Categories: At Home

Keep your home safe this summer

UNWANTED VISITOR – Making your home appear occupied is one of many strategies for warding off criminals while you're away on vacation.

Everyone is likely to take a bit of vacation time away from home over the summer, from a long weekend to a few weeks of camping. Whatever the time frame, away is still away, and leaving your house or condo unattended for any length of time can be nerve-wracking.

Concerns over home safety, whether a break-in and theft or worry about a broken water pipe, can dampen a holiday-maker’s fun, but there are steps homeowners can take to minimize any risk and enjoy a worry-free getaway.

Police say a house or apartment left empty is a tempting target to criminals, so the simplest way to gain peace of mind is to ask a friend or neighbour to keep an eye on the property while you’re away. Making a home look lived-in is key, so having mail and newspaper delivery stopped or a neighbour to pick it up every day or two is a good idea – nothing says nobody’s home like an overstuffed mailbox.

It’s also wise to turn the phone ringer down or off, keep curtains partly drawn and set lights to turn on and off with a timer. Ask that same friendly neighbour to mow the lawn regularly too.

The website Independentraveler.com offers other tips to keep your home safe while on vacation, including awareness about posting travel details on social networking sights like Facebook and Twitter.

“Would you announce to a crowd that you will be leaving your house unattended for two weeks? If not, think twice about posting detailed vacation plans. Be careful what you say on your answering machine or voicemail too – callers don’t need to know that you’re not home,” the site says.

And what about that spare key hidden under a plastic rock near the door? Experts report that up to half of all burglaries involve the use of a key, so don’t think you’re fooling criminals, who check the porch, under a mat or in the mailbox if they figure out you’re away on vacation.

St. Albert RCMP report that crime happens in every part of the city, but that most involve theft from cars or homes, and crimes of mischief.

“Crimes of opportunity account for over 25 per cent of offences in St. Albert. These wouldn’t happen if residents kept garage doors closed and vehicles locked, with valuables out of sight,” said Dale Fetterly, board member with the Neighbourhood Watch Association of St. Albert.

The long-time organization, now operating under eyewatch.info, no longer reports on crime in neighbourhoods, but does support initiatives that help prevent crime in the city.

“We promote neighbourhood development, in addition to creating community spirit, pride of neighbourhoods and crime awareness,” Fetterly said.

Providing free hamburgers and hot dogs for block parties all over the city, Neighbourhood Watch regularly welcomes RCMP to such gatherings too. And while you may not think meeting the police or your neighbour from down the block has an impact on crime, Fetterly said events like these foster strong communities.

“Neighbours who know each other can keep an eye out when there’s unusual activity – having several sets of eyes look out for each other’s interests is ideal, and different than the nosy neighbour stereotype, who is only looking out for their own interests.”

The group also offers a little-used serial number registry service (serialnumberregistry.ca) that securely stores the serial number of any valuables, from bikes to electronics.

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.