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Going south for the winter - house care, etc
Old 02-16-2009, 09:50 AM   #1
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Going south for the winter - house care, etc

Looking for some advice from those who have done what DW and I are thinking of doing in a little less than 2 years. I plan to retire sometime in 2010. We live in the upper midwest - very cold climate. We love it here about 8 months out of the year, but the winters have really gotten to be a drag as we get older (especially this one!). We are active people - love to kayak, fish, hike with the dog, bike, etc.. So, we've pretty much decided that we want to keep our house here (it's paid for, nice location, have friends here, etc), but we also don't really want to be here from Dec. - March after I retire. I would plan to heat the house here minimally, and I have a good neighbor who would check on it regularly for me (I'd pay him something to do that). I also need to drain the water pipes, because I just can't take a chance on the furnace going out for even a day or two, as pipes would freeze (we've had -30 degrees here this winter a few times). I'm a little intimidated by the thought of doing that, though......this is a big house, with a sprinkler system in the basement (wood stove down there), 2 bath, etc.. Has anyone gone through this process with a big (older) house like this (shut down the water system in the fall, bring it back up in the spring), and if so, did it go okay for you? Anything I should be especially careful/aware of? I'm not a real handy-type guy (as you can guess), but I can get someone who is, to help me with all this, so the shut-down should go okay. I just don't want to be down south all winter worrying about my house.....that would ruin my winter. Anything else I should be concerned about, with leaving a house in a climate like this for the winter months? (there are really no issues here with break-ins, so that actually doesn't concern me at all....especially with my neighbor next door keeping an eye on things). There might be some issues with snow/ice buildup along the sides of the house (we get a lot of snow, and it slides right off the metal roof, piling up along the side of the house). I should be able to get my neighbor to keep an eye on that situation, though, and do some snow removal if it gets too bad. Anyone use one of those temperature monitors that you hook into your phone line, so that you can call anytime and get the house temp? Do you recommend them? Or are there other similar devices that are better?

Thanks in advance for any advice/suggestions! RAE
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Old 02-16-2009, 09:57 AM   #2
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RAE, one other source of information are the many RV discussion groups They should be experts at this.

iRV2.com RV Forum - Powered by eve community
RV.Net Open Roads Forum
Escapees Discussion Forum (Powered by Invision Power Board)
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Old 02-16-2009, 10:12 AM   #3
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In my experience, the furnace always dies on the coldest day of the year.

How about a house-sitter?
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Old 02-16-2009, 10:21 AM   #4
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Ed - yeah, a house-sitter would be ideal, but it's probably unlikely that I could find anyone (that I trust) to do that for just the 4 months of winter. We have the neighbor and other friends who would be happy to check on the place occasionally, but not stay here.

I just re-read my original post, and it's probably a little confusing. The water pipes would be drained, so no risk of broken pipes, but having the furnace go out would still not be good. We would have other items stored here that could be damaged by freezing.
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Old 02-16-2009, 12:53 PM   #5
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DW and I have done that for the last 5-6 years. We come to the Caribbean from Virginia, which isn't as cold as the midwest, but still can have some cold spells. We turn the water off, turn the thermostat down to 50 degrees, get timers for the lights and security lights outside, make sure there's nothing in the fridge to spoil, and come on down. I suppose the furnace could go off, but with the water shut off even that wouldn't be a disaster, at least in Virginia.

We did have another home in Colorado in the past that would have been more of a problem if the furnace shut off. In that home I used redundancy. I kept the furnace on at a low level, then had an electric space heater that would come on if the temperature dropped down close to freezing.

But, to be honest, what has made this work for us are great neighbors on either side who have a spare key and whom we can trust to let us know if something bad has happened. The only time we've had a problem is when we were gone 5 days during the summer to visit grandkids out west. Didn't think to take any precautions, since it was summertime and a short trip. Murphy's law kicked in, an upstairs toilet flooded, and we had $40,000 damage. Would have been worse if the neighbors hadn't noted the problem and shut down the water before the ceilings collapsed.
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Old 02-16-2009, 01:27 PM   #6
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Thanks for the tips, Finally. I am beginning to realize that having a great neighbor is the real key to making this work (and lowering my anxiety level while I am away from the house). Fortunately, we do have a really good one, just two houses away, who I'm sure would be willing check on the house as often as I asked him to, especially if I paid him for his time. I was thinking about the redundancy thing for heat also. We have a reliable gas furnace, but we also have one of these portable SunCloud infrared heaters, that I could turn on at a low setting, so that it would kick on if it got cool enough in here. They're supposed to be quite safe.......the unit never even gets very warm to the touch. And yeah, I was going to set up a couple of lights on timers also.

