The word “snowbird” actually means any species of bird that is associated with the snow, like the familiar Junco, or Snow Bunting. It is also slang for migratory humans who flee the winter months in search of warmer, less harsh climates.
Although by recent standards our winter weather in Hingham has been balmy, getting away to a warmer climate with longer days of sunshine is always a good pick-me-up. Snowbirds take vacation to another level by wisely avoiding winter’s burdens, including snow shoveling, bulky clothing, corrosive salt and the challenge of short, dark days.
The winter days leading up to 2016 were exceptionally kind, and then Tuesday, January 5th happened when our morning temperatures dipped into the teens. The temperate days forced some of the fruit trees at World’s End in Hingham to bloom, little violets tenaciously hunkered down in the mornings and good, old dandelion heads still seem ready for their annual propagation.
If you are a Snowbird, or if you are leaving your Hingham home for any extended time, there are some things that you can do to ensure a healthy, happy house will be there when you return. While some of these items seem obvious, when you are organizing yourself to get away, those are often the things we forget to do. There is a checklist you can print out and use at the end of this article.
Get a House Sitter or Checker
I think it is ideal to have someone trustworthy check on your home when you are leaving it for more than a week, especially in the winter. If this can be arranged, have your friend come by at different times and on different days. It will make the house look busy. Leave your itinerary with your house sitter or neighbor so they know how to reach you and when you will be returning home. If you have house plants, arrange for them to be cared for in your home, or leave them with a friend or neighbor.
Impression Management and Security
If you can get a ride to the airport, it is a good idea to leave your vehicles where they are normally parked. If you are comfortable asking your house sitter or checker to drive and move them it is good for your vehicles and good for impression management. I t is also good to have your house sitter leave their car in your driveway overnight and on different days of the week.
Turn off the ringer on your phone so you won’t tip off intruders and see if you can forward your calls. Your outgoing phone message should NOT state that you are out of town,
Cancel your newspaper subscriptions since a pile of plastic sheathed newspapers is a sure tip that no one is around.
Use multiple light timers throughout the house so it looks like someone is home and the lights are going on and off at different times. Be sure that your motion sensors on outdoor lights are operating so they come on at dusk or as someone approaches the house. Consider adding a timer to your TV to make it look like somebody is at home. Check that all of your smoke alarms work and install fresh batteries, if you didn’t do so on New Year’s Day.
Make sure all of your windows close and lock properly, and that your door locks are secure and in good working order. Check basement windows and your bulkhead doors to make sure they are closed and locked. Close drapes and shades to make it harder to see into the house.
If you have a security system that is manned by a company, let them know of your plans, including whether or not someone will be accessing your home. It is always a good idea to leave your security code with a neighbor in case the alarm malfunctions.
Put any valuables in a safe deposit box or other secure location if they are not traveling with you. And whatever you do, DO NOT POST YOUR PLANS ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES.
Some snowbirds cancel or amend their insurance policies prior to long absences to save money. If you’re leaving a car in the garage, add more air to your tires and put a little fuel stabilizer in the gas tank. Remember to winterize your lawn mowers and snowblowers by adding some fuel stabilizer and running them for five minutes. Also unplug your automatic garage-door opener
Save on Utility Bills
If nobody will be occupying your Hingham home when you are away, unplug those energy draining appliances to save money on your utility bills. Doing so also decreases the fire hazard. Appliances like microwaves, washers and dryers, televisions, computers and spare refrigerators can be safely unplugged, providing you empty the fridge. Be sure to leave a box of baking soda inside your refrigerator to cut down on any odors, and leave the doors open. For your main refrigerator, turn off the ice maker and empty all of the ice that remains in your freezer. If there is a winter storm causing a power outage the ice can melt and cause water damage.the ice bin in the freezer. If the electricity goes off and the ice melts, it can create some water damage.
Depending on your cable vendor, you might want to put a halt to your service. Services like Verizon and Comcast offer snowbird rates in some areas so call to find out what your options are. Don’t forget to return the converter box so you don’t incur any additional charges for renting a box you aren’t using.
Your thermostat needs to stay on and should be set around 55 degrees. If a power outage occurs, there is a risk of frozen pipes if the temperature is too low. There are devices that can monitor the temperature and notify you if it drops below a certain level. Home monitoring systems may also provide alerts.
The post office will hold mail for up to 30 days, so if you’re gone for longer it makes more sense to either have it forwarded, or ask the same friend who is watching over your home to send you a package every week or two. It is easy enough to pre-label some large packing envelopes for the task.
Credit card blocks are more common these days, so when you start using your card in another state, your bank might put a hold on your account and decline what they think are suspicious charges from a new location. Give them a call to make sure they know your plans to avoid this kind of inconvenience.
Take an inventory of your possessions and consider a video of your house as well. If there is a fire, a break-in or water damage, these records will be needed by your insurers and the police. Make sure that your will is valid to avoid unlikely complications while you are away enjoying the sunshine.
If no one will be using the toilets or running the water in your sinks, turn off your main water valve. If your house sitter will be spending a little time inside, you can turn off select valves to things like your washing machine, dishwasher, and all bathrooms but one. While fire is the number one hazard to snowbirds, flooding and water damage is a close second. Don’t forget about your outside valves including any lawn and garden irrigation systems. If you aren’t comfortable engineering this yourself, call a plumber to ensure that you have safely protected your house from water damage. Some snowbirds turn off their water heaters as well.
If you haven’t been winterizing your home already, there might be a lot to do, so plan ahead!
How do your gutters look? Gutters are not the cause of ice dams and winter damage, but clogged gutters can make ice dams worse so make sure they are draining freely. Close the flue to your chimney to keep out unwanted guests and check to make sure there is a guard or screen over the top of the chimney.
Think about your walkways, the sidewalks (in Hingham, homeowners often keep their sidewalks clear, and business owners are fully responsible) and your driveway, then remember back to last winter! First of all, snow filled walkways and driveways are a strong clue that no one is home. Aside from that, it is no fun to return home after a long, relaxing, warm vacation to a driveway piled with snow drifts
Although many Hingham residents clear sidewalks in front of their homes, and mow the lawn that extends beyond the sidewalks to the roads, it remains unclear to me who is responsible (I will have to get to the bottom of this in another article since it requires more that online investigation!). Seeing Hingham residents blowing and shoveling snow from sidewalks is a common thing, even though the Town of Hingham website clearly states this about sidewalks:
“The Department of Public Works is responsible for the care and maintenance of public roadways, sidewalks, drainage systems, shade trees, parks, grounds, recreation fields, athletic fields, the Town’s Recycling and Trash Transfer Facility, and snow and ice control on all public, and certain private roadways. As of October 1st, 2001 there are approximately 136 miles of public roads, including unaccepted subdivisions, approximately 20 miles of private roadways, and approximately 10,000 public shade trees in Town.”
Bring in or secure any furniture, planters or items that could blow away in heavy winds. If you have an outdoor shed install a padlock on the door. Leave your house without leaving trash inside or in your outdoor trash area, and cancel your pick up service if you have it.
Click on this link to see your Snowbird Checklist!