Every year, more and more people move down south to escape the cold, and who could blame them? Believe it or not, close to a million snowbirds head to the Sunshine State every winter, and you could be one of them!
If you’re planning on long-term travel this winter, there’s a lot that you need to prepare for. Luckily, we can make that easy for you! Here’s what you need to know about preparing for the snowbird lifestyle this year.
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What is the Snowbird Lifestyle?
Snowbirds are the people who live in the colder climates within North America and choose to head south for the winter, much like the birds. Common examples are people migrating from Canada to the Caribbean or New England to Florida.
This is a common practice for retirees or adults who work remotely, as they grow tired of the harsh winters in the north. Many people choose this lifestyle because they still have friends, family, or other ties to an area in the north but still want to experience the sun all year round.
Checklist to Winterize Your Home
Now, if you rent out your home for winter, you may not need to winterize your home. However, it’s very difficult to find the right tenants during this time of year, and finding a solution for managing the property is even more challenging.
Assuming you are leaving your home uninhabited, it’s very important that you prepare your house for winter for peace of mind, saving money on utilities, and preventing a disaster from happening while you are away. Here is a quick checklist to get started.
1. Protect Your Water
Shut the water off in your home before you leave to prevent your pipes from freezing over. This simple step could save you a fortune in damages. You should also turn off your water heater and drain your pipes by running the sink for a moment after shutting off the water.
A frozen pipe or a damaged water heater will cost thousands of dollars in repairs. Leaving your water heater on will not only bring it closer to its end, but it will also run up your utility bill while you are away.
Just in case there is leftover water in your pipes, it wouldn’t hurt to grab a few insulation tubes to wrap your most vulnerable pipes, especially within 5 feet of your foundation or the ones outside your house.
2. Prepare Your Fireplace
It’s very important that you close the fireplace flue before you leave, which you can do yourself. If possible, you should also consider hiring a chimney sweep. This will help to prevent heat loss and buildup in your chimney.
It also wouldn’t hurt to place a wire mesh over the top of your chimney to prevent pests from taking over, especially if you don’t get the debris out of your chimney.
3. Set the Thermostat
You should keep your thermostat set to at least 55°F (13°C), as this will prevent your most delicate systems from freezing over while you are away. This will protect your pipes inside your home and any wood materials from taking too much damage in extreme conditions without costing too much for heating.
4. Prevent Mold
Leave the doors to your dishwasher, washing machine, and other appliances open to prevent mold from growing in these moist, enclosed environments. This is an easy step that can save you some serious money.
You should also leave all interior doors open. This will allow for better airflow throughout your house, which can prevent mold. It will also allow your heat to reach to every area within your house.
5. Time to Unplug
Unplug all of your appliances, including your refrigerator. If you’re leaving for several months, it’s time to empty out the fridge and freezer and save yourself some money on electric bills.
Unplug and remove your air conditioners, even if you won’t be coming back until it’s warm again. This is an easy way for heat to escape your house during the winter months, which will run up your utility bill.
6. Move Outdoor Supplies Inside
Your patio furniture, outdoor equipment, and any appliances that are outside should be moved to an indoor location for safekeeping. Garden hoses should be emptied and moved inside, along with any irrigation systems.
Outdoor furniture should be cleaned thoroughly and moved away from the elements. A shed or a barn will be fine, but a garage or basement will be better, as they tend to have better insulation.
Lawnmowers, weedwhackers, leaf blowers, and other outdoor appliances that run on gas need to be removed from their existing gas (do not dump it on your lawn) and stored in a shed or other indoor space.
7. Seal Air Leaks
This is a one-time fix that, if you haven’t already done it, will save you a lot of money. Get a door stopper for our exterior doors, use insulation caulk around your windows (you can hire a professional to do this), make sure that windows are locked tight, and try to close any holes that you find.
This will save you more money than you may realize. Anywhere from 10% to 50% of heat loss comes from air leaks around windows and doors, so if you’re paying for your thermostat to keep your home from freezing over, don’t overpay.
8. Prevent Pests
Closing those holes along the side of your home will prevent pests from getting in. This is a serious problem during the colder months, as mice and rats will seek warmer shelter. Don’t make your home into a haven for them before you leave, or you could be coming back to a serious problem.
