Taking Care Of Your Home While You're Away On Vacation
Pack Some Peace of Mind When You Travel
I don't want to spend one moment worrying about things at home while I'm on vacation -- not about the house, my dog, my plants, whether I left an appliance turned on that I shouldn't have, or if a bill will be late if not paid before I get back.
I've been away on trips often enough and for long enough that I've learned a few things the hard way, so I wanted to write this article about how to take care of home while you're away on vacation as a reminder -- a checklist of sorts -- both for me and for others. Many of these suggestions may be no-brainers, but sometimes, in the rush to get out the door or in our excitement about the trip, we can neglect to take care of them.
So take a few minutes before you close the door behind you to review and make sure you've done -- or at least considered doing -- the following to safeguard your house, your pets and plants, and your belongings....
Take Care Of Your Mail And Newspapers While You're Away on Vacation
Don't let them accumulate.
Nothing screams, "We're not home!" more than a bunch of mail stuffed in your box and a pile of newspapers on the stoop, so this is a must-do if you plan to be away for more than just a long weekend.
One option is to ask a trusted neighbor or friend to pick up your mail and newspapers while you're on vacation, or you can put both your mail delivery and newspaper subscription on hold till you return.
As for the newspaper, simply call the office and let them know. They can hold your newspapers for you.
For mail, you can request a hold for up to 30 days, either by filling out an Authorization to Hold Mail form and returning it to your local Post Office or completing your request to hold mail online. You can indicate the date you want redelivery to begin, including all of your held mail, or call 1-800-ASK-USPS when you get back and ask for redelivery.
Please note: If you go into your local Post Office to pick up your held mail, the carrier who's been holding it might be on the route and not available to locate it. It's more efficient to wait for your carrier to deliver all of your accumulated mail when you return than trying to go get it.
Take Care Of Your Plants While You're on Vacation
Don't lose what's taken so long to grow.
Chances are, if you're away for just a week or two, most houseplants would survive if watered well right before you leave. They may be limp and wilted upon your return, but a good watering would probably revive them.
But why put your treasured plants under such stress? There are plenty of things you can do to keep their thirst quenched and needs satisfied while you're gone.
One possibility, of course, is to ask a friend, neighbor, family-member, house-sitter or pet-sitter to tend to them, especially if that person will already be stopping by for mail and newspaper pick-up, pet care, lawn care or just to check the house. This may feel like a lot to ask of someone, though, unless you have or will be reciprocating, or they're being compensated in some way.
So if having someone water your plants isn't an option, here are some things you can do:
- In warmer weather, close the blinds or shades to keep your house cool. Plants need less water when they're cool.
- Use watering bulbs, or aqua bulbs, which will release water as the plant needs it, for up to two weeks. (See the bulbs below.)
- Create a mini greenhouse: For small plants, you can submerge them in cool water for about 20 minutes. As the soil becomes saturated, air bubbles will rise. Keep the plants submerged until you don't see any more bubbles. This means there are no pockets of air or dry soil left. Then let the plants sit until they stop dripping. Next, enclose the plants and pots in a clear plastic and inflate it like a balloon until no leaves are touching the plastic. This can be accomplished by sticking a dowel or pencil into the soil to keep the plastic away from the plant. Finally, poke holes in the bag for air circulation and tie off the plastic balloon. As moisture evaporates, it will adhere to the plastic and then drip back to the plant when the air cools. (Be sure the plants are not in direct sun, which can overheat them when enclosed in plastic.)
Water Plants While You're Traveling - Here are the watering bulbs I mentioned....
This is the type of watering bulb I've been using for up to two weeks at a time with success. Larger house plants may require two or more bulbs in order to provide sufficient water while you're away.
Just fill the globe by holding the tube end under the faucet, then turn them over and stick the tube into the soil. These can be used for hanging plants and patio plants as well.
Here's another version. You can use these as automatic plant fertilizers and feeders.
This product automatically siphon water from a nearby container when the surrounding soil becomes dryer than the ceramic spike. The spike replenishes the moisture at the same rate your plant draws it from the soil, thereby maintaining an optimum moisture level. Perfect for keeping plants watered while on vacation, or when you are too busy to tend your plants.
Take Care Of Your Pets While You're Away From Home
Our relaxing vacations can be stressful for our pets.
This is my #1 concern while I'm away, and I'm sure that's the case for most other pet-owners. If I can't take my dog with me, Iwant to feel confident that she's in good hands and minimize or, if possible, eliminate her stress while I'm off enjoying myself.
Vacation pet care options include:
- Kenneling: Kennels and boarding facilities tend to be cleaner, have fewer animals and provide more individual attention than they used to, but there are still plenty of bad apples. So getting recommendations from other pet owners you know and inspecting the facilities inside and out before committing is a must. You might also want to check with the Better Business Bureau and your veterinarian to see if there have been any complaints. Some vets also offer boarding services, which may be a consideration if your pet has special medical needs.
