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Complete Winter Checklist to Close Your Vacation Home

Keep cold weather from damaging your vacation home with our comprehensive winterization checklist.

ByBretton Keenan| Last Updated:08/19/2022
Blue vacation home with palm trees and gravel landscaping underneath clear blue sky.

How to Get Your Summer Property Ready for the Off-Season

A vacation home is great when you need to escape to better weather, but maintenance can be a headache. Not only is the process of closing up your home at the end of the season tedious, but you should make sure your property is safe while you’re at your permanent residence. Follow our tips and the advice of William Decker from Decker Home Inspection Service to keep your vacation home in good shape while you’re gone.

The Complete Vacation Home Maintenance Checklist

It’s time to batten down the hatches and make sure your house is prepped and secure. Use our checklist for closing a vacation home to cover all your bases.

Room-by-Room Vacation Home Maintenance Tips

Follow these steps to come back to a clutter- and odor-free home after months away, and prevent burglars from knowing you’re not there.

White text that reads "Kitchen" over the image of a white, updated vacation home kitchen with wood countertops, sleek, modern cabinetry and white tiled floors.

To avoid odors, clean thoroughly and make sure everything — especially food — is stored properly or thrown away.

☐ Clean out the disposal.
☐ Turn off and unplug appliances.
☐ Toss perishable foods from the pantry.
☐ Empty and clean the refrigerator, and prop the door open to prevent odors.

Pro Tip

Try leaving a few boxes of open baking soda in the fridge to absorb any lingering odors.

White text that reads "Living Room" over the image of a vacation home living room with white and tan sofas, chairs and neutral carpet, white curtains with black rods, dark wooden coffee table and fireplace along wall with surrounding windows.

When you get back to your vacation home, you’ll likely want to jump right into relaxation mode, so make sure the living room is ready for you to easily settle back in with a good book.

☐ Move furniture away from the walls.
☐ Clean ashes out of the fireplace and close the chimney flue.
☐ Pull out loose cushions on couches and chairs to allow air circulation.

White text that reads "Bedroom" over the image of a luxury bedroom with queen bed, grey rug, sheets and walls, and neutral tone with mirror and modern accents.

Take these easy steps to come back to that hotel feeling.

☐ Strip and clean the bedsheets.
☐ Put linens away or leave clean sheets on the beds.
☐ Leave closet and dresser drawers open to allow air to circulate.

White text that reads "Laundry Room" over the image of a laundry room with front load white washer and dryer, brown, wood cabinets, sink and neutral floors.

The biggest goals in the laundry room are to prevent mold or floods and to avoid unnecessary power use while you’re away.

☐ Make sure there’s no water left in your washing machine.
☐ Shut the valves off to the room before disconnecting the hose.
☐ Disconnect the hoses to your washer and dryer, and unplug them.

White text that reads "Bathroom" over the image of a vacation home bathroom with neutral tones, white raised sink, light wood accents, bamboo shower floor and plants.

The bathroom has potential to accumulate awful odors. Don’t let sewage back up into your toilets and stink up the whole house. Decide if you want to prep the toilets and take care of the pipes yourself as a DIY project or hire a contractor. Consider calling a licensed plumber to make sure everything is in tip-top shape when you leave.

☐ Clean shower drains.
☐ Pour half a cup of chlorine bleach into the toilet bowl to prevent stain-causing bacteria.
☐ Shut off the water supply under each toilet tank and flush to drain the water, or add non-toxic antifreeze rated for plumbing systems to the tank and toilet bowl.

Pro Tip

If you work with a property management company or have a neighbor look after your house, see if they can let the plumber in while you’re gone so you can avoid taking care of it during your vacation.

White text that reads "General Tasks" over the image of a woman with manicured hand switching light switch off for general maintenance on vacation home.

Make sure you take care of easy-to-forget tasks around the house like turning off all the lights, and setting security devices.

Throughout the House

☐ Empty trash cans.
☐ Cover furniture with dust covers.
Clean the whole house thoroughly.
☐ Leave containers of baking soda, charcoal or cat litter around the house to absorb odors and moisture in the air.

Remember to Turn Off

☐ Gas.
☐ Water.
☐ Lights.
☐ Water heater.
☐ Non-essential electrical circuit breakers.

Pro Tip

Shut off the main water valve, and open all faucets and showers to let them drain out. This is especially important in areas with freezing temperatures.

Safety Precautions

☐ Test the sump pump.
☐ Close shades and curtains.
☐ Set alarms, light timers, cameras or home-away devices.
☐ Replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
☐ Lock doors and windows, and put wooden dowels in sliding door tracks.

Pro Tip

Install moisture or water-level sensors, especially if you’re in an area prone to flooding. These will alert you if water begins to accumulate in the home, either due to weather or leaks.

Energy Efficiency Tips

☐ Change air and furnace filters.
☐ Unplug appliances, electronics and anything non-essential.
☐ Set the thermostat to 50 degrees for heat and 80 degrees for air conditioning.

Pause Regular Services

☐ Reach out to your cable provider to pause your services.
☐ Have the local post office forward your mail to your home address.
☐ Ask your waste management company to hold trash pickup until next season.

