According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans went on 1.6 billion leisure trips and 452 million business trips in 2013. That's a lot of time away from home.
From burglary to fire to water damage and more, your home can face a number of risks at any time, but these dangers increase when you're away. While you can't completely eradicate these risks, there are actions you can take to mitigate them.
Following is a resource guide for travelers to help prepare your home before you go, maintain it to help prevent damage while you're away, and secure it year round.
Stop or forward mail/newspaper deliveries. This comprehensive checklist of what to do before leaving home advises that you have your mail stopped or forwarded and that you also stop newspaper deliveries while you're out of town. You can start and stop your mail delivery via the U.S. Postal Service. And if any stopped or forwarded mail will include utility bills, it advises that you pay those before you leave or arrange to pay them while you're gone.
Unplug electronics. Popular Mechanics advises that you unplug any electronics that are plugged directly into the wall to avoid damage that could be caused if there is a power surge while you're out of town. Unplugging these electronics is not only safer, but as the article notes, it will also help you save money in energy costs.
Turn off main water supply. Avoid the possibility of having to spend tons of money to repair water damage by following this article's recommendation to turn off your main water supply before you leave. As the article notes, doing so is quick and easy and can be a huge money saver if a leak springs while you're away.
Check your sump pump. As this checklist reminds, it is a good idea to make sure your sump pump is in working order before you leave. It explains how to do so and what signs might indicate you have a problem.
Have a trusted neighbor take our your garbage. Don't let garbage sit outside or inside your home while you're away. Follow this article's recommendation to ask a reliable neighbor to take it to the curb on trash day and return your bin to its storage spot afterwards.
Hide your spare key. If you normally keep a spare key hidden somewhere outside your home, this article advises that it is best to bring it inside while you'll be away.
Target your toilet. Though it might not be your first point of concern, there are a couple of things you can do to your toilet before you leave your home to save yourself future trouble. For example, this article notes that sprinkling baking soda in your toilets and drains before you leave can help prevent stale odors. And if you're traveling during winter, this article provides a step-by-step process for winterizing your toilet to prevent it from freezing and cracking while you're away.
Adjust your thermostat. To save on energy costs, adjust your thermostat before you leave. As this article notes, during warmer months, 85°F is warm enough to help you keep energy costs low but cool enough to prevent heat damage. As this article from BounceEnergy notes, if you're traveling in the winter, you'll need to make sure your thermostat is set on a temperature that is warm enough to prevent your pipes from freezing. It recommends at least 50°F.
Create a maintenance schedule. By keeping an eye on your home year round, you can reduce the possibility of trouble while you're away. This article provides a comprehensive list of home maintenance tips and explains when and how many times you'll want to do them each year. It also offers the maintenance schedule as a Google Doc checklist.
To further help with your maintenance planning, Weather.com provides a series of maintenance tasks organized by month:
Keep insurance information organized. If there is a problem while you're away, you'll want to be able to access your insurance information. Lifehacker.com provides a step-by-step process for organizing your homeowners and property insurance information and a ton of other vital information that you or a loved one might need to access in an emergency.
You can get started organizing your information by using their ready-made Master Information Kit template. The article also provides information on other organization resources, such as Erick Dewey's Big Book of Everything (PDF or Excel) and Ricki Pagano's For The Record.
Keep up your lawn care. This list of cheap and effective tricks to keep your home safe from BuzzFeed.com advises that you take care of your lawn and other landscaping. As it notes, shrubbery provides burglars a place to hide and un-mowed lawns may be a sign you're not at home.
Take steps to keep your home healthy. Through its Healthy Homes Maintenance Checklist, the National Healthy Homes Training Center and Network explains the importance of keeping your home “dry, clean, well-ventilated, free from contaminants, pest-free, safe and well-maintained.' Follow the checklist to keep your home in great shape so that you don't have to worry about problems popping up while you're away.
Regularly inspect your roof. As these tips from U.S. News & World Report note, your home's roof protects it against water damage. If your roof isn't properly maintained and a storm hits while you're away, you could be in for a big, unpleasant surprise upon your return.
Install a security system. Home security systems can play an important role in helping to secure your home. This article answers several questions to help you choose the right home security system for you. It also provides a glossary of terms to ensure you understand what you'll be getting with certain systems. Some services like SimpliSafe offer month to monty pricing without requiring a long-term contract commitment that may be common with larger players like ADT.
Recruit a neighbor to keep an eye on your home. Work with a neighbor to keep an eye on each other's homes when you're out of town. As this article notes, it's a good idea to have your neighbor bring in any mail and hold onto to a spare key in case they need to check for problems. And you may even want to form a neighborhood alliance, working with all of your neighbors to keep everyone's homes safe. To get started, pass out these neighbor ID cards created by the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma.
Use deadbolts on doors. This article, which also offers great maintenance tips, advises that you reinforce external doors and windows with deadbolts and strong frames. It recommends using slide locks on sliding glass and French doors.
Go high tech with door security. Deadbolts are great, but there are also high tech ways to secure your doors. This article provides information about Lockitron and Ring. Lockitron from Agipy allows you to use an app to lock and unlock your door. Ring uses a camera installed on your door to show you, via a smartphone app, who's at your door and allows you to talk to them. As the article notes, it gives the impression that you're answering the door via an intercom system so burglars will think you're home.
Install motion sensors. As this article notes, leaving a porch light or other outside light on all the time might indicate to burglars that no one is home. Motion detection lighting can be a great way to deter potential burglars.
Use apps to monitor your home. These days there's an app for almost anything, and when it comes to home security, that certainly holds true. This article provides information on the 10 home security phone apps listed below:
You can also use smartphones to keep your home safe in another way and doing so will save money. This article from USA Today explains how you can use an old phone's camera as part of your home surveillance system.
Use lighting timers. This article explains that it isn't a good idea to keep the same lights on in your home all the time while you're away. Not only is this costly, but potential criminals will eventually catch on. Instead, the article recommends that you put certain lights in your home on timers so they'll be going on and off throughout the day. You can even use this device to create a fake TV glow to make it look like someone is inside watching TV.