As birds and neighbors depart for warmer climes, I've recently been working up a draft snowbird checklist of ways to worry less if I'm ever away from home more than a few hours in winter. Here's the list so far. Additions and corrections are welcome:
If leaving for up to a month:
Make arrangements for someone to remove flyers and free newspapers that might be left at your door, mailbox or driveway while you are away.
Put away loose objects from yard, along with patio furniture that doesn’t stay out all year.
Turn heat down to 55.
Turn off water for the whole house. Leave taps open.
Turn off the furnace humidifier and close its air damper to summer position.
Turn water heater to Pilot only. (On returning, turn on water before restarting.)
Turn off power to central air conditioner (saves energy, and keeps mice from wintering in it.)
Turn off breakers for circuits that don’t need power while away.
Turn off ice cube maker in refrigerator
Throw away any food that won’t last until your return.
Leave your curtains set as usual. However, that should not let anyone see into your garage to see if your car is there, even when you are home. Similarly, don’t leave valuables in plain sight of open windows.
If you have jewelry, do NOT leave it in the bed or bath room. Consider packing it with ornaments in the attic, or some other non-obvious place. On the other hand, don’t leave it in anything you or an heir might ever accidentally donate to charity without first removing the valuables.
Turn some lights on via timers, even when home.
Turn on a fake TV.
Set a radio alarm to turn on music or talk for an hour daily at lunch.
Get a fake dog (bark sounds when motion detected.)
Get a temperature, water, etc. alarm that phones when triggered.
Set up cameras to record motion in or near the house.
Ensure smoke, CO and gas detectors are working and have fresh batteries, if not powered by AC.
Unplug everything that might be damaged by lightning or start a fire.
Unplug cable outlet from TV.
Let local police, trusted neighbors, alarm company (if any), and association office know when you’ll be away, and who if anyone will be going in. Give them contact info and tell how to get access.
Leave a key, ideally with someone who occasionally goes into the house to ensure all is well. Tell them your alarm disarm code, if any. If you don’t leave a key with anyone, hide one somewhere non-obvious (not under a mat) in case you have to authorize access via phone.
Pack and take with you medications, glasses prescription, important papers, checkbook, phone numbers and email addresses you may need, money, checks, credit cards, debit cards, car registration and car and health insurance cards. Take along important contact info for family members, friends, doctors, utilities and financial institutions.
Store other important papers in fireproof or bank safety deposit box.
Unless a safe contains valuables, consider leaving it open, lest a thief destroy it and walls trying to gain access.
Renew anything important that expires before your return, such as car registration, drivers license, credit cards, memberships, or prescriptions.
Autopay bills, and do online banking.
Leave ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact number in a conspicuous place inside your house, such as kitchen counter.
Leave garage door opener in same spot.
Make sure all doors and windows (including screen doors and windows) are locked, and can’t be pried open.
If you have houseplants, either loan them to someone to care for them while you are away, or arrange for someone to come and care for them. Don’t trust automatic watering systems unless you already use them while at home.
Do not announce (Facebook, email away message, voice mail, etc) that you are away (such as by posting photos from elsewhere while away.)
Make sure stove and oven are off.
Make sure toilet water isn’t running.
Empty all wastebaskets.
Dispose of final garbage.
Arm alarm, if any, as you leave.
If leaving for several months:
Forward mail. The U.S. Postal Service offers a premium mail forwarding service. The fee is $14.75 a week, plus a $15 enrollment fee. But you’ll get all your mail once a week (including magazines, catalogs, etc.) in a priority mail box. Your permanent address is not changed, and your temporary address is not provided to mailers.
Disconnect and put away hoses.
Clean and cover outdoor grill.
Make sure gutters are not full of leaves. Check roof for leaks.
Annually spray or spread pesticide around the outside of the house.
If leaving a car or gas mower, leave it with fresh oil, top off its gas and treat with Stabilize. Put its battery on a trickle charger.
Flush toilets 3-4 times, then add cleaner, and cover bowl and tank with plastic wrap to minimize evaporation. Also seal sinks with covers and plastic wrap.
Also open outdoor faucets if turning off heat entirely. If turning off heat entirely, also turn off gas for the whole house, put RV antifreeze in plumbing elbows under sinks, toilets, tubs, showers, dishwasher, and disconnect and drain any refrigerator ice maker water line.
Run ice cubes through disposal. Then flush with baking soda and water, spray with WD40, and put stopper in place.
Clean out and turn off the refrigerator and freezer. Leave doors propped open with a towel, with a fresh box of baking soda in each.
Clean dishwasher, including door edge. Blot up residual water in bottom after last load. Prop door open.
Clean all appliances, including toaster and stove.
Make sure washer is fully drained.
Open cabinet doors under sinks to help keep pipes from freezing.
Remove batteries that might leak from devices that don’t have to stay on while you are away.
Pull furniture away from walls, and pull out loose cushions.
Open all closet doors and dresser drawers so air circulates. Leave no clothes on wire hangers or in garmet bags, unless unzipped.
Notify insurer if will be gone over 30 days.
Spray wastebaskets with disinfectant.
Empty vacuum cleaner.
Clean or replace furnace filter.
Ensure air conditioner condensate line is clear of dirt and algae
Replace water filter, if any.
Take along tax return info if you will be gone until April 15.
Pre-pay all current non-auto-pay bills that will be due before mail can be forwarded to you before leaving
Take a cell phone photo of, or email yourself a scanned copy of drivers licenses, passports, medical cards, etc.