5 ways to prevent a disaster at home while you’re away

It’s every vacationing homeowner’s worst nightmare: the call from a neighbor or local authorities with the report of an emergency — a fire, maybe, or signs of a break-in. There’s no way to prevent every possible disaster or mishap from striking while you’re away from home. But you can increase your peace of mind significantly with these five safeguards:

1. Check the smoke alarms.

While cooking is the leading cause of home fires, other causes can occur at times when no one is home, things like electrical malfunctions or problems with heating equipment. The best fire protection is working smoke alarms, ideally hardwired. (In fires in which smoke alarms are present but don’t operate, almost half have missing or disconnected batteries, according to the National Fire Protection Association.)

For maximum peace of mind while traveling, consider a “smart” hardwired smoke alarm, which will send an alert to your phone; some alarms also let you designate friends and neighbors to be notified. The average cost of installation, according to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide, is $65.

2. Install leak sensors.

Another example of smart home technology, these disc-shaped, Wi-Fi-connected devices can be placed anywhere there’s a risk of leaks, such as a flood-prone basement or under the washing machine or water heater. In the event of a leak, you’ll receive an alert through the app; some versions can also connect you instantly with a pre-screened service professional, so you’re not scrambling to find a plumber or appliance repair person.

In addition to water, many sensors also detect temperature swings, which could be a heads up that the heating or cooling system has conked out, leading the way to other home mishaps.

3. Protect water pipes.

If you’re going away on an extended trip, take steps to keep water pipes from freezing. A single burst pipe can result in $5,000 worth of water damage. Adequate insulation throughout the home is the first line of defense. If you have pipes in exposed spaces, like a basement or crawl space, they should be fitted with insulation sleeves, available at home centers and plumbing supply stores. You can hire a handyman for the job for around $100, according to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide.

It’s also a good idea to leave the heat on at a temperature no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit and open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors so that warmer air can circulate around water pipes.

4. Put lights on timers.

This is one of the oldest tricks in the books, but it’s still a great way to deter would-be thieves. Old-fashioned plug-in timers let you program lamps to turn on and off throughout the day. Or you can go the high-tech route and screw smart light bulbs into various light fixtures around the house. The connected bulbs make it easy to program randomized schedules that will do the most to keep thieves guessing.

5. Beef up your home security.

In recent years, the market for affordable DIY security systems has exploded, making it possible to add a layer of protection without massive upfront costs and burdensome monthly monitoring fees. For as little as $100, you can find starter kits that include door and window sensors, motion detectors, and a central control hub. If you don’t want to go for the full system, even a single exterior camera positioned near the front entrance can be enough to convince burglars to move on to the next house.

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