5 Unpredictable Vacation Home Disasters—and How to Stop Them

icy vacation home Talk about a frozen asset.

The end of summer is so bittersweet—time to stow away your flip-flops and dump out the lemonade. For those of you with vacation homes in colder climates, you’ll also have to tuck your vacation home in for the winter. During the winter months, your vacation home will battle some serious foes. Water, fire, mold, animal pests, and burglary are constant threats during the off-season—and terrible things to come home to. Whether you're squeezing in those last few beach days before the weather turns, or prepping for some gorgeous fall hikes, make sure your vacation home is safe from its four mortal enemies.

WATER & ICE

vacation home ice disaster

If water sneaks into your house while you're gone, you're in double trouble. First of all, H2O expands as it freezes, which can lead to anything from a pantry stocked with exploding Coke bottles to a house full of burst pipes. If that happens—as if it weren't enough on its own!—you'll also have to deal with ruined ceilings, furniture, and floors when the ice melts again. Avoid the whole shebang with these tips:

  • Warm it up: Set your thermostat to 55 to 60 degrees Farenheit—just high enough to keep your house warm and dry. For extra protection, set up a freeze sensor—this smart device will alert you via email and cell phone if the temperature in your home drops too low.
  • Shut it off: Turn off your water supply at its main point, whatever that means to you (check out this handy guide for more details).
  • Drain it away: Open all your faucets. Drain your toilet, expansion tank, water heater, pool, fountain, dishwasher, fridge, washing machine, and/or indoor goldfish pond (after you rescue the goldfish, of course). Take care of any stray droplets with some condensed air.
  • Throw it out: There's a whole range of liquid things that could freeze and leave you with a mess on your hands. Paint, bottled drinks, and aquariums all have to go.

FIRE

vacation home in flames

When no one's there to douse it, even a tiny electrical spark has time to grow into a roaring blaze. You don't want your dream home going up in smoke. Keep yours chill with these easy tips.

  • Unplug it: Just one bored mouse chewing through one connected power cable can equal disaster. Unplug all your household appliances and keep your house from turning into a giant grilled cheese.
  • Switch it off: A carefully labeled circuit board also lets you shut off certain zones of electricity. Just make sure to leave the vital appliances—like the thermostat and home security system—up and running.
  • Chuck it: Get rid of fire hazards, such as oily rags, coal, and, weirdly, pistachios. That stack of recycling is a powder keg when you're not home to keep an eye on it.
  • Detect it: Test your smoke detectors before you leave, just in case. Smart smoke detectors, which let you know if there's a problem, are an even safer bet.

MOLD

mold vacation disaster

Once mold shows up in your house, it never wants to leave—it just wants to stick around, blotch the place up, and make you sick. Here are some ways to make sure it doesn't move in.

  • Keep it dry: Mold grows in damp places, which is just another reason to keep your house nice and dry. A humidistat can make sure in-house humidity levels stay down, and a flood sensor will alert you if water collects somewhere it's not supposed to.
  • Empty it out: Clean out and wipe down your whole refrigerator and freezer to prevent things from spoiling. Prop the doors open, and stick a bag of charcoal in each to neutralize odors.
  • Use the penny trick: Even if you come home to an igloo of a freezer, there's no guarantee that it looked like this the whole time you were away. If the electricity goes down for even a few hours, your food could thaw out, spoil, and then freeze again, in which case reheating that delicious lambchop could make you very sick. If you really want to keep your frozen food, use this handy method for determining if your freezer has warmed during the winter. Freeze a small container of water solid, and then put a penny on top of the ice; if the coin has sunk into the ice when you return, it means everything else in there thawed, too. Throw it all out.

PESTS

vacation disaster mice

Imagine getting back to your vacation home next year, throwing open the door—and being greeted by a swarming party of creepy-crawlies. Makes you not want to go back, right? Follow our tips to keep the bugs and rats outside where they belong.

  • Block 'em: Different critters like to sneak inside in different ways. Patch up nooks and crannies with caulk and steel wool so rodents can't get in, replace any rotting wood to block insects, and cover your chimney to keep out the bats, birds and raccoons.
  • Starve 'em: Get rid of used sponges, candles, trash bags, or anything else that might seem appetizing to a pest. Seal food up in metal containers, and sweep and vacuum to eliminate any attractive crumbs.
  • Get 'em: Well-placed minefields of insecticide (along baseboards and under sinks), along with rodent traps (in garages and on kitchen counters) will neutralize any threat that does get inside.
  • BURGLARS

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    An obviously empty house might as well have a big fat burglar target on it. These tips will help you make sure you've got the guns pointed outwards instead.

    • Hide it away: You're not using your patio furniture, grill, or volleyball net—no one else should be able to either! Clean them off and lock them up somewhere indoors. And remember, nothing is sacred to thieves—you might even want to take down your satellite dish.
    • Use your neighbors: Your fellow residents make great watchdogs. Cultivate a relationship with them! When you have neighbors you can trust, let them know you're leaving for the season and give them your phone number in case of trouble. Sometimes an extra pair of eyes makes all the difference.
    • ...Or outsource them: If all your neighbors are unable to help, hire a private contractor to cut your grass, water the outdoor plants, and keep an eye on things.
    • Lock it up: This isn't the time to forget to double-check the doors and windows! A monitored home security system can help you keep your finger on the pulse while you're away—one with remote arm/disarm capability can even help you let that trustworthy neighbor in every once in a while to make sure things are ok.

    Got any other winterizing tips? Share in the comments!

    SimpliSafe blogger extrodaniare Cara Giaimo

    Cara Giaimo

    A man's home is his castle, as they say, and no matter what kind of castle you have, I'm here to help you fortify it. When I'm not blogging, you can usually find me running, jamming with friends, or making strange types of ice cream.

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