How to Prep Your Home for Winter Vacation
Who said vacations are only meant for the summertime?
Many Pittsburgh people take advantage of days off work to go on a winter vacation. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a winter get-away, leaving behind the snow, ice and cold temperatures. Or, perhaps you’re a family that enjoys winter sports!
If you and your family are making a break for it this year, first of all – good for you!
But let’s be honest. It can be tough to relax on your vacation if you’re concerned about your house while you’re away, especially if you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to ensure that your home will be ready for your trip.
Some of these tips may seem cliché, but they are a small inconvenience compared to the thousands of dollars you could lose if, let’s say, a water pipe bursts.
With that in mind, here are some useful pointers to make sure that during this winter vacation, your house weathers the elements.
No Need to Chill Out
Fact: Old radiators used to be built from cast iron – which is more than 490 pounds per square foot. Wow!
Before reading on, please take a moment to agree or disagree with this statement: when heading for a winter vacation, it’s better to turn off the HVAC system.
While you certainly want to save energy and money, fact is, your HVAC system is designed to run continuously, and keeping the system running while you are away will help prevent frozen pipes. Water in your pipes is the biggest threat to your home in cold weather and here in the Pittsburgh region, everyone knows that our winters can be brutal at times.
If you’re going to be away for only a few days, most experts recommend that you turn down your heat to a temperature that’s 4 degrees lower than your typical comfort range, or 6-8 degrees cooler if you have a modern, more efficient gas furnace.
If you’re going to be away for a more extended period, lower your thermostat to about 55 degrees F. That’s usually warm enough to keep your pipes from freezing but not so warm to present you with a huge heating bill upon your return. Moreover, if you have art, books, furniture and other sensitive possessions you want to protect, experts recommend keeping the HVAC system set to no lower than the recommended 55 degrees F.
Even with the heat on, however, pipes located on an exterior wall can freeze when outdoor temperatures plunge. Keeping room and cabinet doors open also helps heat to circulate and warm the areas where pipes are located.
Tip: You might be tempted to save a few bucks and turn your water heater off. However, not unlike your thermostat, you shouldn’t completely turn off your water heater. If you have a water heater with a VAC, or vacation setting, simply turn it on. If not, just lower the temperature setting. This will help keep your pipes from freezing without running up your utility bill.
Techie Tip: A simple trick that is catching on is to install a wifi-connected thermostat. This won’t cost an arm and a leg, is simple to install, and let’s you use your smartphone to check the temperature of your home while you’re away, and turn it back up to a comfortable setting a couple of hours before you get back home, so by the time you arrive, your house will already be warmed up.
Avoid the Big Freeze
Fact: Water lines in a home without heat will typically take three days to freeze when they’re sealed during freezing temperatures.
The water in your house that allows you to wash your hands, run the dishwater, do laundry and shower is always at risk of leaking, dripping and flooding. But when you’re away on vacation, and not there to monitor the system, the risk is even higher.
So, what are your options? If you’re planning a rather extended period away from home, say for several months, you might want to consider shutting off your water. The safest option here is to ask your utility provider to shut off the water to your home from the street. If you don’t want to do this, shut off the main water supply to the house. Also, drain all the pipes, beginning at the topmost floor of your home, working down.
If you’re only going for a short period or if you feel uncomfortable turning off your water, there are still precautions you might want to consider. For one thing, shut off the water to washing machines and dishwashers where possible, to avoid any leaks or broken pipes while you are away. If your outside spigots are not frost-proof, turn off the water to them from the shut-off valve inside your house, and then allow any remaining water to drain out.
Tip: If going for a short period, normally less than a week, and the forecast calls for very cold weather, you might turn on the faucets to a trickle. Flowing water doesn’t freeze as easily, so even a small trickle can help prevent pipes from freezing.
Tip: 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, do not turn off the water to this system.
So, You Didn’t Think a Furnace Need a Check-Up
Fact: The life expectancy of a furnace can be from 15-40 years depending on the kind of heating system.
Many people put off furnace maintenance because don’t know how to do it, or simply don’t know why it’s beneficial, and so they just simply keep their fingers crossed, hoping that the furnace will go on working. There is little doubt that having a broken furnace in the winter is a bad thing, but having a broken furnace while you’re away on vacation can be exponentially worse. If you haven’t done so yet, call one of our HVAC technicians at J&A South to give your heating system a good look to make sure it’s in proper working order and well maintained before you leave on your vacation.
There’s a Filter?
If you’re traveling during the winter months, you will be leaving your furnace running to protect your home from the cold weather. As such, it’s important to change the air filter on your HVAC system prior to leaving for vacation. This will not only help ensure that you turn air to good quality air in your home, but also that you don’t come home to a malfunctioning HVAC system in the middle of winter. Changing your filters will prevent this disaster ahead of time, along with costly HVAC repairs.
Tip: Keep in mind that it is typically recommended that homeowners change their HVAC filters roughly every one to three months, no matter the circumstances.
Unpower and Unplug
Fact: 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are actually turned off.
You can save energy while you’re gone by unplugging appliances that won’t be in use.
If you didn’t know anything about standby energy loss (aka vampire energy), then you might be surprised to learn that anything plugged into your outlets still draw power even when not “on” or in use. Standby mode for computers, TVs and appliances still consume energy. So, just don’t turn off toasters, TVs and so forth. Unplug all your electronics and appliances when leaving home for an extended period of time. You can even turn off your Internet modem and wireless router as long ad they aren’t supporting a home security system.
Here’s another one you might not normally think about — disconnecting the receiver of your electric garage door opener.
If you’re going away for longer than six weeks, it is also recommended to unplug your fridge and freezer, but make sure all the food is removed beforehand, or else you’ll come home to an even bigger problem.
Tip: You might want to look into installing a surge protector before leaving for your vacation. This is an effective, inexpensive way to protect your costly HVAC system from being toasted due to a power surge or outage.
Making a List and Checking It Twice
To make sure you’ve got everything checked off your list, start at the top of your house and work your way down. Inspect each room individually and spare no specifics. Properly preparing your home for your winter vacation will save you stress and anxiety while potentially preventing expensive repairs and damage to your house while you are away.
Call In a Favor
Let family members, close friends and trusted neighbors know that you’ll be away from home, but don’t announce your vacation plans in public, and that includes social media websites. Wait until you return to share your vacation pictures online.
We cannot stress the importance of having a trusted neighbor or family member check on your house while you are away for any extended period. This is especially critical if a winter storm passes through your area and you lose power.
Tip: If you don’t plan to have anyone check your house, consider investing a few bucks in timers for your lights. Try to stagger the lights so that they turn on and off at different times and in different rooms, and don’t neglect room in the back of the house.
Have J&A South Park Technicians Prep Your HVAC Systems
(We’ll finish what your husband started)
If you’re planning an extended period away from your home in the winter, you would do well to contact your HVAC professional at J&A South Park. A routine inspection can reveal potential problems before major damage to the system or your home occurs. Your technician should inspect electrical connections and wiring, gas connections, vents, exhaust pipes, controls, sensors, thermostat, ignition, burners, heat exchanger, ductwork and blower motor and fans.
J&A South Park has a great deal of experience with home maintenance and pre-vacation preparation, so if you have any questions, want more tips or want a preventative inspection before you go, simple contact us.
Think About a Service Agreement
Ultimately, the best way that you can prepare your HVAC system for any season is with a J&A South Park service maintenance agreement. This way, you can be assured of all-out protection for your HVAC system regardless of the season and you need not worry when you are away. Just contact us for details.