Photo by Renee McGurk via CC BY 2.0

Before You Go: Steps to Keep Your Home Safe During a Winter Vacation

The snow has certainly been piling up in Chicago this year. And, for some people, that means it’s time for a getaway to someplace warm and snow-free.

Before you go away, though, remember to take some simple steps to protect your home from the elements and from thieves. After all, nothing will put a quicker end to your vacation afterglow than a burst water pipe or a home break-in.

Protect your home from burglars

According to FBI statistics, there were 71,101 burglaries in Illinois in 2012, a rate of 552.2 per 100,000 people. More than 50,000 occurred in the Chicago area alone (though, those statistics also include parts of Lake County, Ind., and southern Wisconsin).

Regardless, burglars typically look for signs that a home is empty and the owners are away for a while. Before you head out for your trip, consider the Chicago Police Department’s tips to make your home look lived-in while you’re away:

1. Have a neighbor pick up your mail and newspapers every day.

A pile of papers and mail spilling out of the mailbox is a pretty good sign that nobody is home. If you don’t want to ask a neighbor, you can also suspend mail delivery while you’re away. You can submit a request for the post office to put your mail on hold (they’ll keep things until you return). Many newspapers will let you do the same.

2. Put your lights on an automatic timer.

A dark house can be an invitation to burglars, but so can a house that has several lights on 24 hours a day (an obvious sign that you’re trying to make the home look lived-in). Instead, use timers that can turn the lights on and off at appropriate times. You can put different lights on different timers, to give the appearance that people are moving to different rooms during the evening.

3. Friendly neighbors can help with more than just mail pickup.

Have them use your trash cans occasionally. Maybe they can park their cars in your driveway. Or, if they have access to your home, they could occasionally adjust the position of the window shades. But, take the CPD’s advice and leave the shades somewhat open so police or passersby can see if something wrong is going on inside.

Protect your home from the elements

Cold temperatures can be another problem for your home while you’re away. If water freezes inside a pipe, for instance, it can expand and block the pipe, increasing water pressure in the rest of the house. That can eventually cause the pipe to burst.

In the short term, Allstate and the Insurance Information Institute suggest letting a faucet drip during cold weather to avoid the problem. If you’re going to be away for a long time, though, you may want to close the main water valve and drain the water out of your pipes before you go.

Snow can be another issue. Make arrangements to have someone shovel your driveway or walkways if it snows when you are away. Again, this gives the home an “occupied” look. And, while it also can also be a matter of courtesy to people who need to walk on the sidewalk in front of your house, in Chicago, it’s the law: Property owners or residents are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear.

Taking these simple precautions before your winter travels can help protect your home and prevent any unwelcome surprises when you come back from your time in the sun.

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