While traveling for the holidays to visit family and friends can be fun and memorable, it’s often easy to forget all the little things to get your home ready before you go. After all, you’re concentrating on what you want to pack for yourself and your family, when and where to board the pets, and where your boarding passes are — NOT what time the lights should switch off or what you should do with the water heater. So, to help you stay organized and get out the door, here’s a helpful list of the 5 tips to prepare your home for holiday travel.
1) Prepare the Lights
Having lights come on at night can improve the security of your home by making it appear someone is home. The trick is to put a few of your lights on timer switches. These are inexpensive – running between $15 and $20 – and you can set the times to turn on and off. A good tactic is to set them so that they don’t turn on or off all at once. Stagger the timer settings so that there appears to be a natural and realistic interval between lights in different rooms. If you don’t have outdoor lighting with motion-sensors, consider installing a few fixtures, as thieves hate being in the spotlight.
2) Check the Heat
When you are away from home, there’s no reason to keep the heat turned up. By lowering the thermostat to 55°F, you can prevent pipes from freezing while keeping most house plants healthy. Close curtains on any north-facing windows of your home to further reduce your energy usage. Lowering the humidity settings will also save on water and prevent condensation problems.
Apart from setting the thermostat and forgetting it, there are climate-control alternatives that can help you save even more energy. Most programmable thermostats have “vacation” settings that allow you to temporarily set a schedule that will return to the normal routine once you return. Smart thermostats, meanwhile, offer even more monitoring options because you can access them through the internet and tweak the settings based on the weather conditions back home.
3) Use Less Water
So, if you’re not going to pay for heating the home when you’re on vacation, then why pay for heating your water? Most homes rely on tank-style water heaters to heat water and keep it warm while waiting for you to use it. That uses LOTS of energy. If you have an electric water heater, turn off the breakers at the fusebox. If you have a natural gas water heater, you can set the thermostat control to its lowest setting or to “vacation”.
Another good precaution is to turn off the water supply at the main shut off to prevent water pipes from bursting (and causing damage) just in case there’s a power outage or a furnace problem that causes your home to lose heat. When you shut off the water at the main valve, open all the taps in your house for five to ten minutes to release water pressure. When you return, turn on the water at the valve first to allow any rust or sediment to wash out of the lines before you turn off the taps and turn up your water heater.
Of course, turning the water off can be a problem if you have house plants that require watering by a neighbor or house sitter. One way around this for larger plants is to fill a plastic gallon milk jug with water and poke a tiny hole in the bottom with a tack. Set the jug in the planter and the slow drip will keep the plant watered but not drowned for about a week.
4) Reduce Your Energy Usage
Okay, so you’ve got the lights set up on timers, maybe even a TV as well. What about all those other things that you’re not going to be using while you’re away? Things like microwaves, water softeners, filter systems, pumps, heaters, printers, gadget chargers, and home theatre components all use very little electricity when they’re not on (in stand by mode) —but when you add them all together, they can suck a lot of power. So, only plug in those things that you want to keep running. If you’re using a smart thermostat with a network connection, remember to leave your network “on.”
Now, let’s talk refrigerator. If you are going away for the whole winter, you’ll want to plan your meals a few weeks in advance of your trip so that you won’t be leaving perishable items in the refrigerator. You don’t want to come home to find old leftovers that have turned into science experiments. You can also turn off the ice maker.
5) Leave a Spare Key
It’s always a good idea to leave a spare key with a reliable friend or neighbor just in case something unexpected happens. Give them a list of things to check a few times while you’re gone, and determine whether they should collect your mail, care for house plants, or do any other small chores. Make sure they have your contact information and your itinerary so you can both stay informed.
House readied and bags packed? Great! It’s time to head out on your trip. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly so you can enjoy a worry-free vacation, as well as save a little extra on your home’s energy usage, too. Also, don’t forget to reward the person who’s watching your home when you return with a nice gift such as a souvenir. After all, without that neighborly help, your vacation wouldn’t be as enjoyable.