Snowbird season: Protect your home before departing for the winter

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published November 1, 2023

Shutterstock image


METRO DETROIT — If the last week has taught Michiganders anything, it’s that the 60 degree and sunny days are soon to be in the rearview mirror.

As cooler temperatures become the norm by Halloween, snowbirds start departing for warmer climates.

Before the daily routine becomes a round of golf, walks by the beach or lounging in the sun, it’s important to make sure your primary residence is safe and secure before departing.

With the significant drops in temperature in the winter months, it’s vital to keep a consistent heat flow throughout the house to ensure that the pipes do not freeze throughout the residence.

Plumbing companies will even recommend that homeowners completely shut off their water at the main shut-off valve and drain all the water by flushing the toilets and turning on the faucets or other exterior hose connections. Once drained, consider using waterline antifreeze, not automotive antifreeze, in the toilet’s tank to prevent any other remaining water from freezing.

After the water is drained, the water heater can be turned off either at the breaker for electric heaters or at the gas valve for gas heaters. The water heater will then need to be drained by opening the valve or spigot. If you’re not completely confident in your plumbing abilities, consult with a local plumber.

While freezing water and busted pipes can be heavy on the mind, it’s also important to ensure that there are no fire hazards before leaving, and there’s one way to ensure the safety of your home.

“Personally, I would say unplug the unnecessary appliances or electric things that you don’t need, even if it’s a simple alarm clock,” Capt. Steven Stawecki, of the Macomb Township Fire Department, said. “My great aunt, I love her to death, she would always unplug, because they were snowbirds for years before they permanently moved down to Florida, but they would unplug all their appliances if they weren’t using them. Washer, dryer, microwave, stove of course and sometimes refrigerator depending on how long they were going to be gone.”

It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to your primary home, so put your mind at ease by rendering any unused appliances inoperative.

In addition to appliances, there’s one particular item throughout the house that tends to be forgotten.

“Make sure you change out the batteries in your smoke detectors (with new ones), because that’s huge,” Stawecki said. “Specifically, if you’re leaving for a while and the alarm goes off (due to the batteries running down), because we get people on vacation a lot here, we get called to a residence and it’s three o’clock in the morning. The neighbors hear the alarm, ‘Oh, it’s been going off for an hour,’ or ‘It’s been going off for days.’”

Once the safety of the inside of the house is secured, the focus should be placed on protecting the house on the exterior.

An unoccupied house can become a green light for people with the wrong intentions, so Lt. James Brueckman, of the St. Clair Shores Police Department, said it’s important to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your home.

“Obviously check all your doors and windows and make sure they’re locked, and I would use motion light,” Brueckman said. “I’d also have a neighbor looking after the residence or a family member that comes by on a regular basis.”

Some police departments like St. Clair Shores will have a list where homeowners write down their names and addresses to inform the departments that their houses will be unoccupied during a certain period of time.

If a family member or friend isn’t an option, the technological advances of security cameras might be a go-to for homeowners. There’s a multitude of options for both company choices and the complexity of the cameras.

“The most important thing is to ask what their goals are,” said William Castiglione, owner of Castle Surveillance in Macomb Township. “If their goals are to get complete coverage of the property, then we’re going to need more cameras.”

Companies like Castle Surveillance offer the whole nine yards when it comes to residential or commercial security with motion detectors, door and window sensors, night vision, and much more.

Most security companies now offer an application that allows homeowners to see everything and receive alerts right from their phones.

Although cameras can hold storage for only a certain amount of time, storage increases are ideal for homeowners who plan to be gone for an extended period of time.

“I typically tell my clients that, ‘Hey, if you’re that snow bird and you’re leaving for three or four months, we need to have a solid amount of footage going on here and being stored,’” Castiglione said. “I have some clients that travel to Europe for a month, and they want a month of storage.”