Winter Travel Tips to Protect Your Home and Avoid Costly Insurance Claims

Winter trips are great for escaping cold weather.
However, without proper precaution, you could return home to an unpleasant surprise – like a flooded house caused by a burst pipe. Whether you’re a snowbird or taking a weekend getaway, you need to protect your home from winter weather.

House in Snow Insurance Claim

These tips don’t just apply to northern climates. Even in warmer climates, flash freezes and unexpected weather can cause catastrophe to unsuspecting homeowners.

Here are some of the best winter travel tips for protecting your home while away.

Top 10 Basic Tips for Protecting Your Home While Away

Some tips are basic. Most snowbirds know to cancel their newspaper and have their mail held, for example.

Here are some of the most straightforward precautions to take to avoid unexpected surprises when coming home:

  1. Avoid advertising your trip. You may be excited to spend a few months away in the winter. However, you shouldn’t spread the news on social media – especially if your profile is public. The fewer people know you’re away from home, the better.
  2. Check locks on all windows and doors. You probably remembered to lock your front and back door when away. However, your home is filled with entry and exit points – from upstairs bedroom windows to downstairs basement entries. Check locks on all windows and doors and consider upgrading any weak entry points.
  3. Tell the post office to hold your mail. Your post office can hold your mail until you return, avoiding deliveries for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
  4. Move your hidden key spot to a less-obvious location. Many people leave a hidden key under their doormat, in their mailbox, or under a loose brick. That may be fine for everyday use, but it’s less ideal for long trips outside of town. You never know which neighbors have seen you access your hidden key. Move your key to a less-obvious place, then tell a trusted friend or two about the location for emergencies.
  5. Setup a home security system. Today’s home security systems are more affordable than ever. You can check on your home from anywhere in the world you have the internet. Install a modern security system to monitor your front door and check for signs of damage inside the home without getting off your beach chair.
  6. Get rid of ladders and tools around your home. Leaving a ladder in your backyard could make it easier for someone to enter your home while you’re away. Tools could make it easier for someone to break a window.
  7. Buy smart lighting to remotely turn on your lights when away. Smart lighting systems – or light timers – make your home appear occupied when away.
  8. Clean your home thoroughly. Even small crumbs or a single opened food container can encourage pests to move in.
  9. Hire the professionals for extra peace of mind. Consider hiring a professional to inspect your furnace, for example. Or, hire a professional to check your roof and foundation. Some hire licensed plumbers to winterize their home and drain water to prevent burst pipes, while others hire professional cleaners.
  10. Check the weather back home regularly and consider taking extra precautions before severe events. Ask a friend to check your home, for example, to ensure your home is prepared (some insurance policies require someone to regularly inspect your property when away).

Prevent Frozen Pipes and Burst Pipe Insurance Claims

If temperatures drop, you could experience burst pipes or frozen pipes. It’s a common problem – particularly in warmer climates where houses tend to have less insulation and poorer heating to deal with cold snaps.

Some of the best ways to prevent frozen pipes include:

  • Keep your thermostat at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher while you’re away.
  • Add extra insulation in pipes in high-risk areas of your home – like the attic or anywhere with less insulation or worse heating.
  • Verify the heater is working before you go away. Consider a professional inspection – especially if you have an old heater.
  • Change the battery in the thermostat to ensure it accurately reads the temperature while you’re away.
  • Consider installing a water leak detection system in your home. A water leak detection system uses smart technology to detect leaks, moisture, or abnormal changes in your home’s water supply. You can control your home’s water supply via an app.

If you do have the unfortunate experience of water damage from a burst pipe, be sure to see our tips for burst pipe insurance claims.

Trim Trees to Prevent Heavy Snow Buildup

If heavy snow gathers on trees around your home, then it could knock trees over, causing damage to your home and other parts of your property.

Cut down any dead trees and remove large branches overhanging your property.

Heavy snow buildup on trees could also lead to heavy snow buildup on your roof. Although your roof should be able to safely withstand even large amounts of snow, trim trees to be safe.

Clean Gutters to Prevent Ice Dams

Ice dams are a common source of leaks in the winter. If your gutters are clogged or not draining properly, then snowfall could lead to ice dams.

As water collects in your gutters and refuses to drain, it could freeze with cold temperatures. As water freezes, it expands, damaging your gutters and pushing water into your home.

To prevent ice dams while you’re away, clean your gutters before you leave.

Take Steps to Prevent Pests

Pests need a warm home too. When you’re away, your house could attract pests – especially if you don’t take proper precautions.

Throw away any food that could attract pests. If you’re away for an extended period, you should get rid of any food not in an airtight metal or glass container.

If you’re away for more than a few months, then empty, clean, and defrost your fridge and freezer.

Block entryways to prevent pests from entering your home. Check the foundation of your home, your attic, your basement, and your crawlspace for any potential openings where pests could enter.

Check weather stripping and caulking around doors, windows, and other entry points; small insects and water can enter through these areas, and even a small hole could lead to a big pest problem when undetected over time.

Most importantly, clean your home thoroughly to discourage new pests from entering our property. A single crumb or opened food container could lead to a major pest problem.

Disconnect Large Electronics

A power surge could destroy electronics in your home.
If you’re concerned about a power surge, disconnect any important electronics. Or, plug electronics into a surge protector.

Make Your Home Look Occupied

Even if your home is unoccupied, it shouldn’t look unoccupied. Take steps to make your house look occupied, including:

  • Stop the delivery of newspapers, monthly subscription boxes, and anything else delivered regularly
  • Ask friends to periodically check your home for any notices, papers, flyers, or mail that may have been delivered (even after asking the post office to hold your mail)
  • Arrange snow clearing or yard maintenance before you leave
  • Install motion-sensing lights or a security system
  • Put interior lights on random timers during evening hours to make it look like someone is at home
Consider Turning Off Your Water Supply Completely

If you’re away for several months, then it may be worth turning off your water supply completely – especially if you live in a northern, winter climate.

Burst pipe insurance claims could destroy your home and lead to a significant insurance claim. Insurance may cover it. However, if the problem was caused by negligence – like poor maintenance or wear and tear – then your insurer could deny parts of your claim. Most insurance policies state that you must turn off the water at the main connection from the City for the burst pipe claim to be paid due to freezing.

Consider turning off your water supply completely and draining water from your home’s appliances:

  • Turn off your home’s water supply
  • Drain pipes of all water by opening faucets
  • Flush your toilet to clear water from the tank and bowl
  • Use non-toxic antifreeze (specifically rated for home plumbing systems) to prevent any water remaining in your system from freezing
  • If you have an in-home sprinkler system for fires, make sure water continues to run to your sprinkler system to prevent fires

Consider hiring a licensed plumber to winterize your home if uncomfortable performing the above steps (or if you want maximum peace of mind you winterize your home correctly).

Final Word

Winter trips can be fun. However, no matter where you live, you need to take extra precaution to ensure your home is in the same condition when you return.

By implementing the tips above, you can prevent unexpected damage to your home while you’re away – and avoid costly insurance claims.

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