When you leave for an extended period, you need to make plans to protect your home and property. It's hard to relax and enjoy your time away if you're constantly wondering if your house and its contents are safe.
Pipes burst, homes get broken into, and small critters find ways to take up residence in houses left empty for some time.
Luckily, there are plenty of lines of defense to consider as you prepare to secure your home before leaving the winter weather or heading back north in the spring.
Our suggestion? Do your research early and make a plan.
Don't let something as important as protecting your home get added to your last-minute to-do list before leaving to or from your snowbird community.
Some of the best ways to keep your home safe involve time and money.
You may need to purchase products or services, take care of home maintenance projects, and speak with trusted ones about helping while you’re away.
- Check your AARP or AAA memberships for deals or discounts before spending on home security measures.
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9 Ways to Keep Your Home Safe While You're Away
Every step you take to protect your residence gives you added peace of mind while you're out of town.
Another bonus? Some of the items on this list are things you should consider doing for appropriate home security, whether you’re traveling or not.
1. Install a Security System
Option A – Buy a Professionally Installed and Monitored Security System
It comes as no surprise that having a professionally installed and monitored security system would top this list. But it also comes with the most significant price tag.
In addition to reviewing different features offered by each security and alarm company, make sure you carefully compare upfront costs, monthly monitoring charges, and fees for equipment rental.
While professional and automatic security systems are expensive options with ongoing costs, some people rely on this continuous monitoring for peace of mind when they’re away from home for extended periods.
When you pay for a service, make sure to display security service signs showing your residence is actively monitored to deter criminal activity.
Option B – Install a DIY Home Security System
If you haven't researched security or alarm systems for your house, you may not realize all of the innovative DIY (do it yourself) options available.
Setting up a DIY home security system may seem overwhelming. But there are reasonably priced products that are relatively easy to set up.
(There’s plenty of YouTube videos to help you decide what system and additional options you want and then install it!)
For example, SimpliSafe's DIY system offers a wide variety of options, including security and environmental sensors. But you will have to pay a modest monthly fee to access remote security features.
Other DIY options available include the:
Each comes with many different sensors, accessories, and monitoring options. Many DIY systems also integrate with Alexa or Google Assistant to send you notifications when your system detects something amiss.
There are several reports of home security cameras being hacked in recent years, so do some research before choosing yours.
If you want more information on keeping your system safe from hackers, check out this article from Consumer Reports. It explains how hacks happen and ways to protect yourself.
Another frugal DIY option some people use is installing fake security cameras or buying a generic home alarm system or security guard window sticker or yard sign.
While these won't alert you to water or gas leaks, they might prevent a novice thief from attempting to rob your residence.
2. Have Your Family, Friends, or Neighbors Check On Your House
If you have trusted relatives or friends who live close, who may be willing to check your house at certain times, talk to them about taking on this responsibility.
If they agree, consider how you'll “reimburse” them for the time they spend checking your home.
Maybe you'll return the favor and watch their house when they take off for a vacation in the summer. You might also consider cash payments or gift cards to their favorite restaurants.
If you'll be away for most of the winter, consider a more valuable reward such as pitching in to have their driveway plowed.
3. Hire Help
Hiring help to guard and take care of your home while you're away is another option.
A lawn and snow removal service can maintain your yard and driveway while no one is home.
You can also look into hiring a security guard and maintenance service to do weekly safety checks on your home.
Another option some people choose is hiring a house sitter for the entire time they'll be away.
Your house sitter will keep your residence secure and maintained. They may even take care of your pets, water your plants, and more.
Ask your friends or family members for house sitter recommendations. Or search for someone to take care of your home on a service like Trusted House Sitters.
4. Make Your Home Look Occupied
Most burglars avoid houses that appear lived in. That's why it's a good idea to make it look like you're still there.
To normalize movement around your home when you're gone, consider the following:
- Have your lawn mowed or snow plowed regularly.
- Set your home's internal and external lights on automatic timers. Vary the hours and rooms lit up in your house in the evening. Consider installing a product like Smart Wifi Light Switches that allows you to control smart lighting from an app on your phone or computer.
- Adjust blinds so anyone on the sidewalk or road can see interior lights when they are on but not see directly into your home.
- If a trusted friend or neighbor checks on your house, ask them to remove fliers put on your mailbox or stuck in your front door. If there's been a fresh snowfall when they check your house, their tracks will also make it appear that someone is home.
Depending on where you live, there may be several other things you can do to prevent home invasions.
Walk around your residence and try to think like a thief! What could be a dead giveaway that no one is home?
Anything you do to create the illusion of someone being at home when no one is will deter most burglars.
5. Lock It Up
This suggestion may seem like common sense when you’re leaving home. But there's a good chance you'll find something not locked if you walk around your house. Check every window and all exterior doors (don't forget the garage and basement!)
Anything you can do to up your home's security level and make it more difficult for a burglar to gain access to your house will help deter a break-in.
Ensure the security bar is down on sliding glass doors, lock deadbolts, and use a padlock to keep shed doors secure.
Consider upgrading locks for your entry doors if you think they could be easily picked or kicked in.
