How to Keep Your Home Safe While You're Away

Our family has a few long trips planned this summer, and though our neighbors will be keeping an eye on things while we're gone, I want to make sure our place is safe. Got a checklist of pre-vacation to-dos?
DCarlson 05-09-08 7:32 a.m.

Good question, especially as we approach a hot season for home burglaries that typically peaks in July and August. Here are the things you should attend to indoors and out before heading for Vacationland:

INSIDE

*  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.

*  As step two of the water shutdown plan, drain all toilets and tanks.

*  Turn off your water heater.

*  To prevent electrical fires, switch off all non-essential electrical circuit breakers in your home's electrical box (anything other than your heating system, security system, and outdoor lighting). Well before you're under pressure to decipher which are which, take time to label circuits with small colored dot stickers, using green for nonessential and red for essential.

*  Unplug all appliances, large and small.

*  If you'll be away for a weekend, set your air conditioner to 80 degrees; if you'll be gone longer, shut it down entirely.

*  In main living areas, put lights on timers to simulate occupancy.

*  A burglar can easily be tipped off to your absence by an unanswered phone, so turn off the ringer and keepyour everyday answering message in play.

*  Leave blinds and curtains in normal positions wherever possible, taking care not to expose belongings attractive to prying eyes.

*  Stow valuables (important papers, jewelry, etc.) in a home safe or safe deposit box.

*  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.

*  Activate your alarm system, and be sure to notify the security company of your days away and provide interim contact information.

*  Ensure that all windows and doors are securely locked (this may sound elementary, but all it takes is one of them ajar to welcome an intruder).

OUTSIDE

Finish all major yard work before you go, with special trimming attention given to trees and shrubs near windows and entries (it doesn't take much for a burglar to hide behind). Then put away all yard equipment and tools.

*  Line up help for outdoor chores such as mowing and manual watering so that overgrowth and faded plantings don't give away your absence.

*  Put all outdoor lighting on timers, and add motion-sensitive lamps in dark pockets as well as natural pathways.

*  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.

*  Have your house helper collect mail, parcels and newspapers daily.

*  Invite a neighbor or family member to park their car in your driveway for the duration.
Inform your 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.

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