Holiday Home Safety Tips
You have a lot to think about during the holidays: making plans to see family, decorating the house, and finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Plus, many of us go out of town, leaving our homes empty and vulnerable. In this guide, we go over some best practices for a safe holiday season, including strategies for maintaining your home in cold weather, safe decorating techniques for families with young kids, and most importantly, home safety tips for deterring burglars while you’re away. A note on holiday crimes
You’ll see a lot of alarmist news stories (and Home Alone movies) during the holidays about would-be criminals breaking into your gift-filled homes. But that’s not necessarily accurate. All of the available data shows that burglaries are actually at their lowest in the winter months. There’s a slight uptick in December for crimes like larceny (taking property by stealth) and robbery (taking property by force), but not burglary (breaking into a home).
We spoke with seven home security experts for this article, and none of them could say that they saw an increase in break-ins during the holidays. “In my experience, there is not necessarily an uptick in burglaries, but I have often seen an uptick in thefts in general around the holidays — particularly thefts of delivered packages,” Paul Grattan Jr., a sergeant with a large metropolitan police department, told us.
Step-by-Step Holiday Safety Checklist
Click the headings for more information:
What to Do Before Going on Vacation
▢ Invest in a home security system
▢ Notify the local police
▢ Keep your travel plans offline
▢ Use a timer for your lights
▢ Leave your curtains as they normally are
▢ Keep a car parked in the driveway
▢ Unplug unnecessary electronics
▢ Adjust your thermostat
▢ Close your chimney damper
▢ Bring plants indoors
▢ Put away outdoor items that a burglar could use to break in
What to Delegate While You’re Away
▢ Pick up your mail and newspapers
▢ Shovel your driveway
▢ Set out and bring in your trash cans
▢ Ask a neighbor to park in your driveway
How to Prevent Damage to Your Home While You’re Away
▢ Check your alarm systems
▢ Prevent frozen pipes
▢ Unplug appliances
▢ Keep your tree well-hydrated and away from heat sources
▢ Childproof your decorations
▢ Hang outdoor lights safely
▢ Do not overload outlets
▢ Opt for battery-operated candles
▢ Look for safety-certified decorations
▢ Don’t leave children unattended
What to Do Before Going on Vacation
- Keep your travel plans offlinePosting travel plans on social media lets criminals know that your house will be empty.
- Notify the local policeSome local police will make unscheduled visits to your property if they know you’re away.
- Invest in a home security systemThe best deterrent for burglars is a quality home security system, which also lets you check on your house from your phone.
60% of burglars would immediately move on if they saw a house with an alarm system.
Invest in a home security system
From preventing break-ins while you’re out of town to catching would-be package thieves, the most important step you can take to keep your house safe during the holidays is to arm it with a quality home security system. In fact, one study from the University of North Carolina found that 60% of burglars would immediately move on if they saw a house with an alarm system. If you don’t know where to start, our step-by-step guide walks you through the major factors to consider when purchasing a system.
Notify the local police
It’s always a good idea to tell the police or local neighborhood watch when you’re going to be out of town for the holidays. “Some local police departments, particularly in smaller towns, offer programs where the police make routine unscheduled visits to check on your property while you’re away,” Grattan Jr. said. Even if police don’t catch any suspicious activity, the sight of a police car in the neighborhood can be an effective deterrent to criminals.
Keep your travel plans offline
“While you may think you’re only sharing your vacation pictures with friends and family, you’d be surprised who else may come to realize you’re out of town,” Grattan Jr. told us. It might be tough to avoid sharing those awesome family pictures, but virtually every security expert we spoke with suggested a social media hiatus while you’re away from your home. “I’ve encountered many property crimes that were committed by a not-so-savory family member of a trustworthy friend,” Grattan Jr. said. “It pays to save the vacation photo posting for sometime after your return.”
Bring porch items inside
Beyond protecting your plants from frostbite, clearing your porch can improve your home’s defenses. You want to remove anything on your deck, porch, and your home’s perimeter that a potential burglar could use to break a window and gain access to your house. Put away any ladders, patio furniture, or heavy decorative urns.
Make Your Home Look Occupied
- Leave your curtains as they normally areDon’t make any big changes to how your home would normally look. If you usually keep your blinds open, leave them open when you’re out of town.
- Use a timer for your lightsTimers on interior and exterior lights give the impression that someone is home.
- Keep a car parked in the drivewayEven if you have a garage, a car in the driveway is a strong deterrent to criminals.
Use a timer for your lights
Our experts also emphasized the importance of automatic timers for your lights, both inside and outside. “Invest in light timers,” said Patricia Vercillo, Vice President of The Smith Investigation Agency. “These are awesome, as you can arrange for lights to come on and off as they normally would when you are home, giving the impression that someone is in the house.” If you want to go the extra mile, you can even set up TVs and radios to go on for a few hours at strategic times during the day.
Leave your curtains as they normally are
It might seem like a no-brainer to close your drapes or blinds while you’re gone, but this can actually be a tip-off to burglars. “Do not make any drastic changes to how your home would normally look,” Vercillo advised. With regards to window coverings, she said that it’s best to leave them as is — with one caveat. “Do not leave any expensive items near windows where someone could peer in and see.”
