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How to Prepare Your Home for an Extended Vacation

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Small towns in the Midwest can be a magical place in the winter months, especially over the holidays. However, it is estimated that over 2.2 million Wisconsinites will travel at least 50 miles or more from home this holiday season. 

This estimation does not include the high population of “Snow Birds” here in the state. Over 145,000 Outagamie County residents alone are of retirement age and nearly a third of that number venture south for at least some part of the winter. Frankly, we don’t blame them!

Extended travel during the winter in Wisconsin requires a ton of planning! Here are some helpful tips to ready your home for an extended vacation during the winter months.

Help Avoid Water Damage by Turning Off Your Water Supply 

  • If a pipe bursts or leaks while you are away, it could cause significant damage. Consider completely turning off the water supply if you will be away for an extended period of time. If your home is heated by an older steam heating system, consult with your heating professional to determine if it is safe to turn off the water supply for your particular heating system. Also, if your home is protected by a fire sprinkler system, make sure that you do not turn off the water to this system. 
  • If you have turned off the water supply, drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets, and flush your toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl. 
  • You should consider hiring a licensed plumber to complete these steps. The plumber can also confirm that the pipes have been fully drained by blowing compressed air through the pipes. 

The Department of Energy also suggests turning down your water heater while you’re away on vacation. They estimate that up to 25 percent of the energy consumed in your home is due to water heating. Turning down the water heater while away can help minimize that expense. New water heaters even have a “vacation mode” (VAC) that will maximize efficiency.

Keep Your Home and Plumbing Warm 

  • If you decide against draining your water pipes, keep the furnace running to help make sure the home stays warm and the pipes do not freeze. 
  • Set the temperature at 55°F or higher to help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities, where the water piping is likely located, above freezing temperatures. Keeping room and cabinet doors open can also help heat to circulate and warm the areas where pipes are located. 
  • Shut off the water to washing machines and dishwashers where possible, to avoid any leaks or broken hoses while you are away. Shutting off and draining outdoor faucets to prevent water damage due to freezing is a must, especially if you do not have frost free spigots. 
  • Have a water flow sensor and low temperature sensor installed on your main water supply pipe and hooked into a constantly monitored alarm system or your smart phone. 
  • Consider wrapping water piping in UL-Listed heat tape and insulating if it is exposed in unheated areas such as garages, crawl spaces or attics. Use only thermostatically-controlled heat tape if your water piping is plastic and follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions. 
  • Ensure that your sump pump is in working order. A battery backup system is highly recommended.

Safety considerations: 

  • Use caution when accessing a water supply line in a crawl space or other enclosed area. These locations may have low ceilings and cramped space that limits your range of movement. 
  • Be patient and move cautiously to avoid bumping your head or causing other injuries. 
  • Make sure you bring a flashlight and a communication device such as a cell phone in order to call for assistance if needed. 

This is also a good time to check for other home maintenance issues such as: Plumbing leaks, rotting wood, animal hazards or areas that may need to be sealed to prevent drafts. 

When to call a licensed plumber:
It’s important to check out your systems early. In most cases, preparing your home for winter travel is a relatively easy task. If you discover a leak or a system failure it is important to contact a professional right away.