With summer’s last warm days fading, it’s time to start preparing your vacation home for winter. According to the Insurance Information Institute, winter storms are the third most costly type of natural disaster in the United States, averaging nearly $1 billion per year in insurance claims. The good news: a few simple steps may help reduce the amount of damage that freezing temperatures, snow and wind can do to your home.
If your vacation home is on a lake or near the ocean, you may also have boats, jet skis or other watercraft equipment that needs to be properly stored and secured for winter. Check out these tips to help keep your investments safe through the winter season:
- Protect your home from burst pipes, mold and mildew.
Burst pipes are a real nightmare for vacation homeowners who may not know about the damage until months later. During warmer months (mid-April to mid-October), turning off the water to your house is generally sufficient for preventing plumbing disasters, but come winter, your safest bet is to drain the plumbing, reports HomePro Inspections. Next, check your pipes for cracks or leaks and wrap exposed pipes with heating tape.
While you are away from your home in the winter, be sure the heat in the home is maintained, meaning keep an adequate supply of heating oil and properly maintain your furnace to prevent a shutdown that can lead to frozen pipes that may burse. Additionally, HomePro Inspections advises setting the temperature to at least 50 degrees to prevent mold and mildew from forming on upholstered furniture and draperies. Consider using a smart temperature system to remotely monitor the temperature in your home via a smartphone app so you’ll be alerted to any unexpected changes. While you may be checking remotely on your home, it may also help to visit every so often to ensure the heating system is functioning properly.
- Prepare the exterior of your home for storms.
Clean out gutters and install gutter guards to keep storm debris from interfering with the flow of water away from the house. Ice, snow and wind can cause trees or branches to break and damage your home. Trim trees and remove dead branches at the end of every summer season. Finally, inspect outside walls, foundations and skylight casings for any cracks. Caulk and seal with appropriate weather stripping to prevent water damage from early spring snow melt.
- Install a remote alarm system.
Whether your vacation home is at the beach or in the mountains, an alarm system is a smart investment. The I.I.I. recommends using a centrally monitored alarm system that detects both fires and break-ins. Opt for an alarm system with remote monitoring capabilities, like a smartphone app that will instantly alert you to any changes in your home’s status. Installing an alarm system may also help lower your homeowners insurance costs on your second home.
- Protect your property.
If you will be storing boats, jet skis or other watercraft during the winter season, take additional steps to secure this property from winter weather and would-be thieves. Trailerable boats, jet skis, canoes and kayaks can all be stored securely in a locked and alarmed shed or garage on your property.
Boats may require additional protection against the elements. Temperature control for storing your summer toys may prevent damage from occurring in extreme cold weather. One increasingly popular option is to “shrink wrap” your boat. Professionals place a framework of 1-inch-wide webbing over the boat to support a thin film of plastic. Heat from a propane gun will then cause the plastic to shrink tightly to the boat, report the experts at Boats.com. Zippered doors and ventilators may be used to support proper air circulation during storage and prevent the formation of mildew.
- Know your location risks.
When preparing your home for winter, consider how its location impacts the risk for damage from potential storms. A New England beach house, for example, may be at risk for flood and wind damage from storm surges associated with Nor’easters. A cabin in the mountains may be at greater risk for damage from heavy snowfalls and snow melt and even wildfires. Location-based risks impact the type of coverage your home will need.
Don’t wait until a winter disaster strikes to find out you lack adequate coverage - ask your insurance agent now about your different coverage options.