This is the time of year when social media feeds are filled to the brim with mockery. Mockery of our place, of this place, of the cold. The snowbirds are on beaches, toasting to sunsets. Karen guessed the exact time the sun set and she won a free T-Shirt!! They offer up lip service to their northern friends. Stay Warm! They say, with their feet in the sand. Another Boring Sunset! They write, implying that it isn’t boring at all. Why Do I Live Here? Asks someone who hasn’t yet won the ability to spend their winter someplace else.
Me? I was driving home last night in a snow squall, the wind whipping across the road, drifts creeping towards the center line. I drove in my car, my steering wheel and seat warm, my four wheel drive confident. There was no crisis here. I pulled into my driveway and into my garage. I walked into my house and lit a fire. The night would be easy now. The cold outside of no concern. The scenery and the excitement of severe weather both to my liking. What’s so bad about winter?
I suppose there are ways that it’s bad. If you park your car outside your primary home at night, every night, that might be pretty difficult. I remember the days of scraping windshields and dead morning batteries, and those times were indeed more difficult than these times. In the same way, if you live in the north and you lack a fireplace, this would make winter far less appealing. Why would you invite this condition upon yourself? We all make mistakes that we have to live with, but no fireplace in Wisconsin? Really? Remedy this, and you’ll be closer to enjoying the nights when the temperatures plummet and the snow whips.
But this isn’t about why winter is fine. This isn’t about stew and fires and warm hats. This is about you, and your vacation home, and how you can enjoy winter without stressing about your vacation home. I’ve mentioned these things before, but they bear repeating on a morning such as this. Lest you think I’m lecturing without practicing, I have a small cabin 160 miles away from here. I don’t go there super often. But today, with temperatures well below zero, I know my little cabin is just fine.
Because of technology. Cheap technology. I have a single camera in the house, and a single thermostat. Both connected to a single app on my phone. This technology could have been set up by my 12 year old daughter. The total cost of this futuristic set up was around $350. With this set up in mind, I can look at a live feed of my little cabin living room and know that the temperature outside is -11, but the temperature inside is 63. This is the lesson.
Times were, vacation homes were drained of water, covered in plastic, and turned off. This would happen in October, and the old cabins would sit, freezing and dry, until the following April, or May. That was nice back then, but this is now. There’s no reason to own a Lake Geneva vacation home if you’re not going to visit between October and May. The days of seasonal ownership are long over, as owners have realized that winter here is enjoyable in its own way. But even if we’re not going to visit in the winter, we should take care of our houses. The first step? Temperature.
Tempting as it might be to turn the heat down to 52, because you want to save the planet and conserve energy, don’t do it. Just don’t. Leave your heat at 63 degrees or more. Why would you turn the heat lower than that? To save $50 a month for a couple of months? Don’t be silly. Leave your heat at 63 (install a wifi thermostat so you can monitor it), and don’t go about the business of draining your water lines with the assistance of a plumber. Just do as I do and turn off your well pump and water heater (don’t do this is you have a whole house humidifier, or consult your plumber), or turn off the municipal water supply inside your crawl/basement. You do this in case the furnace blinks out, and in doing so you’ll make certain that you won’t have a houseful of water a day or two later. It’s easy and smart.
About that camera. Why wouldn’t you do that? It’s so easy, and you needn’t hire an IT firm to set it up. It can be as simple as a single camera that will alert you to motion or sound. Can it nab an intruder for you, too? No, but I find that just a little peace of mind is better than none at all. In fact, I’d trade no peace of mind for a little every time. Between the camera and the thermostat, I don’t really see what else you’ll need aside from a local emergency contact if indeed something goes awry.
Next time you’re tempted to lock your vacation home down tight and give it up for the off-season, rethink your mistake. Keep the heat up, turn the water off. Check in once a day with your app. And if you do come up for the weekend, be sure to have some firewood. Make that fire. Enjoy that house. And remember, it could be worse, your life could have been reduced to watching a sunset and hoping the waitress calls your name.