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What Temperature to Leave a Vacant House in the Winter

Before you leave for a vacation or a trip, it’s common to turn the thermostat down to save on heating costs while you’re gone. The same goes for closing up a secondary home for the winter. However, turning your heat too low or off completely can leave you with a bigger issue than a high energy bill – burst pipes and damaged property. And if you’re not home when a loss occurs and the damage isn’t addressed immediately, you could be dealing with a serious issue. 

Water damage is a leading cause of home property damage. It’s also one that you can help prevent or reduce. We’ll dive into the precautions you can take to help avoid water damage due to burst pipes.

When it comes to a winter thermostat setting, keeping the heat flowing is your best bet for avoiding issues with frozen and burst pipes. In general, it’s recommended to set your thermostat to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. This may seem high compared to the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’ll help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities – where your plumbing is often located – safely above freezing temperatures. Even at 55 degrees, this might not always prevent pipes from freezing if you’re faced with other factors like extremely low temperatures or uninsulated plumbing in exterior walls. A good tip is to leave cabinet and crawlspace doors open when you leave to allow heat to flow to unheated areas where there are pipes.

It’s also wise to insulate any exposed pipes, especially in unheated areas of your home, to prevent freezing. Nowadays, there are also a variety of sensors and systems that can help detect water loss and temperature changes in real time, and even shut off the water supply. Users can receive alerts as soon as an abnormality is detected. These tools can give you peace of mind while you’re away from home and allow you to act quickly if something seems awry. To learn more about smart home devices, visit our Smarter Home Savings page.

If you plan to be away from your house for an extended period, consider having someone check on the property regularly. You could also set up some Wi-Fi cameras inside your home so you can keep an eye out for any problems. Another option you can consider when you’re going to be away for a longer period of time is turning off the water to the house completely and having the plumbing blown out to remove all moisture.

Homeowners policies generally cover loss due to freezing of plumbing only if reasonable care was taken to maintain heat in the home. If you fail to take reasonable measures to keep your home heated in the winter, not only could you suffer from burst pipes and water damage, you could also face coverage exclusions in your homeowners policy. This is just another reason to save the potential headache and keep your home at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher when you’re not there in the winter.

How to efficiently heat a home

There are some steps you can take to maintain the recommended interior temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit while keeping energy costs down. One key is trying to keep things airtight. Sealing your doors and windows is an easy way to prevent warm air from leaking out and cold air from coming in. Replace weather-stripping on doors and consider covering windows with plastic film insulation as well. Each year, do a quick scan of the doors and windows in your home. Can you feel a draft? Is the weather-stripping peeling back? Giving it a quick peek and feel, and then acting on any inefficiencies, can save you dollars in the long run.

Many states also offer free or reduced home energy efficiency audits. With the audit, there are often accompanying offers for significantly subsidized work recommended. Check with your local energy provider or department of energy to see if your state offers energy efficiency audits. 

What else can I do to protect my unoccupied house in the winter?

If you’re closing up your home for the winter, it’s important to take some extra precautions if it’ll be unoccupied for the season. If it’s clear to others that your home will be unoccupied for the coming months, it could be an easy target for thieves. Here are a few steps to keep your home and belongings secure while you’re gone:

  1. Forward your mail, stop newspaper delivery or ask a friend or neighbor to pick up items that may be left at your door. Piled mail is a sign that no one has been around to get it. 
  2. Put motion-detecting lights around the exterior of your home to discourage lurkers. 
  3. Arrange for snow removal after storms. If snow is piled up to the door, it’s clear no one is coming in or out. 
  4. If you have an alarm system, confirm that it’s in working order and has been activated.
  5. Secure doors and windows with locks.
  6. Store valuables in a safe deposit box or off-site location.
  7. Avoid posting your travel or vacation plans on social media, as potential thieves could see when you’ll be gone.
  8. Make sure your smart home devices are set up and turned on. This will help you stay ahead of any losses when you’re not there.

Taking these steps before you leave can help ensure you won’t return to an unwanted surprise.

If you’d like more details on how to get your home ready for the winter season, visit our page How to Winterize Your Home.

Your Policy, Policy Declarations or Amended Declarations in effect on the date of loss is the primary source of reference for your coverage, coverage limits and deductible amounts.

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