What Temperature to Leave a Vacant House in Winter

It’s important to keep your home heated during the winter to avoid things like frozen and burst pipes.

Updated March 1, 2023

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Most professionals and insurers recommend setting your thermostat to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re away from your home during the winter. Heating isn’t just to keep you warm — it keeps your pipes from getting too cold and bursting, causing water damage to your home.[1]

Here are the most important preventative maintenance measures you should take before leaving for a vacation or extended period of time to prevent damage to your property in the winter.

What temperature should you leave your house in the winter?

You should set the temperature in your house to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter. You should also change the battery in your thermostat if you’ll be away from your home for a while.

It’s crucial to keep the heat on in your house during the winter to prevent frozen or burst pipes. You should also winterize your home before leaving it for an extended period or time, as homeowners insurance won’t cover wear and tear or damage from neglect.[2]

Helpful Tip:

Allow cold water to trickle from the faucet that’s farthest from the main valve and keep kitchen and bathroom cabinets open so warm air can circulate.[3]

Check Out: 30 Seasonal Home Maintenance Tasks to Add to Your Personal Checklist

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What happens if you don’t set the proper temperature when you leave your house?

Turning off the heat in your home during winter leaves your house vulnerable to several major risks, including:

Frozen pipes

The water in your pipes begins to freeze and expand when it gets cold, causing pressure to build up on the pipe wall. Pipes can eventually burst after too much pressure, resulting in costly water damage and repairs. Pipes in unheated areas or along exterior walls are at the highest risk. Unfreezing pipes on your own can be tricky and tedious, so be sure to keep the heat on.[3]

Burst pipes

Pressure within your pipes from freezing water can cause your pipes to burst, crack, or leak. The resulting flow of water can cause significant damage to your home since no one will be there to detect the leak and turn off the main water valve. Pipes are more susceptible to bursting in cold weather, so make sure to keep your heat on, even when you’re not home.[3]

Learn More: Does Home Insurance Cover Plumbing and Pipe Leaks?

Flooring damage

Water damage to your flooring can be severe and costly. Hardwood and laminate flooring are especially porous, and water pockets can develop underneath vinyl flooring. While you can cover warped flooring with a rug, if you’re not around to properly dry your floor after the damage, mold could develop.

Mold damage

Mold typically doesn’t grow without moisture, but if mold spores land on a wet surface, it can begin growing indoors. Mold can cause allergies and irritation and even produce toxic substances. You may notice respiratory problems if there’s mold in your home.[4]

While mold damage can be fixed, it can be nearly impossible to clean mold from absorbent materials like carpeting or flooring, which are expensive to replace. The national average cost to replace hardwood flooring is between $6 and $12 per square foot, according to Angi.[5]

While it may cost a little extra to keep your home heated while you’re away, keeping warm air circulating through your home reduces the risk of water damage and can prevent a much more costly repair bill. You can set your thermostat to a lower temperature while you’re gone, but you should never turn your heat off completely for an extended period of time during the winter.

How to prepare your home before leaving for the winter

Whether you’re a snowbird headed for warmer temperatures or just taking a winter business trip, you should take the following steps to protect your vacant home during the winter: [6] [7]

Set your thermostat

Set your thermostat to a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit to keep your pipes from freezing and potentially bursting.

Insulate your pipes

Use insulation products, such as heat tape, to insulate your water pipes, especially those located along outer walls or in unheated areas like the attic and garage.

Turn off the water

Turn off the water supply from the main valve and open all faucets to drain any remaining water. Drain your toilets completely and pour biodegradable antifreeze into toilets and sinks. You should also turn off the water heater. If you drain the water heater, make sure you also turn off the gas or electricity source. Drain your exterior pipes and sprinkler system as well.

Cover air vents and open your cabinet doors

Cover or close vents located along your foundation to prevent cold air from damaging pipes in exposed areas. Keep kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open so warm air can circulate around your pipes.

Take out the trash

Thoroughly clean your home before vacating, and remove all trash to prevent pests from taking residence in your home. You may want to unplug appliances like refrigerators and freezers and clean them out as well if you’ll be gone for a very long time.

