Imagine this. You and your family have just returned from a stellar vacation at some tropical beach resort. Everyone is smiling and in a great mood. That is until you realize that your home has been burglarized. Furthermore, a pipe burst in your second-floor bathroom also burst in your absence. These sorts of problems can cost hundreds of dollars to repair. They can also cause a lot of undue stress. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to protect your home while you are away on vacation.
Here are a few tips that will help you prepare your home for your next out-of-town adventure. These helpful nuggets will help you truly relax while you lounge on the beach. Some of these tips do require an investment and some planning, but any expenses are worth their weight in gold.
Protect Your Home While Away on Vacation with a Professionally Monitored Home Security System
A professionally monitored home security system is your homes first line of defense against burglars. The combination of entryway sensors, motion detectors, and sirens are a great way to keep your home safe. While some home security systems allow you to self-monitor, a professionally monitored system is truly worth the extra few dollars each month. Furthermore, a professionally monitored system will shine when you travel halfway around the globe. How helpful are push notifications on your smartphone if you’re in a region with poor cellular service? A professionally monitored system is a must. Especially since the professionals can dispatch local authorities in the event an intruder decides to break into your home.
Make Sure Your Security System Includes Environmental Sensors
Many home security systems are these days are pretty advanced. Some have the option to monitor not only for intruders but for potentially damaging or harmful environmental factors too. Flood sensors are great for detecting changes in moisture levels in the air. This is often a precursor for busted pipes or appliances. Most security systems also include, or at least sync, with smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. These will raise the alarm if there’s a fire or potentially lethal fumes stirring about your home.
Protect Your Home While Away on Vacation with a Smart Thermostat
It simply doesn’t make sense to heat or cool an empty house. Yet at the same time, you don’t want to shut your system off completely either. A common rule of thumb is to set your thermostat to four degrees above or below your normal setting when you’re away. In the winter, this should never dip below 50° Fahrenheit. If the temperature dips below this mark, your pipes could potentially freeze over and burst. A programmable thermostat allows you to establish a schedule ahead of time. This way your home is back to a comfortable temperature by the time you return home.
Want to take your thermostat status to the next level? Consider purchasing a smart thermostat so you can check your home’s temperature while away and make any necessary adjustments. Most smart thermostats use geofencing, so your system knows when you’re away and will adjust the temperature accordingly. Many smart thermostats are also capable of linking up with smart assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Avoid Broadcasting that You’re Out of Town
The last thing you want to do is announce to the world that you’re going to be out-of-town. Do not mention your travel plans on your voicemail, email auto-reply, or on social media. While it’s tempting to post your vacation photos right away, hold off on doing so until you’re back home. If you simply cannot resist, make sure only your friends can see your vacations photos while you’re away. You’ll especially want to avoid sharing the exact dates during which your home will be unattended.
Protect Your Home While Away on Vacation by Installing Outdoor Security Lights
When looking for a way inside, burglars are more likely to go for areas that are dark and hidden from the neighbors’ view. You can illuminate these hiding spots by installing outdoor security lights in burglary-prone areas such as the back door or sides of the house. Most models are either motion activated or will only come on at night, so you don’t have to worry about them wasting a lot of energy.
Protect Your Home While Away on Vacation by Installing a Smart Lock
A smart door lock lets you unlock your door remotely from your smartphone and grant temporary access with expiring codes. If you have a neighbor checking in on the house or a pet sitter coming to take care of the dogs, you can keep track of exactly who goes in and out of your house and terminate access once you’re home again. No more trying to keep track of who has your spare keys because you have full control over who does and doesn’t have access at any given time. We recommend the August Smart Lock because it requires zero physical keys and has the most intelligent automation features out of any of its competitors.
Remove spare keys you may have stashed under the doormat
Keeping spare keys stashed outside your house is never a great idea anyway (get a smart door lock instead), but if you’re going out of town, now is the time to collect them all. Your hiding spots aren’t as clever as you think.
This is a step that’s easy to forget. Make sure all doors and windows are shut and locked. Close most blinds and curtains—if you’re putting timers on lights to simulate human presence, make sure that light can get through to the street.
