Top home tips when going on vacation

Summer is here, and for those of us planning to get away for several weeks, here are a few useful tips to keep your house safe while you enjoy a relaxed time.

Whether you have a home monitoring system or not, these recommendations can reduce the risk (or at least impact) of water damage, fire, burglary, and power outages. Since we (Plasmatic Tech. Inc.) are passionate about the connected home space, we’re also throwing in some tech advice that won’t break your wallet.

1. Update your circle

Let your neighbors, emergency contacts, and security provider know about your plans. It’s best to select neighbors with a direct line of sight to your home entrances and garage. An extra pair of eyes helps both you and the neighborhood.

2. Display your security system

Announcing you have a security system (monitored or not) won’t guarantee your house will be burglar-free, but it may divert anyone looking for an easy target. Put up visible signs on your yard or decals on your windows. If you don’t have any, you can buy fake ones on eBay too, but make sure they look real enough to fool a crook.

3. Automate your outdoor lights

Burglars do their best to go un-noticed. Motion activated outdoor lights can scare off unwanted visitors and improve year-round safety too. Make sure to put lights high enough to keep anyone from tampering with the bulbs. You can buy them online or at your local hardware store. The equipment is reasonably priced for as low as $8 USD, and the electrical work is usually simple enough for even casual DIYers to handle. If electrical wiring is not available and you get enough sunshine, you could consider a solar light like this one that I bought at Costco a few years ago for our garage entrance.

4. Make it look like occupied

It’s common sense that burglars will typically avoid a home when people are present, so ensuring your home doesn’t look like it’s been empty for a while is a good start. Hopefully, you have a good enough relationship with your neighbors to ask for a few quick favors like: putting away the garbage and recycling bins, keeping your mailbox from overflowing with junkmail, or picking up any packages that get delivered while you’re away. Remember to pause the delivery of any newsprint subscriptions you have too.

5. Keep the lights on

While not the most environmentally friendly thing to do, leaving a light, TV screen, or some music on can help create the impression that someone is home. Of course, running all these electronics while you’re away doesn’t make sense. Most TVs have a scheduling option, while most lamps or speakers can be toggled with outlet plug timers (digital or mechanical). There are even more advanced smart home plugs that can be automated or controlled remotely like those from TP-Link or Belkin’s Wemo (for the Wemo ones Brenden Mulligan wrote a comparison earlier this year).

6. Secure your garage

Whether or not your garage is attached to your house or a separate structure, it is often the low hanging fruit for even a casual burglar. Most garage doors include latches that can be locked from the inside and therefore prevent someone with a code scanner to open them. A fail-safe way to avoid your garage door from being opened from the outside is to simply disconnect the garage opener from power for the duration of your trip.

7. Close blinds or obscure windows

While you do want the home to look lived in, there’s no reason to make it easy to peek into. It is probably best to draw the blinds down on any street or patio level window and see-through doors. If blinds are not sufficient, a dark bed sheet or large cloth can help obscure the view for anyone gutsy enough to come close.

8. Install a Wi-Fi camera with motion detection

A home camera with motion detection will not only alert you at the event of an intruder, it can also capture photos or footage of the event. There are numerous options for cameras outdoors, on your doorbell (like the popular ring), or in your home. Some cameras upload images to a cloud service, and others can save files locally on a storage device such as a network attached storage (NAS). You can get a cheap camera for around $50 or splurge for the more sophisticated and high definition ones like Arlo from Netgear and iQ from Nest.

9. Protect against water damage

Surprisingly more common than you’d think, water leaks and sewage backups can have near catastrophic results due to immediate water damage and future damage from mold. If you are frequently away from home for long periods, it’s worth considering a smart connected water leak detector like standalone ones like this one from D-Link or this one from Samsung SmartThings that requires a hub. You can place it near your hot water tank, laundry machine, or anywhere else you need an alert at the event of a leak. Another approach that targets the common culprits for water leaks, is to close the various taps that feed your hot water tank, the laundry machine, and even toilet water tanks. For longer vacations, you can consider draining your hot water tanks and shutting off the main water supply valve to your entire home.

10. Detecting smoke from afar

Some monitoring systems have connected smoke detectors, but what do you do if your home is not monitored or you simply do not subscribe to that option? There are quite a few Wi-Fi connected smart smoke detectors in the market such as the Birdi or if you want to leave your existing smoke detectors as they are, the Leeo Smart Alert is something you might want to look into.

11. Protect your data

Remember murphy’s law? It is never more true than when you’re away. Equipment can be damaged (or even stolen), and its usually the data that was most valuable to you. Consider cloud storage (like Dropbox) or even a NAS like this top rated one from Synology as a useful way to store important files and family photos in case something does go wrong. Hopefully you won’t ever need it, but in case you do, you’ll be glad you took the extra step.

Hopefully some of this advice will be useful and help you enjoy peace of mind while you’re on vacation. If you have any additional recommendations, we welcome your response below.

Disclaimer: Mention of 3rd party products in this article is not an endorsement. Readers are advised to do their own research, including reading reviews and checking compatibility with their home, before making a purchase.