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12 Things You Must Do Before Leaving Your Home on Vacation

Considering a trip away from home? Be sure to address these 12 must-do items before heading out the door.

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Program Your ThermostatOlivier Le Moal/Shutterstock

Program Your Thermostat

Heating and cooling are almost always a home's largest source of energy consumption. So why spend that money when you're out of town? Instead, set your thermostat to maintain a stable temperature, no cooler than 54 degrees, no warmer than 80 degrees. Note that this tip doesn't suggest turning off the thermostat altogether. You should keep your home's temperature stable while you're away, whether in summer or winter, in order to prevent condensation, frozen pipes or other potentially damaging effects. (The exception is if you'll be gone long enough to winterize your home, a strategy that will be described in a moment.) If you're interested in trimming your heating and cooling expenses throughout the year, start by reading this Family Handyman article, Use Less A/C and Cut your Electric Bill.
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Suspend Your Mail ServiceFamily Handyman

Suspend Your Mail Service

Why keep receiving mail while you're away on vacation? It could be a giveaway to potential theives. The postal service allows customers to suspend their service. Meaning that the mail will be held at the post office until the date you specify, at which point it will be delivered. The exact duration of the service suspension may vary depending on where you live, so be sure to check with your local postal service for details. The same policy goes for newspapers and other delivery services. You won't be there to enjoy them, and a stack of uncollected mail or newspapers is a sure sign to criminals that your home is unoccupied. If you want to boost the security of your mailbox permanently, check out Safe Home Security Tips.
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Do The DishesNika Art/Shutterstock

Do The Dishes

A stack of dirty dishes left in a vacant house is a beacon to pests and vermin and makes for a smelly reception when you get back home. Give everything a good wash, and you'll be much better off. If you dirty any dishes right before you leave for vacation and don't have time to clean them, just give them a good rinse.  Of course, if you have a dishwasher, just set it to run right before you go out the door. Should you forget to run the dishwasher, and come home to an appliance full of month-old dirty dishes, you'll want to have this article bookmarked and ready to go: How to Fix a Smelly Dishwasher.
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Take Out all Garbage and Recycling

Take Out all Garbage and Recycling

Often, you hear advice to clean your home before a vacation. But really, who cares about dust on the bookshelves when you get back from a trip? Instead, focus on what matters: identifying anything that might start to rot and getting it out of the home. Empty the trash and recycling. If you have a bunch of bananas or apples sitting on the counter, move them to the fridge or throw them away. Get rid of anything that might decompose and become bait for bugs and vermin. Of course this is a pretty great time to get some cleaning done as well, and if you do it well walking into a clean home after a long trip away can make your homecoming all the more enjoyable.
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Neighborly Check-InsErika Cross/Shutterstock

Neighborly Check-Ins

Of course, if you have curb-side trash, once you take it out, you need someone to bring the containers back in for you while you're on vacation. They say good fences make good neighbors, but the same can be said for good deeds. Ask a neighbor for help, and it will make it less apparent that your home is vacant. If you'll be gone a while, you may even consider asking them to take the cans down to the street and back. That way, your home isn't the only one on the block with no activity. This is also a good task to hire out to a young neighbor, who might be looking for ways to supplement their allowance.
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Secure Your Home Against Criminals

You may have noticed that several of the tips in this list mention keeping up the appearance of an occupied home. It's a sad reality that mice and ants aren't the only invaders an empty home has to worry about. Double-check the locks on your windows and doors, and put away any easily pawned lawn items such as lawnmowers. Close the blinds or draw the curtains, and put valuables out of sight. Or better yet, hide them entirely while you are on vacation! See 20 Secret Hiding Places from Family Handyman for some great inspiration.
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Social Media Settings

Social Media Settings

While technology changes, the need for safety stays the same. When it comes to home protection, don't let the world know that your home is vacant. Hold off on sharing those vacation photos until you get home and definitely don't post your travel plans in advance. This can be more complicated than just not broadcasting your location. Some technology is a little too "helpful" for our own good. Turn off location tags on apps like Instagram and don't check in to places far removed from home. If you set up auto-reply on your email, don't say that you'll be out of town; a message saying that you're unavailable is good enough.
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Pet Plans

If you have pets, part of going on a vacation is making sure they'll be cared for properly. If you're going to board your pets, check availability in advance, as finding last minute accommodations is notoriously difficult. Another option is to have a friend or neighbor pet sit, possibly while they're bringing in the trash cans. But even if you have someone coming over once or twice a day to feed and monitor your pets, you still have to deal with the boredom factor. Bored pets have to occupy themselves somehow and countless pet owners have come home after a trip to find items damaged or destroyed when a beloved pet simply didn't know what to do with themselves. Technology is improving matters. Gadgets like the ones covered in this article allow pets to play and exercise even when you aren't home with them.
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Plant Wateringimnoom/Shutterstock

Plant Watering

Just as you need to plan for the needs of your animal companions, you need to decide how any houseplants will be cared for as well. Happily, plant care can be automated in many surprising ways. Outdoor plants may or may not need care, depending on their hardiness and the amount of rainfall you receive. Plant monitoring devices are available to track the moisture levels of their soil, and can send notifications by text or email when they need to be watered. There are also options to build your own self-watering planter, or to set up slow-release watering containers for indoor plants. Regardless, your plants will be well cared for while you are on vacation.
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Timed Lights and Motion Sensors

Timed Lights and Motion Sensors

An excellent way to give the illusion of occupancy while on vacation and on a budget is to install timers and motion detectors on your lights. Timers are easily purchased at any home supply store, and install as simply as plugging in a lamp. The timers act as intermediaries between the light and the outlet. You set the timer, and it connects the lamp to the circuit, lighting up the room for a set period each day. This makes it appear as if someone were inside turning lights on and off. Motion detectors are usually installed on outdoor lights. They trigger only when they sense movement, connecting the light to the circuit and illuminating the area around your home. Also available at home supply stores, motion detectors are easy to install and useful as both a security feature and for when you come home late at night.
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Remote MonitoringFamily Handyman

Remote Monitoring

For the ultimate peace of mind while on vacation, consider installing a remote monitoring system. Most modern systems are accessible via the internet. This allows you to peek in on your property whenever you feel the urge. Monitoring systems are available in a wide range of price points and with almost every option imaginable. You can have a system installed or go the DIY route. (With a little help from Family Handyman, of course: How to Install Outdoor Surveillance Cameras.) You can even use a monitoring system to check in on your pets or even play with them. With remote monitoring, you can breathe easy knowing that your home is being watched and looked over, even when you're not there. So take it easy, enjoy your trip and think about all the great projects you can start when you get back home.
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Winterize Your HomePhongkrit/Shutterstock

Winterize Your Home

If you live in a cold weather climate and you'll be leaving on a trip of a month or more, it may make sense to winterize your home. This extra level of security will protect you if the power fails and the temperature of your home dips below freezing. If the water in your pipes freezes you can face all kinds of damage and future issues. Much of which can be prevented by simply turning off the water main before you leave. But if you are leaving for a very long trip, or if you have a seasonal property, a complete winterization may make more sense. With steps like blowing out water in drain traps and loading the toilet with antifreeze, a complete winterization is more of a project. But it's cheap insurance against the thousands of dollars in damage a burst water pipe can cause. For a complete walk through of the winterization process, see Prevent Water Damage While You Are Away.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.