25 Home Protection “To Do’s” Before a Vacation & Smart Home Security Ideas

By Mike Leighton | Travel Tips and Hacks
(This page contains sponsored links see disclosure)
Burglar with a swag bag and crowbar in front of an empty house - home protection and smart home security featured image

Whether it’s a long vacation or just a quick weekend getaway, if you’re like most people you’ll prepare a packing list of essential items to take with you, this is especially important if you’re traveling with kids.

But how much time do you actually spend preparing a ‘home protection’ to-do list?

There’s nothing that can ruin a well deserved vacation more than that constant nagging thought that something bad is going to happen at home.

And if something did happen… what’s even worse is knowing that it could have been prevented!

Here’s a list of 24 home protection tips to get you started, including several smart home security ideas and smart devices you can DIY install to make your home more secure.

Part 1 – Basic Home Protection While on Vacation

Woman relaxing by the hotel pool and enjoying a cold drink

1. Trim all your hedges and mow the lawn

Mow the lawn and trim all your bushes and shrubbery. A neglected lawn is an obvious sign that your home is unoccupied, and overgrown shrubbery provides potential hiding spots a burglar might use.

Cut the grass short so it won’t be overgrown by the time you get back, and then thoroughly water the lawn to stop it from yellowing during the summer months.

2. Lock-up your garden tools and ladders

Don’t leave shovels, spades, shears or any other garden tools lying about in your garden, an opportunistic burglar could use them to force open a door or window.

Lock all your garden tools away in your shed and cover-up the shed window so no one can peek inside. If you have any ladders outside or in the garage, chain them-up and padlock them to a secure point so they can’t be moved.

3. Bring-in all the washing from outside

Don’t leave washing outside on the line while you’re away on vacation, hang your washing on a portable drying rack inside the house but keep it away from the window.

4. Leave the curtains and blinds open

Closing all of your curtains and blinds is a dead giveaway that your house is unoccupied. For some rooms such as the main bedroom and your living room (which should have a table lamp on an electric timer), you can leave them half open.

5. Stop all deliveries including mail

If you have any regular deliveries such as newspapers, milk, groceries etc., don’t forget to cancel them. You can also ask the postal service to hold all your mail.

6. Don’t let the letterbox give the game away

If your mail is delivered through your front door, then ask your neighbor to push through anything that might be left sticking out of the letterbox, this happens quite often with free newspapers and flyers. If left untouched it would be obvious to anyone who might be watching your house that you’re not home.

If you have a glass panelled door then either get someone to remove the mail, flyers, and free newspapers that will be piling up on the inside and visible from the outside, or apply a white frosted glass film to the glass panels, allowing natural light to come through but stopping people from looking in.

7. Light up your home in the evening

Nothing says “no one’s home” like an empty house with no lights at night. Use an electric timer switch in two or three rooms to switch-on the table lamps in the evening before it gets dark, and to switch-off at whatever time you normally go to bed.

Tip: set them up a day or two ahead of your travels just to be certain they come on when they should, and use reliable long lasting light bulbs.

8. Keep your vacation a secret

Don’t tell anyone you’re going on vacation, and especially NOT on Facebook, Instagram or on any other social media platform!

The only people who need to know your travel plans and contact details should they need to get in touch are your immediate family and/or a trusted neighbor.

9. Don’t share photos on Facebook or Instagram

Don’t post any pictures of yourself to Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platform while you’re still on vacation – you’re effectively telling everyone “Hi guys I am not at home right now and my house is empty!”.

Don’t be tempted!… wait until you’ve returned home and then share all your photographs.

10. “Beware Of Dog” warning sign

Whether you have a dog or not, having a “Beware of Dog” sign fixed to your fence or gate will act as a deterrent – unwanted strangers will think twice before entering anywhere near your property.

Most burglars are opportunists and will want to avoid difficult break-ins, so why attract attention from a big angry barking dog when there are easier pickings elsewhere.

Ok so you don’t have a dog!… but Mr. Burglar doesn’t know that, and chances are after seeing a “Beware of Dog” sign he won’t want to find out either.

