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Preparing Home Before You Travel

I started tweeking my check off lists for an upcoming domestic trip. I was updating my house check-off list and wanted to see if I was missing anything. My mother used to live near me so she would get my mail, newspapers, etc when I travelled and always kept an eye out on our house. She has moved to a different state so now I have to fend for myself.

What steps do you take to prepare your house for upcoming travel?

Stop newspaper and US mail delivery, shut off water valve to washing machine, unplug unused electronics, lights on timers, notify neighbors (the ones that you like and trust LOL), remove trash, etc?

Does anyone shut the water off to their house? I'm so afraid of coming home to a flood from a broken pipe.

Any other items that are on your check-off list?

Posted by
7050 posts

I close all the blinds, especially in summer, and turn off the A/C. I also like to clean my place because I like coming home to a clean place - it helps me feel positive about coming home, which I don't usually look forward to (and it's one less thing to do when I'm back, tired, and need to readjust).

Posted by
630 posts

Agnes, I like coming home to a clean house as well. My husband makes fun of me when I insist on making the bed - even if we are leaving for the airport before the sun is even up. I need to come home to a made bed. LOL

Posted by
2644 posts

I do very little. I have a friend bring in the mail and newspaper and he comes over every other day to use my elliptical machine so there's someone in here periodically, which I like. I do put a few lights on timers and I tell my favorite neighbor where I'll be.

I don't unplug things, turn on the washing machine water or the water to the house.

I did have an issue once. While I was in Turkey, the city was redoing pipes outside my house, clogged the sewage pipe to my house and stopped all my water and toilets in doing so. I spent some fun time on the phone with the city from Istanbul and then my friend stepped in and met some city repairmen here and they took responsibility and fixed it all before I arrived back home.

Posted by
448 posts

I don't have a ton of them, but I take plants to a friend or family member so that they can water them. Also I clean out the refrigerator so that I don't come home to weeks-old leftovers rotting away!

Posted by
2768 posts

I don't shut off the water, but I don't travel in deep winter when a frozen pipe is a possibility. If I did, I would turn it off! I had a frozen pipe after 1 NIGHT of super-cold (-15F?) temps - it didn't burst but I was very worried and if it had gone on longer I'm sure it would have.

Thermostat at a low-energy but still manageable level. I keep medicine and things in the house that need to be between 60 and 80 degrees, so I'd either leave the heat at 60 or the AC at 80 or, for a long trip, move these items to a more climate controlled environment.

Pay a lawn mowing service if I will be away for a long time - don't want to come home to weeds or a ticket! If I am taking a cab/other transport to the airport I make sure my car is parked safely.

Trash out, fridge emptied, keep a small bit of frozen or non-perishable food so I can eat when I get home.

Posted by
7050 posts

I make the bed too - LOL :-) I also dump out the trash, empty the fridge, and leave some small items to eat when I come home...and make sure plants are taken care of.

Posted by
6362 posts

I make the bed, and mop the kitchen floor. That's my nod toward coming home to a clean house. My Dad comes by to pick up our mail and newspapers, and walks through the house to make sure everything is okay. My neighbor has a key, and if she notices the mail hasn't been picked up, she'll get it and call Dad to make sure he's okay. Her son mows our lawn - or at least, he's supposed to. Choose your family and neighbors wisely! It makes traveling much easier.

Posted by
3240 posts

I, too, like to return to a clean house. When leaving in the middle of winter I have turned the water off, and I always turn the water heater off. Timers are on the lights. Mail is stopped. People hired to shovel us out if it snows. And keys to someone who can check on the house if there is a weather event. The least stressful house leaving is when I travel alone and my husband stays in the house!

Posted by
630 posts

Wray, we have oil heat with forced hot water, so we can't shut our water off unless we turn the boiler off. In the winter we need to keep the house a bit warm so the pipes don't burst - ugh! I wish we could shut our water off - I would feel better knowing there wouldn't be a chance of coming home to a flooded house.

Our washing machine hose broke once and my laundry room was flooded within minutes - and I was home when it happened. I can't imagine what my house would have looked like it continued to flood after 14 days - ugh! We now shut the washing machine faucet off after EVERY time we use the machine. It's now only on when we use the machine.

