Prepare Your House for an Extended Absence

Things to do before leaving your home unoccupied in the Tropics:

This advice is geared to a typical NOB (North of the Border) owner who has a pool and pressurized water system (hydro-pneumatico)
1.   Definitely drain the pool or treat it with a permanent larvicide like Copper.
Standing water is the main preventable cause of Dengue virus transmission here in Yucatan.     Consider treating the residual water with extra doses of copper salts, to kill any larvae that grow in future rain accumulations.   Adding extra copper also keeps your pool from becoming an algae swamp. (NOB snow bird untreated swimming pools in unoccupied homes are a major cause of Dengue transmission.)**

Note: If you add extra copper to your pool, then drain enough water out of the pool water when you return to give a final safe copper-algicide concentration. (The copper treatment works very well at treating the residual rain-water that accumulates in supposedly “drained” pools.)

2.   Shut off the gas valves and lock/chain the cylinder or tank so something secure. (These are just too tempting: easy to carry, easy to convert to cash, etc.)

3.   Definitely turn off your hydro-pneumatico, (water pressure pump), and open the water system’s air vent valve on the techo/roof. Use simple gravity feed to supply plumbing for your caretaker to water plants etc…

4.   If there are no plants etc to water, then give the water system a final chlorine treatment: 1/4 cup of normal un-scented NORMAL bleach per 275 gal/1000 liter tinaco – assuming your tinaco has only clean water. Turbid water or water with organic matter in it requires more bleach.

5.   After the chlorine has mixed well in the tinaco, then drain some water through each sink & tub/shower until you smell a little chlorine (proving that you have disinfected the lines and the water in all lines).

6.   Shut off the water system: Shut off the pump & possibly close the valve to the tinaco. This way, if your system has a subterranean / sub-floor leak while you are away, the pump is not running every 20 minutes to fill the tinaco. (This problem just occurred for a beach buddy – creating a $4,000 peso per month power bill just for running the pump and a few security lights in an unoccupied house).

7.   Cover/block all drains…. sink drains, floor drains, etc. Put magazines over the floor drains & shower and tub drains, a bit/ball of wire screen/mesh in the kitchen and bath sink drains to stop:

  • Dengue breeding sites for mosquitos,  and
  • Cockroaches that love to travel between the septic tank and the drains…. the big rascals (cucarachon!) even swim through the toilet water – back and forth between your home and the septic sludge –

Some people advise pouring enough mineral oil on top of the water in drains to stop evaporation and to stop mosquito breeding.  We don’t know how well this works, but it sounds like a good solution.

8.  Solution to diving-swimming cockroaches? Saran Wrap the toilet bowl. It stops the mosquitos from breeding and blocks the roaches from their super-highways…

9.   Saran Wrap the top of the toilet tank (under the lid) to keep mosquitoes from breeding in the toilet tank water.

10.   Either shut off each toilet’s water supply valve or close the valve between the tinaco and the house, since many toilets slowly leak (at the valve in the bottom of the toilet tank) – or at least shut off the water supply valves at each toilet….

Note:  shutting off the water to & from the tinaco might be a problem if you have a caretaker watering plants, etc. – but it does discourage Semana Santa  and Summer Vacation party-ers from using your patio and pool for their fun.

11. Shut off, empty and clean the fridge and prop the door open to keep it from growing mold.

12. Prop open the doors on closets, cabinet(?) and open furniture drawers a bit to allow air-flow & discourage mold growth. Some caretakers like to leave one or two windows open an inch and to turn on ceiling fans for several hours per week to keep things fresh.

13.  In addition to draining, locking, and blocking, snowbirds could give their US or Canadian phone numbers & e-mail addresses to their trusted neighbors, and also to close local reliable friends – and have the friends/neighbors check-up on the caretakers actual activities.

14.  Make it clear to the caretaker who the local contact is, and emphasize that the caretaker should follow the contacts instructions, and not simply ignore the local contact’s requests for regular property upkeep and pool water treatment.

15. Unplug TVs, computers, microwave oven, stereos, electronic (digital controlled) washer & dryer, digitally controlled air conditioners, and any other electronics that may be harmed by voltage surges or drop-outs. It also save $$ for electricity.