11. Lock all windows and hide your keys

Lock all your windows and doors, then put all the keys (except for those you need) including spare keys, padlock keys, shed keys etc. into a small bag and hide them away somewhere very safe or leave them with a family member. If someone should break-in, then at least they can’t steal your keys.

12. Out of sight is out of mind

Hide all your valuable possessions including laptops, tablets and any other expensive electronic items you have, or keep them out of sight so they’re not visible if someone was to look through your window – If they can’t see it they won’t be tempted.

13. Hide your kitchen calendar?

It’s not difficult to spot them since most calendars are either attached to the fridge or pinned to the back of the kitchen door.

A smart burglar peering through the kitchen window will use his smartphone to photograph it. He can then zoom in on the calendar and look for clues indicating when you’re out of town or on vacation.

14. Ask your neighbor to park in your driveway

Ask a friendly neighbor to park their car in your driveway so that your house always looks occupied during the evenings while you’re on vacation. It shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience for them, and besides, you can always return the favor when they go on vacation.

15. “Should I turn off the hot water heater?”

It really depends on the time of year you go on vacation, if you’re going during the summer months there’s no point in keeping the water hot and an empty house warm – turn it off.

But if you’re on vacation during the winter months you might want to keep the hot water heater (central heating system) switched on to prevent the water pipes from freezing up, just turn down the thermostat so that less energy is consumed.

16. “Should I turn off the water mains?”

The risk of flooding at home from a burst water pipe while on vacation is a big worry for some people, even a small leak over a short period of time can do a substantial amount of damage.

As long as you switch off the hot water heater it’s okay to shut off the water mains…

  • 1. turn OFF the hot water heater (central heating system)
  • 2. slowly turn OFF the main water shut-off valve – make a note of the ‘on’ position and how many turns are required to fully shut-off the valve.
  • 3. when you return from your vacation – slowly turn ON the main water shut-off valve to its original position.
  • (Just remember when turning the shut-off valve from ‘on-to-off’ and ‘off-to-on’ again, do it slowly to prevent any water hammer – a sudden loud banging noise in the pipes which rattles them violently and could even fracture older pipes, this can happen when a high pressure flow of water is suddenly shut-off or turned-on).
  • 4. gradually turn ON all the faucets (taps) in the house up to the half-open position and leave the water running for a minute or two, this will remove any trapped air in the pipes.
  • 5. turn ON the hot water heater (central heating system).

There is a ‘smart Wi-Fi’ solution to this. You can monitor your house for leaks around the dishwasher, washing machine, water heater etc. with a wifi water sensor which is designed to sound an alarm and send email alerts every 10 minutes when a water leak is detected.

Then there is the LeakSmart system which goes one step further, in an emergency it will shut-off the main water supply automatically to prevent any further damage.

Even if you don’t shut-off the main water valve, you should at least turn-off the water supply to the washing machine and dishwasher, they are connected with rubber hoses which are more likely to fail than PVC or copper pipes.

17. “Should I disconnect the TV and electronic equipment?”

It’s always a good idea to disconnect electrical appliances before going on vacation. An electrical power surge during a thunderstorm can damage your TV, computer, stereo system and other sensitive equipment.

But you can’t disconnect everything, for example the fridge, the alarm system, electrical timers etc, will still need to be connected to a power source.

The solution is to add a layer of protection between the wall socket and your electrical equipment. You should always have a power surge protector between the electrical outlet and your TV and sky/cable box.

But don’t buy the cheapest, a good quality surge protector power strip will have a higher energy absorption rating – the higher the ‘joules rating’ the greater and better the protection, don’t be tempted to buy anything that’s rated less than 2000 joules.

This heavy-duty Belkin surge protector has a 4,320-joule rating and is ideal for protecting your everyday household electronics including computers, home theater systems, appliances and telephone line protection – and to top it off, it comes with a $300,000 connected equipment warranty.

18. Don’t forget the garage door

It’s no good taking all the above precautions and forgetting about the garage. You’d be shocked at how quickly a thief can gain access into your house via a ‘locked’ garage door.

Roll-up garage doors can be opened in as little as six seconds… How?

