Home security is an important part of any trip plan, whether you're preparing for a weekend getaway or an extended vacation. Summer is a hot season for home burglaries, with break-ins typically peaking in July and August.
Besides being protected against burglary, mechanical problems can also easily develop in a house left vacant and cause major damage that might not be discovered until you return.
To make sure that your home security is up to par and you truly enjoy your trip, run through the following home security and vacant home checklist well before you pack your bags.
Inside Your Home
- Shut the main water valve: If you'll be away for a prolonged period of time, it's smart to shut down your home's water supply. Locate and turn off the main water valve, which is usually found on the front, street-facing side of a home's lower level (it may be located in the crawl space; if it's difficult to get to, a plumber can add an extension to put it within reach). If your landscape irrigation comes from the same line, arrange for a bypass valve to be installed so that watering can continue as usual.
- Drain toilets: As step two of the water shutdown plan, drain all toilets and tanks by holding down the flush lever until the water is gone.
- Water heater off: Turn off your water heater. If it's electric, turn of the large breaker assigned to it at the main electrical panel. For gas water heaters, turn the valve to the pilot position or turn it off completely, but only if you know how to relight it and will be away for an extended period of time.
- Breakers off: To minimize the risk of electrical fires, turn off all non-essential electrical circuit breakers in your home's electrical box (such as anything other than your heating system, security system, and outdoor lighting). Well before you're under pressure to figure out which are which, take time to label circuits with small colored dot stickers, using green for nonessential and red for essential.
- Disconnect appliances: Unplug all appliances, large and small.
- Lower A/C: If you'll be away for a weekend, set your air conditioner to 80 degrees to lower air conditioning costs; if you'll be gone longer, shut it down entirely.
- Lights on timers: Improve home security by putting lights in main living areas on timers, and setting them to simulate occupancy.
- Don't broadcast your absence: A burglar can easily be tipped off to your absence by an unanswered phone, so turn off the ringer and keep your everyday answering message in play. And never, ever leave a message, or post on a Facebook or Twitter page saying, "I'm away on vacation."
- Adjust blinds: Leave blinds and curtains in normal positions wherever possible, taking care not to expose belongings attractive to prying eyes.
- Secure valuables: Protect valuables from theft (important papers, jewelry, etc.) in a home safe or safe deposit box.
- Disconnect computer: Make sure your computer is turned off and disconnected from the Internet, particularly if it contains personal information. Also put away or shred telltale bills and receipts that add to the risk of identity theft.
- Set alarm: Activate your alarm system, and be sure to notify the home security company of your days away and provide interim contact information.
- Lock up: Ensure that all windows and doors are securely locked before you leave for vacation. This may sound elementary, but all it takes is one of them ajar to welcome an intruder and threaten home security.
- Trim trees: Finish all major yard work before you go, with special trimming attention given to trees and shrubs near windows and entries (a burglar doesn't need much to hide behind). Then put away all yard equipment and tools.
- Plan maintenance: Line up help for outdoor chores such as mowing and manual watering so that overgrowth and faded plantings don't give away your absence.
- Improve lighting: Well planned exterior lighting design can help keep you home safe while you are away. Put all outdoor lighting on timers, and discourage intruders by adding motion-sensitive lamps in dark pockets as well as natural pathways.
- Key tips: Remove all secret keys from their supposedly undisclosed outdoor locations, providing only one of your duplicates to the person who'll be in charge while you're out of town.
- Collect mail: Have your house helper collect mail, parcels and newspapers daily. For added home security, invite a neighbor or family member to park their car in your driveway for the duration.
- Notify police: Complete your home security plan by informing the local police department of your plans so that they can add your home to their vacation watch list. Be sure to include contact information for both your interim caretaker and you while on the road.