LAST UPDATED: November 14, 2023
Canadian snowbirds who go away for a stretch in the winter need to prepare their homes in Canada for their absence before leaving – whether it be a house, a cottage or a condo.
There is a lot to do before you can leave town, as experienced snowbirds will know, but a little bit of prep work ahead of time can go a long way in preventing major issues with your home while you’re away, including physical damage, break-ins, insurance hassles and big repair expenses.
To help snowbirds prepare their homes in Canada for the winter, we’ve created the following checklist that covers everything you’ll need to take of – whether you’re a new snowbird preparing your home for the first time or an experienced snowbird just looking for helpful reminders all in one place.
Read your home insurance policy
The first piece of advice that is very important is to read your home or tenant insurance policy – as the case may be - very carefully.
Insurance policies will have requirements you need to meet whenever you leave your home for more than a couple of days. And each insurance company is different, so the requirements under your policy may not be the same as your snowbird friend or neighbour’s policy.
Most policies require that the home be checked by someone on a regular basis - the timing can vary from every two or three days to weekly or bi-weekly. If you don’t meet the requirements under your policy, any claim you make under your insurance coverage where the damage occurred while you were in breach of this requirement may be denied.
Insurance companies are particularly worried about water damage, whether it be burst pipes in a home or water from above in a condo. And of course, burglaries are another concern.
You will have to arrange for someone to meet the requirements of your insurance policy. There are home watch services that do this, or you can ask a family member, neighbour or friend. If you have a house cleaner, sometimes they can switch to being your home watch person while you are away.
Whoever you make arrangements with to watch your home, ask them to regularly run all the taps, flush all toilets and check for any signs of water damage, insects, vermin, etc…
If you live in a condo or apartment, sometimes the superintendent will take on home watch duties—depending on the policy of your board. Regardless, be sure to tell your superintendent and concierge - if there is one - that you will be away and leave your contact information with them in case they need to reach you.
Finally, some home insurance companies offer discounts on premiums and/or more lenient home visit frequency requirements if you have certain smart home devices installed in your residence that can help monitor your home while you are away, so you may want to consider getting these devices installed and shopping around for an insurance provider that offers these benefits.
Some snowbirds feel safer leaving their home after installing a home security system. Many security systems now include video surveillance of various areas of your home that you can view remotely on your laptop, tablet or smartphone – and alert you immediately to any security breach.
Nothing says “nobody home” like three feet of snow in the driveway! This can attract burglars.
Consider having a neighbour or a snow removal service keep your path and driveway clear during the winter. This will also make things a lot easier for you when you return and reduce the risk of damage or someone being injured while on your property.
Go online for your bills
Sign up to have all of your bills delivered electronically and make sure you are set up to pay all of your utilities, taxes and any other regular bills online. This is easy to set up through online banking and utility company websites.
Despite all of our best efforts, things do still come in the mail - often from the government. You will either need to have the post office forward your mail to your winter home, or have someone check your mail at least once a month for anything important that might have a deadline.
If you live in a condo, some superintendents or concierge staff will hold your mail for you.
Preparing your home to be vacant
Depending on the type of home you have, how long you will be away and a number of other factors, you may want to go so far as to drain the pipes for the winter.
But most snowbirds don’t go to these lengths, unless it’s for a cottage. However, there are various maintenance steps you should take.
- Set your thermostat to a lower temperature but one that will prevent your pipes from freezing. If you have pipes on an outside wall in a kitchen or bathroom, leave the cupboard doors open so that more heat can circulate inside.
- Shut off the water valves for outdoor hoses and drain any excess water to avoid freezing and burst pipes. Consider turning off your hot water heater.
- Some snowbirds put their outside and inside lights on a timer to create the impression the house is lived in.
- Check all your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and install new batteries.
- Turn off and unplug major appliances including TVs and computers.
- To save money, be sure to suspend your home phone, cable and streaming services.
- Cancel newspapers.
- Consider hiding a spare key or leaving one with a neighbour so that you can ask someone to go in in an emergency.
- Make sure you have removed all garbage and recycling and empty your fridge and freezer of all perishables (in case of a power outage). Also, turn off any automatic ice makers.
- If you have indoor plants, ask your home watch person to tend to them.
The Bottom Line
Taking all of the above steps to prepare your home for your departure will bring peace of mind and allow you to enjoy your time away.