Preparing Your House
In April and May, visitors (often referred to as "snowbirds") retreat from their desert winter homes to their Northern U.S. and Canadian residences where the summers are not as harsh. Before they can load their suitcases into the car and drive off, there is some preparation involved in closing up a home for several months. In addition, because of the severe heat and monsoon storms in the desert, there are some extra precautions that are warranted.
Here is a checklist of things to consider before leaving Arizona or other Southwest regions for the summer months. Some people will do all of these, and some people won't. Some people will do everything right and still return to storm damage or water damage, and some people barely think about the consequences of leaving a home in the extreme heat and come back to find everything in great shape. Use this checklist as a guide and decide what you feel is best for you and your desert home.
Utilities and Mail (One to Two Weeks Before)
Some items on your checklist will take a bit longer to kick in than others, like changing mail and canceling utilities. A week or two before your departure date you should arrange for your mail and regular deliveries to be stopped or forwarded; notify your telephone, internet service provider, and cable or satellite TV provider to put your service on hold; and notify any newspapers as to when to stop delivery and when to resume.
Inside the House (One to Two Weeks Before)
A few things need to be taken care of regarding the inside of your house that you may not think of. But first, if you live in an area with a Homeowners Association (HOA), notify it of your departure date and when you'll be back. You should also see if there are any local vacation watch programs offered by your HOA, your local community, or your local police department.
If there are valuables that you won't be taking with you for the summer, arrange for storage. For instance, store jewelry or important documents in a safe deposit box at the bank.
One item that is easily forgotten is the refrigerator—start eating the leftovers and cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer, and coordinate emptying the fridge with your trash and recycling pickup.
Outside the House (One to Two Weeks Before)
It's important that the exterior of the house is ready for departure as well. One to two weeks before leaving, start trimming trees and bushes in the yard so you can have that trash picked up before you go. If you have a hot tub, do not drain it—the heat will damage the empty tub. Turn off the heating system for the water, but leave the filtering system on.
Also, check for standing water and remove any (kiddie pools, buckets, bird baths, etc.) from the yard. If you have a fountain, either empty it and turn it off or leave the water circulating to avoid mosquito problems.
The Yard (A Day or Two Before)
Before closing the house, you need to remember to prepare your yard for the summer. Any patio furniture that's cloth, plastic, or wood will be damaged by the summer heat if you leave it outside, so remove chairs, furniture, and decor from your patio or yard.
Even if you will be turning off the main water valve to the house, you can still water the plants in the yard. Set your irrigation timer appropriately for summer heat so all your shrubs and trees aren't dead when you return.
Whether you water the yard or not, there will be weeds. Consider a yard care service that will take care of the weeds, do some trimming, mow the lawn if you have one, and check for irrigation system problems while you are gone. Make sure it is a company that you know and trust—obviously the workers will know that you aren't living in the home.
If you have a pool, arrange for a pool service to handle the maintenance while you are away, and it is a good idea to schedule for exterior pest control while you are gone.
The Garage (A Day or Two Before)
It's easy to forget about the garage and what is in it, so do a walk-through before you depart. If you are leaving a car in the garage, disconnect the battery. You might even want to cover the vehicle to protect it from dust.
If you have a golf cart, put distilled water in the battery up to (but not over) the water fill line and unplug it. Also, unplug the garage door opener. If you have any, remove propane tanks and combustible/flammable chemicals from the garage.
Appliances Big and Small (Before You Lock up and Drive Off)
You're all packed and you are ready to head out the door. But did you take care of the appliances? Unplug the appliances, entertainment units, computers—everything. The lightning from summer monsoon storms can wreak havoc on electrical equipment. Don't forget to turn off ceiling fans, indoors and out. Sometimes we forget to look up before we leave the house!
You also need to turn off the air conditioner or set the thermostat if you'll be leaving the A/C on. Some people turn off the A/C completely. Some leave it on but at a high temperature, like 90 or 95. How to decide? Your decision should be based on the items being left in the house: Is there artwork that you don't want to dry out in the heat? Does your security system work only at a particular temperature range? Do you leave your wine collection? Also, if you have natural gas, turn off the gas at the main valve. And make sure to turn the water heater off.
Open the doors to the washer and dryer, the dishwasher, and any other appliance that typically seals up.
The Water and Air Circulation (Before You Lock up and Drive Off)
Now, address the water in the house: Flush all toilets and run all faucets. Then turn off the water to the house at the main valve. Drain any remaining water from the faucets, long shower head extensions, and such.
If you have a soft water system or reverse osmosis water system, determine if any action is necessary on your part before leaving.
Leave large buckets or tubs of water in each room to humidify the space as it evaporates. Leave all the interior doors open so the air can circulate inside the house. Close all the blinds and drapes to keep as much heat out of the house as possible.
Food and Plants (Before You Lock up and Drive Off)
If you are leaving nonperishable foods, you will need to take some extra precautions. Seal up nonrefrigerated products such as cereals, grains, boxed foods, baking products, and pet foods in plastic bags or containers with tightly fitting lids to keep bugs and moisture out.
If you will be turning the refrigerator off while you are gone, don't forget to empty it (and its attached freezer) completely, even of condiments in the door. Leave the door(s) open while you are gone for circulation.
If you'll be leaving the refrigerator on while you are gone, toss any foods that will spoil. You can keep items like condiments and water. A working refrigerator that is nearly empty uses more energy, so add bottles of water. Empty the ice tray and turn off the automatic ice maker.
Have houseplants? They probably won't be alive when you return, so either lend them to a neighbor or take them with you.
Miscellaneous Items (Before You Lock up and Drive Off)
Here are a few things you may not have thought about: Store candles in the refrigerator (if you are leaving it on) or put them in the coolest, darkest part of the house. Also replace backup batteries in fire alarms, automatic watering systems, thermostats, and security systems. If you use call forwarding on your landline, now is the time to remember to set it.
Ask a neighbor to check every couple of days to remove any fliers, phone books, packages, or other items that may be tossed into your driveway or left by your front door. Or better yet, provide a key to the house and any external gates, as well as your contact information, to a neighbor or relative who lives nearby to stop at the house periodically to check for leaks inside and out, walk the house, visit after monsoon activity to check for storm damage, etc. If you don't feel comfortable asking someone to do this, there are professional companies you can hire.
Everyone's homes, systems, and issues are all different. Some people leave for three months, and some leave for seven months. Some of the items in these checklists might not apply to your house, and there may be other items that you'll need on your checklist that other people don't have to consider.
Use this information to create your own personal and permanent checklist. Add contact names and numbers for any professional services that you'll be using year after year. You will have the preparation down to a science after a year or two, and you can be worry-free about your desert home while you spend the summer up north.