You’ve packed your bags and planned your itinerary, but have you considered how to best protect your home while on vacation? Of course you’re not expecting something bad to happen, but returning from a memorable journey and learning something has gone seriously wrong at home would be downright devastating. Basic preventative measures (which take only minutes to complete) can work wonders to help you avoid power surges, broken pipes, home invasions and more.
ASK A FRIEND TO HELP
Ask a trusted friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your house while you’re away. Ask them to drive by your home once every day or so and check on the place. Give them a key so that they can bring your mail in, feed your cat, water your plants, rake your leaves, etc. If you don’t use a garage, you may also want to give them a key to your car — you never know when your vehicle may need to be moved. They should also have your contact information and a copy of your itinerary in case of emergencies. If you will you have more than one person visiting your house while you’re away, tell them about each other! You don’t want the watchful neighbor you asked to keep an eye on your home calling the police on your cat sitter!
If it looks like there are still people at home, you are much less likely to be robbed. Do everything you can to make it look like there is activity both inside and outside the house. This would be an excellent time to have some lawn or exterior work done. You may need to make arrangements with whoever is doing the work, either paying them a deposit ahead of time, or arranging to pay the balance at a later date. Make sure they mail the invoice (do not take the chance that they will tape it to the door or put it somewhere that is a dead giveaway no one is home). Even a neighborhood teenager could be a good choice for having some basic work done, like mowing or trimming hedges.
CONTROL YOUR SOCIAL STATUS
Why broadcast to the whole world that you are not going to be home? In a world where people cannot seem to wait to let everyone on Facebook or Twitter know that they are about to head out on some exciting excursion, it’s important to remember, it’s not just your friends that can view your updates, there may be hundreds of complete strangers viewing your daily musings too. Rather than announcing to a crowd that you will be leaving your house unattended for two weeks, better to wait and post vacation photos after you’ve safely returned home.
Also, be careful what you say on your answering machine or voice mail. Callers don’t need to know you’re not home — they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.
DO TIP OFF THE POLICE
Consider notifying the police if you’re going on vacation for longer than a week. It’s possible the police may go out of their way to do a few “vacation checks” while you’re away. If you have a security alarm, leave a house key and the code with someone you trust, and provide the police and alarm company with their name and phone number. You may also want to contact your local neighborhood watch program if there’s one in your area.
CURTAINS: OPEN OR CLOSED?
Leave your curtains exactly as you usually keep them when you’re home, since noticeable changes could hint that you’re not around — especially if your curtains are uncharacteristically left closed for two weeks. While closing your curtains to prevent people from peering inside your home to see whether you’re there, it also prevents those who aim to help — the police, your neighbors or friends — from seeing inside your house. Better to move expensive items, like jewelry or computers, out of plain sight if they’re visible from the window.
THE LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NO ONE’S HOME
Don’t leave your lights on at home throughout your entire vacation in an effort to make it look like someone is in the house. Leaving the lights on is not exactly “green” behavior; plus, house lights blazing throughout the night might look a bit odd. Instead, purchase a light switch timer that can turn your lights on and off automatically. The best are timers that allow a varied schedule or can be controlled by an app on your cell phone. Then, you can vary the times, making it look more like people are still in the home. In addition to lights on timers, connect a few outside and inside lights to motion sensors. This way, if anyone gets too close, the lights will come on automatically.
Water heater: Almost no one remembers to turn down the temperature on their water heater. This can be an excellent way to save electricity as well.
STOP YOUR MAIL
Place a “stop” order on mail and newspapers, or arrange to have a friend or neighbor pick up your mail and newspapers while you’re away. A week’s worth of papers piled on your front step signals to criminals that this particular homeowner is out of town. It’s easy to put your mail on hold at USPS.com.
PREVENT DAMAGE FROM POWER SURGES
Unplug your appliances (television, computer, toaster oven, etc.) to protect them from power surges. Do this to save power as well. According to the Consumer Energy Center, many appliances use power even when they’re turned off.
REMOVE YOUR SPARE KEY
Do not leave any spare keys outside the house. All burglars know the trick of keeping a spare key under the welcome mat or in a plastic rock. If you are going away for more than a day or two, you would be well served to remove any key that you have hidden in an outside “safe” spot. Instead, leave a spare key with the same trusted friend, neighbor or family member who is going to be regularly checking on things.
SECURE YOUR VALUABLES
Never leave anything of value out in plain sight. If you have not already done so, now may be a good time to consider placing any jewelry, extra cash or other valuables in a safe deposit box or even a secure hidden safe within the house. Nothing should ever be visible from any window.
ALERT YOUR ALARM COMPANY
If you happen to have a security system, notify the company that you will be away. This is especially needed if you are going on an extended trip. Of course, it goes almost without saying to make sure that the alarm is set properly before you leave!
If you don’t have a security system, you certainly have the option of installing one. There is no better way to secure your home while you are away on vacation than a home alarm system. With the technology available, at minimum, you will be able to have a system with a control panel, door and window sensors, motion sensors, glass break sensors and oftentimes these features can be monitored using your cell phone.
Oh, and don’t forget to lock everything – all doors and windows – including access doors from the garage. This seems obvious, but every once in a while a robber gets into a house just because something was left open or unlocked!
Studies have also shown over and over again that if it takes a burglar more than 5 minutes to break into a home, they will simply stop and go elsewhere (if it LOOKS like it will be difficult to break in, they likely will not even try). Having said that, if your home is still targeted, you want to try and make it as difficult as possible to actually get in. One of the best pieces of advice is to use strong doors. They should be at least 1-3/4 inches thick and made from metal. If metal is not an option or not available, then some type of strong hardwood would be acceptable. Just remember that even the best lock is worthless if a strong burglar can simply kick in your door!
THE FINAL WORD IS… PREPARE FOR THE WORST
No matter what you do or precautions you take, it is still possible that something could happen while you are away. If this happens, it will probably not be a pleasant experience, but it hurts less if you are prepared ahead of time. You may to go ahead and check your insurance policy and claim procedures before leaving. Create a home inventory and take lots of good quality pictures of everything in your house. This may take some time, but afterwards it is just a matter of keeping everything updated.
Taking all of the precautions listed above will ensure that you have much less chance of a robbery or something bad happening while you are away. If the worst occurs, you will also be better prepared to deal with the situation.
For more tips on how to protect your home, check out this article, Home Security Tips to Protect Your Family and Possessions With or Without a Security/Fire System