Keep a car parked in the driveway
Even if you have a garage, security experts advise keeping a car parked in the driveway while you’re out of town. “A good part of crime prevention is target hardening. A car in the driveway can be a good deterrent — it really causes a person to question whether someone is home or not and move to a better target,” Grattan Jr. told us. Just make sure to take your garage door opener out of the car, along with any valuables that would be visible from outside. If you need your car for your vacation, ask a neighbor to park theirs in your driveway instead.
Ask Someone Trusted for Help
- Set out and bring in your trash cans. You don’t want to be the only house on your block that doesn’t put out the trash can.
- Shovel your driveway. A snow-covered driveway or overgrown lawn is a sure sign that the home empty.
- Pick up your mail and newspapers. A stack of mail or newspapers can tip off criminals that no one is home.
Pick up your mail and newspapers
A full mailbox or mountain of newspapers at the end of the driveway is like a neon “vacancy” sign for intruders. The simplest option is to ask a trusted neighbor to pick them up every day, along with any flyers or packages on your front door. If that’s not an option, you can have the USPS hold your mail for up to 30 days. Most newspaper deliveries offer a similar service.
Shovel your driveway
If you’ll be gone for more than a few days, you’ll want to have someone shovel the snow off of your driveway (or cut your grass in warmer climates). A snow-covered driveway or overgrown lawn is a sure sign that the home is empty.
Set out and bring in your trash cans
While it’s not the first thing most people think of when they go out of town, this is a crucial step. “A burglar casing your street on trash pickup day may notice the one house whose trash cans aren’t at the curb,” Security Awareness Expert and CEO of Safr.Me Robert Siciliano told us. “Have a neighbor bring your trash cans out on trash day — with trash in them — and then bring them back in.”
Prevent Damage to Your Home
- Unplug appliancesReduce the risk of fires and save electricity by unplugging kitchen appliances.
- Check your alarm systemsTest your home security system and smoke detectors before you leave.
- Prevent frozen pipesKeep your home at a minimum of 55 degrees F while you’re away.
Check your alarm systems
Before you leave on a trip, make sure your security system and smoke detectors are working properly. Every home security system has a different method for testing; consult your provider’s website for specific instructions. To test your smoke detector, hold the test button for a few seconds until the siren starts wailing. If nothing happens, it probably needs new batteries.
Prevent frozen pipes
Water damage due to burst pipes is the second most-filed insurance claim in the U.S., with an average claim amounting to nearly $10,000. Even a small crack can dump as much as 250 gallons per day — a catastrophic amount if you happen to be out of town for the holidays. Before you leave, make sure your garage door is closed, open any kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors that have exposed pipes in them, and leave a drip going on any faucets fed by exposed pipes. Most importantly, make sure your thermostat is set to at least 55 degrees F while you’re gone.
The benefit of unplugging appliances is twofold: It reduces the risk of water leaks and fires and saves you money on your electricity bill. According to one study, about a quarter of all residential energy consumption in the U.S. comes from devices in idle mode. Before you leave for vacation, unplug all kitchen appliances, entertainment devices, and even washers and dryers.
- Keep your tree well-hydrated and away from heat sourcesFirefighters respond to an average of 200 Christmas tree fires per year.
- Childproof your decorationsMake sure to hang ornaments with glass or sharp hooks on higher branches.
- Hang outdoor lights safelyMake sure you’re using lights and extension cords marked for outdoor use with no frayed edges.
Keep your tree well-hydrated and away from heat sources
Christmas tree fires aren’t incredibly common — the U.S. sees about 200 per year — but they tend to be more life-threatening than other home fires when they do occur. Prevention centers around two factors: keeping your tree well-hydrated and away from heat sources. Make sure your tree has fresh, green needles when you buy it, cut off about 2 inches before putting it in the stand, and water it daily. Additionally, make sure your lights are specified for indoor use and keep the tree at least 3 feet away from heat sources like candles, fireplaces, or heat vents. And while you’re at it, maybe swap those candles for the battery-powered kind.
Childproof your decorations
Bright lights and fun decorations make the holidays a wonderful time for kids, but they can also be hazardous if not hung properly. When decorating your tree, make sure glass ornaments and other sharp objects are placed well out of reach of curious hands, and that the decorations within reach are safety-certified. You’ll also want to forego garlands and trimmings that resemble food on the lower branches. As an added precaution, don’t leave children unattended during any parties, or the holiday bustle in general. There’s often a lot more glass, fire, and choking hazards (all that new holiday candy!) available this time of year.
Hang outdoor lights safely
Safely hanging outdoor lights involves more than just a sturdy ladder; there are also electrical precautions you should take. Make sure both the lights and any electrical cords you’re using are marked for outdoor use, check them for any frayed ends, and use an attachment method that won’t damage the cord’s insulation. For information on how many lights you can safely plug into each outlet, check Energy Today’s helpful guide. Practice outlet safety on your home’s interior too: Don’t overload indoor outlets or go daisy-chain crazy. Use power strips sparingly.