How to Maintain an Empty Home

Caring for an empty homeWhile it’s more frequent for us to inspect a home that is currently occupied or is empty on a short-term basis as the owner moves on and the home is vacated during the sale and closing process, sometimes we are asked to inspect vacant homes.

Though living in a house causes natural (and expected) wear and tear, much like what happens when driving a car, it’s a myth that vacant houses don’t need a specific type of care as well. The same holds true if your home is owned by a snowbird or you plan to take a vacation during the winter months.

Vacant homes have their own set of concerns when it comes to maintenance, and here’s a quick rundown of some great things you can do to avoid problems:

Keep the home in good condition, especially the exterior

A home that appears empty is a magnet for problems. Vandalism, theft and damage can occur if it seems like there are no eyes on the property. As a caretaker, it’s important to keep the exterior looking good, from landscape/lawn care to the home itself. There are simple things that can be done:

  • Make sure the porch light bulb is working and on a timer
  • The porch and other areas are free of debris, such as leaf piles, ice dams or snow
  • Doors and windows are shut and secure

Pipes and water and ice, oh my!

One of the issues with vacant homes is that there is no one on the property on a regular basis to catch when unexpected things occur, such as a broken water pipe, a malfunctioning water heater or other plumbing failures.

In the winter, there are some things that can minimize the chance of pipes breaking or leaking due to cold temperatures:

  • Keep the heat on – it doesn’t have to be toasty warm, but keeping the heat between 50-60 degrees will help
  • Keep doors inside the home open, especially if it’s a home where some rooms (especially bathrooms) tend to be colder than others – this will help the warmer air circulate
  • Consider adding heat tape or pipe sleeves to pipes in exterior walls or in areas where they are prone to freezing
  • If you feel drafts near a pipe, especially in the attic or in a crawl space, calk up any cracks or points of entry, especially if it’s clear the space lacks proper insulation
  • If you have an alarm, add a heat sensor alarm. You’ll know if the heat is not working and can act on the issue right away

One of the most prudent things you can do is to shut the water off completely. Turn the water OFF, open the lowest sink faucet in the house, and let the water drain out so the pipes have no water pressure in them. Then leave it open. With the water off, flush the toilet such that there is no water in the bowl or tank.

Creepy little guests


The last thing you want is for a vacant house to become a home away from home for invited pests. Just like humans, rodents, bugs, racoons and squirrels all want to find a safe, warm place for the winter, and a vacant home is essentially a palace for them, and one that they can do a significant amount of damage to when humans are not around.

Sealing cracks and any small holes – mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime – around the exterior of the home to keep out rodents. This is also why it’s important to keep up with the landscaping: overgrown grass, debris and fallen leaves provide an ideal exterior habitat for little critters.

Make sure no food is left in the home – even food in a cupboard can smell tempting to hungry pests.

Traps and poisons can also be effective in keeping the population down, but remember that a dead, decaying pest is almost as bad as a live one. Should you choose to use these methods, it’s important to periodically check inside the home and remove any fatalities.

Of course, some pests are best left to the professionals to handle. A call to a local exterminator or pest control company can determine if you have a larger problem on your hands – such as racoons turning the attic into a winter lodge. Pest control experts also know how to deal with live animals and how to trap them.

It’s a great idea to leave a key in a lock box mounted somewhere on the property if you will be away. This allows for quick access should an emergency occur and you can provide access without delay or requiring an authorized break-in.

Finally, you can also let your local police department know that your house is vacant. Simply call the non-emergency number and let them know. Should activity then occur at the house, they will know to check it out.

Taking these preventative measures can stop a myriad of problems from occurring in a vacant home. More importantly, if the next step is to put that house up for sale, these steps will help minimize any damages that may be uncovered during a home inspection.