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A smart checklist for homeowners about to leave for summer vacation

About to head out of town for one of those final summer jaunts? Besides remembering to pack your family’s swimsuits and sunscreen, there are also some to-dos around the house that should be added to your “before we leave” checklist.

A lot can happen while you’re away, from power surges to leaks to even intruder attempts. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to ensure that your home is protected. Below, see 7 quick and easy things that will help prepare the house for your absence.

How to prep your home before you leave on vacation

1. Set your water heater on “vacation mode"

Most water heaters these days have a vacation mode that will only let it run occasionally while you’re gone. “A standard water heater holds generally between 40 and 50 gallons of water and it’s ready to use at any time,” said Rob Zadotti, founding partner of East Brunswick, New Jersey’s Gold Medal Services. “People don’t realize it’s ready to be used because it has an internal thermostat that maintains the temperature all day.” So if you’re gone for two weeks, it’ll be constantly firing up all day long to keep that temperature, he explained. Simply flip the switch before you leave and flip it back on when you get home — it should take at most 20 minutes for it to heat back up to normal.

2. Shut off water and prevent water damage

Turning off the water at the main shut-off valve will help prevent any plumbing leaks while you’re on vacation, but if you do want to keep your water on for the person checking on your house or for your lawn sprinklers, Michael Petri, owner of Petri Plumbing in Brooklyn, says there are a few proactive things you can do to prevent damage from a leak that may arise. “The two areas where you’ll generally have a problem are the water heater and washing machine,” he said. For those areas, talk to your plumber about setting up an automatic shutoff valve that can turn off the water as soon as it senses a leak.

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“I also tell people it’s important to make sure that when you run water, the drains are running freely. Say you do leave the water on and don’t shut of main valve, if the drain is clogged, water can overflow onto the floor and cause damage.” Petri recommends keeping the drains clean by using a bacterial drain conditioner, or you can make your own cleaner by mixing half a cup of vinegar with a cup of water.

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3. Make sure storm drains are clean

There’s nothing like a big summer storm to wreak havoc on your place, especially while you’re out of town. Petri says a good practice is to make sure your storm drains are flowing freely before you leave. “If a big storm comes through, it could back up into your house and flood the whole basement,” he warned.

4. Unplug appliances

Summer storms can also cause power surges, so Zadotti recommends unplugging anything that’s not a requirement while you’re gone. Not only will this protect your appliances if a surge were to happen, but it can also save energy. “There was this whole study done on phantom energy,” he said of the energy used even when an appliance is turned off. “They found that treadmills, fax machines, and printers can take five to six watts per hour,” he said. No need in using that energy if you’re not even home.

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5. Turn down the temperature

Another thing you don’t want to be using too much of while you’re away is your AC. Zadotti says he leaves his thermostat at 78-80 degrees when he’s out of town. “I wouldn’t want to let the house get much hotter than that because it can start to get really stale,” he said. In the winter, he recommends not letting it get below 60-65 degrees. You can also purchase a wireless thermostat that can communicate with your smartphone, he says. “If you’re on vacation and you see [on the app] that your house is getting hotter and hotter, it’s an indication that something went wrong.” That’s when you can phone a friend and have them check on the place for you.

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6. Embrace technology

From home monitoring systems that allow you to check in on your place via your smartphone to an app that notifies you when someone rings your doorbell and lets you talk to them, there are plenty of ways to stay connected to your home even if you’re on a beach hundreds of miles away. Zadotti also recommends investing in a smart lock for your front door that lets you send an electronic key to someone from 24 hours. “If you need to let a houseguest in or someone needs to check your home, you don’t ever have to worry about someone having your key or leaving the key outside for them,” he raved. “It also tells you when they go in and out and you can recall the key at any time."

7. Leave the lights on

“Lights are one of the best ways to give the appearance of being home,” Zadotti said, adding that when it comes to intruders, even if they know you’re gone, a well-lit home can be less attractive than a dark one. You can have an electrician install timers in your light switches, or you can buy some for your lamps. There are also day/night sensors that you can add to flood lights that will switch them on and off.

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