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Q: How can I protect my home while I’m away on vacation?

A: There’s nothing like a vacation to recharge your batteries and give the family some special time together. Naturally, you plan for the care of family pets if they cannot accompany you on your weekend getaway or big trip. But what about your home?

The following steps will help protect your home and property from natural and man-made disasters while you’re away.

Before you leave, unplug everything but the refrigerator, freezer and any lights and radios that are set on timers. Check to make sure the oven and stove, as well as small heat-generating appliances such as hair dryers and curling irons, are turned off and unplugged.

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If you plan to be away for more than a week, turn off the water to your sinks, toilets, dishwasher and washing machine. Aging washing-machine hoses and dishwasher parts can break and flood your home, causing thousands of dollars in damage and ruin what otherwise would have been a relaxing vacation. It’s also a good idea to set your hot-water heater to its lowest heat setting. This keeps it functioning at a minimal level and saves you money on energy bills while you’re away.

You’ll also want to protect your home against break-ins. One of the best ways to do that is to make it appear that you never left. Experts say most break-ins can be prevented if homeowners take steps to burglar-proof their homes. To that end, light and noise are your greatest weapons. Here are some effective ways to create the impression that your house is not home alone:

• Use timers for your lights, TVs and radios to provide sound, and to light up your home at times when you would normally be there;

• Stop delivery of mail and newspapers, or have a neighbor pick them up;

• Keep shades up and blinds and curtains open to make it appear as though you are home, but make sure valuable electronics are not visible through the windows;

• Arrange to have your lawn mowed, and ask a neighbor to park in your driveway occasionally to create the impression of someone coming and going.

It’s a good idea to provide a trusted neighbor with your contact information in case a damaging storm or broken water heater floods your home. That way you can get your insurance company involved right away.

Keep the outside of your home well lit, and make sure bushes and shrubs near your home’s entrance and walkway are well trimmed and do not provide camouflage for anyone contemplating a break-in.

Double-check doors and windows before you leave to make sure nothing has been accidentally left unlocked, and remove any emergency keys you may have hidden on the property.

If you have an automatic garage-door opener, unplug it on your way out. With the opener unplugged, even a savvy burglar who discovers the code won’t be able to open your garage door.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to

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