Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Keeping Your Home Safe While You're Away

It’s a given that you’ll lock the doors and arrange to forward your mail before you head for cooler climes and leave your Arizona home empty for the summer. Here are 11 precautions you might not have thought of for keeping your empty house safe while you’re away.


1. Leave the air conditioner on—but crank the thermostat up to around 88 degrees. Place five-gallon buckets of water around the inside of the house. The water will slowly evaporate and add moisture to the indoor air.


2. Weatherstrip around windows and doors before you leave. Bugs will squeeze their way into the house right through the front door if they find big enough gaps around it.


3. Schedule some maintenance for your flat foam roof before you leave. Foam roofs require maintenance, including recoating every five years. The best time to do that work is when the weather is hot—but you’ll be away. Arrange for a roofer to make the repairs while you’re gone. A tip: No matter what kind of roof you have, have a roofer check it out before monsoon season starts. Raised shingles can lead to leaks, and so can cracks or holes in foam roofs.


4. Likewise, secure TV antennas, shutters, awnings, doors, patio furniture and playground equipment so the monsoon winds won’t knock them over and break them or send them flying through a window.


5. Add a whole-house surge protector to your main electrical panel to protect your expensive electronic equipment. As an extra precaution, unplug everything in the house before you leave for the summer.


6. Leave your refrigerator turned on with the door closed. If you turn if off and the door happens to shut, it could be full of mold by the time you get home in the fall. A tip: Put spices and candles in the refrigerator to keep them fresh while you’re gone, and fill the fridge with jugs of water. A full refrigerator operates more efficiently than an empty one. Also, turn off the ice maker so it doesn’t overproduce, push the freezer door open and send ice cubes flying into the room to melt on the floor.


7. If your home doesn’t have a security system, borrow a sign from a neighbor who has one. Security signs and stickers could deter would-be burglars who would rather not take the chance that an alarm is going to go off. Even a “beware of dog” sign could make some bad guys think twice.


8. Label your circuit breakers will red and green stickers once you figure out which ones you should turn off (bedroom lights, stove, clothes dryer) and which ones you should leave on (security system, outdoor lights). The colored tape will make it easy to flip the right switches next time you go on an extended trip and when you return home.


9. Take pictures of every room in your house. Open the kitchen cabinets and bedroom closets, and photograph the contents. Record all of your electronics. If you need to make an insurance claim, the photos will help you prove what you had.


10. Remove all of your “secret keys” from under mats and rocks. Instead, leave a key with a trusted neighbor.


11. Pull vegetable plants out of your garden and pick ripe fruit from trees so animals don’t show up for dinner every night while you’re gone. If they’re hungry enough, animals will keep coming back when you return!