That familiar fall chill in the air means the holidays are just around the corner, but it also means it’s time to start thinking about your trip down south. The life of a snowbird gives you the best of both worlds — milder northern summers and warm southern winters. But the lifestyle also comes with extra to-do items when it comes to home maintenance and preparation. Master seasonal living with our Florida snowbird checklist to keep both of your homes safe and comfortable.
Leaving Your Northern Home
Once the mercury starts dropping, you’re ready to head for warmer weather, but your northern home needs some attention first. Think of it as winterizing your home to prevent damage while you’re away. These tasks can take some time, so start at least a few weeks before you plan to leave.
Let’s start outside of your home. Move any fragile or loose outdoor items in storage before you leave. This includes fountains, breakable garden decorations, grills and patio furniture that might rust or blow away. Clean up your landscaping before you leave.
Clear your gutters so melting snow can flow freely to prevent ice dams on your roof. While you’re outside, check weather-stripping and inspect exterior doors and windows to look for gaps. These openings allow water, pests and cold air to enter your home. Fix any issues before heading south.
Take care of these indoor household tasks before packing up for the winter:
- Shut off your water: A burst pipe causes major damage. Leaving your water on while you are gone increases the risk of pipe damage. Shut off the water at the main valve of your home. Drain the pipes, or hire a plumber to handle the draining process for you.
- Service your HVAC system: Hire a local HVAC company to perform seasonal maintenance on your heating system to ensure it works properly. Change the filter before leaving to allow the furnace to perform well all winter.
- Turn your heat down, not off: It may seem silly to pay for heating when you’re not even home, but keeping the heat running is another way to keep your pipes intact while you are gone. Lower the thermostat, but keep your heat set to at least 55 degrees to prevent freezing within the walls.
- Turn down or shut off your water heater: Your water heater doesn’t need to run all winter when no one is there to use hot water. Reduce the temperature as low as it will go, or turn off the breaker that controls the water heater.
- Shut off utilities: You need your heat and power to stay on while you travel for the winter, but other services can be suspended with no issue. Check with your internet and cable provider to determine if you can shut off the service for the winter without a penalty. Some companies offer a vacation status option that lets you temporarily pause the service without any fees or penalties.
- Unplug appliances: Pull the plug on TVs, microwaves and similar appliances that don’t need to run while you’re gone. These appliances often still pull electricity even when not in use, so unplugging them saves you money. You also prevent damage to those items should a power surge or lightning hit your home.
- Open appliance doors: Your dishwasher and washing machine in particular need to stay open while you’re gone. This allows the appliances to dry out and prevents mold growth.
- Close up your fireplace: An open fireplace flue offers an entry point into your home for all sorts of critters. Close the flue and check the covering on your chimney before heading out of town. If your chimney doesn’t have a covering, have one installed before the winter.
- Open interior doors: Leaving your interior doors open — such as the doors to cupboards, rooms, closets, etc.— helps the air circulate while you’re gone.
You also have some personal tasks to handle before you can head south. Take care of these tasks before leaving:
- Make a plan for your mail: Set up mail forwarding for the winter period so you can still get your mail. Another option is to have someone up north get your mail for you. Make sure this person knows about any important mail you might receive to ensure it gets handled properly.
- Stop paper delivery: A pile of unread newspapers is a sure sign to burglars that no one is home. Suspend paper delivery for the duration of your southern snowbird adventure.
- Forward calls: If your northern home has a landline phone, contact your phone service provider to have calls to that number forwarded to your cell phone. Another option is to use a voicemail system that allows you to access your messages remotely. If you let your calls ring through to your northern home, turn off the ringer so potential thieves don’t hear your phone ringing off the hook. Never change your message to indicate you are gone for the winter.
- Contact financial institutions: Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you are heading to Florida for the winter. This can prevent your account from being flagged for suspicious activity in another state. You can also add a temporary mailing address for the winter months, as financial documents may not be forwarded with your mail when it is addressed to your northern address.
- Call your insurance agent: Your long winter away from your primary residence may affect your homeowners’ insurance coverage. You may need a special vacant home policy, or you may need to arrange for regular checks on your home to ensure continued coverage in your absence.
- Plan for bills: You won’t be home to receive your normal bills, and sometimes forwarded mail gets misdirected. If possible, pay ahead on your bills before you go so you don’t have to worry about a missed payment. Another option is to set up automatic payments for your monthly bills.
- Ask medication questions: Medical insurance can get tricky when you travel out of state. If you take a regular prescription medication, verify that a Florida pharmacy can fill that specific type of drug. Some insurance plans require an in-state prescription for certain types of medication. Bring along any relevant paperwork, including a copy of your prescription and your health care insurance card to make refilling your medications easier.
