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Seasonal Maintenance: How to Winterize a Vacation Home

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Seasonal Maintenance: How to Winterize a Vacation Home

Avoid winter woes with our vacation home preparation tips. From heating systems to emergency protocols, learn how to keep your property safe all season long.

house in snow

Winterizing a vacation home is an essential step for homeowners to protect their investment from the harsh conditions of winter. As temperatures drop, unattended properties are at risk of sustaining significant damage from frozen pipes, leaks, and other seasonal hazards. Taking the necessary precautions to safeguard a home during the cold months ensures that it remains in good condition, minimizing the need for costly repairs and allowing for a smooth transition back to a warm-weather retreat.

What is Winterization?

Winterization is the process of preparing a vacation home for the harsh conditions of the winter months, especially when left unoccupied for an extended period. Homeowners should prioritize this to protect their property from damage due to freezing temperatures. The primary focus usually involves the plumbing system, which is at risk of freezing and bursting.

Key Steps for Winterization:

  • Insulation: Ensure that all pipes vulnerable to cold weather are properly insulated to prevent freezing.
  • Heating: Set the thermostat to maintain a temperature above freezing point, generally at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Water Supply: Shut off the main water supply and drain the pipes to remove any remaining water. This includes draining water heaters and holding tanks.
  • Exterior Preparation: Disconnect hoses, protect outdoor faucets with insulated covers, and seal any entry points where cold air might infiltrate.
  • Professional Inspection: Consider having a professional inspect the home to identify any areas that may need special attention.

By taking these preemptive steps, homeowners can rest assured that their property will remain secure and undamaged, even in the face of freezing temperatures.

Exterior Winterization

Winterizing the exterior of a vacation home is essential to prevent water damage and ensure the property is safe from the seasonal elements. Attention to the roof, windows, doors, plumbing, and outdoor areas will safeguard the home.

Roof and Gutters

It's important to inspect the roof for missing or damaged shingles and repair them to prevent leaks. Gutters should be cleared of debris to avoid ice dams, which can cause water to back up under shingles. Installing gutter guards may also be beneficial.


Windows and Doors

Sealing windows and doors prevents cold air intrusion and energy loss. Weather stripping and caulking should be checked and replaced if it's worn or peeling. Insulated or storm windows and doors add an extra layer of thermal protection.

Pipes and Plumbing

To avoid burst pipes, homeowners should shut off the water supply to the home if it will be unoccupied for an extended period. Drain the system and use non-toxic antifreeze in drains and toilets. Insulate exposed pipes to protect from freezing temperatures.

Landscaping and Outdoor Areas

Landscaping should be trimmed back to prevent branches from damaging the home during storms. Once you have a bunch of logs from your landscaping work, upsell firewood to your vacation rental guests. Learn how to create upsells inside OwnerRez here. Outdoor faucets, commonly known as spigots, and any in-ground sprinkler systems should be drained and shut off. Ensure all outdoor furniture and tools are stored to prevent them from being thrown by windy conditions.

chain saw

Interior Winterization

When winterizing a vacation home, prioritizing the interior's heating, chimney, insulation, and emergency protocols is essential for maintaining a secure and damage-free environment during the cold months.

Heating System

Before temperatures drop, it's important to service the home's heating system. Replace filters in the HVAC system and set the thermostat to a low temperature that will prevent freezing; 55°F is typically recommended. For homes with a water heater, consider setting it to vacation mode to save energy while the home is unoccupied.

Fireplace and Chimney

Having the fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned is vital to ensure they're clear of debris and the flue operates correctly. This prevents potential fire hazards and carbon monoxide buildup.


Insulation and Ventilation

Adequate insulation is crucial in preventing burst pipes and retaining heat. Focus on areas prone to heat loss, such as attics, crawl spaces, and basement walls

Ensure that all ventilation systems are clean and blockages are removed to prevent mildew and moisture buildup.

Emergency Preparedness

Install an alarm system that can notify of low temperatures or water leaks to quickly address potential issues. It's also recommended to insulate pipes to prevent them from bursting, secure a local contact to check on the property periodically and disconnect and drain the washing machine and any other appliances that hold water.

Guest Comfort and Safety

Ensuring guest comfort and safety during the winter months involves communicating effectively, securing the home appropriately, enhancing the interior for warmth and coziness, and having a fair reimbursement policy.

Clear Communication

Guests should receive detailed instructions concerning the vacation home. These instructions must include:

  • Operational Details: Information about heating systems, water pipes, and utility controls.
  • Emergency Contact Numbers: Including local authorities, maintenance services, and the owner's contact information.

Comfort Enhancements

Implement features that increase comfort, especially during the colder season:

  • Heating System Maintenance: Ensure the heating system is serviced and in good working order.
  • Cozy Amenities: Provide extra blankets, a stocked firewood supply for fireplaces, and draft stoppers for doors and windows.

fireplace with blankets

Reimbursement Policy

Guests should be made aware of the reimbursement policy that includes:

  • Valuables: A list of items and their associated values, should they be damaged.
  • Insurance Claims: Steps on how guests can report issues and how claims with the home insurance will be handled.