Exterior Projects Before You Leave

Make sure the outside of your home is in good shape before you leave to prevent any major issues.

White text that reads "Landscaping" over the image of a landscaping garden at vacation house with flowers and window box, red wheelbarrow, shovel and before palm trees.

☐ Fertilize the lawn.
☐ Trim trees and bushes.
☐ Weed and clean up the yard.

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White text that reads "General Exterior Maintenance" over the image of a pool with wooden deck, beautiful view, palm trees at vacation home.

☐ Drain the pool.
☐ Empty and store garden hoses.
☐ Check caulking around the windows.
☐ Cover the grill and disconnect the propane tank.
☐ Secure the shed and any other outdoor dwellings.
☐ Store patio furniture, hammocks, flags, lawn decorations and other similar items.
☐ Make sure the paint around the outside of your house isn’t cracked. If you see a spot, push it in with your fingers to make sure the wood isn’t rotting underneath.
☐ Throughout your vacation, check the roof, foundation, driveway, etc. to make sure they’re not damaged, cracked or leaking. Make sure to fix any issues before you leave.

White text that reads "Weather Precautions" over the image of a fall brown leaves collected in vacation home gutter with black roof.

☐ Clean storm drains and gutters.
☐ Seal your deck to protect it against wind, rain and snow.
☐ If heavy snow and wind is common in your area, wrap trees or bushes with burlap or twine to prevent damage.
☐ Install storm windows or hurricane shutters if you have them, or board up windows if your area gets a lot of wind or snow.

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Exterior Issues That Require Professional Help

Decker says it’s important to keep an eye out for different types of cracks in your walls and roofing issues.

William Decker headshot.
William Decker, Senior Inspector | Decker Home Inspection Service

“Check for these larger problems throughout your stay so they aren’t left unattended in your absence. If needed, some of these projects can be done after you leave. At the very least, a home inspector can conduct thorough checks on your house while you’re gone. We’re specialized in non-disruptive testing, and we know what to look for."

Foundation Cracks

Vertical cracks can indicate an uneven foundation. This is especially true for homes in sandy, hilly or rainy areas, indicating one side of the house has softer soil. This doesn’t necessarily indicate structural issues, but can give water the perfect place to sneak in. Diagonal cracks can also indicate uneven settling, though these cracks are usually more serious. And horizontal cracks show where pressure is pushing from the outside in on the foundation.

Roofing Issues

Damage to your roof will allow UV light to break it down, making it easier for them to fall apart, get blown off by the wind or get shattered by hail. If you notice granular loss to your shingles or cracking on your flat roof, address the problem sooner rather than later.

White text that reads "Yearly Maintenance Tips" over the image of a management company hire holds keys to vacation home with house blurred in background.

Ongoing Property Upkeep

There are other options to keep your vacation home maintained in the offseason without having to winterize it yourself before your final departure.

Hire a Property Management Company

Ask the property management company to provide inspection reports to keep tabs on the state of your property.

If you decide not to hire help, ask a trusted neighbor to check on your house. Have them shovel snow and remove flyers left on your porch so it doesn’t look unoccupied. You may also consider getting an alarm system with security cameras.

Tackling all these cleaning and maintenance tasks before you close up your home for the season can be daunting. If you aren’t able to take care of your vacation home yourself, or you’re worried about leaving it unchecked for months, consider hiring help.

Some property management companies will look after your vacant home so it remains secure and unharmed by trespassers and inclement weather. Ask them to visit regularly — anywhere from once a week to once a month. While they’re checking on the house, ask them to follow this list to keep the place in tip-top shape.

General Tasks

☐ Keep the pool clean.
☐ Maintain the landscaping.
☐ Complete routine maintenance and cleaning inside and outside.
☐ Install storm windows or hurricane shutters if you have them, or board up windows if your area gets a lot of wind or snow.

Prepare for Storms

☐ Salt sidewalks in areas with heavy snow.
☐ Board up windows in hurricane territories.

Clean up After a Storm

☐ Clear away fallen trees.
☐ Fix anything that is broken.
Make sure there’s no flooding after a hurricane or rain storm.
☐ Shovel after a snow storm and make sure there is no ice damage.
☐ Check the outside of the house and property to make sure nothing was damaged.

Pro Tip

Because your house will be regularly cared for, you can jump right into vacation mode when you get back. You won’t have to worry about another maintenance checklist when you open your home back up for the summer.

Rent Out Your Summer House

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of boarding up your home for the winter, or you want to make some extra money, try renting it out. You can list the house on Airbnb, Vrbo, HomeToGo and other rental sites to find prospective vacationers. If you don’t live close enough to your vacation home to maintain and clean it yourself between tenants, hire a property manager.

Travel Back Home With Peace of Mind

Whether you’re closing up or hiring help, use these checklists to keep yourself at ease, knowing you’ve done all you can to make sure your vacation home is safe and well cared for while you're gone.

Expert Contributors

William Decker

William is the owner, founding Vice President and previous President of the Chicagoland Chapter of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors — the world’s largest Home Inspection Association. He has over 20 years experience with repairs and maintenance of rental properties and single family homes. William lives in Skokie, IL but teaches all over Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee and Montana.

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