- Arrange for houseplant care: If your northern home includes house plants, arrange for someone to water them regularly. You can also take the plants with you if you’re driving to Florida.
Decide on pet care: If you’re lucky, you can take your furry family member south with you. Some communities in Florida, however, do not allow pets or enforce breed or size restrictions on pets. If your pet doesn’t meet the requirements, make arrangements for care while you’re gone. When possible, ask a friend or family member to take in your pet. If this isn’t an option, choose a boarding facility that allows for plenty of time outside the pen.
The security of your home while you are away is also very important. Thieves target homes that are obviously vacant for extended periods of time, so you want to give the illusion of being at home even if you aren’t. Here are some ways to keep your home secure when you are hundreds or thousands of miles away:
- File with the police: Many police departments offer a form that lets you alert them of your travel plans. This allows the police to contact you should anything happen to your home.
- Inform neighbors: Enlist the help of your northern neighbors to keep an eye on your home while you’re gone. Let them know when you’ll be gone and whether or not you expect anyone to stop by during that time. Ask them to contact you if they notice anything unusual or if any problems occur.
- Don’t make your departure public knowledge: Posting about your snowbird plans on social media or making the news public knowledge can alert potential burglars of the perfect opportunity to visit your home.
- Use timers: A completely dark house for several weeks or months straight is a signal that no one is home. Attach lamps to timers set to turn on and off and various times to make your home look like someone is there. Alter the days and times certain lights come on so the on-and-off cycle isn’t the exact same every day.
- Hire snow removal: If your northern home is located in a snowy area, hire a company to handle the shoveling while you’re gone. Most areas have shoveling requirements for sidewalks, which can result in a fine of not handled. Hiring out the task while you’re gone also makes your home look lived in.
- Secure your valuables: You won’t likely pack up all of your prized possessions for the journey south. Instead, secure them in a safe or pay for a safe deposit box at your bank to store your jewelry and other valuable items while you’re gone.
- Install a security system: If you don’t have one already, consider installing a security system in your northern home. A monitored alarm system gives you a hands-off way to keep your home secure. Another option is to have a security camera installed with remote access so you can see what’s happening at your house. If you already have a system installed, be sure to arm the system before you leave.
- Monitor temperatures: A failing HVAC system causes temperatures to quickly plummet below freezing in a northern home. Use a system that monitors temperatures to determine if your furnace goes out while you are gone.
- Moisture sensors: Another safeguard is to use moisture sensors to alert you instantly to a leak in your home. Many monitoring systems integrate temperature and moisture sensors in one unit.
With your home secure, it’s time to focus on cleaning up and packing for your trip south. Don’t leave any dirty laundry in your northern home. Dirty laundry, especially if it is damp, gets musty and may even mildew. Wash bedding before you leave, too.
Clean all surfaces in your home to remove any traces of food, dirt or other debris that might attract pests or cause mold to form. Dispose of all trash before heading south.
Your refrigerator also needs a thorough cleaning. Dispose of anything that will expire before you return from Florida. The shelves will likely look bare by the time you depart, but that’s what you want. Wipe down the surfaces to remove any food drips or chunks. You can also completely empty the refrigerator, clean it well and shut it off. If you go this route, prop open the refrigerator and freezer doors to prevent mildew growth.
Open the doors on appliances that could potentially grow mold or get smelly while you’re gone. This includes your dishwasher and your washing machine.
When packing for your winter down south, consider what is available in your southern home. Is the kitchen fully stocked? Do you have lines there already? Do you have a selection of clothing that stays there year-round? These questions help you pack as lightly as possible, taking only what you need for the trek.
Paperwork is an important aspect of packing and preparing for your trip. Handle the following paperwork tasks before leaving:
- Check credit and debit card expiration dates to ensure they don’t expire while you’re gone.
- Take tax documents if you won’t return north until after April 15th.
- Pack any relevant health care records and medication documentation.
- Bring your IDs, including your passport if your winter plans include any travel outside the country.
If you can’t pare down your packing list enough, consider shipping some of the items to your southern home. Another option is to buy a duplicate of the item once you arrive in Florida that you just keep there.
Snowbirds who drive need to add car maintenance to the to-do list. Schedule your vehicle for an oil change and inspection. Check tire pressure. Verify that you have a copy of your vehicle’s registration and your car insurance information.
