Although summer is the traditional season when many families take an extended vacation, year-round travel is thriving for holidays, business trips, and quick weekend getaways.
But nothing will cut into your relaxation more than a nagging feeling that the garage door might be open, a door or window was left unlocked, or that your home is vulnerable to theft or damage while you’re away. No homeowner wants to take that kind of stress with them on vacation.
Vacation break-ins happen more often than you might think. Residential burglary accounts for 62% of all burglaries, according to the FBI, but there are ways to secure your home and your valuables that can provide peace of mind so you can truly unplug and relax while you’re away. Whether you rent or own a home, consider taking the following precautions.
Stop mail, deliveries, and newspapers
A pile of mail and a mountain of delivery boxes sitting on your front porch is an advertisement that says, “Nobody’s home.” Visit the U.S. Postal Service online to put a vacation hold on your mail and suspend any regularly scheduled deliveries.
Set your lights to a timer
Keeping lights on while you’re away is a great way to give the appearance that someone is home. However, keeping the lights burning 24/7 poses a fire risk. Use a timer to set your lights on and off at various intervals on multiple levels of your home. If possible, set your exterior lights on a timer as well. It’s an inexpensive way to deter theft and increase security while you’re gone.
Install smart-home technology
Consider a smart-home setup that allows you to not only control your lights from anywhere with an app, but also your TV and music-streaming system. It’s a great way to disrupt predictable patterns in case anyone is watching.
With a smart-lock deadbolt and keypad, you can forgo leaving an extra key under the mat and grant access to pet sitters, house cleaners, or neighbors who’ve agreed to water your plants with a temporary code.
Some smart systems also automate security systems, such as motion-activated cameras, floodlights, and alarms, that alert authorities to potential break-ins or fire.
Although installing the latest smart technology can come with a hefty price tag, consider making upgrades in stages or using a home buyer rebate to help cover the expense. Making your home a smart home may pay off down the road if you’re planning to sell in the next few years.
Maintain your lawn and garden
If you’re going to be away for an extended time, keep your lawn and garden maintenance schedule in place if you use a service, or hire someone to mow your lawn and water your outdoor plants and shrubs. If you typically keep a tidy lawn and well-tended garden, an overgrown landscape will call attention to your absence.
Don’t announce your plans on social media
As tempting as it might be, keep your travel plans to yourself and don’t post them on social media. Even if you keep a tight lock on the security settings of your social channels, you never know when there may be a privacy breach. If you plan to share your vacation photos, post them after you’ve returned home.
Secure your valuables
A fireproof safe can store your jewelry and other expensive valuables, as well as sensitive documents, such as deeds, insurance information, social security cards, financial records, passports, and lists of account numbers with your PIN and passwords.
Protect against fire and floods
Unplug any unnecessary appliances — excluding your fridge or freezer — to limit the possibility of fires caused by electrical surges. Use surge protectors for appliances that remain connected.
Likewise, shut off the water to protect against flooding from a burst pipe. Although it’s tempting to turn the heat down to save on energy bills while you’re away, keep the thermostat low, but not so low that pipes freeze in cold weather.
Ensure your basement is dry when you return by making sure your sump pump is in good working order, particularly if the weather calls for heavy storms while you’re gone.
From smart smoke and carbon dioxide detectors to flood alerts you can receive on your phone, there’s more smart technology than ever to minimize the damage of fire and floods.
Safeguard your yard
Make sure your garage and windows are locked, along with any gates and fences on your property.
If you have a pool, keep kids and animals safe by locking the gate and putting the pool cover on for added protection. Plus, the cover will keep excess debris out of your pool — another indicator that it’s not being used.
Ensure that ladders and step stools are put away, as well as anything that could be used to stand on — such as a garbage can or overturned bucket — to access points of entry. Store any tools that could be used to pick locks or break windows and doors. Also double check that motion-sensored floodlights are in good working order.
Review your homeowner’s insurance policy
Review the terms of your homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure you understand your coverage for property damage caused by fire, flood, storms, vandalism, burglary, or theft.
If you haven’t already, create an inventory of items that includes photos and serial numbers of important items, such as artwork, electronics, jewelry, crystal, china, silver, vehicles, bikes, or sporting equipment. Having an inventory of major household goods can be invaluable should you have to file a claim with your insurer.
Tell your neighbors
Tell one or two neighbors the dates you’ll be away and let them know if they can expect to see anyone on or near your property, such as maintenance workers, a pet sitter, or a trusted friend who’s agreed to check on your home while you’re away. If they see anything suspicious, they’ll be able to alert the authorities if necessary.