How to Prep Your Home and HVAC System for Winter Vacation

According to AAA, around one in three Americans will take a winter trip or vacation this holiday season. The holidays are great, but unfortunately, it’s also a time for weather-related disasters, home break-ins, and other not-so-merry occurrences. Keep your house and HVAC system safe and sound while you are enjoying the time away from home.

Make Sure Heating System is Working Properly

If you haven’t scheduled your annual furnace tune-up this fall or winter, make sure you schedule an appointment before you leave.

If you have already scheduled a professional tune-up this heating season, make sure the furnace or heating system is working properly. Check the furnace pilot light, air filter, thermostat, and other items to ensure they are all in proper working order.

Don’t Turn the HVAC System Off

Heat and cold, combined with high or low humidity, can wreak havoc on your home and possessions. Instead of turning the HVAC system off completely, simply lower the thermostat to a more reasonable temperature. If you have art, books, furniture, and other sensitive possessions you want to protect while away on vacation, we recommend keeping the HVAC system set to no lower than 55 degrees.

Many homeowners choose to set their thermostat around 5 to 10 degrees lower than normal while they are on vacation.

Replace the Air Filter

Clean or replace the air filter before you leave. Since your HVAC system will periodically come on to keep temperature and humidity levels from damaging your home and possessions, you will want to make sure your air filter lasts the duration of your trip.

Clean Area Around Indoor Air Handling Unit 

There should be a minimum of 3-foot clearance around your indoor air handling unit. Make sure that anything that could burn is far away from the unit. Clear away your storage and other items from around the HVAC system.

Trim Plants and Clear Area Around Outdoor Heat Pump Unit

Encroaching shrubs and plants can limit airflow and cause clogs and other problems for your outdoor HVAC unit. Make sure you clear away any debris and trim back plants, trees, bushes, and shrubs from the unit.

Always maintain a minimum 2-foot clearance around the unit so it gets proper airflow and your technician can easily and safely maneuver around the unit for service and repairs.

Hose Off Outdoor Unit

If you live near a saltwater environment, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, you may enjoy the fresh sea air smell, but your HVAC system doesn’t like it. Saltwater and salty air can damage your outdoor condenser coil fins and cut the unit’s lifespan in half. Before leaving on vacation, turn the unit off and rinse your heat pump unit with a garden hose. Use a gentle setting to avoid damaging the delicate fins.

For a more thorough cleaning, contact a professional HVAC technician. You should schedule a minimum of two professional HVAC maintenance appointments every year (one in the fall for heating and one in the spring for cooling).

Speak with the professionals at Service Champions about additional ways to protect your HVAC system from the corrosive effects of saltwater on your system. We have many solutions available, including products, upgrades, alternatives, shelters, and more.

Set Water Heater to “Vacation” Mode

You don’t want to be keeping a huge tank of hot water sizzling while nobody is at home to enjoy it. Turn off the water heater, set it to “vacation,” or lower the temperature (if you have the traditional tank type).

Install a Humidification System 

Ask a Champion about humidification systems that will automatically detect humidity problems and add or remove moisture to get your home back into the ideal humidity range.

Protect Home from Bad Weather

If you’re away, is your home able to protect itself from freezing temperatures? While unlikely San Jose will experience extended periods of freezing temperatures, there are forecasted nights in December where the temperature is expected to drop into the 30s. You can help to prevent frozen pipes and burst pipes with a few simple steps.

If water freezes inside a pipe, it will expand and block the pipe. This increases water pressure throughout the rest of the home, eventually causing the pipe to burst. You can account for this by running a faucet run with a drip during the coldest nights. Remember moving water does not freeze.

Clean the Home

This may seem low on the list of important measures, but it has a positive impact. First of all, no one wants to come home to a dirty home. You’re tired from travel, and you need to be able to set down all your luggage and relax for the night. A home that has been left in disarray will be added to the list of things to do once you return.

Besides reducing stress, cleaning your home is good for indoor air quality. With the home sitting dormant while you’re away, dust and other debris can accumulate. Airborne contaminants develop without proper ventilation, leading to irritation of respiratory conditions or simply the nuisance of sneezing or a stuffy nose. You can reduce the amount of dust and pollutants in the home by vacuuming the carpets, dusting, cleaning the dishes, and inserting a fresh air filter.

Other measures to take in preparing the home include unplugging kitchen appliances to save energy, turn off your HVAC system or turn down your heating system thermostat to between 50 and 60 degrees, and enlist a friend to pick up newspapers, water your indoor plants, and just generally look out for your home every so often for any signs or something amiss.

Clean your home for vacation checklist:

  • Vacuum the carpets
  • Dust the home
  • Clean the dishes
  • Unplug the appliances
  • Turn off or turn down your thermostat
  • Enlist a friend or neighbor to look after your home
  • Clear out the fridge and freezer in case of a blackout

Hold the Mail

One of the surest signs that someone is away from their home is a stack of mail and newspapers. A quick call to your post office will put your mail on hold so you don’t have the unfortunate situation of mail and newspapers piling up on the front porch or overflowing the mailbox.

Unplug Devices and Turn Off Power Strips/Surge Protectors

If you didn’t know about standby energy loss (aka vampire energy), then you might be surprised to learn that anything plugged into your outlets still draw power even when not “on” or in use. Standby mode for computers, TVs, and appliances still consume energy.

Don’t just turn toasters, TVs, and stereos off. Unplug all of your electronics and appliances when leaving home for an extended period of time. Also, if you don’t have whole-home surge protection, anything plugged into your outlets is at risk of damage from an electrical surge. Play it safe and save energy by unplugging before any trip or vacation.

Happy Holidays and Have a Wonderful Winter Vacation!

Service Champions is known for trustworthy, on-time heating and air conditioning service throughout the East Bay, South Bay, and Sacramento areas. We look forward to hearing from you.

Related Reading