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Tips on preparing for a winter away from home
As fall crispness creeps into the air, temperatures drop, and Canadians prepare for winter. Many Canadians also plan escapes from the cold for periods of several weeks to several months. For snowbirds, who spend portions of the winters in the southern United States, winter preparation includes a checklist of things related to their time away.
Long-time snowbirds have developed lists to be re-used year after year. My husband and I are relatively new snowbirds with just two winters under our belts. We figured out what we needed to do to prepare through online research, talking to friends, and trial and error. We’ve developed our own list.
NOTE: Snowbirds originate in the northern U.S. as well as in Canada. Many things on the checklist are applicable to them as well, although there are some uniquely Canadian considerations, such as emergency medical insurance and currency exchange.
1. Protecting Your Home
- Arrange for someone to check your house on a regular basis, either a trusted friend or engage a house monitoring service. Check with your insurance company as to what their expectations are.
- One of the major concerns about an empty house in winter climates is with the furnace. If the furnace stops working, frozen pipes and serious damage can occur in a relatively short period of time. If you have an alarm system, you might consider adding temperature monitoring. The alarm company will notify your emergency contacts when the temperature drops a set number of degrees. Monitoring of water levels around sump pumps and a rise in temperature in garages can also be done.
- Arrange for snow clearing. An uncleared driveway and snow-blocked doorway can be a beacon for thieves.
- Set some lights on timers.
- Cancel your newspaper. A stack of papers outside your door also advertises you are away. So does an overflowing mailbox. See Point 4.
2. Pay Bills
- Make arrangement with the billing company to do direct debit from your bank account
- Arrange for bills to sent to you electronically and use online banking to pay those bills
- Make arrangements with someone you trust to pay the bills on your behalf while you are away
- Prepay bills if possible
3. Access to Money
- Your Canadian credit card and debit card can be used in most places. The exchange fee used to convert U.S. funds to Canadian will vary as per the daily rate and most credit cards incorporate a fee for doing the conversion.
- To avoid the addition currency conversion fees, consider obtaining a U.S. funds Canadian credit card and setting up a U.S. funds Canadian bank account from which you pay the amount owing on the card. You can make transfers of money into the U.S. funds bank account when the exchange rate is most favourable. You may also be able to use the credit card to withdraw cash at ATMs. Check under what terms that is allowed. You may need to have a positive balance on your account against which the cash is withdrawn.
- Although used less and less, travellers’ cheques are still an option. You will need to go to a bank to cash them.
- For shorter trips, you may wish to obtain all the U.S. cash you need before you leave Canada.
4. Handling Your Mail
- If you are going for a short period and are certain there will be nothing in the mail of an urgent nature, you could make arrangements for Canada Post to hold your mail.
- You may wish to rely on a trusted friend to collect your mail and sort it. You should provide him or her information on what to watch for in terms of bills or urgent items and what can be ignored. The friend can contact you should there be something in the mail he/she doesn’t know how to deal with.
- You can arrange for Canada Post to forward your mail to your winter address. There is a charge for this, but it may be the best option if you are expecting an amount of mail that needs your attention. NOTE: If you choose this option, stop the forwarding about 3 weeks before you return to Canada to allow enough time for all the forwarded mail to reach you.
5. Medical Insurance
6. Miscellaneous Items
- If you have a vehicle that is staying behind in Canada, either in a garage or parked outside, make sure you prepare it for a winter of sitting idle. The first winter we went away, we left my husband’s 1997 mini-van parked in our garage. When we returned in the spring, the battery didn’t work and wouldn’t charge. We had to buy a new battery. On older vehicles, the battery can be disconnect or removed. On newer vehicles, with engine computers, the battery can be hooked up to a smart charger. We now have a newer vehicle and our mechanic recommends we have someone drive it once a week.
- If you have a vehicle staying behind in Canada that will not be used, you may be able to save money on insurance by transferring to a “lay-up” type of policy for the period you are away.
- Before you leave, make sure you have made arrangements for any driver licence, vehicle registration, or vehicle insurance renewals. In Manitoba, a person has to show up in person once every five years to renew registration and vehicle insurance and to get a new drivers licence photo. If the time period for doing that will occur while you are away, you need to make special arrangements with an agent before you leave.
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