Before you hit the highway for Grandmother’s house this holiday, or jet off to the Rockies to ski, prepare your home whether you are planning a two-day, two-week, or monthlong getaway. Follow these steps before you go and you’ll be able to enjoy your time away with the peace of mind of knowing your home is safe and sound.
As a bonus, we’ve polled some of our employees and members to find out what products they like and use to protect their homes when they travel. Links to these items are throughout this story so you can learn more about them.
Make your home appear occupied
Turn on motion-activated outdoor lights.
One of our IT staff uses and recommends this floodlight camera device that will alert your smartphone of movement around your house and send you a video of what is going on. This way you can contact the police if someone other than Santa is wandering around your yard.
These motion-activated floodlights (sans camera) are also easy to install and use. They come on when motion is detected, and with a two-second flip of your light switch, they will stay on for as long as you’d like, then be reset for motion activation only. Nice and bright with bulbs that will last for many years.
Program times for outdoor and indoor lights.
If you have smart lights you can control with your phone, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa/Echo, you can program them to go on and off at several different times so they don’t appear on an easy-to-decipher schedule. Many ordinary lights can be used with smart plugs so you can pre-program irregular on-off schedules that will confuse would-be burglars and have them moving on to another house that appears unoccupied.
Outdoor decorations should be set to come on and go off during evening hours. Leaving outdoor lights on all day is a signal to burglars you may not be home. This outdoor timer is easy to set up and use.
Don't Adjust Your Window Blinds and Curtains
If you usually leave your shutters half-open, or blinds rolled up, suddenly shutting them all will give your house a locked-down look that screams “vacant” to anyone paying attention. As much as possible, keep your curtains, blinds, and shutters in a similar position to how they usually would be.
Install a Smart Doorbell
If you’ve been on the fence about getting a smart doorbell, now is the perfect time before you head out of town. Not only will you be alerted if someone comes onto your property, but you can also communicate with the “visitor” as if you were right there. And, they won’t know if you are actually there or not as many people today use them to screen whoever is at the door and avoid a face-to-face if they feel threatened.
The Ring doorbell is the most commonly used by our team as it pairs with Alexa, Google, and most smartphones. Another popular option is the Blink doorbell by Amazon which pairs with the Alexa App. Both have two-way audio and a camera to record images, and they come in hard-wired or battery options. At less than $100, it is one of the best ways you can keep an eye on your home while you are away.
Cancel mail and newspaper deliveries
Ask a neighbor to keep an eye out for any package deliveries you may have forgotten to delay or cancel and to either put inside your home or take them home to keep safe.
Our employees have two styles of package delivery boxes that you can put by your door for packages that will keep them out of sight, protected from the weather, and less tempting to thieves until your friend or neighbor can secure them. The Cosco box has a slanted roof that will work well in unprotected areas, while the more decorative Step 2 box is perfect for porches and patios. Simply notify the delivery company where the box is located and your neighborhood gang of raccoons will leave it alone.
Leave a vehicle in your driveway or ask a neighbor to park their car there
If you are leaving a car at home, make sure it is secure and ready for long-term storage. Before you go:
Ask a friend or neighbor to drive your car at least once a week if needed. If that isn’t possible, disconnect the car battery or use a battery trickle charger to help prevent battery drainage.
Fill up the gas tank to prevent moisture from accumulating and to keep the seals from drying out.
Take it to the car wash as stains, bird droppings, mud, grease, or tar left for a long time can damage the paint.
If you plan to be gone from Thanksgiving through New Year, change the oil to avoid contaminants from old oil damaging your engine.
Turn off the water in your house
You can eliminate the risk of water damage from frozen pipes by simply turning off the water at the main. As the holidays are just a few weeks away, installing a smart water shut-off device probably isn’t doable given the chip shortage, shipping delays, and installation needs, but they are worth considering for the future.
In the interim, you can purchase a water sensor that will alert you if water is detected in your home. If you already have a Ring Doorbell, the Ring Flood and Freeze Sensor can pair with it. If you use Alexa or Google Home, the Treatlife Smart Water Leak Detector pairs with them to send you alerts. If you get an alert, you can reach out to a friend or neighbor to go to your home and investigate what is happening.
Turning off your water at the main, however, is a foolproof way to prevent damage from a leak.
If you are like some of our employees, getting to the main in the crawlspace is difficult, but this tool lets easily you turn off the water at your meter. It’s a good tool to have handy if communing with the crickets, spiders, and other critters underneath your house isn’t to your liking.
Your microwave, oven, coffee maker, toaster, air fryer, alarm clocks, landline phones, TVs, stereos, DVD players, and other appliances consume electricity even when you aren’t using them. They are also sensitive devices that don’t react well to power surges.
Unplug these before you go, and for any appliances you feel you should leave running, make sure they are plugged into power surge protectors. Did you know there is a power surge device specifically for refrigerators and other high-capacity appliances? The Refrigmatic MEGA Electronic Surge Protector can protect refrigerators up to 27 cu. ft. capacity. Now your Thermador can weather any storm while you are gone.