What to Do When You Get to Your Southern Home
Before you connect with your fellow snowbirds and enjoy the Florida sunshine, take some time to open up shop in your Florida home. After sitting vacant all summer, your home needs some freshening and checkups to ensure everything is running properly and safely.
Let’s start with the HVAC system. Even during the winter months in Florida you’ll likely need your air conditioning on a regular basis. If you left your air conditioning running all summer, your home should be comfortable and free of musty, moldy conditions. A Wi-Fi thermostat lets you monitor and control the air conditioning system while you’re away. Use this remote system to adjust your thermostat to a lower temperature just before you arrive so you can walk into a perfectly cooled home.
Once you arrive, perform a few maintenance tasks to the HVAC system. Those tasks should include:
- Schedule a maintenance call: A yearly HVAC system inspection helps identify problems early and make certain the system is running properly. Schedule your maintenance call before you arrive in Florida to ensure you don’t have to wait too long.
- Filter change: Your HVAC system worked all summer on the same filter. It’s time to put in a fresh, new filter to maximize airflow through the unit. The new filter also helps keep the air cleaner in your southern home. Continue changing your filter each month during your stay in sunny Florida.
- Inspect the system: Take a quick look around the outdoor air conditioning unit to look for signs of damage or obstructions. Get rid of any leaves or debris around the unit, and trim back branches or plants that grew close to it.
- Check the thermostat batteries: A fresh set of batteries in your thermostat helps the box run efficiently.
- Test the system: If the system isn’t already running, start up the air conditioning unit to verify it works. If the system doesn’t work or doesn’t produce cool air, check the thermostat to ensure it is turned to the cool setting with the fan in the auto position. Next, check your circuit breaker or fuse box to check for power source problems. If these solutions don’t fix the problem, call Del-Air to identify and repair the problem for you.
Now that your air conditioning system is comfortably and efficiently running, you can focus on your other Florida arrival tasks. That list of tasks includes:
- Notify management company of your arrival: If you live in a condo or gated community, let security and the property management company know you are back in Florida. Alert your southern neighbors so they know they can ease up on the neighborhood watch routine.
- Turn on your water: Head to the main valve of your Florida home to turn on your water supply. Test all faucets in your home, and watch for leaks.
- Do a quick inspection: It’s been a while since you’ve been in your southern home. Do a walk-through to check for anything that looks out of place and to identify potential problems. Address those concerns right away.
- Freshen up your home: If you cleaned up and prepped your southern home properly at the end of the last winter, you shouldn’t need to do too much cleaning. Wipe down all kitchen surfaces. You may want to launder your sheets and towels so they smell fresh.
- Plug in appliances: Go through your home to plug in everything you unplugged last winter. Replace batteries in any battery-operated items. If you unplugged your refrigerator, set it to the appropriate temperature and wait for it to get cold before filling it with perishable food items.
- Test your smoke alarm: Put fresh batteries in your smoke alarm. Test the system to ensure it is working properly.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector: If you don’t already have one in your Florida home, install a carbon monoxide detector to improve your safety.
- Security is also an issue. Even if you’re in a gated community, it’s important to ensure the safety of your home. A security camera is an easy way to see who is at your door and to monitor activities taking place outside your home.
If you have a second vehicle you keep at your Florida home, do a maintenance check on it. A local mechanic can give the car a quick inspection to ensure everything is working properly and the vehicle is safe to drive.
With everything up and running smoothly, it’s time to knock on your neighbors’ doors and start enjoying the Florida winter.
Leaving Your Southern Home for the Summer
Fast forward a few months — your time in Florida is rapidly coming to an end. To keep your Florida home in tiptop shape, it’s important to handle a few housekeeping items before you leave. Many of the tasks are similar to those you performed on your northern home before heading south, with some slight differences.
Before leaving, hire a home watch service to check in on your southern home regularly. This is particularly helpful if you only spend a few months in Florida. Your southern home will sit vacant for many months, and having someone check in on it once or twice per month ensures it stays secure, and problems don’t become catastrophes.
If your Florida winter home features any outdoor living space, pack up your patio furniture and other loose items. This keeps them from blowing away and potentially causing damage should a hurricane or severe storm hit the area. Check your hurricane shutters, if your home has them, to ensure they are working properly.
Plan for landscaping maintenance while you are gone as well if you are responsible for your lawn and plants. Hiring a landscaper to come regularly to prune plants, water your landscaping and mow your lawn keeps your home looking nice even when you’re not around. If you have an irrigation system, have it tested before leaving to ensure it works properly.
Do an overall inspection of your home to look for any potential problems before leaving, such as leaky pipes or cracked windows. Repair those issues so they don’t grow or cause serious damage while you’re back north.
