Going away on vacation for a week or longer this winter?

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Going away on vacation for a week or longer this winter?

Planning for the vacation usually involves your full attention on travel itineraries, finances, off-season clothing and an anticipated feeling of leaving your everyday routine behind to just relax.  

But part of the afterglow of a wonderful vacation is returning home and not having to deal with a lot of mundane tasks, like cleaning a mess that was left behind, a fridge with spoiled food or even a dirty load of laundry left in the washing machine. Or worst, damages from water or electrical issues, or perhaps a break and enter event!

Here’s a list of things to do before you lock the door and head out for some R&R that will ensure a comfortable return to your home. 


On the weeks before departure

  1. Arrange to make your house look occupied: Ask a friend or neighbour to check in every day or so. They can collect your mail or newspapers, water your houseplants and do a quick walkthrough of your house and basement. Arrange or pay for one of the neighbours to shovel or blow out your driveway and front sidewalk while you are away. As an alternative, there are housesitting agencies that provide basic daily check-in services or that can cover a more expansive list of chores to make your home look occupied.
  2. Check with your insurance company: Make sure that your house insurance covers any incidents while you are away, or if you require to prove someone is checking in every day to continue coverage.
  3. Don’t announce that you are going on vacation: Maybe it’s not a good idea to publicly share your planned vacation activity on social media until after you come back, when it’s safe for you to share photos and stories.


On the day of departure

  1. Clean up: Wash up any used dishes, finish any laundry that is pending, discard any food in the fridge that will spoil over your time away. Empty compost, recycle and garbage bins just before you leave. It’s nice to walk in after being away to a clean house, free of any bad odours.
  2. Unplug: There are a lot of electrical devices that do not need to be plugged while you are away. Some devices left plugged in are on sleep or stand-by mode and they just consume electricity. Disconnect kitchen appliances (toaster, microwave, etc.), electronics (TV, routers, phone chargers, computers, video consoles and such), and even laundry devices. Leaving electrical devices unattended for long periods does increase the risk of fire, although that risk is small.
  3. Lower thermostat: Experts suggest lowering the thermostat to 16 °C while you are away, a temperature that minimizes pipes from freezing and that prevents frost build-up on windows and doors. Anyway, there’s no need to keep the house comfortable when there is no one there to enjoy it, and besides, it saves money on energy bills.
  4. Shut off water: If you do not have anyone coming in every day to do a quick walkthrough to check that all is well, to be safe, it’s also a good idea to turn off your water main to prevent flooding in case of a burst pipe. After shutting off the water main, open all the taps to empty the pipes and shut them after draining. You should flush all the toilets twice to empty the bowl and then toilet tank. Many hot water tanks have a “Vacation Mode” setting that reduces its energy consumption while keeping water pipes from freezing. You could switch that on if available.
  5. Set a lighting timer: Plug-in timers can be used to have a lamp or two turn on at night and shut off later. Best to set these on front-facing windows. Some homes are set up already with smart lighting which allows you to control lights from your smartphone. Avoid just leaving lights on all night and during the day, as this is a sign that no one is home.
  6. Lock up: Make sure that all your windows and doors are locked up, especially the seldom used ones, like the basement ones, and lock up any skylights. Close the blinds as this offers an additional level of insulation with the added benefit of making it less obvious that there’s no one home.
  7. Secure your entrance: To make sure that you don't have a slippery entrance on your return, like an icy staircase, and to avoid any accidents or risks of falling during your absence, it’s a good idea to leave Alaskan products for the person who comes to take care of your house.

Now go out and have a fun vacation!