We’ve all had that sinking feeling. Did you leave the coffee maker on? Or a door unlocked? Full-blown panic usually sets in about half an hour after you’ve headed out-of-town.
With the arrival of peak vacation season comes the separation anxiety associated with leaving your most valuable asset — your home — alone for a week.
And you have reason to worry.
The list of things that can go awry in an unsupervised property is long, with potentially costly consequences. The most obvious risk: Someone breaks in and steals your stuff. But there are other reasons to lose sleep. A pipe or faucet could leak. A tree could fall. And there’s always that dreaded coffee pot.
“It’s not just about someone breaking into your house,” said David Laubner, the head of digital marketing and e-commerce for Blink, a home security camera and monitoring system.
For Mike Barnett of South Orange, N.J., the intruder was an uninvited houseguest. One night in August 2013, he returned from a family vacation to Orlando, Fla., to find his home ransacked. Items had been knocked to the floor while doors and windows showed signs of abuse. But nothing was missing and Mr. Barnett could find no signs of forced entry. Then the culprit revealed himself: a terrified and hungry squirrel.
“It had obviously spent a fair bit of time running around crazy, plotting its escape,” Mr. Barnett said. The next day, an animal control expert trapped and released the rodent. Mr. Barnett never figured out how the squirrel got inside, but now he makes sure that doors, windows and the fireplace flue are closed and sealed. So far, no other furry creatures have visited.
The damage to Mr. Barnett’s home was around $1,000, including about $100 to trap the critter. But the biggest loss was sentimental. An Air Force award sitting on the fireplace mantel survived two decades and countless moves, but not the squirrel. The statue, of an eagle, was knocked to the floor, shattering its porcelain wings.
Other problems can be more costly. Americans who were burglarized suffered an average of $2,251 in losses in 2014, according to the F.B.I.’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Repairing water damage costs an average of $2,349, according to HomeAdvisor, a home improvement, repair and maintenance site.
You can’t stand guard day and night. But there are ways that you can reduce the risks to your home, even from afar. Here are 10 of them:
CONSIDER A HOME SECURITY SYSTEM If you do not have an alarm system, you are not alone. Only 17 percent of homes have alarms, and those without them are three times as likely to be burglarized, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security, an industry trade association.
“At the end of the day, home security is very high in importance, but it’s very low on the priority list,” said Lonnie Scher, the owner of Accutronic Security Systems, a residential and commercial security company in Livingston, N.J.
Home security systems do not come cheap. Expect to pay an average of $670 for installation, according to HomeAdvisor. Once you pay the setup fees, a monitoring service will cost around $25 to $40 a month, Mr. Scher said. However, you may be able to get a discount on your homeowners insurance for having one.
SMART HOME SECURITY The market is also flooded with do-it-yourself house-monitoring options like Canary and SimpliSafe, which tend to be cheaper than traditional systems like ADT, but are often less comprehensive.
LiveWatch includes a touch-screen control panel and a smart phone app. It sells add-ons like cameras, garage door openers and smart locks. The system starts at $99, plus $35 a month for the basic monitoring plan.
A Ring video doorbell, starting at $199, alerts you to visitors or package deliveries. Ooma, the internet phone company, sells sensors that detect motion, water and if doors or windows are open. The starter kit costs $130.
LOCK IT UP Cameras and sensors will do little to protect you if you leave a door or window open. An open window provides easy access for not only human intruders, but also pests like bugs and rodents. Should it rain, you could come home to a soggy windowsill and damaged floors. So, at the very least, close the windows and doors.
HIRE A SITTER If you have pets, a pet sitter is a must. Expect to pay around $37 a day for the service, excluding an overnight stay, according to Angie’s List, another home improvement, repair and maintenance site. For pet-free homes, ask a neighbor to water the plants and check on the house every few days. Reward their efforts with a bottle of wine or a gift from your travels.
STOP YOUR MAIL AND NEWSPAPER Nothing says “no one home” like an overstuffed mailbox or a pile of newspapers at the door. So put a hold on the paper and your mail, even if you get only junk mail. Ask a neighbor to watch for packages, fliers and restaurant menus, as those can pile up, too.
KEEP YOUR PROPERTY TIDY Have the lawn mowed, the plants watered and the pool cleaned. If you do not have a professional service, pay a local teenager to do the work. A home that looks occupied is less of a target. And a responsible teenager can alert you if something on your property looks amiss.
It is important to trim hedges and other plantings near windows and doors to avoid providing cover for burglars. Jennifer Rittenhouse, whose home in Montclair, N.J., was robbed almost a decade ago, still considers safety when she plants shrubbery. “I want to keep the holly near the windows because they hurt,” she said about providing a natural deterrent.
DISPENSE WITH THE HIDDEN KEY Do you have a house key hidden in a flowerpot? How about under the doormat? These are not clever hiding spots. Instead, leave the spare key with a trusted neighbor. You could also invest in a smart key like the Kwikset Kevo, a $229 lock that works with your smart phone.
TURN ON THE LIGHTS Set your porch light on an automatic timer. Set indoor lights, radios and television on timers, too. Smart bulbs like Phillips Hue can be programmed through your smart phone and activated remotely, allowing you to dispense with those plug-in timers.
GPS TRACKING If you park your car in an airport lot, remove portable GPS devices. A thief could steal the device and find your address with a press of the home button. Turn off location alerts on social media, too.
SOCIAL MEDIA BLACKOUT Resist the urge to blast your vacation photos over social media. Those pictures of you and the children in front of the Grand Canyon not only irritate your friends still stuck at the office, but also send a message that your house is empty. If you must share, wait until you return home.