16. Consider pre-paying any bills that will come due while you are out of town?

17. The obvious things: Stop newspaper delivery, have someone pick up mail regularly, make sure all trash is out, all perishables out, lights off, shut off the water heater, windows strategically closed (or a few open a little for fresh air?), outside doors and windows locked, bodega locked, and consider putting a small light or two – and a radio – in interior rooms – on timers to come “on” periodically to give the appearance that someone is inside the “back” or interior part of the home.

** Are snowbirds good neighbors?
At Yucalandia, we’ve noticed that many NOB snowbirds return to sparkling pools and neat-as-a-pin homes – due to their caretaker’s last minute efforts. Before the hurried clean-ups, the typical reality is: a pool that has been a green scummy mess for months – exposing neighbors to Dengue while the house is vacant, weedy ugly yards and property frontages, etc. Caretakers often do nothing, until just before the owner arrives… It’s a sure sign that a snow-bird is migrating south when we see a flurry of activity at their home.
The result? The absent home-owner thinks that they are good neighbors, when they often aren’t – letting their places look just awful, weedy, brushy, with trash holding water: prime mosquito breeding grounds, until just before they return.

We mention all this not out of hostility, but because we have 2 friends who’s kids have gotten really sick with Dengue, precisely due to absent snowbird neighbor’s brush piles and scummy pools. These are conditions the caretakers are asked to maintain & paid to maintain, yet the absent homeowner had no idea how things really were. Good intentions with no follow-through = sick kids & sick elders.

* * * *
Feel free to copy with proper attribution: YucaLandia/Surviving Yucatan.
© Steven M. Fry

Read-on MacDuff . . .

17 Responses to Prepare Your House for an Extended Absence

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  4. casa incognito says:

    i have heard that one can pour mineral oil (or some other oil that won’t evaporate) into the toilet and sink traps that won’t allow mosquitoes to breed, but keeps the traps functioning. Any suggestions?

    • yucalandia says:

      Theoretically, it seems like a reasonable idea, other than the oil coating plumbing when you flush. The mosquito larvae must come to the surface to breathe, and mineral oil would certainly interfere with that.

  5. spence says:

    Thanks for the reply. The problem (other than mosquitos) for traps is that they evaporate over time and then sewer gas (methane) can come up the pipes and into your casa–not good. Do you know of any liquid product that would fit that bill and not add destructive chemicals to the septic tank?

  6. Diane S Bland says:

    What do I do with clothes and linens, towels etc when I leave Bucerias for the summer months. Do I have to pack them away? If so how do I do this to protect the items?

  7. Maggie Washa says:

    Dryer sheets that are perfumed work really well. I used to bag and seal the sheets and linens, but when we returned everything smelled moldy. Now I use dryer sheets liberally between layers, and store things in pillow cases or unsealed plastic bags, and all is fresh when we return.

  8. JT says:

    I’ve been told it’s better to leave a fridge operating (on low) – keeps motor from seizing in the hot/humid rainy summer season…

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi JT,
      The main motor (the compressor) is hermetically sealed in an air-tight metal chamber and experiences zero humidity – and it is permanently lubricated. In 48 years of working on fridges, I have never seen a compressor motor seize. The heat of operating the compressor is much higher than the 90 – 100 degree F air temperatures from the weather. These factors say that you gain no protection by running the fridge on low – just wear and tear and extra energy usage.

      It is possible that one of the 2 small cooling fan motors operate better by being turned on periodically, but the lower cooling fan motor is a sealed motor, with sealed bearings, and the fan motor in the freezer is very cheap ($15?) – but the freezer fans do well with being lubricated every 5 years or so. Since the freezer fan motors have bushings (not bearings), with no oil ports, it can be good to drill a small hole into each of the housings of the bushings, to oil the felt washer that feeds oil into the bushing.

      The most important maintenance is to vacuum dust, pet hair etc off of the cooling coils, to keep the compressor from having to work too hard.

      I would prop the doors open on fridges when they are not operating to keep them from getting moldy.

  9. JT says:

    Thanks Steve for all the very helpful info…


  10. colm54 says:

    What about storing clothes in vacuum bags and stored with dryer cloths inside to keep fresh?

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi colm,
      If the clothes are clean – no mold – freshly laundered – esp laundering them with a little bleach to kill molds/fungi – then, yes, that can work.

  11. Hans says:

    I am interested in some articles about solar and pumps for a well

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