Prep your HVAC system for the summer months. Bump up your thermostat to around 85 degrees so the air conditioning system still runs, but not as much. Keeping the system running prevents mold growth. Put in a fresh filter before you leave. Consider scheduling another seasonal maintenance appointment with Del-Air if you’ve been in Florida for several months. This ensures the system is ready to go for the long and hot summer season.
Inside your home, you have several to-do items to complete. Those tasks include:
- Close blinds: Put all of your shades and blinds in the closed position while you are gone. This prevents sun damage to your interior and keeps curious passersby from seeing inside your home.
- Clean your kitchen thoroughly: It will likely be several months before you return south, so don’t leave anything perishable in your refrigerator or any food remnants that might attract bugs. Clear out your pantry to avoid a pest infestation. Wipe and clean all kitchen surfaces and appliances, including small appliances like your toaster.
- Empty all trash cans: Carry all trash to the outdoor trash receptacle to prevent pests and bad odors.
- Do a purge: If you spend a few months in Florida, you will likely accumulate new things. Do a purge and declutter session before you leave in the spring. When you come back next winter, you’ll arrive to a clean, organized home.
- Shut off your water: Since no one will be there for several months, it’s a good idea to shut off your main water valve to prevent leaks.
- Cover toilets, sinks and drains with plastic cling wrap: Covering those openings minimizes water evaporation in the trap, which in turn prevents sewer gases from entering your home.
Check all appliances to verify they are off: This is particularly important for your stove or other appliances that generate heat. Unplug any electric items that don’t need to run while you’re gone.
- Move furniture: Pushing furniture away from walls reduces the risk of mold and mildew growth.
- Open interior doors: Leaving your interior room and closet doors open keeps the air flowing through your southern home to minimize the potential for mold and mildew.
- Lock all entrances: Manually lock your garage door from the inside before you leave. If possible, disconnect the power source to the garage door opener to prevent someone from accessing your home through the garage. Secure sliding glass doors with security bars. Lock all dead bolts and other locks on doors and windows.
- Engage temperature and moisture monitoring systems: The same type of moisture and temperature monitoring systems you use in your northern home during the winter work in your Florida home during the summer months. Use these systems to find out immediately if water enters your home or the air conditioning fails.
- Arm your alarm: If your southern home has an alarm system installed, engage it right before you leave.
If your Florida residence is a condo or a home in a gated community, let the management company know when you are leaving and when you tentatively plan to come back. The management company should also have a way to access your residence should something go wrong while you are gone. Leave your northern contact info with the office, and provide a local contact if possible.
Returning to Your Northern Home
If you wait long enough, you should see signs of spring by the time you get back to your primary home up north. Before you sit back to enjoy the sights and sounds of a northern spring, though, take some time to open your home back up for living.
Get your northern home back up and running with these tips:
- End mail forwarding: If you didn’t already choose an end date for having your mail forwarded to Florida, take care of this task now. This ensures your mail gets to you in a timely manner.
Schedule resumed services: If you shut off your cable, internet or other services for the winter, call before you head back north to schedule the services to resume. This ensures you return to all of the services you are accustomed to having without a delay. Resume paper delivery and other services you paused.
- Announce your arrival: Let your neighbors and the local police department know you are home.
- Turn on your water: Open up the main water valve to get the water flowing through your home. Check for signs of leaks or burst pipes when you first start the water flow. Signs include water leaking from pipes, moisture and lower than normal water pressure in faucets. If you shut off your water heater, turn it back on or turn up the temperature setting.
- Crank up the heat: Since you lowered the heat to save energy, it’s time to crank up the thermostat. While you’re at it, put in a new filter.
- Test smoke detectors: Pop in some fresh batteries, and give your smoke detector a test to ensure you are properly protected.
- Use a carbon monoxide detector: Install a carbon monoxide detector to make sure your home is safe. This is particularly important in colder winter and spring times because you don’t have windows open. If you have a carbon monoxide leak, the gas is highly concentrated inside your home and can be deadly.
- Plug in gadgets: Now that you’re back home, you can plug in all of those electronic devices you unplugged before leaving.
- Clean up your home: You prepped your home thoroughly before leaving, but if you’ve been gone for months, you’ll want to do a quick cleanup when you get home.
- End mail forwarding: If you didn’t already choose an end date for having your mail forwarded to Florida, take care of this task now. This ensures your mail gets to you in a timely manner.
