It is here – SUMMER officially begins in just a few short days and we are starting to feel the heat and humidity here in the Westminster area and surrounding Maryland and Pennsylvania towns! Schools are finishing up their final days of the year and the kids (and Teachers!) are excited for a hard-earned Summer break. With Summer breaks comes the Vacation season, and with some preparation and prevention, we can truly rest easy as we travel away from Home Sweet Home on our adventures. Even us Home Inspectors tend to take some time off during the summer months to enjoy with our families! Since Summer brings many travel plans with it, I thought it would be a good time to give you Maryland and Pennsylvania homeowners some tips on how to keep your home safe and sound as you travel (and even help to curb your utility bills a little)! Here are some tips to help you and your family have a safe travel season and to help you keep your home secure as you do.
Social Media Safety
Many of us LOVE social media, and that can be both good and bad. Whether you enjoy posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or a host of other sites and apps and probably a combination of the aforementioned, we have to be very careful what we post when it comes to the safety of our homes and families. Sometimes we don’t even think twice about posting about our vacation plans – after all, we are pretty excited to let people know about our cool plans, right? With respect to your family’s and your home’s safety, it is best not to post anything about your vacation plans to public social media, and maybe even not to private circles of “friends”. By posting even seemingly minor details about our vacations, we are leaving breadcrumbs for the bad guys to know when we will not be around to protect our homes. Sometimes they will learn these details through “friends of friends of friends”, etc. Before you know it, they have pieced together when you will be gone and for how long. The thing is, you should only let those who you absolutely trust know your plans, like immediate family and perhaps a trusted neighbor or two.
Trick Them Into Thinking You’re Home
If you are going to be away from home and nobody is house-sitting for you, try to make your home look like you (or somebody) is still there. For instance, you can set automatic timers for a couple of lights to turn on and turn off at particular times. It is a good idea to pick a couple rooms on different levels and facing different directions. Set the timer to turn lights on about a half hour or so before dark, and to turn off around bedtime or maybe even a bit later than your normal time you would be heading to sleep. You can get temporary/portable timers that plug in-line between your light and the electrical receptacle for convenience. Also, for year-round safety, you can purchase programmable electronic timer switches that mount in-wall and replace your normal light switches for your exterior lights at porches/entrances, garages, walkways, etc. Some of these switches will even adjust daily for the amount of daylight present and automatically adjust for Daylight Savings Time! Have the Postal Service and Newspaper delivery services stopped temporarily while you are away, or have a neighbor collect your mail and papers for you to show some physical activity and presence around your property. If you are leaving a vehicle or two at home, park one or two in the driveway to help make it appear like someone is present. Better yet, ask a trusted neighbor to park his/her car in your driveway to help make it look like someone is home and actively coming and going. If you have a trusted landscaper, ask them to do some landscape work for you during your travel time to help give the appearance that the home is actively occupied.
Of course, year-round physical security of our homes is always important, but even more so while we are away. If you have an alarm system, monitored or not, be sure to set it. If you have sign(s) for the security system, make sure they are posted and visible around the property to help deter ill will. If you have a video surveillance system, check it before you leave to make sure all the stations and devices are working properly and recording. If you do not have a system, consider purchasing and installing one or getting one installed. Brace lower level windows or any windows that might be accessible for break-in. You can purchase extra window latching/security devices, or you can do-it-yourself by cutting exact length pieces of board, pipe, etc. to fit between window sashes. Additionally, you can purchase or make do-it-yourself door braces that you can place under the door knobs of exterior doors, particularly at ones at side and/or rear entrances that might be easier for criminals to hide their activity. Tell a trusted neighbor or two about your travel plans and ask them to keep an extra eye open for any suspicious activity that might happen while you are away. Make sure they have a phone number or two to contact you in case of emergency, too. If you, like many of us, have a spare key “hidden” somewhere outside for you to get into the house in case you lock yourself out, temporarily get rid of it – some criminals are smart and will look for hide-a-keys, under mats, over top door jambs/trim, etc.
While you and your family are not at home, why pay for utility usage that you are not actually using? If you do not already have a programmable thermostat, GET ONE! They pay for themselves quickly and they help year-round, not just while you are away. You do NOT want to simply turn off your HVAC system, particularly the Air Conditioning system during the summer months while you are away. First, you are going to have the house completely closed up for security. Second, summer air brings very warm, humid air to many parts of the country, particularly to Maryland and Pennsylvania. Air Conditioning systems not only remove the heat from our homes, they also have an overlooked benefit of helping to dehumidify the air in our homes, too. This helps to control unhealthy air quality by preventing unwanted problems in our homes such as mold and mildew. With many programmable thermostats you can put a temporary HOLD at a particular temperature. If you are not going to be there, why pay to cool the home to a comfortable 74 degrees? Instead, set it to maybe 80 degrees. You will still benefit from the dehumidification but you will also benefit from a lower utility bill in the process! Some programmable thermostats can even be controlled from remote via the Internet – just make sure you have secured your home network properly from would-be hackers. If your water heater has a reduced energy mode such as “Vacation Mode”, use it. These modes will set the water heater into a reduced energy consumption mode until you return it to normal mode when you return home. Go through your home before you leave and unplug Televisions, unnecessary computers, appliances, devices, etc. – you would be surprised how much energy they waste! Not only will this save energy, it will also give you the added benefit of extra fire safety while you are gone.
As home inspectors, we regularly impress upon our clients that regular home maintenance is necessary for the health and safety of the home’s occupants and to maximize the life of the home and to protect your investment. When performing a Maryland Home Inspection we will often times mention home safety tips as well. As a homeowner you can do a lot to keep your home safe both while you are home and while you are away. Do not perform any tasks or safety upgrades with which you are uncomfortable or not confident in doing – be smart and hire a professional.
Call Absolute Assurance at 443-939-HOME (4663) for all of your Home Inspection needs including full and partial home inspections for buyers/sellers/investors, rental inspections, annual home inspections, mold inspection and testing, radon testing, and water testing!