By Dave Colby
Whether you're shipping out on a summer vacation or a Snowbird sailing south for the winter, taking a few precautions before your trip can deter break-ins at your home while you're gone, and pave the path to a happy homecoming.
What an awful feeling. You've returned home after some time away, and as you walk into your living room, you realize things are messed up, and things are missing. The big screen TV is demolished, thrown off its pedestal onto the floor. Your laptop is missing. The autographed Ansel Adams print has been ripped from the wall. And the gold wedding band your great grandmother wore is gone.
You've left your home 'home alone', and Macaulay Culkin wasn't there to protect it. Next time, you vow to be a little more proactive.
One familiar choice is to equip the house with a professional home security alarm service that monitors your home on a 24/7 basis. You'll pay a monthly fee for daily peace of mind. But if you'd like to set up your own Ft. Knox-like safety, a myriad of home security experts offer cost-efficient and common sense ideas that if followed, should offer peace of mind anytime you leave home.
Here are eight tips you should consider:
1-Give the appearance to thieves that someone is home.
*Ask a neighbor to use your trash can while you're gone. Leaving a garbage can on the curb in front of your house on pickup day says "Hello, I'm home!" to thieves.
*Mowing the summer lawn and shoveling a winter driveway are must-do priorities. Know a responsible teenager in the neighborhood? Hire him or her. If not, call a professional service.
*Park a car outside on the driveway, not in the garage. Reconsider this suggestion, however, if your normal routine when at home is to always park in the garage. Otherwise, a car perpetually in the driveway while you're gone may look odd.
*Set timers so that inside lights turn on and off through the night at different times - and - in different rooms.
*Use timers to turn on and turn off TV's and radios, but be sure to use older analog electronic models; digital equipment may only turn on in the standby mode, and produce no sound when using a timer. Tune radios to all-talk format stations that broadcast 24/7. Loud talking radio voices can make it sound as if someone is home to a curious ear listening in from outside.
*Keep the mail and newspaper coming, but only if you have a trusted neighbor that daily can pick them up. Otherwise, put both on hold for the time you're away.
*Leave evidence dogs may be inside the home. Big dogs. An old food dish outside the back door is a good start. Buy and install a dog-barking doorbell. There are models on the Internet available for as low as $14.99.
*Turn the ringer volume up on your home phone so it can be heard on the outside when someone calls, but have the calls forwarded to your cell phone after a couple of loud rings so you can answer.
2-Don't advertise your time away on social media.
*That picture of you on the beach in Tahiti may wow your Facebook friends, but it also lets all 250 of your 'friends' know you won't be home anytime soon. Post the pictures when you get back.
3-Update the physical security of your home if necessary.
*Use hardened steel deadbolts with 1" throws for all exterior doors, and use high security strike plates with wood screws at least 3" long.
*Consider security cameras for your ultimate safety.
*Install outdoor motion-detector lights that have two bulbs in each fixture; if one burns out while you're away, there is backup.
*Trim shrubs and trees hugging your home that provide safe haven and hide thieves who may be casing the place.
4-Download one of the new home security apps.
*Connect old iOS and Android devices like cell phones to new devices, allowing you to see streamed video feeds of your home from anywhere.
*Presence is one such app, promising to send video alerts to you if motion is detected in your home. A limited version of Presence is free.
5-Be part of a neighborhood watch program if one is available to you.
*But don't hand out your house keys to just anyone unless it's to an absolutely trusted friend.
6-Alerting local police is usually a good idea.
*Some local jurisdictions will offer to drive past your home periodically when officers are not otherwise busy.
*And of course, tell your family if you'll be gone.
7-Be alert to identity theft.
*Don't leave your passport and social security card inside your top drawer under your underwear.
*Put them in a home safe that's bolted to the floor.
*Alternatively, open a security deposit box at your bank and use it.
8-Finally, take pictures of your most valuable home possessions before you leave home, or at least once a year.
*Smartphones have made this an easy task these days! You'll need pictures in case you need to file reports or claims of loss or damages with police or your insurance company when you return.
Short of stationing a sentry at your doorstep while you're gone, these ideas will make your home safer when used intelligently, and should give you the peace of mind you deserve when you finally get to take that vacation.