Vacations aren’t cheap — there’s the cost of the trip itself, plus the time off work — but if you take the time to prepare your home for the vacation, you can save money while you’re gone and ensure your home is safe in your absence. Here’s how.
Prepare Your Home For Vacation
Suspend Some Services
If you’re going away longer than a few days, it makes financial sense to suspend services you won’t be using.
Newspaper delivery: You may be able to place a vacation hold using the paper’s website. Otherwise, call to suspend service or ask a neighbor to collect them if you want to spend time catching up on your return.
Cable/Satellite TV: Many providers will gladly put your service on hold if your account is current.
Mail delivery: Although it won’t save you any money necessarily, asking the Post Office to keep mail in your absence can protect you from identity thieves and burglars who love to scope out stuffed mailboxes to know who’s gone.
Turn It Off, Down Or Up
Shutting your utilities off in your absence isn’t practical, or even a good idea, but there’s no reason to keep them running as if you were home.
Unplug what you don’t need: TVs, computers, and other devices still draw a small amount of electricity when not in use so unplug everything that doesn’t need to stay connected while you’re gone. Leave the refrigerator and freezer plugged in, but you can turn the settings up slightly since you won’t be there opening it to let the chill out.
Don’t heat unused water: Turn your water heater to the ‘vacation’ setting to cut up to 20% of its energy use while you’re away. No ‘vacation’ setting? Turn it to Pilot while you’re away in the summer. In the winter, lower the setting to 100°F to avoid frozen pipes.
Set your thermostat correctly: For summer vacations, bump your thermostat setting up to 85°F which still allows the AC to run on hot days and will prevent excess humidity buildup in the house. In the winter, don’t lower the heat past 55°F or you’ll risk frozen pipes.
Keep It Safe
There’s no need to spend your vacation worrying about the contents of your home, either. Ward off thieves by tending to the small things that could signal that the homeowner is away.
Don’t leave them a key: Thieves know where to look for those keys you’ve hidden outdoors “just in case” — beneath the welcome mat, under a rock or plant in the garden, in a magnetic case attached to a drain pipe. While you’re gone, they’ll have all the time in the world to look for your key so take the thing inside!
Use timers to your advantage: Although you should unplug most lights while you’re away to save electricity, it’s a good idea to leave one or two attached to timers. The idea is to mimic the pattern you’d use if you were there so have a light go on in a front room early in the evening, and another upstairs later that night. If your backyard isn’t visible to your neighbors, consider adding another light in a back room, too.
Don’t forget your yard: If you have an automatic sprinkler don’t change the schedule or turn it off while you’re away. A brown, dried out lawn when the neighboring yards are still green is a sign of a homeowner who’s not there to water.
Notify a trusted neighbor: Even the best security precautions can’t take the place of good ol’ human eyes and ears. Ask a friend to check for package deliveries, those annoying free circulars that get thrown in driveways, and suspicious activity in your absence.
Activate your security, or just fake it: Make sure the alarm company knows your cell phone numbers so they can tell you of break-ins while you’re away. No security system? Fake it with stickers easily ordered off the internet. Or do what a clever friend of mine does and leave a very large pet bowl and heavy dog chain where it’s visible from the front of your house. Thieves will assume you have a guard dog and move on.
Be Quiet About It
Of course, you’re looking forward to your getaway. Of course, you want to rub your friend’s noses in the fact that you’ll be beach-side sipping mai tais while they’re freezing in December or sweating it out in July. Resist the urge to brag, though: you know what they say about pride coming before a fall.
Don’t post about it: Sure, your hundreds Facebook friends and Twitter followers all seem like trustworthy people. But it only takes one “Share” or “Retweet” to send your update to the wrong person and inform thieves that your home is ripe for the picking. Wait until you’ve come back to brag about your vacay, so you have nothing to regret.
Little pitchers have big mouths: Kids love to brag about going on vacation. If your children are online, make sure they know the rules about not posting vacation plans, too.
Leave quietly: Having the kids burn off energy by running around while you load the suitcases lets others know you’re getting ready to leave. Don’t take that risk. Pack your car in a closed garage, preferably the night before. Send your kids out to run off excess energy in the backyard instead of the front, or have them do laps up and down the stairs inside the house.
Prepare For Your Return
Even after the most wonderful of vacations, it’s always nice to come home, provided you’ve taken steps to prepare your house for your return.
Leave it clean: Coming home to messy beds and cluttered counters can ruin that post-vacation mood. Do a whole house tidy before you go so your home feels welcoming when you arrive.
Clean out the fridge: Dispose of or freeze all food that’s about to expire. No freezer space? Ask your neighbors if they’d like to finish off that casserole, so you don’t have to toss it.
Take out the trash: Even if you think there are only one or two things in a garbage can, it’s worth taking the time to empty it anyway. Don’t limit yourself to the kitchen trash can, either. Go through bedrooms, bathrooms, your home office, anywhere you have trash cans, especially if you have kids. You just never know where they decided to dump that banana they’d been snacking on right before you left. Trust me on this — we learned it the hard way.
Plan to rest well: Fresh linens every day are an enjoyable part of any hotel stay, and something many of us miss when we get back home. Extend the enjoyment by putting fresh sheets on beds and hanging fresh towels in the bathrooms before you leave, so your house feels as plush as a hotel when you get home.
No one’s suggesting that you need to spend your vacation fearing for your home in your absence. By following these steps, you can put your mind at ease while gone and, thanks to planning, keep relaxing when you get home, too.