Home security tips when you go on vacation © Goodluz/Shutterstock.com
Home security tips when you go on vacation

Millions of homeowners will pack up the family and head off on holiday road trips. Others are flying across the country to visit winter vacation spots or loved ones.

And, as the weather turns colder, snowbirds are locking up their homes and leaving for a few months in a more pleasant clime.

Whenever you choose to get away, your pre-trip preparations should include home security measures, so you won’t leave the family’s most expensive possession — your home — vulnerable to burglars.

A few simple steps can mitigate the risk of a break-in — and a home insurance claim, says Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group.

“Do everything possible to make yourself a lousy target for thieves,” she says.

How? By following this list of five things to check before leaving home.

Ask neighbors to be your eyes and ears

Ask neighbors to be your eyes and ears © Rob - Fotolia.com

Alerting neighbors to your vacation plans and asking them to watch your property is paramount, says Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, another insurance industry group.

“That’s the best advice for low-cost home protection,” he says.

People who are retired or who do not work outside the home are often the best lookouts.

“They are familiar with what is normal for your street and can take note when a van appears in your driveway,” he says.

Instruct neighbors to call police if they see any suspicious activity. It’s also wise to give a trusted neighbor a spare key to your house, says Michelle Boykins, a spokeswoman for the National Crime Prevention Council. That’s better than leaving a key under the mat.

“Don’t attempt to hide your spare key, thinking no one else will find it,” she says.

Secure all doors and windows

Secure all doors and windows © LittleStocker/Shutterstock.com

Doors and windows provide the main entry points for thieves, so make sure they are secure.

Boykins suggests using deadbolts and locks that are pick-resistant, drill-resistant and able to withstand substantial force, such as kicking. Such locks should be installed on all doors that are outside entry points, including the door from the garage into your home.

Exterior doors should be made of wood that is at least 1 3/4 inches thick, or should be clad in metal, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Sliding glass doors require a dowel in the bottom track to keep the door from being pried open. Anti-lift devices can prevent anyone from lifting the glass up and out.

Securing windows depends on the type of window installed. For example, double-hung sash windows, with upper and lower halves that move up and down in tracks, require a key-locking security sash lock. Casement windows that swing open can be secured by removing the crank handle from the window’s opening mechanism. Glass doors and windows should be shatter-proof and break-resistant.

Remember to check all locks before you leave.

“The best locks in the world can’t protect you if you don’t use them,” Boykins says.

Don’t leave a burglar-friendly yard

Don't leave a burglar-friendly yard © Alexander Chaikin/Shutterstock.com

Most homeowners know that well-trimmed hedges and bushes deny burglars a key place to hide before breaking in. But it’s also important for home security to prune low-hanging tree branches, which can give thieves access to the second floor.

If you’ll be gone for a long period, make sure someone mows the lawn regularly or shovels promptly after snowstorms. An untended yard is a sure giveaway that no one is home.

Good exterior lighting also can keep thieves at bay. Some lights can be programmed to turn on at dusk and off at dawn, while others have motion sensors, so they’ll turn on when someone walks by them.

Lighting should be focused on the entry ways into your home, Boykins says.

“Lights make burglars nervous,” she says.

Arm the alarm and alert the police

 Arm the alarm and alert the police © Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com

A good home alarm can keep burglars out of your digs, Boykins says.

“Even security signs and stickers can be effective deterrents,” she says.

But an actual alarm system might earn you a discount on your home insurance. As with locks, alarms are only good if you set it before you leave. So before you pack your bags, be certain your system is working.

Boykins suggests a monthly test. “Make sure it is communicating with the monitoring service,” she says.

Scafidi says don’t underestimate the value of a good alarm system. He believes technology soon will make these devices even more effective.

“In my opinion, in the coming years we’ll see technology that enables you to monitor your home while you are cave diving in Barbados,” he says.

In the meantime, Scafidi suggests alerting the local police department about your vacation plans. He says many law enforcement agencies have a “vacation check” program.

“Officers or volunteers will make random stops at your home and do a cursory check,” he says.

Do sweat the little stuff

Do sweat the little stuff © Flash-ka /Shutterstock.com

Scafidi says overlooking the little things can negate all of the home security steps already mentioned.

“They are easily undermined if you leave your porch light on 24/7 and you don’t have your mail and newspaper deliveries stopped while you are gone,” he says.

A buildup of papers on the front stoop or a mailbox stuffed to the brim can be almost as bad as putting up a billboard telling thieves that no one is home.

Plus, an overflowing mailbox attracts another type of criminal, Boykins says.

“It is also a gold mine for identity thieves,” she says.  

Boykins also suggests that homeowners put a few interior lights on variable timers.

“Variable timers can give the appearance that someone is home,” she says.

Finally, McChristian reminds home insurance policyholders to keep valuables such as jewelry and important papers in a secure location.

“Don’t leave them in plain sight, such as sitting on the desk in your home office,” she says.