Q&A: How can I protect my house when going on vacation or leaving for a long time?

This is a question we hear quite often. Many people wonder what steps to take when they will be gone for an extended time. What about water? What should I do with my furnace? These are great questions and we’ll answer them from a qualified home inspector viewpoint. Unfortunately, we know from experience how important this is. We’ll divide the topic into sections of plumbing, heating, and “oh yeah”. While we are located in Indiana, this applies to all colder climates.

Remember the scene in Home Alone, when the parents have just boarded the plane. They are quizzing each other about different things they may have left on or forgot to turn off in the house. While we certainly don’t want you to leave a child behind, we don’t want your house to have a major disaster from simply forgetting one of these simple steps!


The first winter maintenance tip for your vacation or long trip is listed here. Don’t forget to turn off the water to your house. This will reduce the chances of a catastrophic water problem if something goes wrong while you’re gone. You can then open the lowest water faucet in your house to drain the pipes. Remember when I mentioned an unfortunate personal experience? Several years ago, our family had been gone for over a week. When we returned, we opened our door to several inches of water. A supply line to a bathroom fixture had broke and was spraying hot water everywhere! If I had turned off the water supply, this wouldn’t have happened!

If you will be gone for a long time, we recommend that you put RV antifreeze in the plumbing traps in your home. This includes the toilets, as well as the drains for the sinks, bathtubs, showers, floor drains, and washing machine standpipe. These plumbing traps are designed to prevent sewer gases from entering your home. If the water in these traps evaporates, you will come back to the unpleasant smell of sewer gas. It’s also possible that rodents/pests will enter your home through the open sewer lines.

Skip this!

Do you need to have someone periodically flush the toilets, so the seals don’t dry out? There’s no need for this. Do you need to lower the temperature of the water heater or set it to vacation mode as part of your vacation winter maintenance? In our opinion, the small savings you may achieve aren’t worth the possibility of Legionella bacteria growing in your water heater tank.


Turn down the thermostat if you’ll be gone, as part of your long trip winter maintenance plan. We recommend 55 degrees, but this isn’t a set rule. We have a family member who used to have a bathroom water line that would easily freeze. In this scenario, we wouldn’t recommend turning down the heat. Some houses can’t tolerate this extreme of a drop, but many houses can drop even further without any problems. Whatever you do, don’t totally turn off the heat.

We also recommend installing a smart thermostat, which will connect with your WIFI and send you alerts if the temperature is out of control. We have a Wyze thermostat, but there are several good options available.

Oh Yeah!

Everything else that I list could go into “common sense” category, but it’s easy to forget these areas.

It’s important to have a gameplan for snow removal. Anyone could drive by your house a few days after a snowstorm and realize the house is currently unoccupied if the snow isn’t removed.

On a similar thought, it’s wise to use a few light timers and cancel your mail/newspaper delivery if you will be gone for an extended amount of time.

Before you leave, get rid of perishable food and empty the trash. A small amount of unclaimed food can attract other types of unwanted guests.

It’s also a good idea to have someone check on your house periodically. If you are gone for several months, you don’t want to come back at the end and realize a small problem has turned into a large one.

What other winter maintenance tips do you have? Let us know in the comments!

House in Winter for winter maintenance tips