Second Home Concerns
Second homes, vacation homes, summer residences … whatever you want to call them, they are houses that are unoccupied much of the time and they provide a challenge to their owners and to service companies like ours. Therefore, you should know that Quogue-Sinclair specializes in homes “where the bills go elsewhere.” In fact, they make up about half of our customer base.
So here are a few items you should consider when owning a second home.
We hate to say it, but this one single item is a major problem in the Hamptons, not just for service and delivery companies or your friends who come visiting, but also for our Emergency Services. It is a simple thing to overlook, especially when you do not receive mail at the house. Even the police do not know exactly where every house is and they may have trouble finding you, especially if you are relying on mobile phones at your vacation home.
So, please put a street number on the front of your house. If it is not easy to see from the street, put another one at the end of your driveway (and please, not on the tree between two long driveways). Help us and everyone else find you and you will find your service that much better.
Caretakers, house-watchers, family members or old friends, call them what you will. Yes, somebody who lives here should be watching your house when you are not here, plain and simple. Too many things can go wrong with an unattended house for you to leave it alone for months at a time. During a cold-snap, when even the daytime high temperatures are below freezing, somebody needs to check your house every day.
Crime happens. Heating systems fail. Power lines go down. Windows get left open. Any home is a major investment, and a home in the Hamptons is even more so. If the heating system fails, pipes can freeze, burst, and cause water damage. Pipes can burst even if the heat is still working, if it is cold enough.
There are plenty of people out here who will watch your home for a fee. Your handyman, if you have one, may do this. Your builder or real estate agent may provide this service or recommend someone who does. While we cannot provide this service for you, we do work hand-in-hand with many caretakers to keep homes safe and can recommend many of them.
But even if you have a caretaker, things can happen. If your caretaker went in the hospital, would you even know? If your Uncle Joe lives next door, can he tell what is happening in your home just by looking out his window?
This is why we strongly recommend home monitoring. We can provide this convenient service to you through our Shield Security division. But if your home already has a security system, you can get much of what you need from your current provider.
First and foremost, a temperature monitor is needed. These are treated as a separate zone in your security system and they alert at a preset temperature. For this reason, you may not be able to set your thermostat as low as you might want (we recommend 58°), because what good is a temperature monitor that is going off all the time? Your alarm company will call you and you can call your caretaker to determine the cause of the problem.
Quogue-Sinclair can, for a fee, install a device called a Burner Lockout that can then be connected to your alarm system. This device will alert if your burner stops working for any reason (“off on safety” is the term we use), giving you a couple of hours head start versus waiting for the temperature monitor to alert.
There are also devices that can sometimes be used that send an alert if your fuel tank gets too low (in which case, you call us!).
The advantage to you in using our Shield Security system for your home monitoring is simple. All you have to do is leave us a key and any access codes, then when a temperature or burner lockout alert comes in, it goes straight to us and we respond immediately, without your involvement. Your home is saved, even if you cannot be reached.
This brings up another important point: we should have your key and keep your access codes on file. You don’t have to do this, of course, but we can respond to your emergencies much faster (when you are not there) if we have direct access. We maintain over a thousand customer keys in our secure system.
Yes, your caretaker can open the house for us, if you can get him on the phone and if he isn’t already busy with a dozen other homes suffering from severe weather. Or we can wait for you to come out, but if the weather is truly severe, you may not be able to get here right away. That is why we recommend that you give us a key, because these things can and have happened many times in the past.
If we have your key, you can call us and give us specific permission to loan the key to somebody else (“Please give my key to Jones Plumbing on Tuesday”). We would, of course, ask for identification from most people – we already know most of the tradesmen – and they would have to sign for the key.
We are in the home heating business and we have been doing this for a very long time. Therefore, once we have had you onboard for a while, we know how often to come and fill your tank and we know how much we expect you to take. If your tank takes considerably more or less than we expect, we’ll know that something may be wrong. Since we know that the home is normally empty, we may call you with questions: “Is anybody living in the house this winter?” “Is there any work being done on the house?” If your tank is completely full or completely empty when we arrive, we’ll know that the heating system has stopped working.
This is a good reason to notify us when you change your routine. If you invite your entire extended family out to your home in the Hamptons for Thanksgiving, you are going to use much more fuel than normal. If you are having work done, then doors are being left open and insulation may have been stripped from the walls for a time. If we know what is happening, we can adjust your schedule.
One question we often get from vacation home owners: “How could we have used so much fuel when we weren’t even there?”
Your home will use fuel all winter long, whether you are there or not. And, yes, we realize that you turned down the thermostat before you left. But turning the thermostat down to, say, 58° will only save you a small percentage. Simply put, it is cold outside, especially in the early morning hours, and your heating system has to work hard to keep your house from freezing.
Yes, you can drain your home – that is an option. It will save you money on fuel. It will also terminate your service contract with us – sorry, but without the fuel usage, it is simply not possible for us to offer any free service. We would still provide fuel to you at your request (Will Call) and we would still provide whatever service you need, but on a Time & Material basis. You will find that most, if not all, of our competitors will have this same requirement.
To drain the house – that is, to get all the water out of your pipes and get antifreeze in the toilets and plumbing – you will have to pay a plumber several hundred dollars and you will have to pay more in spring to reverse the process. Also, be aware that some fine furniture, wall coverings and object d’art do not take well to freezing temperatures. If an object or appliance has a water content, it will expand while freezing, causing permanent damage. So, please take this all into consideration when reviewing your fuel bill.
One safety precaution you really should take, however, is to shut off your domestic water lines when you are not here. The water pipes that go to your sinks, toilets, spigots, laundry, and dishwasher generally have a single shutoff valve that can prevent water runoff, even if your pipes do freeze and burst. If you do not know where this valve is, it is worth your time to learn where; your plumber or handyman can probably show you. Please note, however, that this valve will probably also shut off your lawn sprinkler system and any automatic fill valve you have to your pool, so use this valve advisedly during the season. Also, make sure the valve does not cut off any fire sprinkler system you may have.
If your heating system is a furnace – that is, a forced warm air system – then you can simply shut off your main water valve in the winter, unless you are depending on an automatic humidifier to keep things from drying out. But if your heating system is a boiler (that is, using hot water, including warm air systems that use hot-water coils), then you must not shut the main valve! The boiler must refresh itself from time to time or it will run out of water and become inoperative. If you have a boiler, than you must find the valve that shuts off only your domestic water, while leaving the boiler open to the street.
As we stated above, we are not caretakers. We simply cannot go and check on your house for you, as much as we would like to. The reason is simple: the times you are most worried about your house are the times we are most busy – we simply do not have the manpower. Therefore, we need you or your caretaker to verify that there is actually a heating problem before we can send a service technician, no matter what service contract you have with us.
Annual maintenance is necessary for Oilheat systems, and we provide this complimentary with all of our service contracts. However, we cannot provide this service on weekends, nor can we perform installations or other non-emergency work on the weekends. We know that weekends are when you are there, mostly, but our service techs deserve weekends off as well, so only urgent emergency work (no heat, no hot water, smoke, etc.) can be done on the weekends. We can schedule work on Friday afternoons or Monday mornings or during the weeks you are there. You can also authorize your caretaker to act in your stead.