Protect Your Home While Traveling for the Holidays

We’ve talked a lot about how to stay safe while traveling, advocating common-sense tips when you’re out and about in an unfamiliar area. But taking precautions for a safe and secure home is just as important to ensure peace of mind and a restful getaway. With the holidays approaching, we know many of you will be heading out of town to visit relatives or take a vacation. Here are some foolproof, easy-to-implement tips that can guard your property and valuables.

Prepare in Advance

With the excitement of leaving for a vacation, securing your home may be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be.

“Crime definitely increases during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays; we see a major spike,” says Cheryl Watterson, a 20-year ADT security specialist, radio host, and blogger with Let’s Talk Home Security. Factors such as the current economic climate, the influx of money for holiday shopping, and people being away from home all contribute to the increase in crime against homes this time of year.

If you’re planning on installing a new home security system or updating one currently in place, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of advance time to become familiar with it and its new features. Watterson recommends anywhere from a month to three months before leaving for your trip.

“Cancel your newspapers and mail, or make sure you have a trusted neighbor to retrieve them,” says Jim McGuffey, founder, A.C.E. Security Consultants.

Conversely, “I’m not a big fan of turning off [your] mail or newspaper,” says Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert with ADT.com. “Once you do that, you are alerting a postal employee or someone at the newspaper that you are gone. It’s better to have one or two trusted neighbors without teenage kids collect these items daily.”

Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll want to make arrangements about a week in advance of your departure.

Make Sure You’re Not an Easy Target

Start with the exterior of your home. “You want to make sure that your home looks lived in,” says McGuffey. “Depending on the time of year, in many parts of the country you’re going to have some snowfall possible. You want to have somebody there to plow your driveway and [clear off] your steps. You always want to give the home the appearance that somebody’s there.”

“Unplug your garage door openers and have a neighbor park their car in your driveway,” says Siciliano. “Have a landscaper mow your lawn.”

“Make sure the shrubbery nearby the house is trimmed and away from the windows and doors,” says McGuffey. “It makes it much easier for neighbors or police to spot anybody who might try to use these places for concealment.”

All three experts advocate using outdoor and indoor lighting systems, both motion-sensor and timer varieties, to prevent burglars from sneaking onto your property under cover of darkness.

“Using inside lights that turn on and off automatically are really very helpful,” says McGuffey. “You just have to rotate them so they’re not all coming on at seven o’clock every night and turning off at one a.m. every morning.”

“Check all doors, locks, and deadbolts for solid perimeter protection,” says Watterson. “A lot of people have never updated their deadbolts, and they might be 10 to 15 years old and easy to kick in. Doors are the first line of entry; check all the locks on doors and windows. For windows, you can also put in dowel rods, those long skinny sticks you get at the hardware store. You can paint them the same color as your trim and wedge them inside the window frame. This gives them a lot more strength; you wouldn’t be able to force the window open when it’s wedged in there. If they have to work, most burglars and intruders will give up and go someplace else.”

“There are types of security film that you can put over your windows that makes them harder to penetrate,” says McGuffey. As a variety of options are available, depending on your needs, “You can buy [it] at a hardware store or go on the Internet and research it to decide which one is best for the protection that you want in relationship to price.”

Finally, make sure you haven’t left spare keys to the house in “hiding” places around the home’s exterior or easily accessible areas. “Most people don’t realize that those who have the sense to break into your home are already experienced in looking for and thinking about where most homeowners place keys,” says McGuffey. “Most people tend to put keys in the same place, like right under the doormat. Some try to be a little sneaky and hide them around the side [of the house], under a plant. They’re normally in places that are pretty obvious when you think about it.”

Compare Security Products

A plethora of home security products exist for any type of home and budget. If you’re thinking of purchasing one before you leave for vacation, give yourself advance time to shop around. You can find reviews on sites such as Home Security System Reviews, Star Reviews, and Top Consumer Reviews, among others.

Type “home security reviews” or the make/model of the system you’re considering into your preferred search engine to read other consumers’ experiences.

Prevent Fire and Flood Risks

“With your security system, look at having a 24-hour fire protection monitor added in,” says Watterson. You can also get sensors to monitor your home’s temperature, this way you can prevent cold conditions that could lead to burst pipes and/or indoor flooding.

Siciliano recommends ADT Pulse, a new interactive security system. “[It] provides customers with anywhere, anytime access to their home via smartphones or personal computers, including an iPhone application, to access lights and appliances or set schedules to automate them,” among other capabilities. If you live in an area where there are extreme temperatures, it might be worth investigating this or a similar system to prevent flood damage through remote-access climate control.

Don’t Broadcast Your Plans

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly—share your travel plans only on a need-to-know basis. Even though you may be excited about your vacation, it’s best to keep this information (mostly) to yourself.

Don’t change your voicemail messages to indicate you’re out of town. Don’t post your trip plans on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Broadcasting your absence to hundreds or more is never a good idea. Giving a few trusted neighbors a discreet heads-up, though, can work in your favor, as they can keep an eye out on your property while you’re away.

“If you have really good neighbors, I’d probably tell two to four,” says Watterson. “Alert them that you’re going to be out of town, let them know [if] you’ll have a family member checking the house. Helping each other out makes a safer neighborhood.”

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