The weather is supposed to get chilly (if not downright cold) and you may already have packed your bags to head south for the winter. Before you surrender to daydreams of sandals and shorts on New Year's Day, here are a few smart tips to safeguard yourself and your property, if you plan to be away from your primary residence for the winter.
First, secure paperwork for medical emergencies. Keep handy your legal documents such as health-care directives and a list or actual copies of your prescriptions.
Weather. Winter seems to love emergencies - no small number starring snow and ice. Winter storms caused $1.9 billion in insured losses in the U.S. 2013, up from $38 million in 2012 and such losses have averaged about $1 billion per year over the longer term, according to a report cited by the Insurance Information Institute .
See if your power provider offers email alerts on outages; outage warning systems are also sold on the consumer market. Look into signing up for email or smartphone weather alerts of bad storms coming to where you live.
Arrange for snow removal ahead of time in case your car must be moved and so as not to advertise to robbers that you're away for the season. If you leave a car behind, ask a family member or friend run the vehicle every so often. Depending on how early or late in winter you're away, also arrange for landscaping or lawn mowing.
Water. In recent years water damage (including frozen and burst pipes) accounted for more than one in every five homeowners' insurance claims nationally, according to the Insurance Information Institute . Nothing can break your heart like coming home months from now to a water-damaged home.
Reset your home's programmable thermostats to keep your house cool but not cold enough to cause a problem with frozen pipes; lower than 55 degrees might allow pipes to freeze. During intense low temperatures, have whoever checks on your home open the cabinets that enclose bathroom and kitchen pipes; this allows air flow and will warm the pipes. Turn off your exterior water taps and the water to your washing machine.
Check sinks, faucets and pipes for leaks and rust, and make sure hoses from appliances are properly connected. Turn off the water to exterior spigots and drain water out of them.
(Take water warnings seriously: One of my clients had a rubber water line blow to the tune of $20,000 in damage before he learned about the leak.)
Security. Store your valuables in a safe or off your premises in a safe deposit box or with family or friends. Forward your mail and notify your utility companies that you will be away. Likewise, forward your calls from your home number to your cell or winter-home number.
Leave a house key with a family member, neighbor or friend. Arrange for a dependable family member, neighbor or friend to visit your home periodically and check on things inside and out.
Notify your local police or a town official that you will be gone for a long time; police will drive past your house more often and, if your fire or burglar alarm goes off, know in advance that you are not home.
Make sure to set power timers for both inside and outside lights. If possible, vary settings on the inside lights. Put away or lock up external home belongings such as furniture, sheds and gates, to name a few.
Consider installing external cameras around your property. The price of such systems has dropped in recent years. With some systems, you or someone you designate can monitor your home over the Internet with a simple app .
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Tom Orecchio, CFA, CFP, ChFC, CLU, AIF, is a principal and wealth manager ofModera Wealth Management LLC in Westwood, N.J.
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