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Tips for Protecting Your Property for an Extended Absence

unoccupied home

Owning a second home comes with a second home's worth of pros and cons. For those in the military community, a second (or third, or fourth) home may be just another item on a checklist. But there are some things to consider when you own more than one home.

Sometimes, when your house needs you the most, you may not be there. Travel, living in another state than your unoccupied rental property or snow birding, may take you away from your home for a length of time. Before you leave any house, make sure you take the necessary steps to keep it safe and protected—especially if you are gone during the winter.

Adjust the Thermostat

Adjusting the thermostat is one of the easiest things to do, especially with smart home devices like the EcoBee and Nest. Luckily, something easily forgotten can now be controlled remotely by your smartphone if you have one of these devices.

Avoid turning the thermostat off completely, just lower it. Make sure it's warm enough to keep pipes from freezing. In warmer areas, you'll want to keep the air conditioner running so that the heat and humidity don't damage furniture or other home contents, typically setting it about 65 degrees is good.

Protect Your Plumbing

Both plastic (PVC) and copper pipes can burst. Pipes, water heaters, and other appliances can leak, or in freezing weather, pipes can freeze and burst, which can cause significant damage in a home left unattended.

If you are leaving for an extended period of time, the best protection is to have the water shut off and the water lines drained. While you can probably do this on your own, consulting a plumber the first time is a great idea.

You'll also want to shut off the gas to the water heater, which is something the gas company can do this for you or turn the temperature control to a "vacation" setting. If your house has a water softener, shut off its supply line, too.

If your house has a sprinkler system, that will be deactivated if you shut off the water, so make sure to consider that when making the decision. Also, if your house has a hot water heater, make sure your system has a low-water cutoff valve installed.

Protect Active Water Service

If you choose to leave the water service turned on, there are a few additional steps you can take. Take preventative measures to reduce the chance of your pipes freezing; this is the single biggest thing you can do! While leaving the main water supply on, you can turn the water off to certain appliances like your washing machine, toilets, and sinks.

Since quick action is the best way to combat water damage, consider installing an electronic leak detection system. This monitoring may be an option for your alarm company, or it may be able to be tied into another remote monitoring service.

As tempting as it is to run that last load of dishes, don't leave any appliances running when you leave. Make sure toilets aren't running and unplug anything you can, including lights, televisions, and toasters. And, last but not least, make sure your sump pump is working. Your sump pump is crucial if you're gone during early spring when the risk of basement flooding is higher.

Prepare the Outside

The outside of your property needs some tending to before you leave for an extended time. Trim trees and shrubbery and store any outdoor furniture that could cause damage during high wind. Close and lock all doors and windows to keep out wind and rain.

Arrange for someone to keep the grass and landscaping maintained while you are gone, and make sure someone local knows where your hurricane shutters are if you are in a hurricane-prone area. An empty house can be an easy target for burglary, so make sure you take steps to make it look occupied

When it's time to return to this home, you'll find yourself glad you did all this work before you left. Restore any of the services you put on hold and turn the water back on! Keep an eye on water lines and plumbing fixtures as seals can dry out and crack.

Extra Note: According to the Insurance Information Institute, secondary or vacation residences can cost more to insure than primary homes because they often remain empty for long periods and are usually located in vulnerable areas. Call and talk with an AFI representative to determine how the two-home lifestyle will affect your homeowner policy.