Guest post by Emily Long
Nothing ruins a restful holiday vacation like returning to a burst pipe, a stinky refrigerator, or an unexpected break-in. Kevin McCallister’s booby traps may have beaten the burglars in Home Alone, but there are more sophisticated ways to protect your house from thieves, fires, floods, and more while you’re away—especially if you take all of your family members with you. Here are the best hacks to prepare your home for the holiday travel season.
Collect spare keys. If you have keys hiding under flowerpots or doormats, round them up and bring them inside. Don’t make it easier for burglars to enter your home undetected—a better long-term solution is to hide a lockbox somewhere in your property, which puts a layer of security between thieves and your keys.
Hold your mail and newspapers. Few things indicate that you’re out of town more than an overflowing mailbox and stacks of unread newspapers in your driveway. Request a temporary hold with USPS and your paper—this will also prevent identity thieves from rifling through your mail in search of sensitive personal information.
Enlist help. Unshoveled snow on your driveway and sidewalk is another dead giveaway that you’re not home. Not only is this a security risk, but it also threatens the safety of your neighbors and passersby. Property owners in many states have a legal obligation to clear public walkways within a certain period of time following a storm or face fines and, worse, legal action if someone slips and falls. Enlist a friend or neighbor to take care of snow removal and any other property issues that arise.
Set up remote monitoring. Keep an eye on your home from afar with security cameras that stream to your smartphone and alert you if any unexpected activity is detected. Another alternative is a monitored security system, which cuts down the time it takes for emergency personnel to be notified and take action in the event of a break-in, fire, or other disaster. If you have a professional monitoring service, let them know that you’re traveling.
Light up your yard. The last thing thieves want is to be in the spotlight, so install motion sensor lights around entrances to your house and in dark corners of your property. Set timers for your lights, both inside and out, to mimic your regular routine—lights left on at all hours can raise red flags. If you use smart bulbs, check in while you’re gone to ensure lights are turning off and on as expected.
Turn your thermostat down, not off. You may be tempted to turn your heat off as a cost-saving measure while you’re away, but this could backfire. Drastic shifts in temperature can use more energy than a consistent low setting, and if you live in a cold locale where temperatures drop below freezing, this practice increases the risk of your pipes bursting and causing significant water damage. Save yourself the expense and headache with a smart thermostat that you can monitor and adjust from afar.
Turn your water off at the main shut-off valve. If your pipes do burst—or your water heater malfunctions—this will minimize damage. A water and flood sensor installed in water-prone areas can alert you remotely to unexpected moisture and prompt you to call for help.
Unplug non-critical appliances. Electronics use small amounts of energy even when turned off, so boost efficiency and reduce your risk of damage in the event of a power surge. While you’re at it, check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If you have a security system, connect these devices to your monitoring service. If you don’t, consider upgrading to smart devices that send notifications to your smartphone.
Deep clean. No one likes coming home to a mess, so leave your house in the condition you’d like to return to. Clear your refrigerator of perishable food, take out the trash and recycling, finish and fold laundry, put fresh sheets on all beds and towels in all bathrooms, organize clutter, and sanitize toilets, counter tops, and sinks. After a day of travel, you’ll thank your past self for putting in the extra effort.
One last thing: protect both your home and your family’s privacy by keeping your plans offline. Broadcasting your travels over social media alerts potential criminals that your house is empty and could also put your personal information at risk. Wait until you return to share your vacation with the world.
Emily Long is a safety expert from SafeWise. She is passionate about promoting safe and healthy habits for day-to-day living. When she isn’t writing about safety and well-being, she can be found teaching yoga, road tripping, or hiking in the mountains.