August 10, 2019

Protecting Your Home While on Vacation: Tips For Keeping Your Home Safe While You’re Away

Have you ever left the house and hit the highway or arrived at the airport, then had a moment of panic wondering if you locked the front door, or closed the bathroom window before you left?

It happens all the time. In fact, a friend of mine told me that she was so frazzled getting ready for a weekend away, that after strapping her two young children into their car seats and stowing their gear, she drove off without remembering to go back and lock the front door.

When her husband came home, not only was the door unlocked, it was wide-open!

Luckily, for my friend, there was no break-in, but this story shows how important it can be to do some home security pre-trip planning as part of your vacation preparations.

The following is a short home security checklist you can go through prior to your next vacation or trip to the cottage.

Vacation-proof your home while away

Start by thinking like a thief: Walk around your property and try to imagine what a would-be thief might see. Think back to any time you’ve forgotten your keys or been locked out of your house. Did you manage to open a basement window, or push open a wobbly back door?

If you were able to get in, then a burglar can too.

1) Check doors, locks and strike plates.

Statistics suggest that 65 percent of break-ins occur by thieves forcing in a front, back, or garage door. By focusing on the most common ways burglars enter a home, you can better protect any vulnerabilities. This means that door, and lock maintenance should be on the top of your ‘pre-vacation checklist’.

  • Start by checking the door’s stability. Look at the frame around the door, inspect hinges for loose bolts/screws, and ensure the door is secured by a deadbolt. Any door with a simple lock on the doorknob is not secure.
  • Ensure the door jam has a strike plate into which the deadbolt fits. Also check that the strike plate is secured by 3 inch long screws to reinforce the entire door jamb against any break-in attempts.

You might be thinking: “strike plates!?  I’m not about to haul out the power tools for a week away!” Fear not. These can be purchased at your local hardware store for less than $10 and installation can take about 10 minutes requiring nothing more than some wood screws and a good screwdriver.

2) Inspect your windows.

Again, thinking like a burglar, have you ever slid one of your bathroom windows open? Are any of the windows or screens broken or torn, offering easy access?

  • Check to ensure windows can be closed and locked effectively.
  • Make a checklist of all accessible windows in the house  — from the basement and up to each bedroom — and ensure all of the windows are closed and locked shut before you leave.

3) Figure out if your landscaping helps or hinders a burglar.

Take a look at your front and backyard from a burglar’s perspective. For example, you may love the privacy your eight-foot tall hedge provides, but it may also offer a would-be burglar with cover as he removes your valuables.

Try maintaining your yard so that it limits potential hiding spots or blind spots from the street or your neighbours. Alternately, a strategically placed thorny bush under a window might make access points less desirable targets for burglars.  

4) Stash valuables where burglars typically won’t think to look.

Let me guess?  Your valuables are hidden in one of your dresser drawers, in a heating vent, or at the back of your closet.  

According to crime statistics, the average duration of a home break-in is between 8 and 10 minutes. That means burglars will target what is easy to find fast and carry out quickly.  Likely targets include highly valuable items like small electronics, jewelry, cash, and even prescription drugs.

To make a burglar’s job more difficult, brainstorm 10 places where you would likely store or hide your possessions (e.g., safes, closets, dresser drawers, freezers, and under a mattress) …then throw away that list. Those are likely the first places that burglars will look as well.    

If you have some time, invest in building a hidden shelf, or small closet. If you’re tight on time, Amazon has plenty of options for ‘false’ clocks, air vents, or vases.  In a pinch? Stash your valuables in something that looks unassuming, such as a falsely-labelled cereal box, or a Tupperware container.  

Just one of the many hidden safe options available.

5) Store high-priced items out of sight.

Don’t leave expensive items such as TV’s gaming consoles, laptops, tablets, camera equipment, etc. in plain sight. These are easy targets for burglars. Before you go away, simply tuck these away (when possible) or at least out of sight from doors or windows. If a quick scan of your living room, family room or office through a window reveals no easy targets, it can be the difference between a burglar choosing your home, or moving on to someone else’s.  

6) Install security cameras and monitoring system warning stickers in strategic locations.

There are some things that you want in plain sight that will act as an effective deterrent.

