Home Safety While You Are Away

When you are away on business trips or vacations, you want to be sure your home is protected.  With the increase in crime, it pays to make sure your home is secure.  If you are leaving for an extended period of time, you may find peace of mind in having a responsible person stay in your home while you are on vacation.  If this idea doesn’t appeal to you or is not feasible, here are some other suggestions to protect your home while you are away:

Discontinue Services.  Discontinue deliveries by phone or in person ahead of time.  Call the newspaper and stop delivery.  Notify the post office to stop or forward your mail; or have a trustworthy person pick it up daily.  Apartment house tenants should also heed this advice since stuffed mail receptacles are a telltale sign that no one is home.  Also, if an intruder has his eye on your home, any activity he spots from your neighbors as they visit your home may fool him into believing that somebody is there, thus convincing them to search elsewhere for a vacant home.

Does Your Home Look Occupied?  A residence that presents a "lived-in" appearance is a deterrent to intruders.  Never leave notes that can inform a burglar that your house is unoccupied.
If you forgot to cancel the mail and the newspaper, perhaps a friend or neighbor will agree check on your home daily and pick up the mail and newspapers, tend to any plants that need care and shovel the sidewalks. These things will help to deter a criminal who happens to be looking for a house to burglarize.  It may also be a good idea to have your friend or neighbor walk up and down your sidewalks and driveways in the winter if you are unable to have them cleared of snow while you are away from home.  Leave a key with them so your place may be periodically inspected.  You can also ask them to vary the positions of your shades and blinds.  Also, be careful about who you tell that you're going to be leaving town.  It's especially important to not talk to strangers about your trip.
Lock Everything. You’d be surprised just how many residents forget to lock up their homes completely.  The front and rear doors are just the beginning.  Check those windows to make sure the latches are closed all the way.  Bolt your doors completely and if your home contains any sliding glass doors, place a dowel inside the track to prevent the door from being forced open if it contains a flimsy or broken latch.  An empty garage advertises your absence, so close the doors.  Do not leave door keys under flower pots or doormats, inside an unlocked mailbox, over the doorway, or in other obvious places.

Leave a Few of Your Lights On.  It's a good idea to leave your lights on inside the house.  However, don’t leave porch lights on during the daytime as this is an obvious sign that nobody's paying attention to the house and thus an open invitation to intruders.  If you want to leave some outdoor lights on, place them on a timer.  Have a lamp strategically located near the front window.  That's a convincing sign that someone's home.  Purchase at least two plug-in timers and set them up to run on different cycles.  For example, set one light to come on in your living room from dusk until 11 p.m., and then leave another light on in the bedrooms from about 9 p.m. until 1 a.m.  That schedule should provide the illusion of activity in your home during the prime hours intruders often strike.  Putting a motion sensor taping of a dog barking is also an effective deterrent.

Leave the Heat On.  Leave your thermostat no lower than 55 degrees while you're gone in order to prevent frozen pipes and subsequent floods or leaky radiators as they can cause significant damage to your home.

Turn the Water Off.  If you don’t have a boiler for a heating system, consider turning the water off at the main valve to prevent leaks should a frozen pipe or broken hose occur.  If you're feeling particular ambitious, you could "winterize" your home by installing antifreeze and/or draining all of your pipes.  This work usually isn't necessary unless you're leaving town for several months.  If you have winterized your home, however, be sure to leave your heat on at around 55 degrees to stave off moisture accumulation - which can cause wallpaper to fall off and doors to buckle.

Turn Off Electricity.  Even the most benign appliances -- toasters, televisions, stereos, and more -- could spark an electrical fire in your home, turning your trip into a nightmare.  Consider unplugging all small appliances and -- for extra insurance -- turning off all nonessential circuit breakers.  If, for example, you have an electric hot water heater, why keep heating the water while you are gone?  Essential circuits such as those for your refrigerator, smoke detectors, lights and furnace or boiler should be left on.

Let the Police Know You're Leaving Town.  The majority of local police departments encourage residents to call and notify them when they're leaving town. They'll take down your information (such as what cars are remaining on your property while you're gone), place you on a "vacant house list," and will make periodic drives down your street while you're away. 

Water the Plants.  If you do not have someone checking on the interior of your home, consider what your plants need in terms of a watering schedule and then choose an appropriate irrigation system.  Three options for keeping your plants alive when you're away include:  sub-irrigation planter which extends watering from two to four weeks, water absorbing crystals which extends watering from one to two weeks and bottom-watering which extends watering for about two weeks.

Be Alert When You Return.  If you find a door or window has been forced or broken while you were away, DO NOT ENTER.  The intruder may still be inside.  Use a neighbor's phone or your cell phone to immediately summon the police.  Do not touch anything or clean up if a crime has occurred.  Preserve the scene until police inspect for evidence.

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