- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dave Silliman wishes summer could last forever.

“People look at me and think it must be great to have a summer home,” Mr. Silliman says. “I’ve been going up there since I was a child. It’s one of those places that I don’t think I ever took for granted.”

The Edgewater, Md., resident has a vacation home in Long Lake, N.Y., in the central Adirondack Mountains. He usually closes the property in the beginning of September.

As summer comes to an end, many vacation-home owners begin to prepare their houses for fall and winter. Many homeowners find the task too overwhelming to do alone and hire assistance.

When closing a home, it’s important to bring anything that usually is stored outdoors inside, such as deck furniture, grills and boats, Mr. Silliman says. He owns the property with his sister, Ann Lofting of West Grove, Pa.

Next, make sure the house is empty of any food that could be accessible to rodents and vermin, he says.

“They rule during the nine months we’re not in the house,” Mr. Silliman says. “They have free roam.”

Mr. Silliman’s vacation house has a linen closet lined with sheet metal where he stores linens, paper goods, soap, detergent and food. Mice have no problem tearing through wood or plasterboard, he says.

He also strips the beds in the house and covers them with layers of newspaper and mothballs. Otherwise, the mice will gnaw through the mattresses and box springs, creating elaborate nests, he says.

Along with mice, bats have been a problem in Mr. Silliman’s attic. He is hoping the creatures will leave on their own. Then, his caretaker plans to cover the chimney and any joints along the rafters or seams in the house. Any space larger than a half-inch is big enough for bats to enter.

After the bats have left the attic and the house is sealed, the caretaker plans to clean up the bat droppings in the attic.

Everything in the house is powered by natural gas instead of electricity, and a retired New York State trooper returns the gas tank to the gas company at the end of the summer, Mr. Silliman says. It wouldn’t be safe to leave the tank unattended during the winter.

Although his family home is in a remote area of the Adirondacks, Mr. Silliman has padlocks on the doors to prevent unwanted visitors from breaking into his house.

Many people who have vacation homes have a caretaker visit their houses from time to time during the off-season, says Patty McDaniel, president of Boardwalk Builders in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Because every client’s needs are different, there isn’t a set fee for the company’s services, Ms. McDaniel says. Under the property watch agreement, which costs $850 per year, a caretaker checks the property every other week in calm weather and every day in bad weather.

“If it’s a home that you’re not going to see a lot during the winter, you want to make it as secure as possible,” Ms. McDaniel says. “You want to limit wear and tear on the house.”

Many people are most concerned about preventing water damage, says Dave McCloy, plumbing service manager at George Sherman Corp. in Lewes, Del.

There are many methods for preparing the plumbing of a summer home for the winter, he says. Some customers who like to come and go during off-season weekends choose not to turn off the main water valve for the house. To keep the pipes from freezing, they leave their heat on low for the season.

If the house will be unattended, its main water valve should be turned off, Mr. McCloy says. It must be turned off at a location that won’t freeze, such as in the ground below frost level or in a crawl space that gets heat from the ground.

In some instances, the city water department must turn off the water.

When the water is properly drained from the pipes of a house, the heat and electricity can be turned off in the house without the pipes freezing, Mr. McCloy says.

Some houses are designed to allow gravity to drain the pipes, he says. Other homes need the plumbing “blown out” with compressed air. If water becomes stuck in a U-shaped pipe, it can cause the pipes to freeze and break. When all water is removed from the lines, the pipes can’t freeze, he says.

Sometimes, plumbers pump the water lines with nontoxic antifreeze, which forces out the water, he says. Any water that may remain accidentally would be mixed with the antifreeze.

Draining the water heater and a filtration system is as important as draining the pipes of a house, Mr. McCloy says. Water also should be drained or mixed with antifreeze in many less obvious places, such as pipes under sinks, hot water dispensers, bathtubs, toilets, the toilet tank, washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, ice makers, hot tubs, whirlpools and spas.

“I would recommend hiring a professional,” Mr. McCloy says. “As a plumber, when we winterize someone’s house, we’re responsible. If you get a bunch of broken pipes behind tiles or drywall, it could be a big problem.”

Even people with new vacation homes should be cautious, says David Merrick, remodeling contractor with Merrick Design and Build in Kensington. He has a summer home in Indian Beach, Del. In years past, the pipes froze and broke in a neighbor’s house, causing about $200,000 in damage.

“They didn’t think they needed to winterize it because it was modern,” Mr. Merrick says. “The water leaked for months. If the water leaks, the mold starts growing. It destroyed the inside of the house. Everything down to the two-by-fours had to be ripped out of the bottom level of the house.”

Installing an alarm system triggered by leaking water, using a Web camera or hiring a caretaker are good precautions, Mr. Merrick says.

Condominium owners should make sure their neighbors properly drain the water from their units, says Kim Rice, owner of CPR Property Management in Rehoboth Beach.

“You have units above and units below,” Mrs. Rice says. “Even if you get a caretaker and your neighbor doesn’t, you still might have issues.”

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