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How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 10:11 AM   #1
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How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Hello,

The previous topic on traveling when you have dogs was of great interest to me. A related topic is how do people secure their homes when traveling, especially in winter climates.

Here's our list:

- replace batteries in thermostats
- set house temp to 50 degrees in all zones
- shut off gas outside
- shut off water main inside
- switch off well-pump power
- stop mail delivery
- stop newspaper delivery
- lock windows and doors
- tell neighbors on both sides of us we'll be gone

We don't have anyone check on the place and we don't have the driveway cleared. I'd really like to be able to monitor the inside temperature remotely, but I haven't found a good solution that's priced right. I have a weather station with computer-upload capability, but the software I was using to upload the data to a web-page would hang up periodically. Anyone have any other ideas that they've used successfully?

What do others do to prepare their homes for a long trip?

Jim
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 10:51 AM   #2
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Many snowbirds have this same issue. From some of what I have read in addition to the obvious things you listed you need to also consider these:

Flush all toilets several times and then run water from the furthest point in your water system to flush out the sewer sytem as much as possible. Run the water for at least 5 minutes. This will help prevent the toilet paper from drying out and clogging your system over an extend period of non-use.

Being away in the winter means you might have a power failure and your heat could be off for days. If your water system freezes and pipes split you could be greeted with the house from hell. Drain your water system and blow it out with an oil-free large volume air compressor. Be sure all toilet tanks and bowls are free of standing water and pour in RV antifreeze into the tanks an bowls as a precaution.
Same goes for all drains in the house. You want to be sure anything that could freeze has either been fully drained or is protected from freezing.
Put all freezable liquids in the tub. If you do get an extended freeze in the house you won't have frozen-thawed liquids to ruin everything.

Consider having someone plow out your driveway to make it look lived in. Otherwise you are sending a signal that no one is there and break-ins are very possible.

Timers on lights at random times and a good security system that is monitored should also be investigated.

Good luck.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 11:50 AM   #3
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

SteveR,

Excuse my ignorance but is all that draining and antifreeze really necessary? I was under the impression that if the water supply is shut off and taps are left open to leave an avenue for expansion if water freezes then there is "no harm, no foul". Are there other concerns that prompt your recommendations?

Grumpy
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 12:39 PM   #4
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by magellan
- shut off gas outside
So, no furnace while you're gone? Or you heat with electricity?

I posted a similar question a few weeks ago and got a lot of good suggestions. My issue was solved when my long time neighbor volunteered to check the house daily to be sure the furnace was doing ok and nothing else was amiss. He did ask me to provide a HVAC person's phone number in case there was trouble and we did so, including talking to the HVAC outfit.

Wouldn't ya know it....... About a week after we left, the neighbor found our house down to 50f (we left the thermostat at 60f) and the furnace not working. He called the HVAC guy who came right over and replaced a cracked ignitor.

We were away less than three weeks and the weather was mild (for winter in Chicago). I'd have been more neverous if we had planned on being away for the whole winter which would have undoubtedly involved some instances of sub-zero temps.

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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 12:58 PM   #5
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
SteveR,

Excuse my ignorance but is all that draining and antifreeze really necessary? I was under the impression that if the water supply is shut off and taps are left open to leave an avenue for expansion if water freezes then there is "no harm, no foul". Are there other concerns that prompt your recommendations?

Grumpy
Personal experience with split water pipes during a power failure in the dead of winter says drain those pipes and use antifreeze to protect the drains. All it takes is one hard freeze and your pipes will split. Even with the water off the residual in the pipes will drain out and ruin your walls, ceilings, floors, carpets etc. Then you also have a potential mold problem to deal with.

It cost me several thousand $ for the repairs. I would rather spend the time to drain the system and protect it so I can sleep at night without worrying about the house if I am 1000 miles away and have no idea of what is happening.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 04:14 PM   #6
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by youbet
- Shut off gas outside

So, no furnace while you're gone? Or you heat with electricity?
Actually, we heat with oil. The gas is just for the oven.

FYI, we lost electricity for 3 days last winter while I was in Cambodia for a month. Fortunately DW was home and kept the place from freezing. Whenever an ice storm is predicted, we turn up the temp in the house to 72+ degrees. This probably saved us several thousand dollars since most neighbors had frozen pipes.

Having lived through this (well, DW did), we now have a generator at the ready that I test once a month.

Jim
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 06:20 PM   #7
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveR
Personal experience with split water pipes during a power failure in the dead of winter says drain those pipes and use antifreeze to protect the drains. All it takes is one hard freeze and your pipes will split. Even with the water off the residual in the pipes will drain out and ruin your walls, ceilings, floors, carpets etc. Then you also have a potential mold problem to deal with.

