All over BC, some households mark the arrival of winter season with a vacation. For some it’s a tropical escape, for others a ski chalet retreat, but one thing that that remains consistent for all, is a vacated home. And that, invites risk. An empty home in the winter is more susceptible to damage and criminal intrusion given the weather and lack of natural light. However, we don’t want to put a damper on your seasonal wanderlust, which is why we’re here with some helpful tips to keep your abode out of harm’s way, while you’re away.
5 Tips to Securing the Safety and Security of Your Home While Away for Winter Vacation
1. What to Do About Those Lights
With shorter days surrounding the winter solstice, darkness surrounds the home, inviting the ill-intentioned to the gates. Most of you simply leave the living room lights to keep this threat away, but in doing so you create other forms of risk. For example, when interior/exterior lights are allowed to run 24 hours a day, the greater the risk of overheating (especially with older lighting systems in older homes). This increases the risk of fire. Of course, leaving the lights on will also increase energy consumption and greatly inflate your utility bill – a scary enough prospect in itself.
Instead of flipping the switch and leaving it that way, install in timer system that can be preset to turn lights on/off with the movement of the sun. More advanced systems can be set to turn the lights off and on in rooms at sporadic times of the evening/night so that it appears someone is at home, and walking about the house. Then there are IoT (internet of things) systems that allow you to control lighting from your laptop or smartphone while on vacation. With such web-enabled devices, you can monitor your home in real time and turn the lights on when there is a motion (or visual) activated alert. Add an extra layer of IoT protection with a more robust web-enabled security system too.
2. More Crime-Proofing
Smarter lighting is just one way to prevent break-ins that occur more often in the shorter days of winter. Park Insurance has laid out a comprehensive guide to crime-proofing the interior and exterior of your property. In addition, everyone in your household must be reminded to not broadcast your up and coming winter vacation on the internet, as savvy criminals may be monitoring social media and searching hashtags (such as #vacation and #skitrip) and waiting for the opportunity to strike.
3. Winter Water Damage That Happens When Away
Water damage is an all season threat, however another layer is added with the arrival of below 0 °C temperatures. This is due to the freeze-thaw cycle that is so prevalent in the Lower Mainland of BC.
In our moderate climate, nighttime temperatures drop below freezing to blanket frost across the surface of your house. Then, when the sun comes up and the mercury rises this frost melts away. The problem, is when there is any sort of crack, fracture, or air leak of any size in the trim, baseboards, roofing, or foundation in your home. When the freeze thaws, moisture is introduced into the environment, causing the interior to chip, crumble, or worse, further compounding the problem the longer it goes unchecked. Inspect at-risk zones in your home and apply caulking and/or weather stripping to seal cracks and air leaks.
The freeze-thaw cycle also increases the threat of water damage when it comes to your plumbing, causing pipes to expand and contract which can result in leaks or worst, a burst pipe. The ensuing flood can cause massive damage to your home and even neighboring properties for those residing in multi-residential complexes such as condos or townhouses. Have your home’s plumbing professionally inspected prior to your winter vacation so that you have enough time to repair or replace items as needed.
You will also want to check your home insurance policy. In most cases, if you are going to be away from your home for more than 4 days during the usual heating season, you will also need to need to follow these essential steps to ensure that your policy remains valid during your absence.
4. Furnace Inspection and Repair
If your home depends on a furnace for heating, and you intend on keeping it on as a means to keep the home warm and to prevent pipes from freezing (as per above) then you will need to have it (and furnace filters) inspected too. An old or poorly functioning furnace is a hotbed of risk. Not only can it overheat and cause fire, a furnace in disrepair impacts air quality and can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning – something that can have disastrous results if you have someone housesitting (or short-term renting) while you’re away. Your furnace works overtime in the winter so if you intend on leaving it on over your vacation pay close attention to it’s condition. Repair or replace as needed.
5. Snow Accumulation
While many parts of BC enjoy a mild winter, climate change has been dropping higher levels of snowfall through the winter months, and that equates to greater accumulation on your property. If you’re not home to attend to it with a shovel (near the foundation) and roof rake (on the roof), snow can drive water into your basement and also add weight to your roof that could result in disrepair or outright collapse. Once again we see potential for significant water damage.
Have a trusted neighbor, family member, or hire a kid from your cul-de-sac to shovel snow from your home’s foundation, should it fall while you’re away. Asking the same for your roof is a different story, however, and one that could result in bodily harm for those who attempt to climb a ladder to rake snow from the roof. Instead, consider installing heating cables. If you don’t want to run electricity (required of heating cables) then positioning calcium chloride tablets along shingles can help melt snow BUT make sure that your gutters and downspouts are in optimal working order and free of debris, otherwise ice-dams may form and invite water damage.
It’s also important to keep all pathways to/from your property free from ice and snow, otherwise you may come back from your trip to a slip-and-fall liability lawsuit. Clear the sidewalks, pathways, and carports that fall under your domain on the day of your trip and apply a fresh layer of ice-melt/salt. Then, slip the neighbor’s kid another 5 bucks to keep an eye on the walkways while you’re on winter vacation.
There’s one last thing you should do before departing for your winter sabbatical. Have an independent broker assess your current homeowners’ insurance policy for complete peace of mind. Contact Park Insurance today.
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