When I think about hurricane season, the image I keep seeing is of slimy white maggots crawling over slabs of stinking chicken, fetid sirloin, mold-covered cheese and rotting fruit and vegetables. And as if this visualization isn’t enough to make my knees buckle, I think about the stench.
The message is simple: If you’re leaving town for an extended period of time during the summer, you need to COMPLETELY empty your refrigerator and freezer before leaving. Period. End of conversation!
I’ve created this checklist to help seasonal guests manage the transition between two or more homes. Today, I share my “Ultimate Snowbird Checklist”:
- Keep one full set of keys, including home, safety deposit box & mailbox, for each home, as well as a garage door opener, in a Ziploc bag for easy access.
- Take photographs of clothes and accessories you leave behind. If you can’t locate something, check your camera roll.
- Take all medications, prescriptions, hearing aids, contact lenses and eyeglasses with you when you leave.
- Print out copies of your will, trust, medical directive and power of attorney to keep with you when traveling between two homes.
- Organize your everyday files into ONE clear plastic bin, which can easily be transported from one home to another.
HVAC & humidity:
- Do NOT turn the air conditioning off or put on a warmer setting thinking you’ll save money while away for the summer. Instead, set the thermostat to a mild 75 degrees and keep the blinds down.
- Most importantly, make sure the fan setting on the thermostat is set to “auto” and NOT to “On.”
- Leave ceiling fans on at all times to circulate the air. The fans will NOT blow up and burn your house down, but they will circulate the air more efficiently.
- Schedule an HVAC preventative maintenance appointment before departing, and be sure to have the exterior HVAC drain line cleaned and vacuumed, the filter changed and the thermostat batteries changed.
- Purchase extra filters and instruct your home-watch service to change them once a month.
- If you choose to use a moisture absorbing product, such as DampRid, in your closets, make sure your home-watch professional empties the containers every time they visit. (Note: I suggest freestanding containers in lieu of the hanging ones. Be sure to put the containers inside a bowl, just in case they overflow.)
- If the HVAC air handler is in a closet, leave the door wide open with a container of DampRid nearby.
- Mold thrives in dark, moist environments. Take clothing out of plastic dry-cleaning bags and remove foam rubber hanger “stays.”
- Disconnect car battery, leave car windows slightly ajar.
- Consider purchasing a portable dehumidifier for your garage, which may be helpful in regulating the humidity.
Two weeks before leaving:
- Forward all mail & periodicals to northern address; notify post office at alternate location to hold incoming mail. (InformedDelivery.usps.com for easy online access.)
- If you use timers on one or more lamps in your home, make sure they are working.
- Have the alarm system inspected and replace all batteries.
- Have hurricane shutters inspected and lubricated before departing. (Note: While some people choose to close their shutters before departing, I suggest leaving this task to your home-watch service, since mold breeds in dark places.)
- Call credit card companies and banks to give them your alternate address and expected length of stay.
- Notify home-watch and neighborhood security office of any changes to your contact information, and provide a secondary emergency contact number.
- Make sure the community security office and your property manager have the name of your home-watch company, as well as a key (and alarm code) to your home in case of emergency.
- Leave a copy of homeowner’s insurance, agent’s name and telephone number in a conspicuous place inside your home.
- Create a checklist for your home-watch company listing preferred appliance, HVAC, hurricane shutters, plumbing and electrical contractors, as well as a list of any maintenance contracts (pool, landscaping, HVAC and appliance) you may have.
One week before leaving:
- Put newspaper, phone, cable and Internet services on “seasonal” hold. Reinstate all services at alternate location.
- Bring furniture, cushions, plants, portable grills, hoses, loose decorative items, doormats and garbage bins inside.
- Have shrubs and trees trimmed, including removal of any loose palm fronds and coconuts. Maintain weekly landscaping services throughout the summer.
- Give live plants to a neighbor to care for while you’re gone.
Two days before leaving:
- To avoid being charged for tolls while your car is on a transport truck, remove SunPass before the car carrier company arrives.
- Turn refrigerator to lowest setting and dispose of ALL perishable foods and previously opened condiments. You should NOT leave the refrigerator completely empty, choosing instead to leave a few non-carbonated beverages or unopened condiments in the shelves.
- Dispose of any bottled and/or canned carbonated drinks, as these could easily explode.
- Turn icemaker “off” and empty tray.
The day you leave:
- Leave all closet, cabinet and interior doors open.
- Pull car into the garage as far as possible.
- Lock garage door from the inside and disable electric access.
- Lock all windows, exterior doors and sliding glass doors.
- Pull window shades down, leaving 1-inch clearance.
- Shut off washing machine valves and leave dishwasher, washer and dryer doors open.
- Unplug washer and dryer.
- Slowly shut off the home’s water main and drain water lines by leaving faucets open after main is shut off. Once drained, close faucets. (Note: your home-watch service will turn the water on while he/she is in your home and will turn the water main off when they leave.)
- Shut off hot water heater valves and corresponding circuit breaker switches. (For gas or tankless water heaters, check instruction manual.)
- Remove batteries from telephones, remote controls and garage door openers.
- Unplug all small appliances including: televisions, cable, toaster, coffee maker, computer/printer, hair dryers and curling irons.
Be smart, not stingy. If you’re leaving your home for a week, a month or longer, the smartest thing you can do to protect your home is to hire a reputable home-watch service to inspect your home a minimum of three times a month in your absence (once a week is even better). Lastly, if your current home-watch service does not supply a written report after each visit, make sure they start doing so. If there’s ever a problem that requires an insurance claim be filed, having a detailed report could be the difference between getting paid or not.