One appliance you may want to leave plugged in and turned on is a radio. Tune ot to a talk show station and the sound of voices may leave a would-be burglar doing a quick retreat from your property.
Turn Off or Down The Water Heater
There’s no sense in keeping water heated if you are going to be gone for a while. You can turn off your gas or electric water heater before you leave and easily turn it back on when you return.
The average gas heater takes between 30 and 40 minutes to fully heat the water in its tank. The average electric heater takes about twice as long as the average gas heater, so you can expect it to take between an hour and an hour and 20 minutes to heat up.
For how to turn off your water heater, here’s an article that outlines the steps for both gas and electric.
If you aren’t comfortable turning the unit off, you can turn down the temperature to save some energy as an alternative.
Clean Out The Fridge
You open your door after a long trip in the car and the first thing that hits you is the smell of rotten food. That bag-o-salad you left in the hydrator and the leftover meatloaf are well past their “use-by-dates,” so instead of unpacking, you are using the kitchen tongs to remove the spoiled food from the refrigerator.
Save yourself the “ew” factor and freeze or toss any items that may go bad before you return.
Set Your Thermostat
You won’t need as much heat in your home if you aren’t there – just enough to keep the pipes from freezing will do. This will save you energy costs as well as lower the risk of your HVAC unit having problems as it won’t have to work as hard to keep the home as warm as you would if at home. Many experts, and our survey results, say adjusting the temperature down 7-10 degrees is ideal.
Amazon, Honeywell, and Google Nest smart thermostats are all used by our survey respondents and are easy to install and program. If you hear of temps rising or falling beyond your 10-degree window, you can simply reprogram your thermostat to accommodate the changes. You can also make sure your home is at the ideal temperature just before you arrive home which is a nice benefit after a long trip.
Lock It Down
One last pass through the house to check on the following will let you sleep well at night while you are away:
Check all of the windows and doors to make sure they are locked and secure.
Make sure valuables are not visible through any windows and doors.
Make sure your security system is on and working as it should.
Remove any hidden keys that are outside your home.
If you don’t have a central alarm system, these window sensor alarms are a great deterrent to burglars as they emit a VERY loud sound, and burglars hate loud sounds. They also work well for homes with small children that may be tempted to open a window or door that is dangerous to them.
Notify Trusted Neighbors
It’s always a good idea to let a few trusted neighbors know you will be out of town, that you are expecting a delivery, or even that the only people who should be on your property are with your yard service. They can keep an eye out for any unusual activity around your home and notify the police if necessary.
When you are surrounded by family at the dinner table, everyone is talking, and you are oblivious to the chime on your phone alerting you of activity from your smart doorbell or security camera, you’ll have a backup with your neighbor.
Don’t forget to take them something as thanks when you return. One of the favorite gifts from our survey is a bottle of wine, something good to eat, or even a bag of treats for their dog.
Speaking of neighbors, ask one of them to take your trash cans to the street on trash day. This will make it look like you are home. You may also offer to let them put some of their trash in your can to reinforce the impression that you are home.
Get your House Ready For Inclement Weather
If you haven’t checked out your roof in a while, it may be smart to have someone look it over before you hit the road. Loose or damaged shingles are quick and easy to repair and can prevent a nasty surprise when you return.
Make sure your gutters are secure and cleaned out. Ice dams from blocked gutters are common in the winter and easily preventable with regular maintenance.
Keep up with your yard maintenance. If you have a service, make sure they still come on schedule. If you don’t have a service, make sure your leaves are raked, your tools put away, and everything is looking tidy and well-kept.
Put away any other items that may be tempting to a burglar such as windchimes, seat cushions, tools, and ladders.
Don’t Advertise Your Plans
It is very tempting to let all of your friends and contacts on social media know that you are off to Aruba for the holidays, but it is much wiser to post photos when you come back with a “And how was your holiday?” message. Be careful who you tell while out and about as well. You never know who could overhear your plans and start making more nefarious plans of their own.
Turn Off Your Car’s “Home” GPS
This may sound odd, but if you are parking your car at an airport or train station, burglars may be able to steal your car and use its GPS to get to your home and rob it. Remove or change the “home” setting so that it leads somewhere random (like a park, shopping district, or business address). You can reset it when you return.
Disconnect the Garage Door
If it is raining or snowing when you return, you may momentarily regret this move, but one of the easiest ways for someone to access your home is through the garage.
Although an electronic door may seem state of the art, many can be operated using either universal remote controls or branded ones. Burglars often drive through neighborhoods testing a variety of these devices to see if they can open any garage doors. Reduce your risk by disconnecting the power supply to the door before you go, and use the manual lock for extra security.
Take Your Insurance Policy Information With You
It is a good idea to have your policy and 24-hour emergency contact numbers programmed into your phone, not just for vacation times, but anytime you may need it.
If you have the time, it is also a good idea to take a quick tour of your home to see if you have any personal property you’ve forgotten to add to your policy so you can notify your underwriter to add it in.
Sources: Blue Frog Plumbing, Sunrise Specialty, Peninsula Heating & Air, Upgraded Points, Germania, This Old House