Setting mouse traps, filling holes with steel wool, and laying mothballs in areas where they would be most likely to nest will go a long way. Mothballs work well on rodents, as they hate the smell of peppermint.
Also, avoid leaving any nesting materials out for them. Throw away old newspapers, keep clothes hung up, and don’t leave any food out during your stay. If you follow those steps, you should be in the clear!
9. Get Inspected
Get your heating system and other systems inspected before you go to make sure they are working optimally and don’t pose any hazards. It wouldn’t hurt to get your roof inspected just to be safe, as the excess weight from heavy snow can cause very costly damage.
Look around for dead or dying trees that are close to your valuable items like your home or your car, and remove them or their limbs in case of a storm.
If you’re worried about your roof, hire somebody or ask a loved one to give it a rake a couple of times during the peak of winter. It could save you thousands. If you have a neighbor or a loved one checking in periodically, ask them to look around the house for anything unusual, including smells, damage, or anything else.
Other Logistical Planning
Of course, this lifestyle doesn’t come without sacrifice, but it has plenty of benefits. Not everybody loves the snow, and many choose to spend their golden years in the sun. However, there are some important things to check off your list before you head south for the winter.
Change of Address
It’s important that you change your address with the post office if you’re going to be living away from home for several months. You can have a relative check your mail if you need to, but if you receive mail that is important and time-sensitive, then you are going to want immediate access to it.
If you are staying in the US, it’s easy to forward your mail or change your address just by filling out a form with the USPS.
If you have any other deliveries outside of the USPS, don’t forget to change them, especially for the necessities like prescription medications. If you have regular deliveries from a private company, be sure to cancel them.
Is there any subscription you receive that is location-specific? Save yourself some money by canceling or pausing it. If you love receiving a copy of The Globe or The Herald, either try to access your subscription online or put a hold on it.
Travel insurance is a great idea for a trip that is set to last a week or two, but it may not be feasible for a long-term stay. Talk to your insurance provider about options for a long-term stay.
More importantly, if your health insurance is tied to your state or country, you may find it difficult to get coverage. It’s important to contact your insurance provider and ask questions about your coverage before you go, as this is a common concern for snowbirds.
It is also a good idea to let your homeowner’s insurance provider know about your travel plans, as well as your car insurance provider. If you are leaving your cars behind for several months, they may not need coverage.
While a Massachusetts resident heading to Florida can stay for as long as they like, Canadian snowbirds might face a different challenge. This will also go for anybody traveling to Mexico, the Caribbean, or anywhere outside of their home country.
The longest that a Canadian snowbird can stay in Florida is for up to 6 months with either a B1 or B2 visa, and you will have to check the standing for other countries in which you intend to visit or reside.
It’s best to apply for these visas as far in advance as possible and to let the country where you will be residing know about your plans. This includes where you’ll be staying, what you will be doing, and when you intend to leave. The more upfront you are, the easier the process will be.
If your passport is expiring within the time of your stay, you should fill out a renewal application as far ahead in advance as possible to avoid any delays. The passport system has been backed up this year, so give yourself plenty of time in order to avoid complications later.
Plan for Your Belongings
Are you taking everything with you on a flight? Make sure that you weigh your bags and that you can bring them on the plane. Alternatively, make arrangements to ship or move your belongings down with you.
Whether you’re leaving for 2 months or 6 months, you’re going to need a lot of stuff. Is your lodging situation already furnished? Do you need movers? These are important questions to figure out as far in advance as possible.
If you are leaving the majority of your valuables at home, make sure that you have somebody check on your house from time to time, let your neighbors know about your travel plans, and if possible, install an alarm system just in case. That extra peace of mind will help you a lot during your time away!
Whether or not you choose to use an alarm system, double-check that your windows and doors are locked, that your blinds are down, and upgrade your locking system as you see fit.
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Enjoy The Sun!
Now that you have your checklist to prepare for the snowbird lifestyle, you’re good to go! Make sure that you do your diligence, protect your home, and rest assured that it’ll be there for you when you return! Stay up to date with our latest news, and feel free to contact us with any questions!