Install a video doorbell
A video doorbell allows you to answer your front door from anywhere. Each time someone rings the doorbell, you’ll get an alert on your phone so you can see and speak to the visitor in real time. If you’re out of cell service on the beach or hacking through the jungle, you can still access a log of video clips later. Some models, like the Ring Pro and SkyBell, also have motion detection capabilities, so you’ll still get an alert even if the person doesn’t actually ring the bell. They’re also handy for catching package thieves and spreading the word around the neighborhood.
Check batteries in all home security devices
This one’s pretty simple, but it often goes overlooked. Regularly check all your security and safety devices—motion detectors, cameras, and smoke detectors—to make sure the batteries won’t fail while you’re gone. Even if something is hardwired, it may have a backup battery in case of power outages. Opt for high-quality batteries over budget batteries, as you’re likely to get more life out of them.
Unplug nonessential electronics
Unplugging nonessential electronics—TVs, computers, coffee makers, fans, lamps, etc.—will both reduce the risk of fire and save you money. The power used by plugged-in electronics while they’re not in use, sometimes called phantom or standby power, accounts for 5–10% of residential energy use and costs each household around $100 each year.
Unplugging devices also protects them against electrical surges, which can short out expensive equipment or cause fires. Electrical fires account for 13% of total residential fires in the United States,1 and if you’re away from home, there’s nothing you can do to stop these fires when something malfunctions.
Protect Your Home While Away on Vacation by Investing in security cameras
A handful of well-placed security cameras both inside and outside can mean the difference between catching a perpetrator or not. Get something like the indoor/outdoor Arlo system, which is motion activated and will send alerts and video clips to your smartphone so you can take immediate action. This camera and others like it also allow you to remotely drop in on your cameras in real time and live stream whatever’s going on at your house.
Shut off water main
Several years ago, after vacationing for a couple of weeks, my grandparents returned to a flooded basement, which destroyed decades of memories and caused thousands of dollars in damage. Ever since then, everyone in my family has been vigilant about turning off the water main before long trips, and we’ve all avoided vacation floods.
If you still want your automated sprinkler system to work, consider shutting off the water supply to each toilet at the very least, and to the dishwasher, washing machine, and ice maker, if possible.
Switch water heater to vacation mode
Just like there’s no need to keep an empty house warm, there’s also no need to keep water piping hot when no one’s using it. Many newer water heaters have a preprogrammed vacation mode that will keep the water around 50°F so it won’t freeze and cause a big, expensive mess. If your water heater doesn’t have this setting, you can manually set the temperature.
Clear storm drains and gutters
In an intense rainstorm, if the water has nowhere to go, it could accumulate too close to the house, saturate the ground, and seep into your basement. Keeping your storm drains and gutters clear of debris is always important, but it’s especially critical if you’re going out of town and won’t be there to act if there’s a storm.
Get valuables out of sight
This is a good rule of thumb any time you leave the house, but it’s especially important when you’ll be gone for several days at a time. Close the blinds or curtains in rooms with large electronics, such as TVs. Put gaming consoles and DVD players in inconspicuous boxes in the closet and make sure all handheld devices, credit cards, cash, or jewelry aren’t easy to find—make use of a safe if you have one. Firearms should already be in a gun safe anyway.
Hire someone to cut grass or remove snow
An untended lawn or unshoveled snow screams “no one’s been home for days!” Before you leave, make arrangements to have these tasks taken care of so your home looks occupied and to avoid fines from your city.
Protect Your Home While Away on Vacation and Simulate a human presence
To make it look like someone’s home, create a smart lighting system that you can preprogram to turn on at varied times while you’re away. Turning on a radio is another classic technique, and if you want to get fancy, connect the radio to an appliance timer and coordinate it with the lights.
Ask a trusted friend or neighbor to check in periodically
Have someone stop by from time to time to check for signs of attempted entry, burst pipes, or any other potential problems. Ask them to park in the driveway, adjust some blinds, or maybe move some patio furniture so it’s clear from the outside that there’s someone around.
Suspend mail and newspaper delivery
An overflowing mailbox and a pile of newspapers are sure signs that no one’s home. You can sign up online to have the USPS hold your mail at your local post office for free for 30 days. For trips longer than 30 days, you should set up mail forwarding or arrange for someone else to pick it up for you.