It cost me several thousand $ for the repairs. I would rather spend the time to drain the system and protect it so I can sleep at night without worrying about the house if I am 1000 miles away and have no idea of what is happening.
I still don't know the answer to my question: If the water supply is shut off but the taps are left open is there still a danger of burst pipes?

Grumpy
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 07:33 PM   #8
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by magellan

. . .
- shut off water main inside
- switch off well-pump power
Is the well pump for your house water, or for soemthing else? If it is for your house water, then turning off power to the pump, then running the water until the water stops coming out is better than turning off the pump and also closing the upstream valve. By turning off the shutoff valve inside you are trapping water between the shutoff valve and the check valve in the pump. If things freeze up (say, in the portion of your piping above the frostline but before the main shutoff valve) you are more likely to burst a pipe if both ends are blocked. To make matters worse, the pipe could burst far underground, even though that portion wasn't frozen.

Steve's answer is the 100% solution.

Also, some "throwaway" newspapers/fliers, etc will end up on your door/driveway. The only way to fix this is to ask someone to throw them away for you.

- I go a little crazy on securing the doors when we go away. DW laughs at me, but if somebody is going to steal our stuff, I want them to work for it. For example, I secure the overhead door in the garage by putting a lock through a hole in the track directly above one of the rollers. The space is fairly confined, so cutting or sawing the lock would be tough, and cutting the track would leave it hard to open the door.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 07:49 PM   #9
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
I still don't know the answer to my question: If the water supply is shut off but the taps are left open is there still a danger of burst pipes?
The answer is, yes, without draining the system completely, standing water remaining in the lines can indeed freeze, burst pipes, or break fixtures and then leak out into the house upon thawing, even with system off and taps left open. The antifreeze in drain traps prevents freezing while still allowing the drain traps to remain full and hence blocking sewer gases from escaping back into the house. So both draining the main system and antifreeze in the drains are good ideas, if not necessary, to prevent such damage should there be an extended freeze.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 08:08 PM   #10
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

We cancel the newspaper, and have the post office hold our mail. We tell both of our neighbors when we're leaving and when we're returning. They both keep an eye on the house (and the neighborhood for that matter). One of the neighbors has our house and car keys, and checks the house daily. He also has my cellphone # and the #'s of the hotels we are staying at, and a list of our HVAC's & plumber's #'s. He also clears away any snow or ice, and keeps the cars cleared off. If it's spring or summer, our other neighbor kid keeps the grass cut and the gardens watered.

If we're going on a bus with a tour group, we drive to the pick-up spot, and our neighbor picks up our car later in the day and brings it back to our house. On the day of our return, he takes the car back to our drop-off site.

We also have timers on a couple of indoor lamps, and motion sensors on the yard lights (so the neighbors can see if someone is snooping around at night).

He is a very good friend and an all around great guy! He also watches over his other neighbor's house while she's gone to Florida for the winter (Nov to April), and parks his second vehicle in her garage (that's his "payment" from her).

He WILL NOT accept any payment or gifts for his all he does...in fact whenever we've gotten him anything he gets really p*ssed off. So in order to bypass that, we bring back fruit, snacks, or toys for his grandkids! He's pretty much OK with that.

When we're away, we can ALWAYS rest easy, knowing that things are VERY well taken care of at home!!
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 09:38 PM   #11
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?


Just for the record, my list was to prepare the house for a few weeks away, not to winterize the house.

I never used to think about shutting off the water, but a friend bought a lake house as a fixer-upper that had suffered a water leak (plastic pipe burst) on the second floor while the original owner was away for 6 weeks (in summer). The water leak seeped through the house and filled up the basement. The only thing that eventually stopped the pump was the basement water level reaching the electrical service panel. The house was basically a tear down as a result. Not to mention the electric bill for running the water pump for 6 weeks straight.

Jim
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-01-2007, 10:47 PM   #12
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
I still don't know the answer to my question: If the water supply is shut off but the taps are left open is there still a danger of burst pipes?

Grumpy
After spending 25 years in the oilfields I can relay the following: we had some saltwater lines above ground and in extremely cold weather (and after draining the lines) low spots in the lines (such as in draws) would freeze and split even though the line was clear on both ends. Seems the expansion couldn't move into the empty areas of the pipe so it simply split the pipe.

So I would tend to say that house pipes could freeze and burst in the same manner, especially if the expansion were between turns in the pipe. Clear as mud?
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-02-2007, 11:49 AM   #13
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Moved someplace where it rarely freezes.