Purchase security film to put over sections of glass on windows and doors to obscure views into your home or garage. Bring in any garage door openers and any spare keys you've hidden outside to secure them.
If someone were to break into your house successfully, you want to minimize your losses. You can do this by purchasing a quality safe and anchoring it to your home's structure.
When a burglar can't quickly snatch your safe to take with them, they'll usually avoid investing the time needed to break into the safe where it stands.
When you don't have a safe, hide smaller valuables like jewelry, electronics, or essential paperwork in places in your residence where a thief isn't likely to look.
Just make sure you can remember where you put everything when you return home!
Another option is placing valuables, credit cards, handheld devices, and personal papers you don't travel with, in a safe deposit box at a local bank or credit union.
There’s a cost involved to rent a box, but it may be worth it to keep specific items secure.
6. Make a Plan For Your Mail
When you're leaving home for any length of time, you'll need to make a plan for your mail.
If a trusted neighbor is checking your house daily, they may also retrieve your mail and leave it inside out of plain sight.
But you might not want to have to depend on them to open certain pieces or forward important mail to you.
When you're only gone for a few weeks, a mail hold (3 – 30 days) at the post office might work.
Should you be staying in one place for more than a month, mail forwarding from the post office to your new address (15 days to 1 year) may be a better option.
The USPS also offers premium mail forwarding. It's an expensive option, but it may come in handy and secure for specific situations.
You can also try digital mailbox services such as Anytime Mailbox, PostScan Mail, or Traveling Mailbox. With a virtual mailbox, you can access your mail and manage packages via any computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Also, don't forget to suspend any type of subscription delivery service to your home. You want to avoid boxes being left on your doorstep for days, indicating you’re away from home.
7. Keep Up With Regular Home Maintenance
Whether you're there or not, your house and possessions are valuable assets. And you need regular home maintenance to keep things in working order.
Here's a list of tasks to make part of your normal routine to help keep your home and everything in it safe.
Walk around the outside of your house and look at your landscaping. Trim back bushes and trees that are close to your house or hire someone to help maintain them.
You don't want to give potential burglars a place to hide up close to your house.
If your driveway area, front step, or backyard is poorly lit, consider adding more exterior lighting. Put motion-detector lights at entrances to your home.
Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris. But don't be too quick to climb up the ladder and do the work yourself. This is an excellent job to hire out to keep yourself safe.
Identify anything that could create drainage issues or a fire hazard around your property and promptly address the problem areas.
Look at your ceilings and roof. When you have shingles missing or any signs of leaks, call a roofing company to estimate repairing damage or replacing your roof.
If you don't know when your water heater was installed, consider calling a plumber to have it checked or replaced. Also, look under sinks and around toilets to check for visible signs of leaks.
Consider upgrading your electric panel, so issues with electrical service are addressed before you leave town for weeks (or months) at a time. You might also consider installing a home generator for standby power if your area is prone to outages.
Check or replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and those in home security devices.
Consider installing a “smart” thermostat you can remotely control.
Home automation can help prevent pipes from freezing in the winter and moisture from building up (and potentially mold and mildew) during a hot and humid summer.
Depending on where you live and the type of residence you own, there may be other home maintenance issues to address.
Remember, the last thing you want is a break-in, a flooding basement, or a house fire when you're enjoying life a thousand (or more) miles away.
8. Be Mindful Of Social Media Posts While You're Away
You can never be sure who follows you or has access to your personal information on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
There are numerous reports of people being the victims of burglaries after sharing their favorite vacation photos and stories over social media.
The most important people in your life will know you’re away from home. Instead of social media posts sharing a beautiful sunset at the beach, consider emailing, texting, or private messaging pictures instead.
If you decide you’re going to continue using social media accounts, make sure privacy settings are on so only your friends and family members can view and comment on your status updates and awesome pics.
9. Make Important Last Minute Home Safety Moves
There are many things you can do to secure your residence just before leaving town.
Consider unplugging electronics that won't be in use, including TVs, coffee makers, and desktop computers to protect them against power surges.
Some people also shut off large electronics and defrost their refrigerators (check your manufacturer's guide to see what they suggest). Others disable garage door openers to limit access further.
Shutting off the main water supply or draining water lines can be smart moves if you'll be away for more than a few weeks.
While most people leave the heat on at a minimum of 50-55 degrees F in the winter, losing power and pipes freezing in a storm is always a concern.
Being Proactive and Prepared Protects Your Property and You
Many of the items in this list will help protect your home and property, whether you’re gone for just a few hours or weeks, or months at a time.
The extra attention and work you put into keeping your place safe can pay off when you least expect it!
Even if you secure your home by minimizing the chance of water or fire damage and taking steps to prevent a thief from breaking in, something terrible may still happen.
Make sure you itemize all of your belongings in case you need to make an insurance claim. Video record and take pictures of the exterior of your residence, each room in your home, and your valuables.
Keep a copy of this information with you or in a secure location to access it if necessary. By being proactive and preparing for the worst, you’ll reduce the potential stress of dealing with an unfortunate event.