Posted by
2393 posts

Coming home to a clean house is an absolute must. I wash the sheets the day before we leave so they are clean too. All of my mail (very little) goes to my brother's house anyway so no problem there.

If we are going for an extended time a month or two - I put my cable on vacation - saves a couple hundred bucks.

As long as we are plugged in I freeze some milk & cream and make sure there is something to eat for the night we get home & the first morning - I hate having to drag into a grocery after traveling for hours - I just want to get home at that point.

Living full time in a motor home there are a few unique issues - If we are able to leave it somewhere plugged in that is easier. Then it is just empty tanks, turn off water pump, clean out food that will spoil. Leaving it unplugged is harder - we did it once - never again - too many issues for me.

Posted by
630 posts

Christi, I never thought about freezing milk - great idea!

Posted by
15980 posts

Clean house
Stop mail
Stop garbage. Dispose last of kitchen garbage
Empty/eat perishables from the 'fridge.
Give contact info and copy of travel insurance to trusted family member.
Print out copies of insurance, passports and CC cards for us
Print out hotel addresses and confirmation #'s
Tell a trusted neighbor we're traveling
Alert bank and CC companies that we're traveling
Check security lights and timers
Close select blinds only on backside of house.
Hide laptop and any other important electronics
Print out any documents we need
Charge all electronics we'll be traveling with

Election years only: ask a neighbor to remove any campaign material stuffed into or hung on the front door. We get a TON of that stuff!

We don't turn off water (never travel in winter) or shut street-visible blinds as they are almost never used when we're home. To anyone watching, shut blinds - for weeks at a time - would be a flag that we're away.

No interior plants to water; HOA takes care of mowing and lawn irrigation. We don't travel abroad (yet) with working cell phones (ipad for wifi and email) and don't have a scanner thus the printed copies. That'll probably change down the road.

Posted by
1062 posts

I purchased a $35 battery operated infrared alarm from Home Depot. It covers an area of 180 degrees and about 40 feet out from the alarm. You have 30 seconds to get out of the house from when you set it and about 40 seconds to enter the code before the alarm goes off when you enter the area it covers. When it goes off, it makes a real loud sound. It would be easy for a burglar to smash it and silence the alarm, but I am betting that he/she will leave the house immediately not knowing if it wired to the police. For $35, why not give it a shot. It sure scares me when I forget that I had set it.

Posted by
8586 posts

I am surprised that everyone doesn't shut their main water off. Burst pipes and washer hoses happen in summer too. Maybe low risk, but easy to do and high consequence if it happens. I sometimes ask someone to put out a trash bag for pickup on trash day so that house doesn't look deserted.

Posted by
4171 posts

I'll mention a few perhaps unique tasks not already listed.

Have the post office hold the mail if gone for less than 30 days. That's free.

Have the post office box up the mail and send it to someone else weekly if gone longer. That's not free.

Take the dog to Creature Comforts Pet Resort for his vacation.

If gone for more than 2 weeks, contact the Sheriff. A deputy comes by once or twice a week to make sure everything is okay.

Turn the hot water heater temperature down.

Set the water recirculation cycle to only once a day.

Turn the heat down when it's cold, the AC up when it's hot.

Turn off all the ceiling fans.

Flush all the toilets so the water is full and has some room to evaporate.

Close the slide bolts on all the garage and shop vehicle doors.

Strategically place dog toys so that they are visible through the front glass door.

Set the alarm.

Posted by
10291 posts

Shut off water main summer or winter.
Put thermostat at 80 in summer, 55 in winter.
Pay handyman to come by to inspect the house after storms or weekly. Pick up mail from box weekly.
Give homeowner's insurance permission for handyman to take emergency measures--learned from past experience.
Be sure dead branches are cut back. Set up gardening service.
Suspend Dish, suspend part of car insurance.
Disconnect car battery.
Set light timers a few days in advance to be sure they work correctly.
Pay a few bills in advance, ones that can't be paid on the iPad while traveling.
Bolt and set alarms.
Etc.

Posted by
4421 posts

Freeze water in a plastic container. When frozen, unmold on plate and leave in freezer. when we get home, if the ice was a frozen puddle instead of the shape of the container, we would know the power had been off for awhile and we would need to throw away all perishables.

