Home Winterization Checklist: 17 Things to Do Before You Leave Town

Leah Lopez Cardenas
Updated July 23, 2021
The exterior of a house with landscape
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Winterizing your house while you head to your vacation home for the season ensures there are no headaches to return to in the springtime

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If you split your time between two residences, winterizing your vacant home ensures you have a fully functional space when you return in the spring. With the proper tools and a little elbow grease, you can knock out this project in a weekend before you take off for the season.

Project difficulty: 2/5

Time needed to complete the project: A weekend or about 12 hours

Materials and tools needed:

  • Basic cleaning supplies

  • Trash bags

  • Storm windows or plywood (if applicable)

  • Batteries

  • Tools for cleaning the gutters and trimming tree branches (trimmer, chainsaw, rake, etc.)

How Much Does It Cost to Winterize a House vs. Hire a Pro?

Luckily, most of the tasks involved with winterizing your house can be done yourself in a relatively short amount of time. However, there are a few to-dos to check off the list with the help of a local pro.

DIY

Most chores involve cleaning and tidying different parts of the home as well as remembering to shut off the water, adjust the thermostat, arm the security alarm, lock the doors, etc. These come at virtually no cost other than your time and effort. However, there are a few aspects that might need a professional inspection.

Hiring a Pro

While you don’t absolutely have to hire a pro for this project, you should have your sump pump and furnace inspected at least once a year, whether you migrate between two homes or not. Hiring an HVAC contractor near you to come service the heater can cost about $50 to $100, while the cost to hire a plumber to look at your sump pump is around $45 to $200 per hour.

Home Winterization Checklist: 17 Tips to Remember

There are quite a few things to get done before your house is ready to leave for the season, but luckily, it’s doable in just a day or two. Make sure to cross all these tasks off your to-do list before settling into snowbird mode.

1. Insulate the Pipes

Making sure to winterize a house’s plumbing is one of the first things most homeowners think about when it comes to preventing wintertime disasters—and for good reason! It’s definitely one of the most important tasks to get done before leaving your house empty, especially if the weather gets below freezing.

Start by winterizing your outdoor plumbing and irrigation systems, including hoses, faucets, and sprinkler systems. Shut off the water supply to these pipes if you can and drain the water from them before the freezing cold weather hits. If you’d rather not take any chances for damage and want to lean on an expert, a local irrigation specialist will be able to help you get the job done.

To winterize your indoor pipes, start by cutting off your water supply if you don’t need it on while you’re gone and drain your faucets. For more susceptible pipes in the attic or outdoor walls, you can pick up insulation materials at your local hardware store and wrap your pipes in fiberglass or polyethylene. It’s also a good idea to leave your thermostat at a temperature above freezing so that your house never gets cold enough for most of your pipes to freeze in the first place. State Farm recommends keeping your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

2. Winterize Your Outdoor Space

A gutter clogged with autum leaves
Photo: trongnguyen / Adobe Stock

The yard can be the most labor-intensive part of the home winterization process, so save the bulk of time for this. To start, grab a rake and clean up any fallen leaves or branches so you can give your yard one last mow before you leave (if needed). You’ll also want to cut any dead branches from trees to avoid any roof damage if storms blow by while you’re gone.

Winterize your pool if you have one by draining it partially and put a cover over it to keep out pests and debris.

Have your ladder on hand to clean out the gutters. Clogged gutters can leave your roof and your home open to damage during rain or snowstorms. Don't leave the gutters clogged. Downspouts should be secured to take heavy rain away from your house. If you need help with this part, you can always hire a local gutter cleaner to make sure the job is done right.

Last but not least, winterize your sprinkler system by turning off the water and timer, draining it, and adding insulation to the sprinkler system parts above ground. The cost to winterize a sprinkler system ranges from $75 to $150, and it’s a job best left to a local landscaper or plumber.

3. Bundle the House Up Tight

If you are in an area prone to nasty storms, put storm windows on, close shutters, secure plywood over windows, and store all outside décor or furniture indoors for the season, too. Make sure that all the windows are closed and locked. Check each one because any window that is open, even a tiny crack, can let snow and rain into your home.

