Snowbird’s Guide to Preparing Your Beach Home for Your Fall and Winter Stay
As you look around, you may notice that the leaves are turning vibrant colors and there’s a growing chill in the air. Summer is finally winding down and if you are like millions of seniors and other seasonal residents, it’s time to start thinking of your journey to warmer climates. The majority of snowbirds are people who travel in the fall from the Northeast, the Midwest, and Canada to southern states. Florida alone sees their population swell nearly a million people each year, increasing the state’s population by five percent. And while the life of a snowbird has definite appeal, there’s a bit of work involved in changing locations and opening up your beach home for winter residency.
If your home or apartment has been vacant for any length of time, there are several steps that you’ll want to take to bring it back to life and make sure that it will be operating smoothly over the upcoming winter months.
Check the Water, Plumbing Lines, and Hoses
The water may have been turned off and drained to protect the plumbing system. The water heater may also be empty to prevent stagnant water from corrupting the system. Before you turn on any faucets, open the kitchen and bathroom cabinets to make sure that the flex lines are connected and that the valves are turned on. If the home is older or you are unsure of how the lines may have been prepared, turn off the shut off valves at each fixture then turn them on one-by-one as each faucet is checked. Don’t forget to flush all of the toilets to allow the tanks to refill. Then let the water run from the faucets for several minutes to flush out any air and debris. Go around the outside of the house and reconnect the hoses, if you’re fairly certain that your beach home won’t be experiencing a freeze later in the season.
Check the Air Filters and HVAC System
If your home has been dormant for more than a few weeks, you’ll want to take some time to check or change the air filters to reduce the chance that you’ll be circulating pollen and other irritants through the system. Most homes have a few air filters located on all levels of the home, with easy to open tabs that release the grill and provide access to the disposable filter. Be sure to use the right size as a smaller filter will allow air to freely flow around it, making the filter essentially useless. Most filters also have air flow arrows which typically you’ll want pointing toward the wall. It’s also important to check your heating and air conditioner system. It’s not a bad idea to have a professional check your system as they can flush out the lines and certify that the electrical connections are all secure. But you can check the thermostat to ensure that you have your fans and heating system set for maximum comfort. You may also want to run the humidifier if you are in one of the warmer, dryer climates in the Southwest.
Open the Flue on Your Fireplace
It should’ve been closed over the summer to prevent animals from entering or drafts from entering the home.
If your home has an in-ground, automatic watering system, you’ll want to also check the settings on that and adjust as needed. Even in warmer climates, most lawns and flowerbeds need less water in the winter, as their growing cycles slow down and plants begin to create seeds for next year.
Check the gutters around your home and clean them out as needed. Summer storms may have knocked down branches and leaves, or small animals and birds may have set up nests near the drain spouts. You’ll want all of these lines cleared to draw rain away from your beach home.
This might seem self-evident, but it’s worth reminding our readers that there may be a lot of cleaning to do before you’re really ready to settle in and get comfortable in your winter beach home. Dust can accumulate on all surfaces and windows will get grimy from dirt and wind. A few extra steps to keep in mind:
- Be sure to clean off the blades of your ceiling fans before you turn them on.
- Check for signs of insects that may have gotten in during your absence – wipe down surfaces and check your pantry for the status of your stored dry goods.
- Use a bleach solution in water to wipe down the inside of your refrigerator and freezer to prevent mold and mildew.
- Wash all pillows and bedding to freshen up the bedrooms and remove that stale smell from your sheets.
Taxes and Voting
Beyond the considerations of home maintenance, snowbirds need to also keep in mind the rules regarding voting restrictions for non-residents and any tax implications they may have. Your right to vote in local and state elections varies by location, as some states allow non-resident voting based on property ownership while others don’t, so be sure to research any residency restrictions well before the election cycles. Likewise, taxes may be required in the state in which you spend the majority of your time or may be tied to property ownership. For international snowbirds such as Canadians, changing laws may put you at risk for owing taxes in both countries. Currently, it’s calculated in what’s deemed the “Substantial Presence Test,” a three-year formula. To calculate this, add up all the days in the US for the tax year in question, plus one-third of the days in the previous years, plus one-sixth of your days in the year before that. If that number is greater than 182 days, you’ll be considered a U.S. resident and responsible for US taxes.