Posted by
95 posts

Some other things not been mentioned yet that we do:

we disconnect garage door opener, lock our back door (coming into the house), go out the front door, lock it and make double sure it is locked.

Unplug all electrical kitchen appliances that are normally plugged. Make double sure stove is off before leaving. Unplug tv, stereo system, computer, printers, etc .

Clear off phone answering machine, so new messages have room to be recorded. Make sure know how to retrieve msgs remotely, if within the country.

Clean refridgerator by eating the food or giving it away. If it is freezable, freeze so there can be food to eat upon return. Freeze milk, bread and butter, at least.

Water plants well and congregate together in a bright spot. They can last up to 10 days to 2 weeks

Garbage goes into garage. Stuff that may smell bad if left out, is double wrapped, labelled and then frozen, ready to be disposed on garbage day.

Posted by
32244 posts

Pilgrim,

To begin with, you might get some peace-of-mind by adding something like THIS product to your washing machine hoses. I have one installed on the washer lines and never bother turning off the water even when going on holidays. I also have one installed on the hot water heater.

On the topic of "preparing home before travel", I have an extensive pre-trip list that extends across several months before I depart. Aside from the planning, financial and pet care aspects of the trip, here are some of the "home" items....

  • Cut both lawns a few days before departure.
  • Clean bathrooms and kitchen and wash floors.
  • Check locks are in good working order, and battery changed in electronic lock.
  • Set Thermostat as required (I can change settings from anywhere in the world, so this isn't critical if I forget)
  • Set timers on lights.
  • Ensure alarm system in good working order.
  • Adjust curtains.
  • Empty fridge and put items like butter in the freezer.
  • Suspend newspaper delivery.
  • Wash sheets and make bed (I also like my first night back to be in a clean bed).

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but that will provide a general idea. I have a home care person that visits the house once a day to feed the Cats and she also brings the mail in and checks for any problems like water leaks.

Posted by
630 posts

Thanks everyone for the replies. I'm going to update my home check-off list today while these items are still fresh in my mind.

Posted by
630 posts

If we are going for an extended time a month or two - I put my cable
on vacation - saves a couple hundred bucks.

Christi, I didn't even know you could do that - good to know!

Posted by
630 posts

I purchased a $35 battery operated infrared alarm from Home Depot.

Yosemite1, this is a great idea - and reasonably priced too! I have Rex, the electronic barking dog alarm, which works wonders. I forgot I had it set once in our garage and our contractor went into the garage and scared the living daylights out of him. It really sounds like there is a large dog in the house. It's motion censored and can be placed inside the house, and it will detect movement outside. We have one set up near our front door, and in our garage in case someone is walking around the back of the house. You can adjust the sensitivity, the range, the volume, and you can even change it to birds chirping instead of a barking dog. It's worked great for us, and I bought a couple for my mother and she likes them as well.

Posted by
630 posts

Freeze water in a plastic container. When frozen, unmold on plate and
leave in freezer. when we get home, if the ice was a frozen puddle
instead of the shape of the container, we would know the power had
been off for awhile and we would need to throw away all perishables.

Cala, this is a GREAT idea - I need to add this to my list.

Posted by
630 posts

Ken, thanks for the link on the washing machine stop valve. I'm going to have to show my husband that nifty gadget.

Posted by
630 posts

Disconnect car battery.

Bets, why do you do this? This is the first I've heard of doing this.

Posted by
10291 posts

We leave for a couple of months at a time, so it preserves the battery. I wouldn't disconnect for a short trip.
We also fill old containers with water so the fridge and freezer are full and don't have to work as hard. The other option would be an empty fridge, disconnected with the door open--but I'm not that organized.
We also, make sure dishwasher and washing machine doors are slightly ajar to stay aired.

Posted by
630 posts

Thanks, Bets, for the update.

We also, make sure dishwasher and washing machine doors are slightly ajar to stay aired.

