Canada is a nation on the move. Once the snow starts to fly and the cold settles in across most of the country, thousands of Canadians pack their suitcases and head to the southern United States for an extended stay.
Snowbirds, as they’re called, are generally retirees who want to escape the frigid temperatures and winter chores, such as regular snow shoveling. They seek climates more favorable to their health that prevent them from becoming shut-ins during the coldest, darkest time of the year.
If you’re among the snowbird population or are planning to join it, you’ll soon be enjoying the opportunity to take part in outdoor recreational activities, such as swimming and golfing. When you walk outdoors in shirtsleeves, you’ll undoubtedly smile as you think of friends and family at home tugging on their overcoats, boots and gloves.
Before you make your trek south, however, it’s important to prepare properly, and that includes reviewing your home insurance requirements and ensuring that your property still has that lived-in look to dissuade burglars.
Potential Insurance Issues for Snowbirds
Once you’ve reviewed your homeowner’s policy, check with your agent if anything is unclear. Given that you’ll be gone for a long period of time, it’s important to proactively prepare for potential problems while you are away.
Most policies require you to have someone make daily visits to your home while you are away, beginning the day after you leave unless you plan to drain your pipes. The major reason for regular visits is to prevent the damage that can result from the cold and snow.
Most common among these is the water damage from frozen or burst pipes, but roof leaks can also play havoc with your home’s interior. Whoever you designate to check your property should be prepared to act if they find a problem. They should be aware, too, that they could be held liable if they don’t address the problems that arise; the insurance company could sue them.
Given the potential for liability issues, it may be easier to drain your pipes and other water containers, such as hot water heaters and icemakers in the refrigerator. Once you’ve shut off your water, check the pipes to be sure they are drained. Check under the sinks, because the traps – bends in the pipes –are places where water can sit.
However, if there is no water in the traps, there’s a chance that sewer gas can enter your home. It’s best to flush toilets after you shut off the water, leaving a bit of water in the toilet bowls and traps, and then treating the water with marine anti-freeze.
Another concern snowbirds often have when embarking on their new lifestyle is the question of insurance and home vacancy. The Insurance Institute of Canada makes a distinction between vacant and unoccupied. If you leave for a long period of time, your home is simply unoccupied and your insurance should continue without interruption.
That Lived-in Look
If you plan to be away for a long stretch of time, there’s no need to advertise it to all and sundry. Why provide a burglar with an easy target? There are a variety of ways to give the impression that you are still at home, so peruse these tips:
- If you have a telephone land line with an answering machine, be sure that your message states that you are unable to come to the telephone at the moment, NOT that you are away.
- Pick up messages from your answering machine regularly so no one gets a “voice mailbox is full” message. It’s a clear indicator that no one has been home for a while.
- Make sure your neighbours know that you are leaving town and ask them to keep an eye on the house. Leave your contact information with them.
- Let your local police know you’ll be away and tell them who has a key to the house.
- Install automatic timers for a variety of lights and radios or televisions throughout the house to give the impression that people are moving through the building.
- Forward your mail, stop your newspaper delivery and ask someone to pick up circulars and flyers from your doorstep regularly.
- Arrange for your sidewalk and driveway to be shovelled after a snowfall so the house has a lived-in appearance.
- Install motion-sensitive exterior lighting and deadbolt locks on exterior doors.
- Have someone check your interior and exterior areas regularly. Make sure the neighbours know that this person will be on your premises.
- Ask a neighbour to periodically leave one of their trash or recycling containers at your home on pickup days.
If this is your first trip south for an extended period, all of these precautions may sound intimidating. However, remember that thousands of others make these arrangements each year and enjoy their getaways without serious issues arising. Prepare in advance and you should be able to relax and have fun while you’re away.