Taking a vacation at the end of the peak summer traveling season might be cheaper and easier, but returning from your trip to go back to work, catch up on a backlog of projects and open a stack of bills that accumulated during a blissful absence will still be tough. Some things — especially the rather unpleasant ones — can’t be controlled or avoided. But homeowners can take practical steps to ensure that they come back to a welcoming home and that while they are gone their house remains safe and secure.
Here are some tips to help prep a home so that it is not a source of worry while vacationing:
• Turn the water heater to its vacation setting. Otherwise each time the water in the tank cools, the unit will reheat unnecessarily. It will repeatedly cool off and then get reheated, wasting energy and money. The vacation setting is usually a dial or knob located on the base of the water tank and it has two or three different settings or modes.
• Another alternative is to replace conventional water heaters with “heat on demand” units. These only operate when hot waters taps are turned on, so they save money and energy all year long.
• Websites like SmartHome.com offer cutting edge home monitoring gadgetry, including devices such as “Cyber-Rain” — a wireless control unit that works with lawn sprinkler systems. For under $400, consumers can buy the kit and control watering via the internet. Just check the local weather at home on one web page and then click the computer mouse at the secure wireless irrigation site to water the lawn or garden as needed.
• Companies, including Lutron, offer advanced home programming technologies that enable a wide variety of controls while away on vacation. These systems can monitor and record the pattern of usage of light switches while homeowners are home, for instance, and then automatically reactivate those same realistic patterns when the vacation setting is activated. Reenact normal life at home while thousands of miles away to fool people into thinking a home is occupied — even when it is empty.
• A telephone interface component can be also be added to many of these high-tech monitoring systems to allow access and control of various home electronics via a touchtone telephone. Just call in, punch in a code and turn on and off lights or other devices.
• The most sophisticated systems use special sensors or motion detectors placed around the home to detect everything from an opened window to a flooded basement or faulty air conditioning system. When triggered they send an email or text message to the homeowner, or alert them through a handy key fob gadget.
• Many systems also allow video surveillance via a webcam over a secure website. Keep an eye on houseplants, pets or the entrance to a home by just logging on via a laptop or other broadband connection.
• For most homeowners, however, the most affordable and dependable protection is a qualified house sitter. When choosing one check other client references and make sure that the sitter is adequately bonded and insured. If they are responsible for pets or plants, check to make sure they have appropriate training and credentials.
• Have someone pick up unexpected parcels, advertisement fliers and other telltale signs that nobody is home.
• Garbage cans and recycling bins that remain empty for weeks indicate an empty house, so have a neighbor use them occasionally and then drag them to the curb on trash day.
• Drawing the curtains closed telegraphs vacancy, but pulling sheers closed is an effective way to obscure windows without making the house appear to be unoccupied.
• When using electrical timing gadgets, don’t just set them to turn lights on and off, but also have them operate radios and televisions.
• Put a padlock on the inside of the garage door so that it cannot be pried open from outside. Also turn the telephone ringers to silent mode.
• If vehicles are left behind, have someone use them once in a while so that they aren’t always parked in the driveway. When no cars are left behind, have a neighbor use the driveway so it looks like somebody is home.
• When homeowners are vacationing on holidays, chances are high that doctors are on vacation too, and the local veterinary clinic may be closed. Those who leave pets behind should get the phone number of a 24-hour emergency veterinary care and share it with neighbors and house sitters.
Before leaving for extended trips, spend at least a few hours readying the home. Make lists and take notes to outline strategies and then save the plans in a vacation file. Once a plan has been successfully devised it can be repeatedly implemented each time a holiday opportunity arises, so the entire process becomes easier with practice.
— Jeff Hammerberg is the founder and president of GayRealEstate.com, an online service specializing in finding homes for the LGBT consumer. www.GayRealEstate.com.