We do this as well. I also leave the toilet seats up when we travel for ventilation as well. Not sure what a difference that would be, but I think I saw it on Dr. Oz once LOL

Posted by
529 posts

I, too, am the freezer queen!! I freeze liquid creamer and milk (lesson learned, don't freeze cottage cheese, it ruins the texture). Plus, deli meat, if I have any. I put my thermostat on vacation mode, so when we arrive home, dependent on the season, the house is at a comfortable temperature. I make the bed and vacuum. I have been known to put bleach in the toilets. I never turn the water off. Our toilet valve broke and flooded most of the house, with me there! Even with my husband and I both bailing water and drying floors (visualize reverse bucket brigade), it completely ruined our hardwoods, within a matter of minutes. The community we live in mows the front lawn, before that arrangements were made to keep it cut. The mail is held. My husband finally decided the paper was just too expensive, so that is no longer an issue. I log out of any online accounts and shut down computers and printer. I put electronic devices, checkbook, credit cards, jewelry (what little there is) in safe. Finally, we have wonderful neighbors that check on our house.

Posted by
681 posts

Something we found very useful on this current trip is a list of names and phone numbers of businesses we've used for home repair/maintenance in the past. I maintain a running list of this and I put it in the Cloud. We're away from home now and got a text from a neighbor that our sprinkler system wasn't running. I was able to call the company we used a year ago and they came out and fixed it. Needless to say, we don't turn off our water to the house. The other good thing to have is great neighbors and we're blessed in that area.

Posted by
4981 posts

We ALWAYS turn the water to the house off and then open the faucets to drain the water in the pipes and relieve the water pressure. Four of our neighbors have had different type plumbing malfunctions while away that caused tremendous damage. One was almost $30,000. and another had to move into a motel for six weeks. Insurance may or may not pick up the bill. To us it is not the risk to avoid a five minute job with the water meter key. But, to each his own.

Another method to know if the freezer has lost power is this: Take a small empty spice jar and fill 3/4 full of water and freeze. When frozen, place a penny on the top to the ice. If upon return you find the penny has sunk into the ice rather than being on top, you know the freezer was without power.

In addition to items others have mentioned, we also notify our alarm company so that if the alarm goes off they can notify the next person on the list (neighbor) since we just can't do anything from Europe. Just food for thought.

Posted by
15644 posts

I have a check list that I update before each trip. It got shorter when my cat died. The young woman who used to come in daily to feed the cat now comes by twice a week to collect the mail and check on the apartment. She lives around the corner; she and my lawyer (also a friend who lives a few blocks away) have each other's contact info. If there's a problem either can contact me by email. The water valve is in the hallway, so anyone can turn it off if there's a leak. I don't bother because my housesitter waters my aloe vera. It's the only plant that's survived her "loving care." But she was so good with my cat . . .

I leave the bathroom windows and my bedroom window open about an inch for ventilation. Close the shutters if its the time of year that I get direct sunlight. Turn off the computer and the phone - worst thing is to come home to 87 recorded messages asking for money.

I put a stock of cold drinks in the fridge and get rid of any perishables (things like apples and carrots will keep). I stock the freezer with 2-3 days of food that can be easily defrosted and heated up for my return, so I don't have to run out to shop immediately. You can freeze milk, fruit juice, baked goods (bread, rolls, and of course cookies and cakes).

That reminds me, I really should find out how to disconnect my car battery. The alarm and other systems that run off the battery (don't ask me what they are) drain the battery over a few weeks. I've been parking it backwards so my neighbor can jump start the car with cables when I get home (he usually works from home, so he's always around), but it would be easier to just disconnect the battery and reconnect it when I get home.

Posted by
2393 posts

Crazy about the car battery - we've left ours for up two months and it fired right up -same with the motor home

Posted by
630 posts

Another method to know if the freezer has lost power is this: Take a small empty spice jar and fill 3/4 full of water and freeze. When frozen, place a penny on the top to the ice. If upon return you find the penny has sunk into the ice rather than being on top, you know the freezer was without power.

What a great idea, TC. I'm going to use your method!

Posted by
32244 posts

"We leave for a couple of months at a time, so it preserves the battery."

I've travelled for up to two months at a time and never bothered to disconnect the car battery. The battery has lots of capacity, so doesn't need to be "preserved" unless there's a significant current draw from accessories. If it goes flat, it's a simple matter to plug the charger in for a few minutes to provide enough power for a "start".

However, I suppose one benefit of disconnecting the battery is that the car is less likely to be stolen.