Clean your chimney and clear your gutters

Clear your gutters to prevent frozen debris from creating an ice dam. You should also clean your chimney, inspect it for nests, and close the damper.

Secure your home

Repair leaky windows and doors with tape or caulk to keep cold air out. Ensure all windows and doors are securely locked to prevent a break-in. Consider installing an alarm system and moving valuables to a secure off-site location.

Read Also: How to Prepare for a Winter Storm: A Detailed Checklist

How to decrease energy use while away in winter

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce your heating bill if you’re leaving an empty home for an extended period of time: [8] [9]

Get a smart thermostat

Installing an ENERGY STAR smart thermostat saves homeowners an average of 8% on their home energy bills. Smart thermostats can automatically adjust the temperature when you’re not home, and you can check and adjust the temperature from afar as well — most smart thermostats come with mobile apps.

Cover your windows

Seal your windows with a plastic sheet or film taped to the interior of your windows. Consider installing insulating window coverings to keep out the cold if it still feels drafty.

Locate and fix leaks

Look for air leaks around doors and windows and apply caulk or weatherstripping. Use foam sealant for larger gaps. Caulk and seal leaks where your pipes and electrical wiring enter the home. Seal leaks around chimneys, furnaces, and water heater vents using sheet metal or furnace cement caulk.

Maintain your heating systems

Be sure to schedule routine cleaning and servicing of your heating system and replace the filters for your furnace or heat pump as often as needed. If you have a wood- or pellet-burning heater, keep the flue vent and the inside of the appliance clean.

Check Out: How Much Does a New HVAC System Cost?

Consider unoccupied home insurance

Most home insurance companies won’t provide coverage if your home has been unoccupied for more than 30 days. Check your home insurance contract for the exact details. Some insurers will grant a vacancy permit if you request one, but you still won’t be covered for common risks inherent to an unoccupied home, like theft and water damage.[10]

If you’ll be on vacation, working abroad, or otherwise displaced from your home for longer than 30 days, it’s a good idea to get unoccupied or vacant home insurance. Your insurer may offer an endorsement to your regular home insurance policy, or you may need to purchase separate coverage.

Be sure to compare home insurance quotes if you need a new policy. Some insurers may distinguish between an unoccupied and vacant home and may charge more for or decline to insure a home that’s considered vacant (a home that has the utilities turned off and belongings removed).

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Winter house temperature FAQs

When preparing your home before a winter getaway, there’s a lot to keep in mind. Here are answers to some of the most common questions people ask about temperature and home maintenance for an empty house.

  • How do you insulate an old house?

    Schedule a whole-house energy assessment or look for vulnerable areas yourself. Caulk and seal around windows and doors as needed, and insulate unfinished spaces and exterior walls. Insulating window coverings can help keep the cold out as well.[9] For more details on ways to insulate your house, see Energy.gov’s insulation guide for existing homes.

  • What is the best smart thermostat?

    The best smart thermostat for you depends on your budget and the features you want. However, top review sites like Wireutter, CNET, and Tom’s Guide mention the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat, and the Amazon Smart Thermostat as some of the best options.

  • How do you reduce humidity in your house during winter?

    You can reduce the humidity in your home by using insulation or storm windows and keeping doors open between rooms. Use exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen to remove moisture. Consider using a dehumidifier if these methods don’t work.[4]

  • Should you leave the heating on in an empty house in winter?

    Yes. You should set your thermostat to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re away during the winter to prevent frozen and burst pipes.

Sources

  1. State Farm. "How to protect your home while south for winter vacation."
  2. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "A Consumer's Guide to Home Insurance."
  3. American Red Cross. "Preventing & Thawing Frozen Pipes."
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home."
  5. Angi. "How Much Does Installing Hardwood Floors Cost?."
  6. Bear Valley Water District. "WINTERIZATION AND TIPS TO PREVENT WATER DAMAGE."
  7. Travelers. "Snowbirds: How to Winterize Your Home While You're Away."
  8. Energy Star. "Energy Efficiency Program Sponsor Frequently Asked Questions About ENERGY STAR Smart Thermostats."
  9. Energy.gov. "Energy Saver."
  10. Insurance Information Institute. "A Vacant Home Still Needs Insurance - Don't Be Caught Without Coverage."