The thief uses a wire coat-hanger converted into a long hook, which is pushed through the top gap at the center of the garage door. It only takes him a moment to locate and pull the emergency release and the garage door is opened in seconds.

To prevent this from happening the trick is to wrap a zip-tie tightly around the emergency release so it can’t be pulled, or by simply cutting it off.

Part 2 – Advanced Home Protection & Smart Home Security

Woman in front of her house accessing the smart home security app on her mobile

19. Install a home safe and perhaps a ‘decoy’?

Keep your valuables in a properly secured home safe which is bolted to the wall or to the floor, but before you rush to your local office-supplies store to buy a digital safe… do your homework first!

Take for example the SentrySafe fire safe. If there’s a house fire it can endure temperatures of 1700’F for one hour. It’s also water resistant, so any documents stored in the safe will remain dry even after its had a good soaking from a fire hose…

but is it burglar proof?

This video (below) grabbed my attention as soon as he said… “anything you buy in Home Depot, or anything any safe in Wallmart, Costco, Staples, Canadian Tire… it’s all crap! We can open them in less than 10 seconds…”

… and then he demonstrates how anyone can break into a digital safe. He does it in less than five seconds and leaves no visible signs of entry.

How to break into a digital safe in 10 seconds or less

It all comes down to build quality!.. a professional locksmith will not recommend a budget priced safe because they are built with cheap quality components and materials. Youtube is full of ‘how to crack any safe’ videos – even kids are hacking digital safes.

But there is a way to fool a thief?

The average burglar will spend between 2 and 12 minutes inside a house. He’s in a hurry and he’ll grab whatever valuables he can before leaving.

A budget safe like this one could be used as a decoy, kept somewhere not-too-well hidden along with a few items of inexpensive jewelry locked inside, meanwhile your prized possessions are locked away in a good quality wall-safe which is easier to conceal.

For more information about choosing and buying a home safe visit safeandvaultstore.com they have an excellent Safe FAQs and buying guide resource section.

20. Maximum coverage PIR sensor lights for outdoors

A well lit home is a deterrent to night-time burglaries whether you’re at home or away. You can light-up any hiding spots, the sides of the house and the back door for example, and make your home a less desirable target.

Security lights come in all sorts of varieties but it’s really a choice between those with infrared motion sensors (known as PIR lights) and those without.

Dusk to dawn lights don’t have motion sensors but they can detect natural light, and will automatically switch-on when it starts to get dark outside and switch-off when it begins to get light in the morning.

PIR lights on the other hand can detect natural light and motion. The natural light sensors will activate (switch-on) the infrared motion sensors between sunset and sunrise, the PIR lights are now active and if movement is detected the motion sensor will switch-on the lights.

You can also manually adjust (a) the light sensors which determine when the motion sensors become active, (b) the motion sensor detection distance, usually between 6 and 26 feet, and (c) the period of time the lights remain illuminated until they switch-off again.

For most households a detection range of up to 26 feet would suffice, but If you want maximum coverage at a longer range then the RAB Lighting Super Stealth is the best in its class.

Both the Rab STL200 and Rab STL360 have a detection range of up to 60 feet, this is more than double the distance you get with standard PIR lights.

Photo: Jana Perenchio

21. Two of the best home alarm systems in a crowded market

For complete peace of mind and a worry-free vacation you simply can’t beat a professionally installed home security system.

They’ll do it all for you… they will install and setup a monitored alarm system and their trained security staff will monitor your home 24/7. If there is a security breach they will alert you and the police.

SimpliSafe and Vivint.SmartHome are two of the best home alarm systems in a crowded market and are consistently rated in the top five by many home security review sites.

Just be aware that competition is fierce amongst home security providers, they’ll try to lock you into a long term contract ASAP by only offering a short three-day trial period. The minimum contract period can vary depending on the security company but it’s usually 36 months.

A three-day trial period doesn’t allow you much time to try-out and assess a newly installed security system, only SimpliSafe offer a contract-free deal.

There are cheaper alternatives of course…

do-it-yourself and install your own smart alarm system, it’s not as difficult as you might think – all the component are wireless, it’s now easier to install and setup the entire system.

