How To Prepare Your Home For An Extended Vacation

How to Prepare Your Home For An Extended Vacation

You may be heading out for a long weekend or leaving on a round-the-world cruise; either way, you want your time away from home to transport you to a different state of mind. This is why knowing how to prepare your home for an extended vacation is so important. 

Part of planning your vacation is preparing your home for your absence. We always start with a list of tasks we need to complete to prepare our home for vacation.  Lists keep you on track and help make sure you don’t forget a critical item. 

Checklist for Preparing Your Home For An Extended Vacation

Once you have your master list, I recommend you store it on your computer or phone.  Using One Drive, iCloud, or Google Docs makes your list easy to access, update, and print out before every trip.

When you complete each item and check it off, you will feel one step closer to vacation.  And when you finally close and lock the front door, you do so knowing you did everything reasonable to prepare your home for vacation.

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Prepare Your Home For An Extended Vacation – Start Inside The House

Small Appliances and Electronics

Unplug small appliances and electronic devices.  This lowers the chance that a power surge would damage your items and, perhaps worse, cause a spark.  Also, you will save a modest amount of electricity; no “vampires” here!

Prepare Your Water Heater For Vacation

If you have a tankless water heater, none of this applies, and you can skip this section.

A standard 40 + gallon water heater generally has a vacation mode setting, which is the lowest setting for the system.  Again, you will be saving energy as you won’t be heating the water all the time.

Man Setting Water Heater to Vacation Mode

If your water heater does not have a vacation mode, you can turn it off entirely and shut down the water supply.  This will require more effort to get the hot water back up and running when you return but won’t hurt your water heater.

Other Plumbing Needs Attention Too

When you prepare your home for an extended absence, it always involves plumbing.  Inspect the supply lines to all of your sinks, washers, and toilets.  We choose to shut off the water valve for our washer.  It is recommended you shut off the valves for your sinks and bathrooms as well.  We don’t do this. 

However, we invested in a water monitoring system by Moen, called Flo.  The system monitors the water usage in your home. Flo connects to your home WiFi and will notify you when it senses unusual use that would indicate a leak.   If you don’t respond to the notification, Flo will shut off the water to your home.

Flo Water Monitor - Part of A Smart Home
Yes, this photo is upside down – Just the way we had to install our Flo!

Flo also has leak sensors to add to the system for areas likely to create problems, such as by a toilet or under a sink.

Does Flo work? Yes!  Fortunately, we have not had an actual leak. But during one vacation, we had our contractor working on some items in the house.  He used the hall bath and forgot to shut off the sink faucet after. 

Flo notified us that there was a running water issue and shut off the water.  It took us a few minutes to figure out what happened when we got home.  There was no likelihood of flooding in this instance.  However, if the water had been left on, we would have paid our local water department for around 14,400 gallons of water that just went down the drain.

Flo must be installed on the main between the main shut-off valve for your home and your water supply.  Unless you are very good with plumbing, I would recommend having Flo installed professionally.    

Prepare Your Home By Removing Things That May Smell

Right before you leave, run your garbage disposal with a half-cup of vinegar and some water.  This will clear any food items left in the disposal, and the vinegar helps reduce bacteria.

Clean out your fridge, and don’t forget the extra one in the garage.  Throw away food that will go bad while you’re gone. Wipe down the shelves.  If there are items like cheese, milk, or bread that you would like to have on hand when you return, freeze them.  You can quickly Google food items to see if they are safe to freeze.

Clean Out Your Refrigerator Before You Leave On An Extended Vacation

In your cupboards, make sure there are no open items that might attract pests.  Everything should be sealed in plastic or glass.

Make sure to take out the kitchen trash – especially anything that might start to stink and check the other trash cans throughout the house.   

Don’t forget to empty the dishwasher and leave it cracked open (if possible).  This way, any standing water in the system evaporates, and you won’t end up with stale, moldy smells.

Your HVAC System Needs Attention Too

Remember to program your thermostat appropriately for the season.  For a winter trip, you want to set the thermostat to a low temperature to minimize the energy spent on heating an empty house.  But remember to keep the house warm enough so pipes won’t freeze.  

In summer,  you may want to turn off the system altogether.  If not, set the thermostat to a higher temperature so the air conditioning won’t run unnecessarily.

We have the Google Nest System in our home.  Nest allows us to set automations that run based on the time of day and the temperature outside and inside the house. The app (either Nest or Google Home) lets us turn on the heat or AC when we are close to home.  This way, the house is at a comfortable temperature when we arrive home.

Don’t Forget To Prepare These Other Important Items For Your Absence

Think About Your Pet’s Needs While You’re Gone

Unless you are taking your pet(s) along on your vacation, they will need special consideration. It’s best to make plans for their well-being early as pet sitters and boarding facilities fill up quickly. 

Make sure the pet sitter or boarding facility has detailed care instructions. Ensure whoever you choose has plenty of your pet’s favorite foods, treats, toys, medicines, and other supplies on hand.

Do You Have A Pool or Spa?

A pool or spa adds a few more chores to your list of things to do before you head out. Turn off the pool/spa heater, but leave the pump running.  The circulating water will avoid algae buildup and keep mosquito larvae from forming.  Make sure to use a cover to keep leaves and debris away. 