4. Have Your Heating Inspected

Make sure your furnace is working properly so your pipes don’t freeze while you’re gone. You can hire an HVAC contractor near you to inspect the heater, flush the water heater, and replace filters if needed.

5. Check Smoke Alarms, Carbon Monoxide Detectors, and Your Security System

Grab your ladder and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they don’t need a change of batteries before you go. Make sure your security system is in working order and don’t forget to set it before you leave for the winter. 

A break-in (or worse, a dangerous house fire or gas leak) is a homeowner’s worst nightmare. These alarms can give you some peace of mind while away. Better yet, set your home up with smart device alarms so you’ll be alerted via cell phone if anything goes wrong and you can have a trusted friend or neighbor go check on the place.

6. Inspect Your Fireplace and Chimney

The interior of a living room with a fireplace
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Close the damper or flue on your fireplace to prevent snow, rain, or animals from finding a way into your home. The last thing you need when you come back in the spring is some uninvited visitors.

7. Hold Your Mail

If you have been receiving mail at this location, be sure to look into holding your mail or forwarding it on to the residence you will be moving to for the next few months. USPS allows you to hold your mail for up to 30 days, so if you will be gone longer than that, you can sign up for the USPS Forward Mail service to receive it at your seasonal residence.

8. Adjust Your Thermostat

If you have been running the AC all summer long, you are going to want to flip it over to the heat setting. You don't need to keep your home cozy and livable temperature, but you do need it to stay around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so to prevent pipes from freezing. Investing in a programmable thermostat can be a convenient way to control the temp in your house from afar while you’re away.

9. Check the Sump Pump

Make sure your sump pump functions properly. You can do this yourself or hire a plumber near you to inspect the sump pump for you and make any necessary repairs to keep it in working order. A wet basement will make for a bad start to next season's fun.

10. Cut Off the Water Supply and Gas Line

The last thing you want to come back to next spring is a flooded home from a leaky or burst pipe. It is a good idea to open up all your faucets and drain your toilets of water—also, keep the faucets open to prevent pressure buildup from the little bit of water that remains in your pipes.

This will help prevent a burst pipe as the water expands with changing temperatures. A plumber can also help you with winterizing if you are unsure how to prepare your pipes for winter. Don’t forget to turn off the gas line to prevent a dangerous gas leak or other gas-related incident.

11. Unplug All Appliances

Not only will this save you money as your unused appliances will not be using phantom energy, it also protects the house from an appliance shorting out and causing a fire or a surge of energy ruining your appliances.

12. Clean Out the Fridge

Man in gloves cleaning an empty refrigerato
Photo: Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

Get rid of any perishable items, wipe your fridge down, unplug it, and be sure to keep the door to your refrigerator and freezer open. Closing it up will lead to a stinky fridge and promote mold and mildew growth from residual moisture.

Any food you leave behind should be in air-tight containers to prevent pests from feeding off it all winter long. If bugs and rodents are a concern, place traps or use insecticides to keep them away.

13. Throw Out All the Trash in Your House

Trash is a breeding ground for yucky mold and bacteria, and no one wants to return home to a stinking house come spring. Make sure to gather up the garbage from every room and put it out on the curb on trash day, or take it to the dump before you head out.

14. Give Your House a Last Clean Sweep

Whether you hire a housecleaner or you do it yourself, make sure to vacuum, wash bedding, and wipe down surfaces from the house before closing up. It also doesn’t hurt to put some bleach in your toilets to keep mold and mildew from growing in the bowls while you’re gone.

15. Pack Up Your Plants

Take your plant babies with you wherever you’re heading for the winter. Unless you have a house sitter coming to water them, you could come back to a house full of dead plants.

16. Lock the Doors and Arm the Security Alarm

If you have a security system, ensure that it is working and engaged when you leave. Otherwise, double-check that all door locks are in working order—and be sure not to leave any valuables behind.

17. Tell Trusted Neighbors You’re Leaving

Make sure your neighbors are aware of your move, so they can keep an eye on your property. Just be sure to let them know if someone will be stopping by to check on the place, so they don't think you are being robbed.

Now that you know how to winterize your home, you're ready to enjoy the long winter without worrying about the house you left behind for the season. Then, when the winter season winds down, you can prepare for the warmth by learning how to de-winterize your home.

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