Posted by
10291 posts

The two times we were gone for six months, the batteries died, so we just do it for any trip over four weeks. It's easy enough.

Posted by
18 posts

We had a water pipe burst in the first floor ceiling before our trip to Italy. We learned to shut off the water to the house. What a mess.
Now we always turn off the water, notify the housecleaner that there is no water. She comes by once to check on the house for us,clean the bathrooms. I always clean out the fridge and pantry of food that may spoil. I also make sure all the garbage-trash is taken out before we leave.

Posted by
630 posts

Thanks for all the responses. With the help of this topic, I was able to convince my husband that we need to shut off the water to our house prior to travel. Our heating system is based on forced hot water, so if we shut off the water to the house, we also have to remember to shut off the oil burner otherwise it can burn out. I'll do a bit more research to make sure shutting off the water to our house won't damage anything else. I think we should be OK if the oil burner gets turned off as well.

Posted by
10291 posts

Forced hot water in radiators is tricky--at least in winter. Wouldn't you have to drain the radiators? My son always turned off the water and boiler while gone over Christmas. Once when he came home and turned on the water and boiler, he had a leak in the cold, back-room radiator. Neither row house on either side of him was heated during that period to help keep his row house above freezing. At least it happened when he opened the valves and the radiator defrosted, not while he was gone. But, if he had left the heat on low--he would have other risks while gone.

Posted by
630 posts

Forced hot water in radiators is tricky--at least in winter. Wouldn't
you have to drain the radiators?

Hi Bets, I need to figure this out. I'm going to call our heating guy this week to see what we have to do.

If we were traveling in the winter, I wouldn't be able to turn the water off since the oil burner needs to stay on to keep our house warm so the water doesn't freeze in the pipes. And I believe it's a bit of work to drain the pipes for only a couple of weeks.

Since we usually travel in October, it wouldn't get that cold where our pipes would freeze. So we could potentially shut off the water and shut off the oil burner without having to drain the pipes.

Posted by
2393 posts

Personally I would leave the house water on & turn it off to the washing machine - those hoses are notorious for bursting! If there is no chance of the house freezing then you can just shut off the water and not drain the radiators. Just do not open a faucet while the water is off and get air in the line or you may need to bleed any air out of the line when you do fire up the boiler.

Posted by
3240 posts

And, if you are leaving your home empty for more than 30 days, you need to contact your insurance agent to verify there would be coverage or get a rider, etc.

Posted by
630 posts

We may just shut off the valves to the toilets and sinks and leave the main house water "on". I always shut off the valve to the washing machine when we aren't using it (learned that one the hard way LOL). This way we won't be messing with the burner or getting air in the lines. We need to have our oil burner tuned up soon (routine maintenance), and my husband said he will ask the heating guy what we should do.

Thanks for all the replies. :)

Posted by
630 posts

In case anyone else has an oil burner with forced hot water and lives in an area where it gets cold:

I believe we are able to shut off the main water to the house and keep the oil burner "On" so it will continue to heat the house (on low). This will allow the oil burner to heat the remaining water in the pipes (so pipes won't freeze in the winter). I have been told that the oil burner is self contained and it does not need additional water to keep it running. I will confirm this with our heating guy next month when he services our oil burner.

We will also have our heating guy install an "On / "Off" toggle switch to the hot water tank so we are able to shut off the hot water tank when we travel.

Posted by
1420 posts

I live in Iowa.....serious winters. I already PAY someone to clean my driveway whenever there is a real snow. the most I'm ever gone in the winter is 7-10 days... if we have just a bit of snow....like an inch or less which wont trigger my paid man with the snowblade..... I ask a friend in the neighborhood to swing thru with their car on their way coming or going from work and make some tracks on my driveway, so its not so obvious the house is empty :) perhaps even a few foot treads around the mail box.......

Posted by
14 posts

So many great suggestions already! I may have missed it, but the one thing that is super important is to know your insurance policy! Some (in Canada) have exclusions if no one is checking on your house (and require an additional endorsement). Some snowbirds have been caught in bad situations where the policy doesn't cover damage because they were gone and no one was checking on the house - so the insurance company refused to pay the claim. All policies/companies are different, so check with your individual providers.