Maintenance and Monitoring

Ensuring a vacation home is prepared for the winter involves regular maintenance checks, enlisting professional help when necessary, and using smart technology for monitoring. These steps are essential in preventing damage and maintaining the value of the property.

Professional Help

Some aspects of winterizing a vacation home require the expertise of professionals. It's beneficial to establish a relationship with local service providers who can offer assistance when homeowners are not on-site.

  • Plumber: A certified plumber can ensure water pipes are properly drained to prevent freezing and bursting.
  • Maintenance Services: Regular services may include snow removal or checking the integrity of the home's exterior.
  • HVAC Inspection: Annual inspections by a professional can extend the life of heating and cooling systems.

Smart Home Devices

Smart home technology offers homeowners the ability to monitor their vacation properties remotely. These devices can alert homeowners to potential issues, allowing for prompt action.

  • Thermostats: A smart thermostat can maintain the home at a consistent temperature and alert homeowners to temperature fluctuations.
  • Water Sensors: Place sensors near water pipes to detect leaks quickly.
  • Security Camera Systems: Modern systems offer live video feed and alerts for any unusual activity.

Security Camera System

Legal and Insurance Considerations

When winterizing a vacation home, it is essential to address the specifics of insurance coverage and understand the liability issues to safeguard your property against winter-related damages.

Insurance Coverage

Home insurance plays a crucial role in winterizing a vacation home. Property owners should:

Confirm that it covers common winter-related damages like water damage from burst pipes, which can occur when temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

insurance coverage

Liability Issues

Property owners must mitigate potential liability issues that could arise from winter weather conditions:

Carry out thorough inspections before the cold season to identify and address any hazards that could cause injury, such as icy walkways or overburdened roofs.

Keep a record of all the measures taken to winterize the home, demonstrating due diligence in the event of a liability claim.

Role Clarification Between Owner and Property Manager

When winterizing a vacation home, it's critical to outline the responsibilities of both the property owner and the manager. This clarity prevents oversights and ensures the property is thoroughly prepared for colder weather.

Responsibility Agreement

A defined responsibility agreement should explicitly state who will carry out the necessary winterization tasks. The agreement should be documented and recognized by both parties to avoid any confusion or conflict.

Checklist and Communication

Both parties should collaborate to produce a comprehensive checklist of winterization procedures. Communication is vital, ensuring tasks are not just understood but also completed on schedule. Regular check-ins via phone or email can keep both sides informed of progress and any issues that arise.

Documentation and Contracts

Finally, updating the management contract to reflect these agreed-upon responsibilities is essential. It should detail each party's duties and expectations during the winterization process. Thorough contracts help in accountability and provide a reference point should disagreements emerge. It's advisable to have an attorney review this document to ensure all legal bases are covered.

Winterize Your Vacation Rental with Confidence and OwnerRez

Winter is coming, and it’s time to ensure your vacation rental is ready to welcome guests with warmth and safety. At OwnerRez, we’re here to guide you through the winterization process efficiently, leveraging the best of technology and community wisdom.

Winterization Checklist

Roof and Gutters

  • Inspect and repair roof shingles.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts.
  • Consider installing gutter guards.
  • Look for signs of potential ice dams.

Windows and Doors

  • Apply weather stripping to gaps.
  • Use caulk to seal openings.
  • Install thermal curtains for added insulation.

Plumbing Protection

  • Shut off main water supply.
  • Drain water lines and add antifreeze.
  • Insulate all accessible pipes.

Outdoor Preparations

  • Trim trees and shrubbery.
  • Drain and shut off outdoor faucets and sprinkler systems.
  • Secure or store outdoor items to avoid wind damage.

Heating system Checklist:

  • Replace HVAC filters.
  • Set thermostat to 55°F when vacant.
  • Set water heater to vacation mode when vacant.

Fireplace Checklist

  • Check the chimney for obstructions.
  • Confirm that the fireplace damper is functional.

Insulation and Ventilation

  • Check insulation around areas prone to heat loss, such as attics, crawl spaces, and basement walls
  • Check all ventilation systems for blockages, mildew, and moisture.

Emergency Preparedness

  • Install an alarm system that can notify you of emergencies like burst pipes.
  • Secure a local contact to check on the property periodically.
  • Disconnect and drain the washing machine and any other appliances that hold water.

Guest Comfort and Safety

  • Update your welcome book with information on heating systems, water pipes, and utility controls as well as emergency contact numbers.
  • Stock your vacation home with added col weather comforts.

Legal and Insurance Considerations

  • Check with your current insurance plan to be sure you’re covered in the event of a cold weather emergency.

Talk to Your Property Manager

  • If you use a property manager, be sure to clarify before an emergency occurs who is responsible for which pieces of your winterization plan.

For more resources, from step-by-step guides to cutting-edge tools, visit our OwnerRez guides page. Our aim is to simplify your property management needs and enhance guest satisfaction, regardless of the season.