16 Dec 2010

Away for the Holidays? Prep Your Home

It was wonderful being in DC over Thanksgiving weekend.  We enjoyed a pretty empty city, which meant finding parking easily and going to touristy places without fighting the crowds.  I was amazed as I walked my dog in the neighborhood, though, at how many homes I saw with piles of delivered newspapers and overflowing mailboxes.  With an upswing in burglaries on the Hill this fall, residents need to use some common sense and take a few precautionary steps when going away for vacation to make sure their homes don’t become easy targets for thieves.

If you plan to be away for any length of time this holiday season, take a few tips from your friends at THIH and make your home a little safer and less attractive to scavengers.

If you have home delivery of any newspaper on a daily basis, contact that publication to temporarily stop your delivery.  The Washington Post offers this service to subscribers, and will even extend your subscription by the number of days you ask for the hold.  The temporary stop can be scheduled on their website.

The U.S. Postal Service also offers a temporary stop of mail delivery to private homes.  This hold can also be scheduled on their website.  The USPS will hold the mail and deliver it on the first day after your temporary stop, but if there are bulky items or packages note you may be asked to pick up those items at a local branch post office.

In you have a porch light or other exterior light fixtures, consider putting them on timers so they will turn on when it gets dark.  You can purchase simple timers or photo-sensors that turn on when the sun goes down at most hardware and home improvement stores.  Interior lights signal to the outside world that someone is home…so why not put one or two lights on a timer as well?  Set the timers to mimic normal daily patterns in your household, and consider using lights on first and second floors.  If you’ve put out Christmas lights, put those on a timer as well.  Some people also choose to put radio or televisions on timers thinking the sound or flickering light from the TV will discourage break-ins.

A burst water pipe is a horrible thing to come home to.  Now that we are in freezing temperatures make sure your outside hose connections are turned off from the inside shut-off valve.  Leave the outdoor valve open and disconnect the hose from the spigot; if there is water left in the outside pipe and it freezes, it can expand out of the spigot and not rupture the pipe.

A programmable thermostat can really help control your energy usage, but it’s also a helpful tool when you are away from home.  Adjust the temperature to remain low while you are gone, but high enough that it will keep your system cycling now and then.  Do not turn off the system completely, as a lack of heat in some spaces can cause pipes to freeze (like in basements).  If you do not have a programmable thermostat, set your heat to about 62 degrees—lower than when you are usually home but high enough for the system to cycle on when outside temperatures dip.

Finally, if you have neighbors you know and trust, let them know you’ll be out of town and perhaps ask them to keep an eye on your place.  If you are one of the lucky folks to have a driveway on the Hill, let your neighbor park there while you are gone.  And if you have a home alarm system, remember to set it before you leave.

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  • Anne

    Thank you for this article. One question – how do we stop the free Examiner??!! I do all the things you suggest, but the dumb Examiner paper still piles up in front of my house. I have called them directly and complained for years, but they still deliver. Does anyone out there have thoughts on this?

  • @Anne I finally called Tommy Wells’ office about it and it stopped – finally. We have to pay 5 cents for plastic bags at the stores in an effort to keep trash out of the river; meanwhile the Examiner litters our streets with their plastic bags everyday. That’s just not right…

  • Anne

    @ Claudia Good point on the plastic bags. I will call Well’s office too.

  • me

    If you are home– watch out for the burglarers who go down the street ringing doorbells to see who’s not there. A few years ago someone rang my doorbell at 11:30pm. I was in bed with all the lights off, and by the time I peeked out the window they were gone. Still, I had an uneasy feeling (why would someone ring my doorbell that late?) so I locked up everything and left to spend the night at my cousin’s house. As it turned out, after the doorbell ringer had determined I wasn’t there he gathered his friends and tools and broke in. I am so glad I wasn’t there when it happened.

  • jill

    If you have a dog, and he’s not coming with you, consider a dogsitter rather than a kennel. For about $35/day you can get someone to come in and feed/walk the dog, bring in the newspapers, etc. Not only does it deter burglarers, but it’s less stressful for the dog and you have someone who can call you if something’s amiss.

  • Amy

    Who is the $35/day dogsitter? The person I was considering for the holidays charges $65/day.

  • jill

    Capital Petsitters — I have two dogs so it’s $44/day, but for a single dog it’s $18/visit. I think it’s an extra $5 for Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, etc.


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