Prep Your House for Vacation
Never announce you're away
Wait until you're home to post vacation pics on Facebook, advises Allstate insurance agent Jim Towns. Also, turn off the volume on your home phone so the ringing won't signal an opportunity to passersby, and don't change your voice mail greeting to say you're out of town.
Eliminate easy access
According to statistics from the FBI, 61% of burglars use force to gain entry, "but they'll often look for open doors and windows first," says Jim Towns. Check that all door and window locks are working (including windows on the second story), and repair any broken glass, particularly in basement windows. Bring in any hidden keys.
Make sure gutters, downspouts, and drains are clear
If water overflows from its proper channels, it can seep under siding and flood the basement.
Enlist a friend's help
Ask a neighbor to check on your house every other day and to bring in any unexpected deliveries, such as phone books, circulars, and FedEx notices. Make sure she has a key to your house.
Flush the toilets
Leave the lid up (just this once) so you don't come home to icky, stagnant water.
Secure the garage
If you're leaving your car at home, park it outside, against the garage door, to block access. Remove garage door remotes from the car and unplug the electric door opener (the box unit attached to the garage ceiling), so the door can't be opened while you're away. Make sure to lock the car and garage doors.
Arm the alarms
Notify your security company that you'll be away. Give a family member or friend your alarm code, the security company's phone number, your itinerary, and your contact numbers. Press the "test" button on your smoke alarms to make sure they work, and change the battery if necessary.
Stop all deliveries and pickups
Have your mail held while you're away. You can sign up online at holdmail.usps.com/holdmail. Don't forget to cancel garbage pickup and newspaper deliveries, too.
Power down small appliances
"A power surge can damage these items or even cause a fire," says Jim Towns. Unplug any small appliances and electronics that aren't plugged into a surge protector-such as the toaster and coffeemaker-and turn all your surge protector switches to off.
Cut the water supply in flood-prone spots
If a hose to your dishwasher or washing machine happens to crack or come loose while you're away, you could come back to a flood, so turn off the water supply to those two appliances. For the dishwasher, the lever handle is usually located under the sink. For the washing machine, look for a valve switch behind the machine.
Trim tree limbs
"Prune branches that extend over your house, particularly any that are dying or dead-the ones that are bare when they should have leaves," says Mike Holmes, host of Holmes on Homes. "Doing so will prevent a lot of expensive damage if there's a storm while you're on vacation."
Don't turn off the AC
It may sound like a waste of money and energy, but a warm temperature indoors can cause mold and mildew to grow in just a few days. "Set the air conditioner to 82 degrees Fahrenheit and your house will stay cool enough to prevent both," says Craig Muccio, energy expert at Florida Power & Light Company.
Run the dishwasher
After the cycle has finished, empty the dishwasher, then leave the dishwasher door open. That will allow the interior to dry, and it won't smell musty by the time you get home.
Light your home like you're there
"The kitchen is usually in the back of the house-a favorite spot for break-ins-and it often has no plug-in lights," says Lou Manfredini, Ace's home expert. Move a lamp into the kitchen and plug it into a timer that you can set on random. "You also want to illuminate all the main outdoor entrances," says Mike Holmes. "So buy an outdoor timer, too, and set it so the lights go on at dusk and off at dawn."