You’ve scrimped and saved for your family vacation, counting down the days until you can finally get away from it all. But don’t just grab your bags and close the door when you leave. Taking time to prepare your home for vacation can save enough money to cover some of those trinkets and meals you’ll be enjoying while you’re gone, and will make sure that your possessions stay safe and secure in your absence.
Suspend Some Services
If you’re going away longer than a few days, it makes financial sense to suspend certain services so you aren’t paying for things you won’t be home to use. Many utility and service providers offer temporary suspensions; all you have to do is call.
- Newspaper delivery: You may be able to place a vacation hold using the paper’s website. Otherwise, call to suspend service so you don’t have to ask a neighbor to collect the papers you aren’t home to read.
- 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 hold 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
There’s no sense paying for utilities you aren’t there to use. Before you leave, tend to these items to cut your utility bills in your absence.
- Unplug what you don’t need: Lamps, TVs, computers, microwaves and other devices will still draw a small amount of electricity even if you aren’t there to use them, so unplug everything that doesn’t need to stay connected while you’re gone. Naturally, you’ll want to leave the refrigerator and freezer plugged in, but since you won’t be there opening it to let the chill out, you can turn the settings up slightly to cut their energy consumption.
- 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 100F to avoid frozen pipes.
- Set your thermostat properly: For summer vacations, bump your thermostat setting up to 85F. This allows the A/C to run on particularly hot days and will prevent excess humidity buildup in the house. In the winter, don’t lower the heat past 55F or you’ll risk frozen pipes.
Keep It Safe
Why spend one minute of your vacation worrying about the contents of your home? Ward off thieves by tending to the small details that let them know when a homeowner is away so you don’t become a target while you’re gone.
- Don’t leave them a key. It’s hard for some of us to imagine, but many people still hide house keys in the yard “just in case”. Thieves know where to look for these: beneath the welcome mat, in the mailbox, under a rock or potted plant in the garden, in a magnetic case attached to a drain pipe or the bumper of a car parked out front. Thieves will have all the time in the world to look for your key in your absence. Take the thing inside!
- Use timers to your advantage: Although you should unplug most lights while you’re away to save on electricity, it’s a good idea to leave one or two attached to timers that will turn them on and off. 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 neighbor to check for package deliveries, those annoying free circulars that get thrown in driveways, and suspicious activity in your absence. Consider asking your neighbor to water your lawn and houseplants while you’re away, too.
- Activate your security, or just fake it: If you have a wireless security system, 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.
Keep It Clean
Even after the most wonderful of vacations, it’s always nice to come home… provided you’ve taken the steps to prepare your house for your return.
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- Leave it looking nice: Although it’s tempting to just dash out of the house in your hurry to get away, 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: Trust me on this, since we learned it the hard way. Even if you think there are only one or two things in a trash can, it’s worth taking the time to empty it anyway. And don’t limit yourself to the kitchen trash can, either. Go through bedrooms, bathrooms, your home office, and anywhere else you have trash cans. Especially if you have kids. You just never know where they decided to dump that healthy snack of apple slices and almond butter you made them the day before you left.
- Extend the hotel experience: One of my favorite things about staying at a hotel? Freshly made beds and clean towels every day. (Yes, I’m one of those guests who has housekeeping change it all out daily. Having someone else pamper me is MY idea of a vacation!) Consider putting fresh sheets on all of your beds and hanging fresh towels in the bathrooms so your house feels just as plush as a hotel when you get home.
Be Quiet About It
Yes, you’re really looking forward to your getaway. Yes, you want to rub your friend’s noses in the fact that you’ll be sitting by the beach sipping something tropical 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 800+ Facebook friends and 2,500+ Twitter followers all seem like trustworthy people. But it takes one person hitting that “Share” or “Retweet” link and sending your boastful update to the wrong person to clue thieves in about your absence. Wait until you’ve come home 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 kids are online, make sure they know the rules about not posting vacation plans, too.
- Leave quietly: As your kids are running around in crazy circles in the front yard as you load suitcases into the trunk of your car, anyone driving past can figure out you’re getting ready to leave for a while. 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.
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 taking your ease on that get away you’ve been looking forward to, and thanks to your advance planning you’ll be able to keep on relaxing when you get home, too.