Sorry to hear about your flooded toilet, ouch.
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Old 02-16-2009, 01:31 PM   #7
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Wireless Cameras hooked to a Computer Battery Backup. Have one of the cameras trained on a Thermometer so you can see if the placed is freezing. Leave the DT computer running and call up to check out the cameras once in a while. You will still need a local contact you can have go check the place if the cameras show a problem. We had a security camera add on this site a couple of days ago. Here is one site: http://www.homesecuritystore.com/
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Old 02-16-2009, 01:35 PM   #8
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Pretty drastic solution, I realize, but as a former Wisconsinite... have you considered changing your home setting up north? Many nice condos leave you plenty of space, all exterior maintenance taken care of, and inside units will usually stay above freezing even if your own furnace goes; don't have to worry about shoveling, roof, whatever. You can keep your friends and when December comes just lock the front door and leave.
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Old 02-16-2009, 02:04 PM   #9
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Thanks, Rich, but we really do like our house, and would hate to give it up. I think I would really miss my vegetable garden, fruit trees, our deck, our fish pond, wine cellar in the basement, etc, etc.. Plus, it's paid for, and I'd never be able to sell it for close to what we have into it, especially in this housing market. I realize there is some risk involved in leaving it for 4 months in this climate, so I'll just have to accept that.........but I'd at least like to do everything I can to minimize the risk.
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Old 02-16-2009, 03:19 PM   #10
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I think I would really miss my vegetable garden, fruit trees, our deck, our fish pond, wine cellar in the basement, etc, etc..
That brings up another aspect, the psychological. It's natural to worry about the physical, making sure the house and belongings are safe, etc, but in actuality that's the easy part -- at least for us. The hard part is having peace of mind when we leave one place that nothing terrible is going on with the other place. I'm worse at that than DW but we both go through a period of worry for 2-3 weeks, even if neighbors are there watching it.

When we had our place in the Colorado mountains, it was a pretty lonely place and when we left I had nightmares of a motorcycle gang having moved in. When not in the Caribbean, I worry about our place being used as a drug den, or a hurricane coming through, or any number of things. When not in Virginia, I worry about a tornado, a fire, etc. In reality, the odds of any of this is very small, we're insured, and we've never had a problem (other than the flooding bathroom, which was a different problem). But I've never been able to work through the mental aspect of this, must be because I'm a natural worry wart.

Our cycle seems to be that we worry about these things for a couple of weeks before we leave, and for a couple of weeks after we arrive. In between, we're just fine.

YMMV, but you should consider the psychology.
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Old 02-16-2009, 04:53 PM   #11
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Why four months ? Why not start with one or two and see how that goes ?
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Old 02-16-2009, 05:30 PM   #12
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Wireless Cameras hooked to a Computer Battery Backup. Have one of the cameras trained on a Thermometer so you can see if the placed is freezing. Leave the DT computer running and call up to check out the cameras once in a while. You will still need a local contact you can have go check the place if the cameras show a problem. We had a security camera add on this site a couple of days ago. Here is one site: Home Security Store | Security Camera |Alarm | Wireless Security Systems
That site also offers wireless freeze alarms that can be set to dial a number if the temp drops below 45F.
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Old 02-16-2009, 06:24 PM   #13
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Why four months ? Why not start with one or two and see how that goes ?
That's a possibility. However, if I did that, I think it would have to be the last two month of winter (Feb/March), and not Dec/Jan.. Coming back in February, after being gone a couple months, would be pretty depressing I think. We'd have to shovel our way through about 2 feet of snow to get to the house, for one thing (unless I had someone plow/shovel when we were gone, which I could do, for a price). And then facing another two months of winter here, after just settling into a very different lifestyle down south, would not be easy. But yeah, maybe we could tough it out here through Jan. or so, and then just go for a couple months.