- Pet-sitting service: Often, a pet-sitter is no more expensive than a kennel or boarder and can even cost less if you have more than one pet. With this arrangement, our pets remain in their familiar environments--the usual sights, smells, sounds, and places to curl up for a nap--and they're not exposed to unfamiliar animals. You can arrange for a pet-sitter to stop in more than once a day, and they'll often perform other services, such as bringing in the mail and watering plants, but usually for an additional fee. Be sure to ask for and check references and meet with the pet-sitter in your home so you can show them around and your pet can meet them, too.
- Pet hotels and resorts: Though usually quite pricey, pet hotels and resorts have gained in popularity because they offer more personalized attention for your pet. Many pamper their four-legged guests with grooming, spa-like treatment and pedicures, and even offer private rooms and play areas. How much your pet will enjoy any of this would really depend on the animal's personality. Mine? I'm pretty sure she'd turn up her nose and put her tail between her legs.
- Leaving pets home alone?: I know some folks do leave their pets home alone for relatively short periods of time, and we did this ourselves when we had cats. We had an automatic feeder, a watering tank and a litter box large enough that a long weekend's worth of use wouldn't be too terribly bad for either the cats or for us when we'd return.
But I'd personally never leave my dog unattended, even with a doggy door and fenced-in yard. For one, I think an extended period of being alone would be stressful for her, not to mention the fact that I wouldn't be there to stop her from barking and disturbing the neighbors, especially at night. Add to that the possibility she could somehow get herself physically in trouble (ie. a collar caught on a fence) or even the thought of something like that--or of someone taking her--while I'd be away would bother me to no end.
Do you use a kennel or a pet-sitter while you're on vacation?
Which do you prefer? And why?
Home Care: Take Security Measures While You're Gone
Shed some light on your property.
Having a light on for a while in the evening can be a good deterrent to would-be burglars. We use a timer to turn on a living room lamp for a couple of hours, usually between 7 and 9pm. The glow can be seen through the blinds both from the front and the back of the house. (We use the energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs.)
Outside light is perhaps an even better deterrent than interior lighting, so you can set one or two of those on a timer as well--one in front and one out back. (We use compact fluorescent bulbs outdoors too.)
Image is in the public domain
A Little Light Can Go A Long Way - Set the time and duration for turning lights on and off.
The Intermatic lamp and appliance timer comes with two on/off settings and features a lighted dial. The included easy-set lighted dial automatically controls lamps and appliances, and doubles as a night light. A 15 Amp capacity controls lighting and there's a manual override on/off switch for added safety.
Motion Detectors are Another Home Security Option - Illuminate it if it moves.
The solar-powered Security Sensor LED Light has a built-in motion sensor. It's ideal for backyard security and walkway lighting as it turns on whenever movement is detected.
With a removable solar panel on a 16-foot cord, it can also be used for lighting garden sheds and other outbuildings or interior rooms. Since it's solar powered with no wiring, no electrical requirements and no battery changes or bulb maintenance, it's easy for anyone to install.
Another Recommended Motion-Sensing Option
This Heath Zenith security light features 2 Level lighting and a low-level accent light adjustable timer. Timer settings include--Off, 3-hour, 6-hour, or dusk to dawn.
The full bright security light goes on when motion is detected, and the Selectable Light Timer allows you to choose a setting of minutes before automatically shutting off lights after motion has stopped. The Automatic Photocell deactivates the unit in daylight, and the Pulse Count Technology reduces false sensing from wind and rain. A Manual Override is available so you can turn light off or on at your convenience with an existing indoor wall switch. This unit allows light to stay on continuously all night when needed.
Solar-Powered Motion Sensing
This one requires no wiring, and you can mount the solar panel anywhere. The device can detect motion at 30 feet away with a range of 180 degrees.
Solar-Powered Motion Sensing
More Home Security Measures
Some other dos and don'ts to consider
Install a Security System
Check into ADT monitored home security to protect your home while you're out of town or even just at work.
Use Window Dowels
If you have slider windows, place a dowel between the frame and the sliding panel. The dowel should be cut to just short of the exact length, so you can get it in and out of there from the inside, but it won't allow the window to be opened more than about a quarter-inch. For windows that open upwards, you can use a dowel (or two) placed vertically between the top of the sliding panel and the upper frame. It will have to be fairly snug so it won't fall out.
Check all windows to be sure they're locked.
Park a Car in the Driveway
Consider leaving a vehicle of your own in the driveway instead of inside the garage or asking a neighbor to use your driveway while you're gone.
Tell a Trusted Neighbor or Friend
If you trust a neighbor well enough, let them know you'll be away and for how long and if you expect anyone to be stopping by your home in your absence. Provide instructions and contact information in case they need to report something unusual. If you can't ask a neighbor, consider asking a good friend to stop by occasionally to check on things.
And you may want to leave them with a spare key, in case they need to check inside or if you forget to tend to something and need to call and ask them to go in.
Use padlocks on gates leading to your backyard. Don't forget those that may go from your backyard to an alleyway.
Don't Post Vacation Plans on Social Websites
Recently, I heard about criminals using Twitter to target unoccupied homes while owners would be away on vacation. As excited as we get about upcoming trips, it's best not to announce them, particularly the dates, on public social forums. Even talking specifics on Facebook isn't such a hot idea. For one, many of us "friend" people we don't know all that well or may have just an online connection with. Try to resist the urge and wait till you return to post comments about your travels. (I'm telling this to myself as much as anyone. I'm definitely guilty of this one.)
