It’s Getting Cold Out There: Winterizing An Empty Rental

The Best Winterization Is a Tenant — But Failing That…

A house wearing a winter jacket Ideally, of course, a rental property you own simply wouldn’t be vacant over the winter — and of course you should keep advertising your vacant properties no matter what the weather. But hoping for a tenant is no substitute for properly weatherizing a building that’s unoccupied as the weather dips below freezing — so let’s talk about how to do that.

The Steps to Proper Winterization

  • Clean the Gutters. Autumn will often leave your downspouts or gutters clogged, and if water freezes inside of them, not only may you have to replace potentially large sections of the system, but clogged gutters can exacerbate the formation of ice-dams on roofs which lead to interior leaks! Get rid of the leaves before they cause water to accumulate and freeze, expand, and break things – you’ll be much happier.
  • Keep The Bugs Out. Mothballs are a great way to keep insects out of an empty home. Be liberal.
  • Seal Every Opening On the Outside of Your Home. That includes dryer vents, chimneys, air vents, and so on. You don’t want to show your rental to a potential tenant only to find the birds are nesting in your vents — which absolutely will happen over the winter.
  • Clear Out Vegetation & Wood Near the Building. Plants and wood that are very close to your building over the winter will encourage bugs to get onto and into your walls, especially as it gets colder outside. This includes raking leaves away from the foundations and trimming any tree branches hanging over your home that might fall due to the weight of the snow.

  • If you know your property will be vacant for an extended period of time, consider the following measures to further protect your investment:

  • Get a Plumber to Winterize Your Pipes. Either that or get familiar with the tools and techniques needed to do it yourself. You’ll have to shut down the water supply to the building, clear the water out of the pipes by blowing air into them with a compressor, and drain every pipe and appliance that might be holding some water. If that sounds like it might be worth paying a professional to do it, you’re probably right. Anti-freeze in your plumbing isn’t going to do the trick; get it done right or risk thousands of dollars in damages. Don’t forget to drain and disconnect outdoor hoses as well.
  • Disconnect Gas/Propane. This is a no-brainer — if there’s no one there to use the natural gas or propane attached to the house, the only thing it’s doing is creating the danger of an explosion or fire. Get everything disconnected to minimize the risk.
  • Turn Everything Off and/or Put Timers In. This is pretty straightforward — either you want everything turned off to minimize electricity usage, or you want to put just a few items on timers. Either way, you’ll want to double-check your motion sensors on your external lights and ensure they’re working well and aimed properly.
  • Pay to Have Your Walkway Plowed and Driveway Driven. Nothing screams “no one is paying attention to this building” like untouched snow three days after the snow has stopped falling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a professional or an entrepreneurial neighbor that you can trust, but having someone add traces of life to an empty midwinter rental is crucial.

  • If you can find a neighbor you can trust to check up on your home every week or so, paying them a little to do so or offering them a reward if they report something can be a good investment as well.

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