Home Safety During Summer Excursions: Keep your home from becoming a vacation hangout for thieves

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Beautiful weather may have you daydreaming about weekend getaways and extended summer trips, but don't let yourself become distracted when it comes to preparing your home for the time apart. This is a hot season for home burglaries, with the numbers typically peaking in July and August, and being the victim of one can certainly ruin all sorts of plans and possibly lead to other troubles like identity theft.
To start smart, give

Beautiful weather may have you daydreaming about weekend getaways and extended summer trips, but don't let yourself become distracted when it comes to preparing your home for the time apart. This is a hot season for home burglaries, with the numbers typically peaking in July and August, and being the victim of one can certainly ruin all sorts of plans and possibly lead to other troubles like identity theft.

To start smart, give attention to the interior and exterior items that require repair, recruit a trusted neighbor or friend to help with home care while you're away, and then run through the following checklist well before you pack up the car.

Inside Tips

  • MAIN VALVE -- If you'll be away for a prolonged period of time, it's smart to shut down your home's water supply. Locate and turn off the main water valve, which is usually found on the front, street--facing side of a home's lower level (it may be located in the crawl space; if it's difficult to get to, a plumber can add an extension to put it within reach). If your landscape irrigation comes from the same line, arrange for a bypass valve to be installed so that watering can continue as usual.
  • DRAIN TOILETS -- As step two of the water shutdown plan, drain all toilets and tanks.
  • WATER HEATER OFF -- Turn off your water heater. If it is electric, turn of the large breaker assigned to it at the main electrical panel. For gas water heaters, turn the vlve to the "pilot" position or turn iyt off completely if you know how to relight it and will be away for an extended period of time.
  • BREAKERS OFF -- To prevent electrical fires, switch off all non-essential electrical circuit breakers in your home's electrical box (anything other than your heating system, security system, and outdoor lighting). Well before you're under pressure to decipher which are which, take time to label circuits with small colored dot stickers, using green for nonessential and red for essential.
  • DISCONNECT APPLIANCES -- Unplug all appliances, large and small.
  • LOWER A/C -- If you'll be away for a weekend, set your air conditioner to 80 degrees; if you'll be gone longer, shut it down entirely.
  • LIGHTS ON TIMERS -- In main living areas, put lights on timers to simulate occupancy.

  • DON'T BROADCAST YOUR ABSENCE -- A burglar can easily be tipped off to your absence by an unanswered phone, so turn off the ringer and keep your everyday answering message in play. And never, ever, leave a message that say "I'm away on vacation ?"

  • ADJUST BLINDS -- Leave blinds and curtains in normal positions wherever possible, taking care not to expose belongings attractive to prying eyes.
  • SECURE VALUBLES -- Stow valuables (important papers, jewelry, etc.) in a home safe or safe deposit box.
  • DISCONNECT COMPUTER -- Make sure your computer is turned off and disconnected from the internet, particularly if it contains personal information. Also put away or shred telltale bills and receipts that add to the risk of identity theft.
  • SET ALARM -- Activate your alarm system, and be sure to notify the security company of your days away and provide interim contact information.
  • LOCK UP -- Ensure that all windows and doors are securely locked (this may sound elementary, but all it takes is one of them ajar to welcome an intruder).
  • Outside Tips

  • TRIM TREES -- Finish all major yard work before you go, with special trimming attention given to trees and shrubs near windows and entries (it doesn't take much for a burglar to hide behind). Then put away all yard equipment and tools.
  • PLAN MAINTENANCE -- Line up help for outdoor chores such as mowing and manual watering so that overgrowth and faded plantings don't give away your absence.
  • IMPROVE LIGHTING -- Put all outdoor lighting on timers, and add motion--sensitive lamps in dark pockets as well as natural pathways.
  • KEY TIPS -- Remove all "secret keys" from their supposedly undisclosed outdoor locations, providing only one of your duplicates to the person who'll be in charge while you're out of town.
  • COLLECT MAIL -- Have your house helper collect mail, parcels and newspapers daily. Invite a neighbor or family member to park their car in your driveway for the duration.
  • NOTIFY POLICE -- Inform your local police department of your plans so that they can add your home to their vacation watch list. Be sure to include contact information for both your interim caretaker and you while on the road.
  • Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's Web site.

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