This is how to winterize, or completely shut down, a vacant home.

So why would someone want to completely shut down a home, turning off all utilities and assuring that the property is not damaged?  Some people have a summer cabin or home that they do not use at all in the winter.  Others are going away for an extended stay and equally will not be using a property for a long time.  But most importantly, “winterizing” is what SHOULD have been done to all those Bank Owned properties, those foreclosures that are in colder parts of the country.  They should have been winterized properly, thereby avoiding huge repair bills to plumbing, appliances, drywall, flooring and more. Or they should have had the utilities, specifically the heating, maintained during the winter months.

For advice on how to prepare for short absences from a property and prepare for winter, take a look at my previous article, here:

The biggest advice that I can give you to a total winterization:  Hire a professional.  Particularly a plumber.  The rest you can do, but a plumber that knows how to winterize a house is invaluable.  Regardless of whether you do most or all of it yourself or if you hire well, here is what needs to happen:

  • Start outside and get that garden or outdoor area ready for winter.  Put away furnishings and make sure hoses are unhooked and drained.  Lock doors, chain items up and prepare for your absence.
  • Plug holes or areas from animal intrusion.  Make sure that air vents have “vermin screen” installed or plug the opening completely.  Don’t forget dryer vents and chimney openings.  Chipmunks love dryer vents and birds love chimney openings.
  • Drain all water from the house and landscaping lines.  Turn off the water main, drain the system and use pressurized air to “blow out” the lines.  Using pressurized air will get water out of those low spots that you don’t even know exist. This is the function that a good plumber can do for you.
  • Turn off all heat sources.  Remember that if you are not heating the property at all, there may be consequences with damage to materials.  This is especially important with older homes.  Plaster, siding, flooring and other materials can be damaged by extremely cold temperatures.
  • Turn off the remaining utilities.  AFTER, the plumber blows out the water pipes, then turn off electricity.  Hint:  The plumber needs electricity to run his compressor.
  • Unplug appliances and shut off valves to systems.  You never know if someone will turn a breaker back on or switch a valve on and gas is running into your vacant property.  Consider locking valves and access doors shut.
  • Use RV antifreeze in toilets (both the bowl and the tank), drains and sumps.  This is important!  Any water that is left should have a quantity of antifreeze poured in.  Don’t use an automobile antifreeze.  RV antifreeze is biodegradable and won’t harm a septic system.  BUT, more importantly, the drains in your sinks, tubs and showers rely on an amount of liquid to seal out sewer smells in the “p trap” that is below that drain.  RV antifreeze is the perfect liquid for that.
  • Remove perishable foods.  Not only the refrigerator, but also dry goods or bottles that can explode in sub-freezing temperatures. Prop the refrigerator door open to prevent those strange smells.
  • Open cabinet doors and bedroom doors.  Proper air flow keeps things dryer and warmer.
  • Cover interior furnishings to protect them from dust and light damage.  Window light in high elevations can be very damaging to furniture.
  • Consider using a neighbor or friends to check on things during your absence.
  • Consider using a house check service to make sure things are alright during that long winter you are gone.
  • Lock everything up.  As I said before, consider locking more than just doors and windows.
  • Pay the bills.  Think long and hard about how long you will be gone.  What about home owners association fees, taxes, utilities or other recurring costs.
  • Make sure you have insurance coverage.  Does that policy allow for an extended absence on your part?
  • Keep a key with your trusted REALTOR.  You know that really good REALTOR that sold you that perfect escape?  He is a trusted individual that will lock that key away in a cabinet, making sure it is not coded to your address.  In an emergency, he can drop by the house or give the key to anyone you choose.  He is a phone call away!

These are some basic, general ideas on how to completely shut that property down.  These ideas are certainly not all that you should do and I urge you to do further research.  I also urge you to hire reliable professionals to take care of the intricate details!  I hope you have fun while you are away! 


Gary Nelson is a lifelong resident of Flagstaff, Arizona and is the Delegated Associate Broker at Realty Executives of Flagstaff.  Find your own part of Flagstaff at