That solved the problem.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-02-2007, 12:02 PM   #14
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by larry

...So I would tend to say that house pipes could freeze and burst in the same manner, especially if the expansion were between turns in the pipe. Clear as mud?
You Bet!

The first year we owned our cabin a friend offered to winterize it for us until we could get there for our first visit after we bought it. We lived in IL at the time and the cabin was in UT. Our first trip was Christmas so winter was going to hit before we could get there so he winterized it for us. He drained the pipes, put antifreeze in the toiliets and in the drain traps. He did everything he did with his own cabin.

However, the water lines in our cabin were a little different that his. Ours had less of a slope to the pipes and while he thought he fully drained the lines, a lot of the water was trapped in the low spots.

The major line that feeds the whole house was in the ground level garage. The outside temps. went way below freezing for days at a time with overnight lows near zero. The result was the residual water in the low spots froze and spit the pipe in 5 places. When we unknowingly turned on the water when we arrived we were greeted with a series of waterfalls coming out of the sheetrocked ceiling in the garage and the walls. Welcome to UT!

Since then, I had all the pipes in that area replaced and sloped to drain and installed a compressed air blow out in the upstairs bathroom (highest and furthest point from the system drain) and if we were not going to use the place for a month of so we would drain and blow out the lines followed by pumping them with RV antifreeze. Worked great.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-02-2007, 03:16 PM   #15
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

To add to others' posts in response to grumpy's question, pipes can indeed freeze despite pressure off from both ends and taps open. The safest route is to drain system as best as possible and then either: 1) fill the pipes from an upper location with RV antifreeze, or 2) blow out the pipes with an air compressor.

There is also potential for the pipe to freeze right at the main water valve in the event of prolonged cold of say -0F or lower. A small space heater or better yet, a bit of heat tracing strip wrapped around the valve and protrusion from the concrete, can save a split pipe/valve at that location.

Bottom line for us though: Simply shut off the water, relieve the pressure, and make arrangements for someone to at least stick their head in the door every 48 hours to ensure the heat is still on (50F). There is no substitute for a physical check.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-02-2007, 10:30 PM   #16
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

A couple of things not mentioned: the residual water in a washer & also the water line to the refrigerator, including ice maker.

When we left home for several months last winter, we shut the frig/freezer off & left the doors open. I was surprised how much water dripped out of the top freezer door as it warmed up to room temp. When we leave again I am just going to leave the frig/freezer running & put in lots of jugs of water to take up space, keep the temp more constant & run less.

We also drained the hot water tank & blew out the water lines to/from it.

Unplug anything electrical ..... microwave, tv's, radios, computers, printers, etc.
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-03-2007, 08:33 AM   #17
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveR
... and installed a compressed air blow out in the upstairs bathroom (highest and furthest point from the system drain)
Speaking as a retired engineer with the time & inclination to pursue my interests, I could have a lot of fun with that... "Hey, honey, let me know when you're ready to flush!"
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-03-2007, 09:40 AM   #18
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

The guy who used to live acrossed the street from us had a light on if the temps statyed above 50 degrees. Never really seen the set up. I suppose it was hooked up to a thermostat. Once we noticed the light out we called his funace guy who had a key came over and fixed the problem. The light seemed to work well..........Shredder
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-03-2007, 09:52 AM   #19
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shredder
The guy who used to live acrossed the street from us had a light on if the temps statyed above 50 degrees. Never really seen the set up. I suppose it was hooked up to a thermostat. Once we noticed the light out we called his funace guy who had a key came over and fixed the problem. The light seemed to work well..........Shredder
That brings up an interesting thought. I bet a lot could be done with a few X10 cameras, an Internet connection, and a cellphone number that the system could call if certain alarms are tripped.

"Hey, honey, does that look like a geyser on camera 3 to you? And who's that on camera 5?!?"
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?
Old 02-08-2007, 10:47 AM   #20
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Re: How do people secure their homes while traveling (especially in winter)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bram
When we left home for several months last winter, we shut the frig/freezer off & left the doors open. I was surprised how much water dripped out of the top freezer door as it warmed up to room temp. When we leave again I am just going to leave the frig/freezer running & put in lots of jugs of water to take up space, keep the temp more constant & run less.
As a Katrina survivor I'd like to add that you should remember to empty your frig/freezer completely of food. I'm sure you weren't planning on leaving 30 pounds of shrimp, fish, and chicken in your freezer like I did when I evacuated, but after that experience I just had to say something!! I never thought anything could be so foul.
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