20 things to do around the house before leaving for vacation
People leave home for a number of reasons. The fun of vacation or seasonal time away at a cabin might beckon them. Personal, family or work circumstances may demand that people go away from home for long periods of time.
Whether you depart to relax and unwind or tend to business, nobody wants to come home and find a plumbing or utility problem. The issues they cause range from minor inconveniences such as a leaky faucet that drives up the water bill to major damage that makes a home uninhabitable, such as a burst water pipe that floods the home.
Preparing your home for vacation can save you a lot of potential headaches and money. What you do might depend on how long you will be gone and to what level you want to secure your utilities. It’s a personal preference for most people, but advisable for everyone to know and do the things that can prevent nasty plumbing surprises, which have the potential to ruin a lot more than your homecoming.
Many of us tend to think of plumbing as just those things that use or relate to water around the house, but the plumbing checklist includes other utilities, such as the air conditioning and heating systems.
1. FIND AND KNOW THE MAIN WATER VALVE
Turn the water off at the main supply valve for the house, and you have about the best insurance you can get against something foul happening while you’re away. Many elements of the plumbing and utilities run through the walls and floors and are largely hidden from sight.
If a pipe or part of a utility springs a leak or bursts while you’re gone and the main valve is open, water will continue to run or spew. The water will not come through if the main valve is off. Another reason people like to close the main water valve while they’re gone is because it prevents any kind of water theft, plus it saves money and conserves water.
Your local plumber, such as Haynes Plumbing, can help you locate the main valve and show you how to shut off your water.
In homes that have a basement or crawl space, the main water valve is usually there. It typically looks like a wheel with spokes that you turn to the right, or a lever that you turn until it is perpendicular with the pipe to which it’s connected. You can always turn it off and then try to run water somewhere. If the water does not run, you were successful in shutting off the main valve.
Though turning off water while on vacation is the best preventive measure you can take, some people prefer to turn off the water at each plumbing feature in the house. This is because some things need a water supply over the long term, like sprinklers or a pool pump. If you must leave the main water supply on, you can turn the supply off to the washing machine, dishwasher, toilets and sinks and at least reduce the number of places water could escape.
2. CONSIDER WATER NEEDS
A plumber can also help you understand what, if any, utilities around your house might need water while you’re gone. Typically, the only things that will require you to leave the main valve on are an automatic sprinkler system or a swimming pool pump-and-filter system, depending on their supply configuration and shutoff setup.
The other thing people must consider is if anyone such as a house sitter or guest will need water while you’re gone. Many things around the house will not provide service when you turn off the main supply:
- Ice maker
- Outside faucets
- Clothes washer
- Swamp Coolers
- Water heater
- Sump Pump
- Pool pump
- Hot tub
3. GAUGE TIME, TAP A FRIEND
One week or so is considered a short-term absence. For extended time away, it is good to plan for a friend, neighbor or service person to keep an eye on things. For long absences, you’ll need someone to water plants, adjust the thermostat and run water through the pipes as well as flush toilets. You can leave the main valve off for safety and show them how to turn it on to use the water and back off again before they leave.
Running water through the pipes monthly will prevent sewer gases from entering or accumulating in your pipes or home, as well as keep pipes and fixtures from becoming dry and cracked when not in use.
4. CHECK FOR LEAKS TO CONSERVE AND SAVE
Each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water per day. With concerns about conservation and finite supply, checking for leaks and being proactive can help save money and water.
Check all the spigots at sinks, bathing areas and outdoors to be sure they are tightly closed and not leaking or dripping any water. Feel around the base of faucets and spigots and at the pipes underneath them, especially at connections. If your inspection reveals any drips, leaks or stains, have them checked out before leaving.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that household leaks can collectively waste more than one trillion gallons of water annually. For individual households that may have a “leaky something”, correcting the problem can yield a water consumer about a 10 percent savings on their water bill.
If you suspect you have a leak you can’t see, benchmark the meter when the water won’t be in use for a few hours, like when you leave to eat out. Check the meter number when you leave and after you get back to see if there is a difference. If so, you might have a leak. Test the toilet by dropping food coloring only into the tank and see if it shows up in the bowl without flushing.
5. BUMP UP THE AC
Some people will turn their air conditioning unit completely off and others will set the thermostat to a high temperature, for example 85 degrees F. Some don’t want it to get too hot inside the house for plants and electronics, while others use it as a safety measure so the unit comes on at least occasionally as if people are home.
Turning up the temperature also saves money. One estimate states: Every degree you turn up the thermostat will save you 2 percent on your bill. A programmable thermostat can also help you achieve savings since it will adjust to certain temperatures at different times of day.
6. SET LOW TEMP FOR WINTER
Setting the thermostat for vacation means putting it at a much lower temperature than when you are home. Why pay to heat the space when nobody is around? The key is to set the thermostat high enough to keep plants and pipes from freezing. You can also consult the owner’s manual or a local plumber to see if your furnace has a minimum-threshold temperature at which it automatically turns off.
7. CHANGE FILTERS
Since dirt and build up only make any system work harder and become more susceptible to breakdown, change the filter regularly and before you leave for any period of time. Excess dirt, dust and carbon deposits can cause your system to malfunction. A clean filter is another inexpensive, good-practice measure to keep things calm and uneventful at home while you are away.
