Recommendations to secure secondary homes


The end of beach (or ski) season can bring mixed emotions. It’s good to get back home, but often bittersweet to leave your beloved vacation spot. There’s also a long list of tasks to manage before you can close up the home for the season.


Even if you use a service, you’ll want to spend some hands-on time to make sure that they haven’t cut any corners or overlooked small signs of wear and tear that could develop into bigger problems later on. A small drip from your ice maker today may become a large leak in a month―when no one is home to notice, or act on, the damage.


Exactly which steps you need to take to close up your home will depend on several factors (location, home size, etc.), but some tasks are universal to all properties. In particular, the “envelope” of the home should be sealed to protect against intrusion from water sources and pests.


Exteriors and internal systems

Beginning a few weeks before you plan to leave the house, examine the perimeter of the home and lot, as well as all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for any repairs or maintenance that’s needed. Ideally, all work should be done before you leave for the season. The most critical areas of the home to review are the roof (especially where the overhang meets the walls), the window seals, and the flashing around the chimney and the foundation. Cracks or other damage in these areas leave the structure vulnerable to water damage, insects and larger nesting animals, such as squirrels or mice. Pay special attention to any water-using areas of the home including the kitchen and bathrooms, laundry facilities and pools or spas. A little preventive maintenance here pays off: If a pipe or other item develops even a tiny leak, the damage can become catastrophic in a very short time.


Also ensure that the home’s gutters have been cleaned, and that any tree-trimming or other landscaping maintenance has been done to ensure minimal damage to the grounds or buildings from upcoming storms. Other maintenance tasks to do at this time include a tune-up of heating, cooling and humidity control systems. While you’re still in the home, run a test of these systems’ settings. You want to see that they run for at least two hours out of every 24 to maintain the ideal environmental conditions.


A day or two before you leave, walk the grounds to make sure all outdoor furniture, pool toys, gardening supplies, potted plants or other items have been brought indoors or otherwise secured. Any exterior structures such as pool houses, garages or sheds should be locked and connected to the home’s security system if needed.


Kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces

The day you leave, shut off most electrical devices in the home and in any other structures on your property. The only electrical circuits left on should be those that power the alarm system and any vital systems you may leave running year-round, such as heating or cooling. The water supply also should be shut off at the main valve, and the pipes drained―that includes exterior items such as hoses and pools. Turning off the water also helps eliminate damage from pipes that burst when temperatures drop. To further bolster your defenses, install water sensors near critical appliances or a whole house water shut-off device that can be connected to the alarm system. Low-temperature sensors can be connected to the alarm system as well.


Use seals to prevent sewer gases from entering the home through open drains and toilets. Natural gas (that isn’t used for heating the home) should be shut off until you return―either at the main valve or by the local utility.


Perhaps counter-intuitively, closing up the house means opening up most of what’s in it: Both the refrigerator and dishwasher should be emptied, cleaned and left open to air out and prevent mildew. Other kitchen items―even long-lasting foods such as canned goods and spices―should be stored in the basement or removed to discourage pests. Running a few ice cubes with baking soda through the garbage disposal effectively cleans it and discourages mold and insects from finding a home there.


Interior doors between rooms, as well as all closets and cabinets, should be left open so they can be ventilated by natural airflow. Linens and mattresses, on the other hand, should be stored in plastic bedding with cedar balls or similar products to protect against moths and other insects.


For winter homes

Homes you use primarily during the winter have different needs than summer or beach homes. Their milder winter climates are often accompanied by brutally hot summers with extreme conditions―either desert dryness or sub-tropical humidity. Each must be prepared for differently.


For humid areas, the ambient moisture in a closed house is a recipe for bacteria growth and unpleasant odors. To counteract conditions, set your thermostat around 76 degrees and ensure the dehumidifier is left on. If you don’t have valuables such as paintings that require specific environmental conditions, you may be able to set the thermostat higher if you wish. Another strategy is putting a timer on a vented fan, such as in a bathroom, and running it for several hours each day.


Before you leave, ensure that fabrics such as curtains, carpeting and upholstered furniture have been washed and/or thoroughly vacuumed as well as treated with a fungicidal product to keep mold, mites and other pests at bay. Depending on the local environment, you may wish to set off an insecticide defogger to provide extra protection against eight-legged pests. Even if it’s not necessary, it’s also a good idea to put up a few strips of flypaper to catch any stray bugs that make their way in―and prevent them from setting up house on their own.


For drier areas, you may need to run a humidifier to keep from damaging wood and other items in the home. If it’s an older house without such a system, a low-effort way to keep the air fresher is simply putting a tub of water in each room and let evaporation do the job for you. Seals in your dishwasher and garbage disposal can also be damaged by the heat and dry air. Lubricating them with a little oil prevents that.


In warmer climates, you can leave on the water supply without fear of freezing and cracking pipes. However, they still should be checked thoroughly for potential leaks that could damage the home when no one is there. In drier areas, remember to leave on the water supply to your irrigation system if you have one. If you don’t, you’ll need to hire a local service to keep your landscaping or gardens green.


Last updated: Friday, April 28, 2017

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