A few weeks ago, when we headed out of town to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I didn’t hire my usual house/cat sitter. Since we were just going for a few nights, I left the cat with loads of food and water, I asked a neighbor to pick up any packages, and we went on our way. On our last day, we were leisurely playing miniature golf before traveling home when the texts/emails started:
Hi! Your sprinklers have been on since 5am…. Call me if I can help!
I hope you get this message on your iPhone – your sprinklers aren’t going off.
It wasn’t the worst problem in the world, and we had a relatively short drive home, but it reminded me of all of the things that can go wrong when you are traveling. I reached out to some experts to get a good list of things to do to keep your house safe (and to save money) when traveling, and here’s what I learned.
Inside the home, Travelers Insurance recommends that you unplug appliances that may be susceptible to power surges (e.g. televisions and other A/V equipment, computers, printers, etc.). Northeastern University’s Coleen Pantalone, a personal finance expert and Associate Dean, Undergraduate Programs, College of Business Administration also recommends that you turn off your hot water heater, as you won’t need the hot water heater to continue to heat water while you are away. Sioux Falls Fire Chief Jim Sideras suggests that you shut the water off at the main to ensure that there will not be a continuous flow of water in the event of a leak, broken pipe, or other water issue. This would also shut off the lawn sprinkler system (which would have prevented our issue, but may result in burnt grass and dead plants). Chief Sideras also encourages you to ensure your sump pump is working before you leave, if you have a sump pump in your basement. To check it, take a pitcher of water and pour it into your sump pump hole. As you continue to pour, you should hear the pump start and remove the water, which means your pump is working. In addition, Sideras highly recommends that you ensure your smoke detectors are working, because a neighbor could hear them in the case of a fire. For money savings, Professor Pantalone also suggests turning off your air conditioner and setting your heat to 50 degrees (assuming, of course, that you don’t have any animals in your home).
You should also wash and dry all dirty plates and dirty clothes, Suzanne Garber, Chief Operating Officer, International SOS suggests. This is not a security precaution but a sanitary one. Mold grows in damp places, including on food and clothes (it’s also really nice to come home to clean laundry and an empty sink!).
For the outside of the home, Chief Sideras suggests that you clean your gutters and check your downspouts. In the event of heavy summer rains, clotted gutters and result in water backing up and seeping into your home. If you have a swimming pool or trampoline, Travelers Insurance recommends that you secure and/or lock them to prevent kids from entering your yard when nobody is home. They also suggest that you store patio furniture in a garage or shed to prevent theft or damage if there is a wind storm while you are away.
For safety purposes, Ms. Garber recommends parking at least one vehicle in your driveway and make sure it is locked with no obvious valuables visible (if you only have one vehicle, make sure you take a taxi to the airport or have a friend drive you). Our experts agreed that you should avoid posting your activity on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Many of them also recommended that you leave a key with a relative or neighbor in case of emergency. You should also make sure that your neighbors have your cell phone number so they can reach you if necessary.
To keep your house safe from burglary, you should also avoid putting your home address on your luggage tags – anyone who sees that address on your luggage knows that your house is empty. You should also have someone pick up your mail, or have it held by the post office.
What other things to do you to prepare your home when you travel?