22. Outdoor security cameras are a proven visible deterrent

Properly positioned wireless outdoor security cameras with night vision are a strong visible deterrent to any would-be burglars. Most criminals will spot them from a distance and will avoid being videod and identified. Why take the risk when it’s easier to move on to a less secure property.

As soon as any motion is detected you’ll get an instant alert and real-time video streaming sent to your smartphone. Even if it’s pitch black outside you’ll still be able to clearly see whoever is being monitored and capture a video recording via cloud storage.

The 5 best home security cameras compared

23. When to install a SMART front door lock

What do you do if you need someone to feed the cats and keep an eye on things while you’re away, but you feel uncomfortable with the thought of sharing your spare front door key.

With a WiFi smart lock you don’t have to…

You can create a temporary access code allowing a neighbor entry into your home while you’re away, and when you return you simply delete the code from the smart lock. You can even lock and unlock your door remotely via your smartphone app and receive alerts when people come and go.

Why is this the best SMART lock? (locksmith recommended)

SMART Lock Top Picks
(Top picks selections are based on customer feedback research and multiple tech expert reviews)

24. Get a SMART video doorbell… it scares off burglars!

“Knock Knock who’s there?” with a WiFi video doorbell installed you’ll know instantly who’s there even while on vacation on the beach.

Most smart doorbell cameras have a 150′ – 180′ degree wide angle view with night vision and motion activated sensors. As soon as the doorbell button is pressed a ring alert and live video feed is sent to your smartphone so you can see, hear and speak (or not speak) with the visitor at your door.

And with the addition of cloud storage you can capture a 1080 HD video recording of visitors near your front entrance (up to 30 feet away) at anytime movement is detected.

This is ideal for recording suspicious activity near your doorway, the doorbell doesn’t have to be pressed for you to be able to monitor the front of your home 24/7 day and night.

Challenger vs Champ – Eufy vs Ring 2 – SMART doorbell challenge

Video Doorbell Top Picks
(Top picks selections are based on customer feedback research and multiple tech expert reviews)

“Caught in the act” smart doorbell scares of burglars!

A Canadian homeowner was at work when his doorbell sent a ‘motion alert’ to his smartphone. As soon as he activated the live video he could see a man dressed as a construction worker acting suspiciously, a moment later there were two of them attempting a break-in – see video.

“Saved by the doorbell” – burglars caught in the act

25. WiFi SMART plugs: Try this to “LIVEN UP” your home!

In an earlier section we mention the importance of making your home look occupied in the evenings by setting-up two or three electric timer switches to switch-on lamps when it begins to get dark.

You can take this a step further and “really” make your home look occupied and a hive of activity just by using three smart plugs.

Basically a smart plug is an electrical plug adaptor with one outlet and a built-in electronic ‘on/off’ switch which is controlled via the smart plug app on your phone.

You plug the smart plug into an electrical socket then plug a table lamp into the smart plug socket, now you can remotely control and schedule the on/off switching times of the table lamp through you smartphone app.

This gets even better… both the TP Link Kasa and the Wemo mini smart plug can be set to random interval switching. When set to the ‘Away Mode’ they will turn your lights on and off randomly during a specified period of time.

With just three of these smart plugs you can create a realistic impression of movement between rooms inside your house… so how would you set them up?

Here’s an idea, have one in the main living room scheduled to switch-on in the evening and switch-off at bed-time (varying the on/off times for each day). The other two smart plugs can be in the hallway and kitchen, with one or both set to switch on/off randomly.

And if you add a fourth smart plug into the mix you can plug in some sounds by connecting a radio tuned into a non-stop talk channel.

“Can I use a smart plug to turn on my TV” ?

Unfortunately no you can’t… most TV’s switch-on to standby mode, so there’s no picture or sound until you press a channel button on your remote, but on some TV’s there is a workaround – look in your TV settings for the option “turn on when power detected”.

Three top rated SMART plugs reviewed – Aukey v Wemo v TP link Kasa

SMART Plug Top Picks
(Top picks selections are based on customer feedback research and multiple tech expert reviews)

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