When scoping out a home to break into, burglars are looking for a path of least resistance.  If your home has visible exterior cameras with security system warning stickers clearly posted (and up to date), this may be enough to deter would-be criminals.  

When choosing a camera, newer cameras with audio capabilities are your best bet. There are many videos online that show home owners simply asking if they can help the person peering into the front door or window and this alone sends would-be burglars running!

Leaving your house empty while on vacation?

There are also a few easy steps you can take to ensure your home appears to be lived-in even while you’re away. These include:

  • Ensuring the lawn has been recently mowed in the warmer months, or the driveway and pathways are recently shovelled in winter. This makes it appear as if the homeowner is around. If you’ll be away for extended periods of time, ask a friendly neighbour to help cut grass or shovel, or hire a lawn or snow removal service. It can be a worthwhile investment.
  • Putting some lights on a timer. Exterior lights can deter would-be criminals — illuminating their potential access points. Putting a simple timer on exterior as well as interior lights gives the appearance of activity in and around the home while you are away. This is perhaps the number one, most cost-effective way to deter burglars. You can also set a timer on a radio, so that this comes on and off each evening and morning.  But put the timers, lamps or radios out of sight of windows, so someone looking in can’t see them coming on.
  • Informing your neighbours. This may be common sense, but it’s important that your neighbours know you’re away so they can keep a watchful eye on your property. Also, ask if they’d consider parking a car in your driveway while you’re away, so that would-be burglars think there is someone coming and going from your home.

Crime protection tactics that may not be effective break-in deterrents

Honest insight from former burglars suggest that some of the tactics many of us are using in the hopes of preventing break-ins, just don’t work. Here are a few examples:

  • Cameras that are not networked to a home security system: Often, homeowners want to install cameras thinking that they’ll be a sure-fire deterrent for criminals but this isn’t always the case.  Doorbell cameras usually only focus on front entrances, and are easily removable with a single swipe. Many criminals are aware of the popularity of these devices and so they’ll hide their faces, grab the doorbell camera, and proceed to break-in to a home.  Cameras can be a useful monitoring tool when used as one component of a home security system, but their effectiveness on their own to deter break-ins is decreasing.
  • ‘Beware of Dog’ Signs: While you may have hoped that a ‘beware of dog’ sign on your gate might scare away would-be burglars, it might actually alert a resourceful thief to the fact that they can avoid triggering an alarm.
  • A part-time house sitter: Statistics show that most break-ins occur between 10 am and 3 pm, or during working hours. If you’re hiring a house sitter simply to watch your home at night, or after their ‘day job’, you’re statistically still as exposed to a break-in as you would be without a house sitter.  However, if you plan to be away from home for several weeks, you are probably better off hiring a full-time house sitter than you would be leaving your house vacant.
  • Renting your home as an Airbnb or having a pet-sitter live in your home: The challenge with renting out your home, or having a pet sitter you don’t know, is that you don’t really know if these people can be trusted to take care of your property or if they are an additional threat, especially to your personal items and valuables. If you decide to rent out your home, prepare for a house sitter as if your 16-year old nephew were watching your house (and assume he’s going to throw a small party).  Put away moveable valuables in non-obvious places, lock or block access to ‘off-limits’ areas (master bedroom, offices, etc.), and put away breakable items that are out in the open. Alternatively, pay your nephew $20 to come to your house and do an ‘audit’ of what he’d put away before a party – could be the best $20 you’ve spent!

Planning for peace-of-mind while you’re away

Whether you are planning a beach vacation, a week at the cottage or you’re a snowbird flying away for a few months each winter, take the time to go through this home security Vacation Checklist. It should offer you peace-of-mind that while you’re away your property is safe and secure.

While we’ve outlined some basic steps you can take to secure your home, for more information on how to conduct a more in-depth home security assessment, see our Free Home Security Assessment Tool.

Considering getting started with a home monitoring system?

If you think it’s time you looked at a home security system, you can start by checking out our post on How Security Systems Work.

When you’re ready to discuss your home security needs and want to speak with one of our representatives about your smart home and security options? Contact JM Security Canada, for a no-pressure conversation with one of our Solutions Experts.

Have a great (and safe) vacation!

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