There’s nothing worse than coming home after a relaxing vacation only to discover your kitchen has flooded due to a burst pipe or you’ve lost precious personal belongings, the result of a home invasion. To avoid drama and heartache, experts suggest asking yourself the following questions before boarding a flight or hitting the road to ensure you’ll continue to reap the benefits of your vacation long after you are home.
Did I Alert My Neighbors I’ll Be Away?
It’s smart to ask a trusted neighbor or friend to check on your house to safeguard your property in your absence. If you’re not comfortable leaving a key behind, consider a keyless smart lock or a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-enabled device that unlocks doors with fingerprint scanning or a voice command. “Many allow you to create temporary codes for the person checking on your home,” says Giles Sutton, SVP, Product & Business Development, CEDIA. “And most work with your security system, providing notifications when someone enters or enabling you to lock your door remotely.” Do a walk through with the person overseeing your home so they’re aware of all the entry points and make sure to give them your security alarm code, suggests Scot Martin, a private investigator for Tracer Investigations in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Did I Lock All My Doors and Windows?
Do an entire sweep of your doors and windows as well as any entrances that lead into the garage and other parts of the house. “Sliding glass doors can be fortified with a metal or wooden rod placed inside the door track as an extra layer of security. The same can be done to sliding glass windows whether they open vertically or horizontally,” notes Martin. “Secure any pet doors as thieves have been known to crawl through the smallest of doggie flaps.”
Did I Set Interior Timers on My Lights?
“Burglars look for breaks in routine,” says Martin. “Your goal is to make it appear as though you never left your home.” Program your interior lights with timers that turn on and off, giving the illusion that your house is occupied. “You can use old-school battery timers or if you have smart home technology from brands like Crestron, Lutron or Savant, you can program or adjust your lights remotely to maintain peace-of-mind,” says Sutton. Check and test your timers prior to leaving and have different lights come on and off throughout the day. “It doesn’t hurt to set a television timer to go on periodically as well,” adds Martin.
Did I Invest in Exterior Flood Lights?
Lighting sensors are a tried-and-tested way to keep intruders off your property. “Outdoor flood lights are essential to ward off burglars—look for the brightest bulbs on the market,” shares Martin. “Some manufactures make ones that blink on and off when triggered by passersbys,” Sensors can be coupled with lighting controls that will illuminate the perimeter of your home or trigger audio upon motion detection to let intruders know they’re not welcome.
Did I Secure All My Valuables?
Important personal property including financial and insurance papers, jewelry, cash, and car keys should be placed in a home safe or at the very least, in an unexpected hiding spot. “Safes and fireproof boxes should be kept upstairs away from doors and windows making it harder to take out of homes,” says Martin, who suggests keeping keys far away from the safe and never telling anyone where you hide them.
Did I Remind Myself Not to Post on Social Media?
Thieves can troll social media to see who’s posting vacation photos and then easily figure out where you live, says Martin, who advises posting photos after you return from vacation. “Burglaries are often conducted by someone familiar with you and your property,” adds James Kerr, Founder & CEO, Boss Security Screens, serving Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. “There’s no need to send signals on social media that you’re away and the house is empty.”
And forget about posting an image of your boarding pass on social. Some barcodes contain personal information such as your phone number or driver’s license (showing your address) that could set you up to be a victim of identity theft or hacking. If you use a mobile boarding pass, keep in mind these apps are often filled with first-party tracking—take a screenshot of the QR code on the mobile boarding pass and save it to your photos to eliminate the need for an app to access it.
Did I Lock Down My Wi-Fi?
Your Wi-Fi is an entry point for a digital intrusion. “Once someone has access to your Wi-Fi, they can have entree to everything else on your network,” notes Kerr. “Use a strong password to lock down your Wi-Fi network and enable encryption to help keep it safe.” If none of your security or home devices require Wi-Fi in your absence, power off your routers until you return.
Did I Alert My Alarm Company I’ll Be Away?
“It makes sense to alert your alarm company before heading on vacation to get an extra set of eyes on your property,” says Sutton. “Many security systems like ADT or Alarm.com are professionally monitored while others offer ‘always-on protection’ remote video monitoring. If a sensor is tripped, the system will notify you so you can take action or it will alert your local police and keep you informed of the situation until it can be resolved.” If you live in a community with a security patrol, be sure to notify personnel of your vacation dates and if you don’t, research local security companies - many provide temporary services when homeowners are away. Some local police departments offer "vacation watch" services – check to see if one is available in your area.
Did I Test My Alarm System?
Oftentimes, homeowners think their alarm is properly set up only to discover too late that a sensor was inoperative. “It’s smart to do a test run before you head out on vacation,” advises Kerr.
Did I Stop the Mail?
A mailbox full of letters or packages left on a doorstep for days are sure signs no one is home. “Stop your mail and don’t make any online purchases that will be delivered while you’re away,” says Martin. “Suspend any newspaper delivery service as well.”
Did I Mow the Lawn?
An overgrown lawn is clear sign that no one is home. Depending on the length of your time away, mow your lawn a day or so before you head out so it’s freshly groomed. If you’re on a lengthy vacation, hire someone you trust to mow it for you.
