Few things spoil a fantastic vacation more than coming home and finding that your oven has been running at 450 degrees for a week, thieves have broken in, or a burst pipe has flooded the basement.
You cannot entirely prepare yourself for all the disasters that may happen while you are gone on an extended vacation. But you can take simple measures that will greatly increase the chances that you will return to a safe, clean, and orderly house.
Powering Down Sections of Your House
At all times, your house is alive: electricity buzzing in wires, water sitting in pipes, heating/cooling systems cycling on and off automatically. Even when you are not using water, your water heater continually turns on and off, maintaining its set temperature.
When you leave for vacation, not only is it unnecessary for these house systems to be fully up and running, but it can be disastrous if any of the systems decides to go haywire.
The main idea behind powering down sections of your house is that you want to shut down as many systems as possible that might go wrong, but not at the expense of damaging your house or making your return uncomfortable.
Heating and Cooling System
Generally, it is not advisable to completely power off your heating or cooling system. Wood flooring, furniture, fabrics, plants, and other sensitive items can be harmed by extreme temperature changes. Instead, set your thermostat ten or fifteen degrees lower than normal, to a temperature that will protect these items and make your return more comfortable.
• Small appliances like coffee makers, hair dryers, microwaves, phone chargers, computers, and toasters should be unplugged. Do not turn off your wi-fi if you have devices such as a security system or cameras that depend on it in order to transmit information.
• You can shut off circuit breakers that serve areas that are not needed while you are gone. Do not shut off the whole-house main breaker.
• Turn off water valves connected to the dishwasher, washing machine, toilets, water heater, and all sinks.
• Turn down your water heater a few degrees to a pre-set “vacation mode,” or even turn it off completely. Make sure the pilot light is extinguished, too.
• Shutting off the water main (the line that comes in from the street) will shut down all water coming into the house. This eliminates the need for all the measures listed above, except for shutting off the water heater pilot light.
Minimizing the Chances of Home Invasion—and Its Impact—While You Are Gone
Everyone fears home invasions. From teenagers looking to vandalize your house to professional burglars intent on stealing your computers and TVs, no home invader is ever welcome.
Taking these steps will not only reduce the chance of a home invasion, but if it does occur, minimizing its impact on your life.
Install a Home Security System
According to a well-known study, over 60% of convicted burglars have stated that the presence of an alarm was enough for them to pass on a house and move onto another one. Installation costs range from $100 to $200, with monthly service contracts running from $15 to $45 per month.
Put Lights on a Timer
A dark house during hours when homes are normally active – 6 pm to 10 pm – is a clear invitation to a robber. Plug a couple of floor lamps into inexpensive, easily programmed timers to give the impression of human activity during those hours.
Leave a Car in the Driveway
If no car is visible at your home, the message is unmistakable: no one is home. Leave a car in your driveway. If you are driving your car wherever you are going, invite a neighbor to park in your driveway while you are gone.
Remove Hidden Spare Keys
If you hide a key on your property, an experienced thief will find it. The best option is to remove the key and give it to a trusted neighbor or friend. Installing a keyless electronic entry system is an even better option.
Avoid Announcements on Social Media
While it is fun to announce your upcoming trip to Bali on Facebook, would-be thieves may take note of this. Do not make public or semi-public announcements about extended vacations. Instead, tell your friends in person.
Extra Security Measures for Valuables
Highly important valuables that are only minimally secured while you are at home need more security while you are gone. Thieves have the luxury of time to find valuables and remove them from poorly secured places like lockboxes (which can be stolen and broken up elsewhere), the freezer, food boxes, drawers, or under beds. Instead, invest in a home safe that bolts to the floor or keep valuables in a bank safe deposit box.
Keep Blinds and Curtains Open
Home safety experts generally agree that blinds should be left open or semi-open rather than completely closed.
Stand-alone security cameras, purchased for as little as $30 each, transmit signals to your home wi-fi. Using an app provided by the camera company, you can view your house interior or exterior on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Footage can be viewed in real-time or past footage can be pulled up from an archive. Some systems will even send you a text alert if movement is detected.
While these marvels can help you feel more comfortable on your vacation, none can replace having a real person stop by occasionally.
Use Vacation Checkers to Maintain a Human Presence
Short of you actually being in your house, the next best option is to have a house sitter stay in your house temporarily or have a vacation checker stop by intermittently.
Sitters or checkers can be trusted family members, friends, or neighbors, or they can be people who you hire to come by your house on a pre-determined schedule to check up on things.
You may want to task vacation checkers with checking only the outer perimeter of your home or, if you wish, they can additionally be allowed access into your home.
Checkers who enter your home can take care of pets, water plants, bring in mail and newspapers, turn lights on and off, and nearly any other activity that you might do when you are there.
• Police Departments: Many communities have free programs where a police officer will drive by a couple of times a week and even walk the perimeter. Police and other first responders will not enter your home unless there is an emergency. Check with your local police department to see if they have such a program.
• Friends or Family: Trusted friends and family are always the best option to use as sitters or checkers.
• Neighbors: It is completely fine to ask a neighbor to keep an eye on the outside of your house from their own home. If you want the neighbor to enter your home, make sure that you know the person well enough and trust them. After you return, a small gift may be appropriate.
• Paid Sitters and Checkers: A number of online agencies help connect house sitters or checkers with people taking extended vacations. Paid house checkers are hired to come by the home, perform basic duties inside or outside, and report back to the owner by phone or e-mail.
Prepping with the Whole Family
Getting the whole family involved in preparing the home for a vacation is a good way to instill a sense of responsibility in children and reduce work for the parents. Helpful projects that children ages 12 and older can take on include:
Cleaning the Fridge: Nobody likes coming home to food rotting in the refrigerator. Remove these items before you leave. Do not leave the choice of items to the discretion of the child. Instead, make a list of save vs. discard items for the child to follow.
Wash Dishes: Most kids know how to unload a dishwasher. Teens can be relied on to load the dishwasher. Do an entire load before leaving. Do not start the dishwasher as you are leaving in case it overflows.
Newspaper and Mail Hold Requests: Requesting a hold on mail and newspapers is an easy online task.
Picking Up Yard or Mowing: If you begin with a messy yard, it will only get worse during your trip and make your property look uninhabited. In the fall, have kids pick up leaves. In the summer, have an older child mow the lawn.
Trash and Garbage Bins: To prevent rotting food from stinking up your house, make one last trash run before you leave. Have a child take out the trash. If there is time, bring the garbage bins back in before you leave.
Preparing your home for your vacation is a great way to make your trip more enjoyable and ensure the safety of your home and personal property.
Source: Fix.com Blog
By: Lee Wallender
Photo: Getty Images