When Your Home Is Alone
(Updated November 19, 2002)
When you’re leaving for a
vacation or the holidays, it’s easier to focus on packing rather
than thinking about protecting your house. Like the majority of
homeowners, I’ve always been prudent about arranging for things to
be taken care of while I am away. I put timers on lamps, and have
trusted neighbors to feed the cat, bring in the newspapers and mail,
water plants, and cut the grass. Nevertheless, a couple of things
happened to me this year that made me think twice before leaving my
home alone again.
For Whom The Bell Rings
Last summer, after returning home from a two-week trip, I was awakened
at 3 a.m. by the frantic ringing of my doorbell. At first, I thought
something was very wrong—perhaps a fire, or someone in distress.
Then I thought it might be some teenagers playing a joke. It wasn’t
a joke. After turning the lights on, I discovered someone had tried
to break into my home.
Scared, I immediately called the
police. The officers discovered fresh tracks in the grass around the
house’s perimeter, in particular around the basement windows. There
was evidence someone tried to force one of the windows open. After
telling the officers that I had just returned home from vacation,
they guessed that someone had been staking out my house while I was
away. To make sure that no one was home, they rang the doorbell.
Obviously when the lights went on, they ran.
I asked, “Why
would anyone want to break into a house with monitored security?”
The officer was blunt in saying that they were probably amateurs
looking for a “smash and grab.” He pointed to the laptop computer on
the kitchen table and the dining room silver on display (all where
in full view from the windows). He said that quick thieves could
take off with thousands of dollars worth of items in just seconds.
Crime Stopper Tactics
The FBI reports that a
burglary occurs every eight seconds in the U.S. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), nine out of
ten burglaries are preventable. A burglar’s three worst enemies are
light, time, and noise. It goes without saying that a burglar won’t
find your home an attractive target if he or she is forced to work
in the light, has to take a lot of time breaking in, and/or can’t
break in without making a lot of noise.
Information Institute offers the following tips for when you leave
One other thing to consider: if you are
parking your car in a lot, remove your garage door opener from plain
view. Numerous cases of home theft have resulted from people
stealing garage door openers and using them to get into the house.
- Leave blinds open in their usual position.
- Have mail and packages picked up, forwarded, or held by the
- Lower the sound of your telephone ringer and answering machine
so they can’t be heard outside. Also, never leave an outgoing
message saying you’re away.
- Arrange to have your lawn mowed or your walk shoveled.
- Stop newspaper deliveries.
- Ask a friend to pick up “throwaway” newspapers and
- Use automatic timers to turn lights on and off in your living
room and bedrooms at appropriate times. Consider connecting a
radio to a timer.
- Tell police and dependable neighbors when you plan to be away,
and join with your neighbors to keep a close watch on what’s
happening in your area—working closely with them is a good way to
While thieves can run off with
a few trinkets, accidental damage to your home could be a worse
scenario. Most people worry about fire, so they take all the
necessary precautions to prevent the occurrence. However, it is
often the things we don’t consider that cause the most damage. Last
winter, the Insurance
Information Institute stated there was over $1.5 billion dollars
in insured losses due to burst pipes, frozen gutters, and other
disasters like leaking toilets.
A little over a month ago, a
valve in the upstairs toilet began leaking. Unfortunately, it caused
enough damage to have our insurance company authorize repairs. The
insurance adjuster told me that I was lucky to be home during this
leak. He went on to tell me a horrifying tale of a family that went
on vacation for three weeks, only to come home to a flooded house.
For them, a faulty seal in an upstairs toilet had broken, causing
water to pour into the house for several weeks. The damage was
substantial, well over a quarter of a million dollars.
this have been prevented? Yes. Simply put, as the adjuster
recommends, turn off the water coming into the home before leaving
on an extended trip. If turning the water off to your entire house
isn’t possible, you can just shut off the water supply to the
toilets and washing machine, the two biggest culprits for flood
Another thing to consider: if you live where it’s
cold, make sure that the heat stays on so that the pipes won’t
freeze. If they do, they’re liable to crack or burst. It’s
recommended that the temperature in the home should be at least 65
degrees because temperatures inside walls (where pipes are located)
remain substantially colder than the walls themselves. Thermostat
temperatures lower than 65 degrees will not keep pipes from
It goes without saying that you really don’t want
anything bad to happen to your home while you are away. I was
fortunate to be home during the two aforementioned incidents, but I
quiver at the prospects had I not been there. Quivering aside, I
learned an important lesson: that you really cannot take anything
for granted when you leave your home alone.
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