Leaving your home alone while you're on vacation? Here's how to protect it while you're gone

Mary Lou Jay

Your suitcase is packed and your tickets are in hand. But before you head out the door for your vacation, consider what you're leaving behind. Is your home ready for the time you'll be away? You don't want to return to find your electronic equipment stolen by a burglar or your hardwood floors ruined by a burst pipe. Either situation would involve a home insurance claim, and all the time, headaches and out-of-pocket expenses that come with it.

Here are some ways to make sure your home is just as you left it when you return from your trip.

To keep your home safe, don't advertise your vacation plans to outsiders. Tell family and friends you'll be gone, but try not to do it in public places where anyone including a potential burglar) can overhear.

Ask trusted neighbors to keep an eye on your home while you're away, the Phoenix Police Department recommends in its vacation checklist. You can reciprocate by watching their home when they're gone. Have them bring in the newspaper and the mail each day. You also can get the mail held and the paper stopped -- but that would involve alerting strangers to the fact that the house will be empty.

Other tips for making your house looked "lived in" include asking the neighbors to park their cars in your driveway and use your trash can so the house will appear occupied to any passersby. Have someone check inside your home at least once a day; this can also prevent a burst pipe or flooded basement from going unnoticed.

Burglars sometimes cruise neighborhoods looking for properties with un-mowed lawns or snow piled up from a previous snowstorm, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Arrange to have the lawn mowed and flowers watered during the summer, and the driveway and sidewalks shoveled during the winter. Never leave a key hidden outside your home. No matter how well you think it's hidden, burglars can probably find it.

You may have planned to put your lights on timers, but it's also a good idea to have your radio and television turned off and on automatically, too, according to State Farm. Turn the volume up so they can be heard from the outside, but turn the volume down on your phone and answering machine. State Farm Insurance recommends having your calls forwarded to another number if possible. Don't announce your absence on your home answering machine.

Most appliances should be unplugged before you go. You either can turn off the main water supply to the house for longer vacations) or the individual supply lines to the dishwasher or icemaker, for example) for shorter trips, according to Armed Forces Insurance. Don't turn off your heat or your air conditioning all the way, however. Armed Forces Insurance suggests setting your furnace at 55 degrees so your pipes won't freeze, or your air conditioner to 85 degrees so the humidity won't damage your home furnishings.

Take a final trip through the house before you leave. Check to make sure that all windows and doors are closed and locked, that there's no water running and that all unnecessary appliances are off. Then relax and enjoy your trip knowing that you've done everything you can to ensure your home's security.

If you're leaving your home vacant for a long period of time, you may need to purchase special vacant home insurance. Talk to your insurer if you're planning on being away more than a few weeks.

See how much you could save today on your home insurance. Get your free home insurance quotes today!