Freeze-Up Prevention at Secondary or Vacation Homes

freeze-up prevention

Vermont Mutual Insurance Group wants to make sure homeowners are well informed about freeze-up prevention at secondary or vacation homes. They have authorized our agency to pass along this helpful information:

“Water supply lines, hot water heating systems and hot water tanks are typically drained down prior to the winter months in seasonal dwellings such as cottages or camps. In contrast, in secondary or vacation homes that are occupied periodically throughout the winter months, water supply and heating systems typically remain functional throughout the winter so as to increase the comfort and ease of use of those dwellings during those intervals in which they are occupied. However this understandable desire for comfort and ease of use of secondary or vacation homes can result in a corresponding vulnerability of these dwellings to the potential for freeze-up of water supply and hot water based heating systems. And while the physical damage to the actual piping systems can be substantial, the subsequent release of large volumes of water from these piping systems can result in catastrophic damage both to the structure and contents.

Clearly the vagaries and extremes of exterior ambient temperatures have a direct impact on the potential for these freeze-up events. The combination of very low temperatures accompanied by strong and consistent winds can compound the problem. However, while exterior temperatures can play a pivotal role, the failure to consistently maintain an adequate level of heat throughout all areas of the dwelling is the primary cause of these events and can be the result of one or more of the following factors:

  • Heating System Fuel Related Malfunctions – Fuel related loss of heat can be a result of inconsistent monitoring and response to dwindling fuel levels. It is prudent to maintain ongoing communication with fuel suppliers to reinforce the importance of pre-arranged delivery agreements and equivalent communication with snow removal contractors to ensure deliveries can be made.
  • Absence of Annual Heating System Maintenance – All heating systems should be subject to annual inspection and servicing by a licensed contractor. The majority of heating system ignition failures, especially with oil or kerosene heating systems, is attributable to the absence of comprehensive annual service of the system. Such service should always include replacement of fuel filters as clogged filters can compromise an otherwise adequate fuel supply.
  • Overly Optimistic “Safe” Thermostat Setting – The owners of secondary or vacation homes often times struggle with the balance between the need to maintain a freeze-up preventing level of heat and their motivation to control their heating costs. This conflict can result vacating the dwelling and leaving the thermostat at a temperature that may not provide a sufficient thermal buffer in the event of extended periods of unexpected excessively low temperatures and more importantly, at a temperature insufficient to maintain adequate temperature in the remote perimeter areas
    of the building.
  • The Limitations of Single “Core” Located Thermostats – Whether a secondary or vacation home has a single zone or multiple zone heating system, the controlling thermostat(s) are typically located in or near the center “core” of the floor level on which they are located. Depending on the severity of temperatures and winds, the adequacy of the dwelling’s insulation and the capacity and extent of the heating system, the “core” located thermostats may not be capable of identifying and responding to dangerously low temperatures in the remote perimeter areas of the building.
  • The Absence of Low Temperature Detection Alarm Protection – Given the range of variables that can contribute to interior temperature levels resulting in a freeze-up event in a Secondary home, the most prudent and fundamental loss prevention strategy a building owner can employ is to provide low temperature detection alarm protection that will notify the building owner, a local caretaker and/or a Central Station Alarm company when interior temperatures fall below a specified level.
  • The inability of Single “Core” Located Freeze Alarms to Detect Insufficient Remote and Perimeter Temperatures – Most readily available low temperature alarm detection devices consist of a single self contained temperature monitoring unit incorporating communications technology that, in the event of a low temperature event, automatically generates an alarm signal/text/email to specified recipients via phone landline, cellular networks or the web. As these single units are typically located in or near the center “core” of the main floor level adjacent to the main telephone jack, they may prove to be insufficiently sensitive to adequately identify dangerously low temperatures in the remote perimeter areas of the building.


  • Have a licensed heating contractor service all heating units annually.
  • Adopt a “fail safe” strategy for monitoring and delivery of heating fuel and ensure reliable snow removal services to facilitate the fueling process.
  • Provide a low temperature alarm system that provides a dial in or web based ability to monitor internal temperatures on a real time basis.On larger square footage and/or multi-level secondary homes, provide multiple low temperature sensing units to adequately monitor and protect the remote perimeter areas of the dwelling.
  • When vacating the dwelling, leave all interior doors open and open cabinet doors beneath kitchen and bathroom sinks to maximize the distribution of heat within the building.
  • When vacating the dwelling, shut off the main water supply at the point at which it enters the building unless the heating system includes aboiler equipped with an automatic water feed.”

© Vermont Mutual Insurance Group 2018

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns about your homeowners, renters or rental property insurance policies.


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Bakker Agency • Main Office: 302 West Main Street, Suite 206 • Avon, CT 06001 • 860-676-1957
Branch Office: 4 Bridge Street • New Hartford, CT 06057 • 860-379-8555
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