Summer is about to be here in full swing. And many of us will be heading out of town to spend time with family and friends.
Before that next trip out of town, keep reading to learn the list of 10 things to do before going out of town (some are based on experience) so when you return from that amazing trip, you aren’t completely shocked back to reality with trouble at home…
1) Get it Fixed. Before you leave, resolve any known home maintenance and repair issues that have the potential to go from bad to worse while you’re gone. A slow drip under the sink, a window or door that leaks when the rain comes from just the right direction, a breaker that trips often during thunder storms, gutters that overflow and cascade water down around doors and windows, or any of a number of other issues that you’ve been keeping an eye on. When home, you may have gotten used to managing these issues. Should they go from bad to worse while you’re not home – damage can accrue quickly. The issues need to be dealt with anyway and by resolving them prior to your trip you ensure no surprises upon your return and peace of mind while on your trip.
2) Turn it Off. Turn off the water supply (H&C) to your washing machine. The water is always ‘on’ and the machine themselves control the flow when it’s not running. The black rubber hoses that come with the washing machine are rated for a 3 year life, but we commonly see homeowners with 10+ year old machines with original hoses. It’s not an issue till those hoses fail, and Murphy’s Law states this will happen while you’re at work or on vacation. Flooded homes from bursting hoses is more common than many would assume. Unrelated to your travel plans, if you hoses are 3 or more years old, replace them. Replacement hoses wrapped with braided steel or nylon are rated to last longer, but none are rated for the life of your machine.
3) Keep it Level. If you have a programmable thermostat – program it for a constant temperature for the period you’ll be gone. This isn’t designed for comfort, just practicality. If it normally runs at one temperature while you’re at work, but warms or cools the home prior to your arrival home (depending on the season), then that temperature setting for when nobody is home might be the right one. Remember, comfort is not the issue. It needs to be warm enough during winter that pipes don’t freeze and cool enough during summer that you don’t ‘cook’ the houseplant, or any pets the neighbors might be feeding. If you’ll be on an extended trip during warm humid months, a bit of cooling pulls moisture from the home and prevents mold. We commonly see homes that have been vacant and closed up without power for extended periods (bank owned properties that were foreclosed and are now coming back on the market) that have mold issues, peeling wallpaper and a dank smell. This won’t happen while you’re on a one week cruise, regardless of your setting, but this is what you’re guarding against on an extended trip.
4) Turn it Off…Again. Most homes have an electric water heater. If you have a timer on your water heater, cycling your heating elements for times when folks are and are not home, turn it off. There’s no reason to keep all the water warm if nobody is home to use it. Remember this upon your return. You will not be able to settle the dust from a long trip without turning this back on and allowing your water heater to charge. If you don’t have a timer and your water heater is on a dedicated circuit, you may flip this breaker to achieve the same effect. Be aware that other things may be on that circuit that you don’t want off, so learn your system well before your trip so you aren’t figuring this out the night before you depart. A licensed electrician can help you understand how your system is setup, and can discuss the options for installing a timer on your water heater, if desired. This may or may not be allowed under your local codes. Going tankless may also be an option worth considering if your water heater is nearing its useful life.
5) Keep ‘Em Open (or Closed). Consider whether to open or close the blinds based on the season. Sun streaming through glass can be quite warming. Opening things up during winter months will reduce the amount of time your HVAC units need to run to warm your home. Reversing this, and closing blinds and curtains, will keep the sun’s rays out and reduce the cooling needs of your home during warmer seasons. This thought process can be leveraged year round, whether you are traveling or not, to help with your energy bills. Few like to live in a cave, but you can open or close the blinds and curtains on the East side of your home in the morning, and the West side of the home in the afternoon – thus dealing with the sun when it’s coming through those windows to assist with your cooling or warming needs.
6) Lock it Up. While this sounds obvious, homes have many entry points. Doors, windows, maybe a basement access that allow entry to the home. Make sure all are secure. The night before you leave, or the morning of the trip, go door to door, and window to window, and make sure somebody hasn’t unlocked them. Windows often get closed, but less often get locked. Don’t assume it, check it out.
7) Clean it Out. Clean out the fridge and take out the trash, in that order. Obviously there’s a difference between getting away for the weekend, and that month long trip of a lifetime to the home of your ancestors. Milk spoils, fruits and veggies and meat products rot and you simply don’t want to return from a long trip to a science experiment in your fridge. Consider the length of your trip, and the potential for delays in getting home, and clean out the fridge(s) as appropriate. Whatever goes in the trash must then leave the home or you are simply moving the science experiment from one local to another. Things decaying in the trashcan will also attract roaches and other non-desirable pests.
8) Outsource the Credible. The pool, for those who have them, is another mechanical system that is generally run from a timer but which occasionally needs help. Heavy rains may fill the pool and require it be flushed. If you generally deal with your own pool needs, checking PH, cleaning, adding chemicals and algaecide as needed – an extended trip may cause you to take on outside help. There are plenty of reputable independent and chain pool services that can do a spot service while you’re away. Ask around and find somebody your friends and neighbors trust. Hiring the cheapest guy you can find on Craigslist and then explaining to him that you’ll be done from date X to Y might not be the best idea.
9) Tell Someone You Trust. Let a neighbor know you’re going, ask them to keep their eyes open and if you trust this neighbor consider giving them a key. Depending on the duration of your trip, a walk through on a regular basis will alert them (and thus you) to potential issues. We were away for a weeklong trip once when a thunderstorm came through. Power was lost and then came back some time later, all the clocks were blinking upon our return. In the process the breaker for the kitchen tripped, killing power to the fridge and freezer. We had cleaned the fridge out, but all the food in the freezer thawed, including several pounds of shrimp, and we had quite a smelly mess upon our return.
10) Do a Final Sweep. Finally, one last check before leaving the home. Especially in homes with kids, there’s usually a few “one last thing” trips back into the home before you load up and head off on your trip. Those hurried trips into the home can leave lights on, toilets running, or previously locked doors unlocked. The last person from the home should be responsible with an eye out for problems, and not be primarily worried about getting a window seat as you depart on your grand adventure.