Did I Leave a Car in the Driveway?
A car in the driveway sends the message you may be home. Park a vehicle in your driveway (and, if possible, have someone move it while you’re away) or if you have an attached garage, strategically place a car inside the garage against the door to your house to make entering difficult. “Never leave garage door openers in vehicles as thieves can break into your vehicle and gain access to your home,” says Martin.
Did I Consider a Motion Detector or Video Doorbell?
An interior motion sensing camera will identify whenever anyone crosses its path and can even communicate walkie-talkie style. “In my 22-year career in law enforcement, many burglary suspects shared the one thing they looked for in a house upon illegally entering were the blinking lights on motion detectors, suggesting the system had been activated,” says Martin. Many alarm systems have apps and computer software that allow you to monitor your cameras while you’re away. When connected to a smart device, these sensors can notify you of activity or trigger an alarm that deters intruders. Video doorbells allow for voice interaction to ward off trespassers.
Did I Check the Batteries on My Motion Detectors and Cameras?
“Make sure you have fresh batteries in your video doorbells, cameras and sensors,” advises Sutton. Just like running a test of the timers and alarm system, changing and/or charging all battery-operated cameras and motion detectors is crucial.
Did I Leave a Key Hidden Outside?
“I don’t recommend leaving a hidden key outside under the doormat or in a potted plant as it’s the first place thieves often look,” says Martin. “
Did I Remove the Battery From My Garage Door Keypad?
“While some garage door sensors and keypads have a vacation feature to lock access when you’re away, you can ensure security by unplugging the garage door system or removing the batteries from the keypad rendering it inoperable,” says Sutton. If you’re expecting a visitor who will require garage access, consider equipping your garage door with a wireless controller from brands like Liftmaster or Tailwind, which can be integrated into automation systems via Ethernet or Bluetooth and controlled from your phone.
Did I Snap a Photo of My Insurance Policy Info?
Take a photo on your phone of the contact name and number of your insurance representative in case there’s an emergency while you’re away and you need to start moving on claims. “Details of your homeowner’s insurance policy should also be reviewed before embarking on your vacation to confirm you have the proper amount of liability coverage,” says Martin. The same goes for renter's insurance.
Did I Prepare for Power Surges?
Power outages and surges can put your devices at risk for degradation and damage—irregularities in voltage can also heighten the possibility of a fire, says Martin. Make sure all-important electronics are surge-protected and have an alternate battery-power source in the event of interruption. Before you leave on a vacation, unplug small appliances such as toaster ovens and coffee makers to guard against potential fires if there is a power surge. “Brands like SurgeX and Wattbox provide a range of devices to keep your home and technology safe and often feature remote monitoring options to keep an eye on the power situation from afar,” adds Sutton. Close all internal doors before you leave to slow the spread of smoke and fire should the unexpected happen.
Did I Shut Off the Main Water Supply?
Shutting off the water main before going away can reduce the risk of flooding and plumbing issues. Investing in a smart water shutoff monitor is also a smart move. “Attach one to your home’s main water supply—it will detect if there’s a small leak or if a pipe has burst or is about to burst,” shares Sutton. “It can also send you a notification via your phone and in the event of a massive leak, it will automatically shut off your water.” To prevent other water issues, turn off the water-supply valves to your washing machine, dishwasher and toilets.
Did I Hire Someone to Take Out the Trash?
Avoid animals from making a mess in your driveway by asking a neighbor to bring your trash to the curb on garbage day.
Did I Lower My Shades?
Closing the shades can maintain privacy and security while you’re away in addition to enhancing energy savings. “Automated shades are a great idea because they give the impression someone is home and can be raised and lowered while you’re away via an app,” says Sutton. Solutions like PowerView Automation from Hunter Douglas are available in a range of styles and fabrics.
Did I Adjust My Thermostat?
Set your thermostat to 65 degrees to avoid humidity issues in summer and frozen pipes in winter. “A smart thermostat like Google Nest or Ecobee optimizes your home’s temperature so you’re not wasting energy,” notes Sutton. “You can enable vacation or eco mode to save on energy, integrate with a larger smart home system to control temperatures or use automatic settings that detect when nobody's home.”
Did I Test My Smoke Detector?
While a regular monthly smoke alarm test is recommended, you should also run a test prior to leaving on vacation. For added security, companies like Z-Wave and Zigbee have created smoke alarms and sensors that can connect to your network and notify you and your local fire department in the event of a fire or gas detection, shares Sutton.
Did I Consider Outdoor Cameras?
A doorbell camera will ping your phone whenever someone is at the door and act as a security camera recording video 24/7. Another option: mount an outdoor camera on your house to provide security and allow you to check on your property after a bad storm.
Did I Disable the Water Heater?
Turning your water heater off for the duration of your vacation is one way to avoid leaks and save energy. Another way is to invest in small battery-powered moisture detector placed near your water heater. “Connect it to your WIFI and you’ll receive an alert if a leak is sensed,” says Martin.
Did I Clear My Drains?
Walk your property and clear out any outdoor drains of leaves and debris. Indoors, run hot water in all of your sinks and operate any garbage disposals to avoid unwelcome odors upon your return.