Take Care To Conserve While You're Away
Not to mention avoid wasting money
Turn down the thermostat
The temperature inside the house doesn't need to be as cozy as it might be while you're home. If we're away for a stretch in the winter, we lower our thermostat to about 52 degrees. All of our house plants are fine with that.
Turn down the water heater
Change it to the vacation setting.
Turn off strip switches and unplug your computer, etc.
We unplug our TV and stereo, computer, cable boxes, and other non-essential electronics. We also don't leave any batteries on chargers and unplug the chargers as well.
Turn down the refrigerator
Usually, when we go away, there's little in the fridge. So we turn it down--that is, turn the dial to a higher number to make it warmer. No need for it to work so hard to cool a nearly empty space.
Check your faucets and toilet
We go through the bathrooms and kitchen and give the faucets a little extra turn to make sure there are no drips. And, if you have a toilet that ever runs on its own, I'd turn the valve off down below. (And fix that as soon as you can. It can use a huge amount of water.) If we've used outside spigots recently, I check those as well. And, of course, in the winter, hoses should be removed.
Take Care Of Bills and Rent or Mortgage Payments While You're Away
Don't pay late fees.
Me, I like to pay my bills as soon as I receive them, so I always think ahead about which bills I'll be getting by mail or email while I'm on vacation. There are usually grace periods for most bills, so if you're away for just a week or two, chances are you'll have time to get your payment in, either by mail or electronically, as long as you send them as soon as you return.
But if you don't want to think about bill-paying right when you get home -- there's always plenty of other things to tend to -- then some forethought can eliminate that chore.
- If you have bills that are always the same amount, such as cable television or internet service, health insurance premiums or monthly memberships for example, just send in payment before you leave.
- Set up automatic withdrawal. Contact the billing department and ask if they do auto-withdrawal and, if so, how to arrange it. Usually, the company will send either an email (preferred) or a paper statement showing the withdrawal amount each month, so you can enter it in your checkbook and be alerted to any unusual changes. We always used auto-withdrawal for our mortgage payments, so we never had to think about them when we were away.
- Have the bill charged to your credit card. This is an another option with some companies. Just remember, you have to take care of paying credit card bills while you're away, too, in case they'll be due. But at least this method can help consolidate.
- Pay your rent early. Based on my experience working in a rental office for a while, many landlords will not accept post-dated checks. So you'll either have to pre-pay your rent, mail it from wherever you're vacationing, or have a trusted friend or family member drop it off on time while you're away. Another option, if you'll have internet access and do banking online, is to have your bank send a check, paying attention to how many days it will take for the check to arrive. To most landlords, late is late and fees will apply.
What About A Housesitter?
A possible all-in-one vacation solution
Having someone stay at your home can take care of many, most or even all of the above-mentioned considerations--your mail and newspapers, any other deliveries you might be expecting (or maybe some you're not), plant care, pet care, security, dripping faucets or running toilets, even lawn and garden care. (Though you may not want them to pay your bills ... but who knows?)
Sometimes, this can be done by a friend or family member. We've house-sat for both friends and family, and it was actually quite fun. A nice change of scenery, not to mention, on one occasion, access to a hot tub. And the owners even bought a bunch of groceries for us to use and left a gift certificate to our favorite sushi restaurant. What a deal!
But there won't always be a friend or family member willing or able to housesit, so a hired house-sitter would be an option.
Here are some tips regarding hiring a house-sitter:
- Ask friends, family and/or neighbors if they can recommend someone who'd be responsible and trustworthy, even if that person has never house-sat before.
- Check references.
- Meet with perspective house-sitters in your home.
- Write down what you want to be done, when and how.
- Write down the rules (ie. no guests) and any don'ts such as homeowners association rules (ie. no parking on the street).
- Have a back-up plan, just in case your house-sitter cancels at the last moment or has to leave before you return.
- Ask a neighbor, friend or family member to stop by and check on things, maybe once a week. (Personally, I'd tell the house-sitter I was going to do this. And be sure that it's not too early in the morning or late at night.)
- Post important phone numbers, such as utility companies, and local emergency contacts including a friend or family member.
If you can't find someone by referral, you can try a house-sitting service or directory, such as HouseSittingWorld.com. In fact, do a search online, and you'll find no shortage of these websites. You can also check your local Yellow Pages for house-sitting services in the area.
Looking for a long-term house-sitter?
If you'll be away for more than a week or two--perhaps for a month or more or seasonally--you might want to try the Caretaker Gazette.
You can place an ad or look through the "situation wanted" ads by those who are looking for caretaking and housesitting positions. Longer-term house-sitting is often an exchange rather than a paid position, but this will depend on how much you'll be asking someone to do.
I do have experience using the Gazette, but my husband and ( used it to find property caretaking and house-sitting situations rather than as property owners. Still, I think it's a great publication.
Tell Us What You Think About Using A House-Sitter
Have you or would you use a house-sitter?
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury