants sometimes and all I can do is make an end run around their stumbling blocks.

  10. My husband will turn water supply to inside off even for an overnight get away. May sound a little "over cautious" but being an insurance adjuster for nearly 30 years has "made him this way." No telling how many claims he has worked where all family members left for a few days and on arrival back home water running out the door is their welcome home.

    1. I will turn off the water and the water heater (to save money) if we are gone overnight, too. It takes 30 seconds so why not.

  11. Cari in North TexasSun Oct 26, 08:55:00 PM MST

    Thanks for the list, Bob. You mentioned a few things I hadn't thought about, such as the tips about the toilets and overflow drains. My insurance agent has told me several times to make sure the hoses to the clothes washer are disconnected; he had a client who came home to a major leak and damage situation. A lot of your tips are already on my list since I usually travel for a week or so at a time, and it's good to know the other things for an extended trip. Next year, good Lord willing!

    1. I used to turn off the hoses to the clothes washer too, but turning off all the water to the house accomplishes the same thing and all the other potential leak sources with one simple step.

      I have read about folks who come home to either water running out the front door or a real mess inside. Not worth it!

  12. Southerm MD snowbirdsSun May 22, 02:44:00 PM MST

    Probably a little late to this as it appears comments are from 2014. Good list and additions. We do follow most already. Just one question and two comment:

    To Bob's last post, we once had a problem with washing machine hoses bursting while gone. We now turn off and disconnect just to be sure.

    First comment: I see that you turn off hot water heater, as we do if we are gone even over night. On any of these lists I have ever seen, I don't think anyone advocates draining the hot water heater. We don't but wonder if we should? We do drain it on our RV, but it is a much easier task.

    Second comment: It would be interesting to see what devices or appliances that snowbirders have set up to monitor via wifi and their smartphones or tablets. We have two cameras (front and back of house) to see who comes and goes near our house and if a tree falls into our pool and a wifi thermostat. Any other devices being used?

    1. It is never too late. Folks visit older posts every day.

      If you turn off the power and the cold water line into the water heater and you will be gone for up to 3 months I have been told there is no need to drain. Longer than that I gather it may be worth the effort because of minerals in the water. I would think a water heater probably has very little evaporation since it is a pressurized, sealed, and insulated tank.

      There are sensors to alert you if a water leak is detected, but if the water to the house is off, that is probably not needed. You sound like you have the basics well covered but we will see if anyone has anything to add.

  13. One additional bit of advice. If you latch the garage door, unplug the garage door opener. We left one time and forgot to unplug the opener, resulting in a destroyed garage door opener when we returned and hit the door opener button, forgetting it was latched. The opener attempted to open the latched garage door and torqued the hell out of both.

    1. Great tip. I can electronically "lock" ours so there is no physical latch. But, for those with a tie-down system your hint could save someone hundreds of dollars!


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