Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors’ opinions or evaluations.
Planning a long family vacation this season? Leaving your home vacant for an extended period brings with it the need for some special care. Even if you plan to hire a house sitter to keep things in check while you’re gone, the mechanical systems in your home can be vulnerable in your absence. Follow this guide to ensure a safe and secure home so you can relax and enjoy your vacation.
What Is A Home Mechanical System?
Home mechanical systems are the things that keep your home comfortable and safe. Plumbing, HVAC, electrical and security are the most commonly addressed systems. Water drainage, safety and insulation systems are just as important, but not talked about as much.
The Importance Of Preparing Your Home For Vacation
People who live in cold regions are familiar with winterizing their home each year. It’s performed to keep your house safe and comfortable for the difficult months ahead. Preparing your home for your absence during an extended vacation is similar, in that there are several small, simple steps to complete. The difference is, there are many more things to think about and do, while keeping in mind that you won’t be there to make adjustments later.
The importance of performing as many of these tasks as possible is hard to overstate. By following the suggestions in this article, you won’t spend too much extra money while you’re gone, and you’ll minimize the chances of being faced with large, expensive and preventable repairs when you get home.
How To Prepare Your Mechanical Systems For Vacation
Each mechanical system in your home needs special attention before you leave town. These items can be addressed to varying degrees, depending on your home’s specific systems, and how long you plan to be gone.
Some homes have elaborate security systems, while some have only door locks for security. Whatever your situation, doing what you can to prevent your home from being a target for intruders can ease your mind while you’re away.
- Put a few strategically placed lights on timers. Programmable timers that can switch lights on and off at different times each day are now available for added security.
- Suspend any daily deliveries. Mail and newspapers pile up quickly and give away the fact that nobody is home.
- Notify trusted neighbors of your absence. Notifying the local police isn’t a bad idea either.
- Hire somebody to move snow or mow grass. If it snows where you live, have snow removed from both the driveway and all the way to each entrance of the home.
- Have someone check on your home. Whether you hire someone or ask an acquaintance to monitor your home, there are several benefits. They can move your car in the driveway from time to time, or they can open and close curtains. Even setting out a decoy dog bowl can help. Anything they can do to create the illusion of occupancy is excellent.
- Illuminate the exterior of the home. Motion detecting exterior lights and dusk-to-dawn lighting makes your home unattractive to a would-be intruder.
- Set up and monitor security cameras. For the ultimate in home security, all kinds of security cameras are available. Many can be monitored 24/7 by your security company.
Making sure your heating and cooling system is operating while you’re traveling could be the difference between a pleasant homecoming or coming home to a catastrophe.
- Have your HVAC system inspected prior to leaving. Doing this early in the preparation process will allow time for any necessary repairs or maintenance to get done before your vacation.
- Set your thermostat to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Your home needs some heat to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting. Setting the heat lower than 55 degrees can be dangerous for pipes that are located away from heat sources.
- Make sure heating vents and returns are free of obstructions. Keeping heat vents clear will ensure adequate conditioned air circulation.
In many cases, simply turning off the water to the house is the best approach to securing the plumbing system. There are some things to keep in mind though.
- Turn off the water heater. If you choose to turn off all of the water in the house, be sure to turn off the water heater at the fuel source. You may also want to drain the water heater if you’ll be gone for more than a couple of weeks. If your water is staying on, you can turn the water heater down to its “vacation” temperature setting to save some energy.
- Pour antifreeze into sink traps and toilet bowls. P-traps under sinks and in toilets keep sewer gasses from entering the house by blocking them with the presence of water. Filling the traps with RV antifreeze or a similar product will keep the water from evaporating or freezing.
You can minimize your electrical costs while you’re not home.
- Unplug everything that isn’t on a timer. Phone chargers, computers and other items that are left plugged in, still use small amounts of electricity.
- Install LED bulbs in the lights that are set on a timer. LED bulbs operate at cooler temperatures than other types of bulbs. More importantly, they use less energy.
Water Drainage System
Water and ice damage gets worse the longer it continues while you’re not there to deal with it.
- Check that the sump pump is working. Be sure to check the back-up battery too, if it’s equipped with one.
- Clean out the gutters. Clean gutters are less likely to develop ice dams. They can cause expensive roof damage, especially if you’re not there to have them removed.
Home Safety System
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms should be present in every home.
- Change the batteries in smoke and CO alarms. You won’t be there to hear them if they go into alarm, but maybe a neighbor or passer-by might before it’s too late.
Smart technology for the home is improving rapidly. All-encompassing home security systems are taking the place of manual thermostats, emergency alarms, lighting and cameras. The need to perform several of the tasks in this article is becoming less necessary as more smart electronics are introduced.
For smaller budgets, smart technology can still be had in the form of smart thermostats, alarms, cameras and lighting that can be controlled right from your phone.
Vacation Preparation Checklist
Use this checklist as a guide and add items that are specific to your home.
- Put lights on timers
- Suspend mail and other deliveries
- Notify neighbors and police
- Hire snow removal or lawn mowing service
- Identify someone to check on home
- Check outdoor lighting
- Check security cameras (indoor and outdoor)
- Have HVAC inspection performed
- Have HVAC maintenance completed
- Set thermostat(s) to 55 degrees Fahrenheit
- Clear vents and returns of obstructions
- Clear area around heat source (furnace, boiler, heat pump) of items and debris
- Turn off or turn down water heater
- Drain water heater
- Put antifreeze in P-traps and toilets
- Unplug unused electronic devices
- Install LED light bulbs
- Check operation of sump pump and back up battery
- Clean out gutters
- Change batteries in smoke and CO alarms