By Beth Weinhouse
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You might wish you could live in your vacation home year-round, but in reality it's likely that you're mostly there on summer weekends, major holidays, and school vacations, and the rest of the time it's often empty. It's hard enough to make sure your primary residence and the property inside is secure and well-protected from weather and crime while you're away, but how can you protect your vacation property when you're there less frequently? Simply setting an alarm system may not be enough.

The most important steps are to make your property look occupied even when it's not, to have the property regularly monitored, and to have the right insurance policy to cover you in case there are problems despite your precautions. Use these home security tips to achieve these goals and protect your vacation home:

  • Keep the lights on. Light is one of the most effective crime deterrents. Place light timers in different rooms so that the house isn't always dark. You can get simple timers for individual lamps at home improvement stores or have your entire home wired as a smart home, which can then be controlled remotely. Outside your home U.S. News & World Report recommends installing motion detector lights in the front and back to deter thieves. Be sure to also remove or hide expensive electronics and other valuables when you are gone so they're not visible through a window.
  • Keep up appearances. Make sure your property is well-maintained year-round, meaning that the lawn is mowed, leaves are raked, gutters are cleaned, and snow is shoveled. Have services on retainer to regularly take care of the property so it's obvious that someone is keeping tabs on it. If your property is especially valuable, consider hiring a caretaker.
  • Keep the heat on. Don't completely shut off heat or air conditioning—extreme cold can burst pipes while excess heat can lead to mold and furniture damage. Setting heat to 55 degrees Fahrenheit is warm enough to keep pipes from freezing without costing you a fortune. In warmer weather air conditioning can be set as high as 85 degrees to save money but still keep furniture in good condition.
  • Keep close tabs. A home security alarm system is practically a necessity for an often empty second home. Smart alarm systems now not only include window and door sensors, but add automatic door locks and allow you to check in while away with real time video surveillance and thermostats that adjust remotely. But remember that even with all this technology in place, it's a good idea to have your property checked in person regularly by someone you trust, especially after extreme weather. Let the local police know when the house won't be inhabited for a long period of time.
  • Get appropriate insurance coverage. Make sure you have the insurance coverage you need so that if something happens to your home or the items inside, you're covered. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) advises that if your vacation home has a mortgage, your lender might require homeowners insurance just as it would for your primary residence. It's a good idea to meet with a local insurance agent, since insurance requirements might be somewhat different from those of your primary residence. Your second home, for example, might be more at risk of flood, wind, hurricanes or earthquakes. If you ever rent out your vacation home, you may want to purchase additional liability insurance as well. Review your insurance policies annually to make sure they meet your changing needs.
After taking these steps to secure your home, it's time to relax. That's what a vacation home is supposed to be for, right?


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