IS YOUR HOME….ALONE? By Debra Bajouwa
Homeowners sometimes have to leave their houses unattended, and for a variety of reasons.These could include travel, illness or sometimes a move that is required before a house can be sold. As we are subjected to the cold winters in Upstate New York, we also run the risk of damage from frozen water pipes and heating systems that can quickly do a great deal of damage. I recently had the unfortunate experience of walking up to a vacant house that was on the market, and observed icicles forming on the outside of the siding. Upon entering the house, water was streaming from ceilings and shooting out of a 1 inch hole in a bedroom wall. The floors were pooling with water, and paint was beginning to bubble and sag on the walls.
Needless to say, this is devastating for the homeowner who is living several hours away.In this instance, the house was being heated, but the oil had run out, and the furnace shut down for a time during very low temperatures. When the oil tank was filled, heat was returned.Pipes that may have already been damaged by the cold burst, and water began to stream into the house, possibly for hours before I found it. Several years ago, friends of mine had a similar circumstance, but their damage came from a furnace that broke down while they were away. The pipes burst, water flowed for days and froze in the walls, doors and floors before discovery.
In both of these cases, the initial damage was done in a short amount of time. Statistics show that a 1/8 inch crack in a pipe can spew 250 gallons of water a day. Even with the precautions of heat tape, extra insulation on pipes,or leaving your thermostat set at a warm setting, your home can still be at risk. Monitored alarm systems or continuous checks by a caretaker can become cost prohibitive.
One solution our family uses is a simple device with a thermostat that plugs into an outlet and a lamp, similar to a lamp timer. The device is set to trigger the light to turn on when the temperature falls below the setting you have programed for the room. When housesitting for family members, we set the lamp with a bare bulb near a visible window. A simple drive by of the house can let us know that the inside temperatures are staying warm enough for the pipes.Trusted neighbors are also alerted and provided with contact phone numbers if they observe the emergency light activated. Other devices can be purchased that will trigger a phone dialer to alert you with a call if temperatures drop, or water is sensed in an area where the device is placed. Most of these cost under $100.00, a small price to pay to save your home.
Another tip when you are asking someone to be a caretaker of your home is to label pipes, switches, shut off valves, panel boxes and mechanicals with clear instructions. This can be helpful in time of emergency, or any day of the week if someone may have to perform service in your home. A very conscientious friend of mine did this with tags for his newly built house. Years later, when he began to suffer from dementia, it was comforting for himself and for his family to have these helpful reminders. When the home was sold to a new family, the buyers really appreciated his efforts, and were able to familiarize themselves with the workings of the home quickly. Keeping a binder of manuals, warranties, and service provider information handy for your house-sitter can also save time, and potentially money.
Lastly, make sure to review your homeowners insurance policy to guarantee you will be covered if you are leaving your home vacant for long periods of time. Companies vary on their rules regarding this, and after the damage is done is not the time to ask. Your home might be the biggest investment you ever make, and planning for it’s survival is up to you.
Debra Bajouwa SRS, CBR, e-Pro is a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson with CM Fox Real Estate in Guilderland, NY