Clean The Gutters and Downspouts To Avoid Leaks

You need to do additional things for a winter trip to prepare your home for your vacation. Before you go, make sure you have insulated all exposed (i.e., outside) pipes to prevent them from freezing.  Clean your gutters to avoid backup in the case of heavy rains and ice buildup if you live in a place that freezes.

Gutter Cleaning Before Leaving On Vacation

You may want to spray for bugs in critical areas around your house so bugs will steer clear while you’re gone.

A House That Looks Lived-In Is Important While You Are Away

Many thieves case neighborhoods day and night looking for signs of empty houses.  To keep your home looking occupied:

Place several lights on timers throughout your house.  Use multiple timers and set the timers in different parts of the house.  Program the timers to turn on at times when you would typically be in those rooms.

Think about your window coverings.  It is generally recommended that you keep the blinds on all first-floor windows closed. This way, burglars can’t see into your home without a ladder. 

But closed blinds for weeks at a time is also a sign of an empty house.  You can ask a friend or a housesitter to change this up from time to time.

More Things To Add To The List

Mail Piling Up While You Are On Vacation!
  • Stop any newspaper and mail – or ask a trusted neighbor/friend to pick them up and hold them for your return.
  • Park your car inside your garage, and then disconnect the receiver of your electric garage door opener.
  • Ask that same friend/neighbor to park in your driveway occasionally.  This shows activity at your house.
  • Burglars hate outdoor lighting; it increases the chances they will be seen. Install motion-activated sensors on outdoor lighting.
  • Make sure your lawn stays trimmed.  Invest in a gardener when you are gone or have this as a chore for your housesitter.
  • Don’t hide your house keys anywhere around your home.   Any good burglar knows to look under the mat, in a fake rock, or inside a magnetic house key box stuck to the underside of an outdoor pipe.
  • Test your smoke detectors before you leave to ensure they are working correctly.

Hire A Housitter While You’re Away From Home

If you can afford to, hire a housesitter (or ask a trusted friend or neighbor) to make periodic checks inside your home.  Have a list of things you want your housesitter to complete every visit.  These tasks can include:

Prepare Your Home For An Extended Vacation - Housesitter Watering Plants
  • Water the plants.
  • Confirm mail is being held or collected.
  • Open and close window coverings
  • Mow the lawn unless you have a gardener doing this.
  • Have them flush the toilets so that sewer gases don’t build up.  This is especially important if your home is on a septic tank.
  • On the last day, have the housesitter adjust the thermostat to a comfortable setting.  This way, you arrive home to a cozy space.

If You Travel Frequently Consider Investing In A Smart Home System

We have set up a pretty good “Smart Home” system with our Nest and other Google Home products.  

Smart Home Apps Controlled From Your Phone

Our lighting is set up to run routines even when we are at home.  These routines can be continued when we are gone, with no more timers to plug in and set.

The Nest thermostat goes into away mode whenever I leave the house (it recognizes when my phone is home and adjusts from there).  This means I don’t have to worry about the HVAC running when it’s not needed. 

The Yale (Nest/Google) Lock we have on the doors can be set up with unique codes to allow in your housesitter while you are gone. 

Yale Lock

Our window blinds are on motorized controllers that are also programmable.  We set a routine for summer and winter, and these will run even when we are not at home.

The irrigation and outside lighting are all on routines that follow the seasons.  This is important as you want to make sure your lights come on when it’s dark and go off when it’s light.  Lighting that is not operating at the correct times is another sign of an empty house.

We can make adjustments or corrections with each of these systems while away from the app on our phones. 

Of course, all of these systems rely on the power working and your home internet connection being available.  So lastly, we have installed a modem/router that will alert us when the system is down.

How To Prepare Your Car For Your Extended Vacation

Yes, even your car needs some care when you are going to be taking an extended vacation.   The ideal way to do this is to leave your vehicle parked in a garage.  This way, your car is out of the elements and out of sight.  Ask your neighbor, friend, or housesitter to start and drive the car every week or two.

If it’s not possible to have someone drive your car while you are gone, either put a trickle charger on the battery or disconnect the battery to prevent drainage. 

Ensure that whoever is watching your home while you are off traveling the world knows where your car keys are located.  There may be an emergency that requires your car to be relocated.

Are rodents a problem in your area?  You can place dryer sheets around the car to keep them from chewing on wires. Rodents hate the smell of dryer sheets.

Prepare For Your Return Home From Your Travels

There is nothing worse than getting home from a great trip and having to do chores.  A little planning before you go will make returning home a little easier.

Unpacking your stuff when you get home

You will have enough work to do when you get home, just unpacking!  Cleaning the house should not be part of the chores. Before you leave, sweep or vacuum floors; make sure the dishes are clean;  wipe down the counters in the bathroom and kitchen, and make sure the toilets are sparkling. 

Have some breakfast foods on hand like cold cereal, coffee, and a container of shelf-stable milk.  Also, have one or two frozen entrees you can heat up for dinner.

Keep the house smelling fresh with plugin air fresheners so you’ll be greeted by freshness when you open the door.

Change your bedsheets before you leave; this makes for a welcoming first night.

When you prepare your home for an extended vacation, you save yourself from a potentially big problem later.

And if you’ve got one, don’t forget to set the house alarm on your way out the door!

Alarm Panel

Prepare Your Home for an Extended Vacation

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