8. TEND THE WATER HEATER
Look at the base of your water heater for a dial or other mechanism that probably has a low or vacation setting. This enables it to keep operating but use much less energy than it would in normal mode. That same dial is also how to turn off the water heater if that is what you prefer.
Inspect the hot and cold water connections and hardware to see if there is evidence of corrosion, which can indicate tiny leaks. Use a bright flashlight to look around and underneath the water heater, or run your hand across the floor to see if there are any drips, pools or other evidence that water is escaping.
9. RUN POOL PUMP TO PREVENT ALGAE
Pool systems normally need a water and electricity supply to keep running and filtering to prevent algae. Some pool setups will have a separate supply and meter so you can shut off the home’s main water valve but still keep the pool running.
Some pumps can be set to run at a lower level than for normal operations to keep green algae from growing. You might want to consider hiring a pool professional you trust to service it while you’re away or asking a neighbor to check the pump occasionally to be sure it is operating correctly.
Some people opt to cover the pool, turn off the pump and then clean all algae at the start of the next season or to just empty it. Pool care depends somewhat on personal preference, the type of pool it is and how long you’ll be away, so when it doubt consult a plumber or pool-specific professional.
10. UNPLUG TO SAVE, PROTECT
Did you know appliances that are not in use but still plugged in still consume a little bit of electricity? You can keep your bill down while away on a trip or for the season just by unplugging everything that will not need electricity while you’re gone. Besides saving money and energy, it also spares you the trouble of any damage that could result from shorts, supply interruptions or lightning strikes. An unplugged electric item cannot possibly be a fire hazard.
Leaving your house completely dark for any period of time can be a security risk. If you won’t have a person coming into your home, you can get a timer at the local hardware store that automatically turns lights on and off at the time of day you set.
11. TEST THE SUMP PUMP
If you have a sump pump, it’s probably in your basement or crawlspace under the house. Unless you’ve seen it working properly within days before you leave, it’s good to test it. Once you locate it, make sure it has power, then pour a bucket or pitcher of water over it. The pump should engage and remove water from the retention pit. If not, you might need to service or replace it.
12. DOUSE THE DRAINS
Wherever you have a drain in the house, there is likely to be bacteria buildup inside that causes a bad odor when the sink or tub is not used for a while. You can reduce or eliminate this problem with store-bought products that you mix with water and flush down the drain. You can also mix one half-cup of vinegar with one cup of water to flush down the drains and run through the garbage disposal.
13. DISINFECT THE TOILETS
You can turn the water off to individual toilets at the supply line, usually by using a handle in back and down low near the wall. Toilets accumulate stain-causing bacteria when inactive, and a good measure to combat the problem is to pour a half cup of chlorine bleach into the bowl – not the tank.
14. RUN OR UNPLUG THE FRIDGE
Don’t forget to toss or take perishables from the refrigerator and freezer like milk, eggs, cream and leftovers. If you want to unplug the fridge while you’re away, remove everything, wipe it down and all leave the doors open to prevent mould and mildew. If you want to leave the fridge running, know that it operates less efficiently when empty and consider putting in bottled water or other items that won’t spoil before you return.
15. LOWER SPA/HOT TUB HEAT
Turn the spa or hot tub heat down by 10 degrees when leaving for 10 or more days. This allows the system to maintain some heat, especially where it would freeze in the winter, without wasting too much energy. Whether you opt to lower the temperature or empty and cover your tub, what you save by not heating it will more than compensate for what you will pay to reheat it. Some people like leaving it empty so they use zero energy and chemicals. To keep out dust and debris, a vinyl cover for the spa is advisable, whether you choose to leave it empty or full and whether it’s indoors or outdoors.
16. SHUT OFF SPRINKLERS
Closing the main water valve of your home usually cuts water to the sprinklers too, but some systems have a separate shutoff valve. It is advisable to not leave sprinklers operating when you’ll be gone for more than a few days because they also can leak, sprinkle in the rain, break and cause trouble.
17. CONSIDER CLIMATE
Your weather may affect how you need to prepare for leaving home. You need a general idea of the seasonal highs, lows, rainfall and even soil types. All of that information can affect your decisions as you inspect plumbing and accessories and decide what to do before you leave or about utility improvements or upgrades.
The extreme end of temperatures in your region should be the guide to what your system needs to handle. For example, if the average January low in St. Lake City is 26 degrees F, then you need to prepare your pipes, plumbing and accessories to withstand temperatures well below that threshold. The same principle applies to the extremes of summer. We all know the wild way of weather patterns, and it pays to prepare for the worst.
18. LEAVE INFORMATION
It’s always a good idea to leave your plumbing professional’s name and number with a neighbor and/or the house and pet sitter. If anything goes wrong, they can get someone on the way immediately instead of consuming time trying to reach you or call an unfamiliar emergency number.
19. SCHEDULE AN INSPECTION
When you’re leaving for an extended period of time such as a season, it’s a good idea to have a plumber perform an inspection a few weeks before you depart. If any problems are discovered, you want time to fix them before you have to leave.