Preparing your home for winter

Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein, Special to The Detroit News
Published 5:48 p.m. ET Dec. 3, 2020 | Updated 7:12 p.m. ET Dec. 3, 2020

This is the season of the snowbirds, that time of year when countless “northerners” close up their homes and head for warmer climates in the south.

While the snowbirds are assured of sun and moderate temperatures, what about the home they left behind? What can they do to make sure it “survives” winter and doesn’t create bigger headaches for them upon return in the spring?

The first, and best, thing to be done is leave the heat on. Remember our homes are made primarily of wood which can swell and shrink and “move” in different conditions. Attached to that wood is drywall or plaster, which does not shrink or swell with changing humidity and temperatures. If you turn the heat off during the winter, the entire frame can dry and shrink and freeze. This will result in the wall finishes cracking and showing “nail pops”.

 What’s the best temperature to set the thermostat? The answer is different for different homes. A well sealed and insulated home could be set at 55 degrees, while an older, drafty, poorly insulated home might be set at 45 to minimize cost. The object is to keep the structure and its component parts from freezing.

Since most homes have “dead” air pockets where humid air tends to stagnate, keeping the furnace on and moving the house air will also minimize the chance for molds to grow in these areas.

Water is a big concern. Shut the main valve off. Drain the water supply lines by opening the faucets at the lowest level in the house, then opening all the faucets throughout the house. Flush and drain toilets. Shut off and drain the water heater. Make sure hoses are disconnected from hose bibs outside.

If your main water supply comes into the house through an unheated crawl space, purchase and install good quality heat tape on the pipe.

Some homeowners will periodically use the home through the winter and so do not want to drain all the water systems. Stream Labs makes leak detection products that can monitor water use in your absence and even shut down the water supply in a leak event. These products are tied to apps that allow you to remotely monitor all water usage from your phone or other smart device.

Buy a gallon of RV antifreeze and pour some in to every trap in the home. This will prevent the traps from drying out and allowing sewer gas into the home. Don’t forget the traps in your basement floor drains and toilets.

Place rodent baits around the home to make sure no other inhabitants thrive in your absence. Make certain to mark these locations so you can dispose of them upon return to protect small children and pets. Secure foodstuffs and get rid of any perishables.

Open cabinet doors beneath sinks to allow for the free flow of air around pipes. Do the same with shower doors, closet doors and toilet lids – keep everything open so conditioned air can move around and through it.

Security is another concern. One of the best things you can do is keep things well lit and don’t create “temptations” for thieves. Motion sensor lighting, particularly on the “blind sides” of the home can be very effective. Hunter Douglas makes blinds that automatically open and close throughout the day to make the home appear occupied. Interior lighting staged to different on-off cycles on timers can also be effective.

One last consideration is to have a trusted friend check on the place for you on a weekly basis. Don’t let door hangers or newspapers pile up outside. This same person might clear the walks and drive of snow and check the refrigerator, freezer, sump pump, etc. to make sure everything is functioning.

Use a written checklist that you can reference upon your return so you can ease right back to living in the Great North.

For more Home Improvement advice listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760 WJR-AM from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at with your questions.

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