If you’re heading out this winter, follow these tips to keep your house safe.

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Q: I’m traveling out of state to visit family for a week this month. What do I need to do to keep my home safe?

A: Whether you’re visiting far-flung family or heading somewhere warm, keep your trip drama-free by following these tips to prepare your home for vacancy.

1. Don’t let outdoor spigots freeze. In Seattle, it rarely gets bitterly cold, but you should still take some minimal precautions to keep your pipes from freezing. Styrofoam covers for your outdoor faucets are cheap and effective. Better yet, hire a plumber to install frost-free hose bibs or equip each of your spigots with indoor shut-offs. Be sure to close the valves and bleed out the water before freezing temperatures arrive.

2. Indoor plumbing may also need protection. Some older homes have pipes in exterior walls, making them prone to freezing and bursting if the outdoor temperature drops. If you have a shower on an exterior wall, leave the bathroom door open so air can circulate with the rest of the house, or turn up the heat in that room.

3. Secure the lawn furniture. Frozen pipes can cause major property damage, but in Seattle it’s the winter wind that strikes most often. Before jumping into your Uber for the airport, take a few minutes to scan your yard for loose lawn furniture, trash can lids and other items that could take flight. (Patio umbrella, we’re looking at you!)

4. Turn down the thermostat. This tip takes only about two seconds and could save you enough money for a nice meal out on your vacation. Turn down your thermostat to 55 or 60 degrees.

5. Don’t worry about your plants. If you’re only going to be gone for a week (or even two), don’t bother lining someone up to water. If you’ve turned down your thermostat, your plants will be less thirsty, and most common house plants are tolerant of dry soil. Just give them a good dousing before you leave.

6. Use automation to give your home a lived-in look. Today’s smart home systems let you program your lights and TVs to mimic your at-home habits. You can use these systems to see what’s going on in your home, trigger intrusion alarms, and even unlock your front door for a pet sitter. But don’t worry if your home lacks the latest tech. A couple of simple timers can give a realistic illusion of occupancy.

7. Be savvy about social media. Go ahead and post some vacation photos after you return, but resist the temptation to hit “Publish” during your trip. You don’t want to advertise to the internet that your house is going to be empty.

8. Tidy up. You may be in a rush to catch your flight, but be sure to schedule a few minutes to take out the trash and run the dishwasher. You’ll thank yourself when you return.

9. Consider renting your house. Posting your home on Airbnb while you’re away certainly adds pre-trip stress. However, the holidays are a prime time for vacation rentals, and you can likely pay for your flights with the proceeds.

Congrats! You’ve gotten your home all buttoned up. For extra peace of mind, ask a trusted neighbor to check on your house, collect the mail and keep an eye on things while you’re away. You can now relax on your vacation, confident that your house is safe and secure.


Denny Conner is the president of CRD Design Build and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS), and HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’s nearly 3,000 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.