For many people in Maryland, the December holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. Family, food, goodwill for all humankind… Much-anticipated vacation plans lend a celebratory air to the days, and decorative lights lend a twinkle to the night sky. No one wants to ruin the good tidings with problems, so if you are planning to travel this season, here are a few tips for keeping your home safe and secure. Step 1, adopt Kevin McCallister. No just kidding, Macauley Culkin is not as cherubic as he once was, so that might be weird for the neighbors. Here are things you can do:
Ask a friend or trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your home while you’re away. Nothing is more obvious to would-be intruders than a stack of newspapers littering your porch, so arrange for someone to collect your mail and watch for oddities. If your friend can’t swing by on a daily basis, you can also choose to put your mail on hold through USPS.com. If you have a security alarm, don’t forget to leave the code with your helper, and provide the police and alarm company with his or her name and phone number. Additionally, there is a new service available to homeowners, A Watchful Neighbor, a messaging service through which anyone can notify you about emergencies at your home, even if they don’t have your contact information. If the neighbor across the street happens to notice something, he or she can get ahold of you even without prior arrangements. But the old-fashioned way works, too. You can thank your helper with reciprocal service, a small gift, or some seasonal treats.
You absolutely do not want to come home from your vacation to a burst pipe, so make sure you take proactive steps to prevent freezing. Keep your heat set to a reasonable temperature (although slightly lower than normal would be advised, for cost effectiveness as well as sustainable energy practices), and make that sure your pipes are properly insulated. As a part of your seasonal home maintenance, garden hoses should be disconnected before the first freeze, since a frozen hose can expand and cause pressure throughout your plumbing system. If your mail-collecting friend has a key, ask him or her to occasionally check your faucets by running the tap for a moment. If only a trickle of water comes out, suspect a frozen pipe, likely in an exposed area where plumbing enters your home through the foundation, or along an exterior wall. If there are symptoms of a frozen pipe, mitigate the situation promptly to avoid a burst pipe and the literal floodgates open. Run the faucet, and apply heat to the likely pipe culprit with an electric heating pad, a portable space heater, a hair dryer, or warmed towels. No open flames, obviously…
If you are planning to travel, don’t share that information on public social media profiles. Sure, you can excitedly share your plans with friends and definitely post photos upon your return, but avoid preemptive announcements to a large crowd, especially if you've lost track of who exactly is on your “friends” list. You wouldn’t stand on a soapbox outside of your home yelling that you’re going out of town for two weeks, so be mindful of your behavior online as well.
It’s not necessary to turn your home into a festival of lights when you’re leaving town. In fact, if all your bulbs are aglow at 3 am, it may be a signifier that no one is at home. You can purchase light switch timers inexpensively, that turn your lights on and off according to a programmed schedule. If a person with bad intentions is watching your house to figure out if it is attended, the lights turning on and off will likely act as a deterrent.
As you prepare to unwind, take a moment to unplug appliances and electronics that may be vulnerable to damage in the event of a power surge. By doing so, you will protect your stuff, but also reduce your energy footprint while you are away, since appliances still use power even when they are switched off. Give your toaster a break! And most importantly, unplug yourself. Go on vacation. Take a break. Breathe. And when you return with your own batteries fully charged, find your home exactly the way you left it.