I know, it sounds like we live in Siberia here, but it's actually the upper midwest. And we really do love it here from about April - November..........just not the other 4 months.
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Old 02-16-2009, 07:36 PM   #14
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Thanks for the tips, Finally. I am beginning to realize that having a great neighbor is the real key to making this work (and lowering my anxiety level while I am away from the house). Fortunately, we do have a really good one, just two houses away, who I'm sure would be willing check on the house as often as I asked him to, especially if I paid him for his time.
As a friendly neighbor myself, I personally would prefer to be "paid" in non-money, like a couple bottles of excellent scotch, a couple cases of great wine, some Omaha steaks, whatever their favorite indulgence might be.
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Old 02-16-2009, 08:39 PM   #15
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That's a possibility. However, if I did that, I think it would have to be the last two month of winter (Feb/March), and not Dec/Jan.. Coming back in February, after being gone a couple months, would be pretty depressing I think. We'd have to shovel our way through about 2 feet of snow to get to the house, for one thing (unless I had someone plow/shovel when we were gone, which I could do, for a price). And then facing another two months of winter here, after just settling into a very different lifestyle down south, would not be easy. But yeah, maybe we could tough it out here through Jan. or so, and then just go for a couple months.

I know, it sounds like we live in Siberia here, but it's actually the upper midwest. And we really do love it here from about April - November..........just not the other 4 months.
I'm also from the upper midwest. What I hope to do in retirement is stay until after New Years then go down to Florida through end of March.
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Old 02-16-2009, 08:59 PM   #16
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A low tech item you might consider is a "Winter Watchman"...kind of like a timer for your lights but temperature sensitive. You plug a light into it (turned on) and set it for a temperature at which you want intervention at the house. If your heat source fails for whatever reason and the ambient temperature goes below the preset minimum, the light turns on. At this point your friendly neighbour who is watching the house for you notices the light has come on and notifies you.

I'd be leery of leaving the house all winter without some way to be sure the heat stays on, since you might get dampness and condensation that could lead to problems down the line.
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Old 02-16-2009, 11:01 PM   #17
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The house we recently sold has a direct vent propane wall furnace that operates independent of the electrical supply. If the power went out when we were gone, this heater would come on and provide enough heat to keep the place from freezing.
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Old 02-17-2009, 05:58 PM   #18
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I'm also from the upper midwest. What I hope to do in retirement is stay until after New Years then go down to Florida through end of March.
That sounds like a plan, Aaron. We may end up doing the same thing. Where do you go in Florida, if you don't mind me asking? We are looking at the Carrabelle/Apalachicola area, in the panhandle. I've only been down there once (on vacation), but we liked it then, and it seems like the kind of place we are looking for as a winter refuge. Not too crowded, lots of public land, good fishing nearby, etc.. Not as warm as south Florida, I know, but hey, even 40-50 degrees would look good compared to what we have to endure up here, ha. If anyone has first-hand knowledge of the area, I'd love to hear what you think of it - thanks.
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Old 02-17-2009, 06:46 PM   #19
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That sounds like a plan, Aaron. We may end up doing the same thing. Where do you go in Florida, if you don't mind me asking? We are looking at the Carrabelle/Apalachicola area, in the panhandle. I've only been down there once (on vacation), but we liked it then, and it seems like the kind of place we are looking for as a winter refuge. Not too crowded, lots of public land, good fishing nearby, etc.. Not as warm as south Florida, I know, but hey, even 40-50 degrees would look good compared to what we have to endure up here, ha. If anyone has first-hand knowledge of the area, I'd love to hear what you think of it - thanks.
I don't go anywhere yet. I'm still a "young dreamer". I hope to go to Fort Myers area for the winter when the time comes.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:32 PM   #20
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. Not as warm as south Florida, I know, but hey, even 40-50 degrees would look good compared to what we have to endure up here, ha. If anyone has first-hand knowledge of the area, I'd love to hear what you think of it - thanks.
I do not know that area but I've lived in Florida for 14 years and January is usually the coldest month . We had lows in the 30's in Sarasota so in that area it would be possible to get snow flakes. If you want to golf that area is probably okay but water activities would be out . Also the panhandle is a big spring break area .
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