Special Tips for RV Travelers
Your snowbird travel list looks a little different if you spend your winters in an RV. An RV gives you the freedom of checking out multiple warm-weather locations, but you’ll have a few extra prep activities to tackle.
Before heading south in your RV, complete these tasks:
- Prepping your northern home: All of the same home prep tasks apply when you winter in your RV. Go through the checklist to ensure your home is prepared to withstand the winter without you there to maintain it.
- RV maintenance: Make sure your RV is road-ready long before you plan to depart. Schedule a maintenance appointment to ensure the RV is in excellent working order. RVs include many components to inspect, including the engine, holding tanks, exterior lights, interior appliances and plumbing. Complete any repairs necessary.
- Clean: Give your RV a thorough cleaning before your travel plans, especially if it hasn’t been used for some time.
- Pack wisely: You have more space in an RV than you do in a car, but you still want to pack wisely. Consider what you really need and how it will fit into your RV.
Prepare additional vehicle: If you plan to tow a vehicle behind the RV, perform any necessary maintenance on that vehicle. Ensure your tow trailer is properly installed and ready to go. Test all connections before your planned departure date.
Checklist for Seasonal Living
Prepping for your snowbird escape isn’t as simple as packing a suitcase and hitting the road, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or complicated. Refer to this quick snowbird checklist so you don’t forget the important prep tasks.
Before leaving your northern home, perform these tasks:
- Move outdoor items inside.
- Clean up your landscaping.
- Shut off your water.
- Service your HVAC system.
- Lower your thermostat.
- Turn off your water heater.
- Turn off your internet, cable and similar services.
- Unplug appliances.
- Close your fireplace flue.
- Set up mail forwarding.
- Suspend newspaper delivery.
- Forward calls made to your northern landline.
- Notify financial institutions and insurance agents.
- Pay bills or arrange for automatic payments.
- Address medication and medical issues.
- Arrange for houseplant care.
- Arrange for pet care.
- File a form with police to let them know you will be gone.
- Let your neighbors know about your travel plans.
- Set lights on timers.
- Hire a snow removal service.
- Secure valuable items.
- Install or set a security system.
- Monitor temperature and moisture levels remotely.
- Clean your home, laundry and kitchen thoroughly.
- Organize paperwork.
- Perform vehicle maintenance.
- Pack the essentials.
- Ship larger items to Florida.
- Once you arrive at your Florida winter home, take care of these tasks:
- Schedule an HVAC maintenance appointment
- Change your HVAC filter.
- Test your HVAC system.
- Alert property management that you are in town.
- Turn water on, and check for leaks.
- Inspect your home to spot problems.
- Clean and freshen your home.
- Plug in appliances.
- Check smoke detectors and replace batteries.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector.
- Install a security system or camera.
- Schedule maintenance on vehicles that stay in Florida year-round.
Once your time is winding down, don’t head back north until you do these things:
- Hire a home watch service to monitor your Florida home during the summer.
- Pack up outdoor items for storage.
- Inspect hurricane shutters.
- Schedule landscape maintenance if you handle landscaping yourself.
- Have your irrigation system inspected and tested.
- Adjust your thermostat to a higher temperature.
- Replace your HVAC filter.
- Schedule seasonal HVAC maintenance before you leave.
- Close blinds.
- Clean your home thoroughly, including getting rid of food that could spoil.
- Remove trash.
- Purge unneeded items.
- Shut off your water.
- Cover toilets, sinks and floor drains with plastic cling wrap.
- Shut off and unplug appliances.
- Move furniture away from walls.
- Lock entrances.
- Engage moisture and temperature monitoring systems.
- Arm your alarm system.
- Notify the property manager that you are leaving and when you will be back.
- Alert neighbors of your departure.
Back at your northern residence, get ready for warmer weather with these tasks:
- Have mail sent to your northern address again.
- Resume any utilities and services you paused while you were gone.
- Let people know you are back.
- Turn on your water.
- Turn up the heat.
- Replace your HVAC filter and perform any necessary maintenance.
- Test smoke alarms and use carbon monoxide detectors.
- Plug in anything you unplugged before you left.
- Clean up and freshen your home.
If you spend your winters in your RV, complete these tasks:
- Perform necessary northern home winterizing before leaving.
- Perform an RV inspection and maintenance.
- Clean your RV.
- Pack your RV strategically to minimize weight and clutter.
- Prepare your vehicle for towing.
- Feel Comfortable and Safe
Let Del-Air help you cross items off your southern home to-do list. Contact us to schedule your seasonal HVAC maintenance, install a Nest thermostat or service your HVAC system so you can enjoy the comforts of the snowbird life without the headaches.