These are great tips for any season!
- Get it Fixed
Before you leave, resolve any known home maintenance and repair issues that have the potential to go from bad to worse while you’re gone. A slow drip under the sink, a window or door that leaks when the rain comes from just the right direction, a breaker that trips often during thunder storms, gutters that overflow and cascade water down around doors and windows, or a number of other issues that you’ve been keeping an eye on. When you’re home, you may have gotten used to managing these issues, but should they go from bad to worse while you’re away, damage can happen fast. These issues need to be dealt with anyway and by resolving them prior to your trip you ensure no surprises when you return and peace of mind while on your trip.
- Turn it Off
Turn off the water supply (H&C) to your washing machine. The water is always ‘on’ and the machines themself control the flow when it’s not running. The black rubber hoses that come with the washing machine are rated for a three-year life, but we commonly see homeowners with 10+ year old machines with the original hoses. It’s not an issue till those hoses fail, and Murphy’s Law states this will happen while you’re at work or on vacation. Homes flood from bursting hoses more often than many would think. Unrelated to your travel plans, if your hoses are more than three years old, its time to replace them. Replacement hoses wrapped with braided steel or nylon are rated to last longer, but not as long as the life of your machine.
- Keep it Level
If you have a programmable thermostat, keep it at a constant temperature for the period you’ll be gone. This isn’t designed for comfort, just practicality. If it normally runs at one temperature while you’re at work, but warms or cools prior to your arrival home, then the temperature setting for when nobody is home might be the right one. It needs to be warm enough during winter that pipes don’t freeze and cool enough during summer that you don’t ‘cook’ the houseplant, or any pets the neighbors might be feeding. If you’ll be on an extended trip during warm humid months, a bit of cooling pulls moisture from the home and prevents mold. We commonly see homes that have been vacant and closed up without power for extended periods (such as foreclosed houses back on the market) that have mold issues, peeling wallpaper and a dank smell. This won’t happen while you’re on a one-week cruise, regardless of your setting, but this is what you’re guarding against on an extended trip.
- Turn it Off…Again
Most homes have an electric water heater. If you’re going to be gone longer than a week, it’s a good idea to turn it off. There’s no reason to keep all the water warm if nobody is home to use it. To turn off an electric water heater, turn off the circuit breaker or simply remove the fuse. To turn of a natural gas water heater, switch the setting to ‘pilot.’ If you choose to turn of the water heater, make sure you also drain the pipes by opening faucets. But, keep in mind that when you return you’ll have to wait for it to recharge before its ready to use again.
A licensed electrician can help you understand how your system is setup, and can discuss the options for installing a timer on your water heater, if desired. Going ‘tankless’ may also be an option worth considering if your water heater is nearing its useful life.
- Keep ‘Em Open (or Closed)
Consider whether to open or close the blinds based on the season. Sun streaming through glass can be quite warming. Opening things up during winter months will reduce the amount of time your HVAC units need to run to warm your home. Reversing this, and closing blinds and curtains, will keep the sun’s rays out and reduce the cooling needs of your home during warmer seasons. This thought process can be leveraged year round, whether you are traveling or not, to help with your energy bills. Few like to live in a cave, but you can open or close the blinds and curtains on the East side of your home in the morning, and the West side of the home in the afternoon – thus dealing with the sun when it’s coming through those windows to assist with your cooling or warming needs.
- Lock it Up
While this sounds obvious, homes have many entry points. You may have doors, windows, maybe a basement access that allows entry to the home. Make sure all are secure. The night before you leave, or the morning of the trip, go door to door, and window to window, and make sure somebody hasn’t unlocked them. Windows often get closed, but less often get locked. Don’t assume it, check it out.
- Clean it Out
Clean out the fridge and take out the trash, in that order. Obviously there’s a difference between getting away for the weekend, and that month long trip of a lifetime to the home of your ancestors. Milk spoils, fruits and veggies and meat products rot and you simply don’t want to return from a long trip to a science experiment in your fridge. Consider the length of your trip, and the potential for delays in getting home, and clean out the fridge(s) as appropriate. Whatever goes in the trash must then leave the home or you are simply moving the science experiment from one location to another. Things decaying in the trashcan will also attract roaches and other non-desirable pests.
- Outsource the Credible
The pool, for those who have them, is another mechanical system that is generally run from a timer but likely needs regular maintenance. If you generally deal with your own pool needs, checking PH, cleaning, adding chemicals and algaecide as needed—during an extended trip it might be useful to get outside help. There are plenty of reputable independent and chain pool services that can do a spot service while you’re away. Ask around and find somebody your friends and neighbors trust.
- Tell Someone You Trust
Let a neighbor know you’re going, ask them to keep their eyes open and if you trust this neighbor consider giving them a key. Depending on the duration of your trip, having someone to walk through on a regular basis will keep surprise crises at bay. We were away for a weeklong trip once when a thunderstorm came through. Power was lost and then came back some time later, all the clocks were blinking upon our return. In the process the breaker for the kitchen tripped, killing power to the fridge and freezer. We had cleaned the fridge out, but all the food in the freezer thawed, including several pounds of shrimp, and we had quite a smelly mess upon our return.
- Do a Final Sweep
Finally, one last check before leaving the home. Especially in homes with kids, there are usually a few “one last thing” trips back into the home before you load up and head off on your trip. Those hurried trips into the home can leave lights on, toilets running, or previously locked doors unlocked. The last person from the home should be responsible with an eye out for problems, and not be primarily worried about getting a window seat as you depart on your grand adventure.
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