Keep Your Property Safe When You Are Not There

TAMPA, Fla. – Home and business owners can reduce their chances of property damage by taking measures ahead of time to protect their unoccupied house or business, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

The number of vacant homes in the U.S. rose from 14 million in 2008, to 19 million by the first quarter of 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, the number of vacant commercial properties also has risen significantly in the past few years.


“Property protection measures are crucial for vacant buildings,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “Even relatively minor damage, such as water intrusion, that goes undiscovered and/or unrepaired can quickly grow into a serious, much more costly disaster.”

The IBHS brochure, Is Your Home Alone? Keep It Safe When You’re Not There, provides guidance on measures property owners can take to protect their vacant homes. Some of the key things homeowners should do if they know their house will be vacant include the following:

  • Keep wind and water out – make sure that tree branches are cut back 5 to 6 feet from roof and wall surfaces. Check for any signs of roof leaks and have any leaks fixed. If the home is in a hurricane prone region where debris impact protection is required for new construction, make sure that the windows and doors are protected. Be sure to secure outdoor furniture and other objects that could become damaging missiles in high wind.
  • Keep it cool – this has been an exceptionally hot summer in many parts of the country, and thermostats in vacant home should be set to no higher than 85 degrees to prevent high temperatures and humidity from damaging furniture or other contents.
  • Shut off the water and gas – water heaters, appliances, and pipes (PVC and copper) can leak or burst, which can cause major damage in a home left unattended. The best protection is to have the water shut off. When the water is turned off, be sure to also shut off the power or gas to the water heater (or the gas company can do this for you).
  • Leave electricity on – advise the utility company of the vacancy. Ask to be notified in the event of high usage or an emergency.
  • Install exterior and interior motion or timed lighting – this will act to ward off potential animal infestation and criminal activity, and to give the appearance of occupancy.
  • Try to make the property appear occupied – this will help reduce the risks of vandalism or other crime. Arrange for maintenance of the exterior by mowing lawns, taking care of shrubbery, and removing leaves.

Important Tips: If your house has a fire protection sprinkler system, it will be deactivated if you shut off the water. Consequently, in that case you should leave the water on to the house and concentrate on turning off water to appliances, such as an automatic ice maker or a washing machine. You also may want to turn off water to toilets to prevent water use from any toilets that may start running.

For business owners, IBHS’ Steps to Protecting Vacant Commercial Property provides guidance on what business owners can do to protect their vacant property. In addition to the steps listed above, IBHS recommends:

  • Advise local fire and police departments that your building is unoccupied, and provide them with keys and/or contact information in the event of an emergency.
  • Advise your premises alarm company of the vacancy, create new security codes, and update contact information.
  • Install exterior and interior motion or timed lighting, to ward off potential animal infestation and criminal activity, and to give the appearance of occupancy.
  • Change locks and/or install new tapered deadbolts if copies of exiting lock keys were given to prior tenants or vendors
  • Remove hazardous materials from the property, such as pollutants, chemicals or combustible materials to prevent explosion, leaks, seepage or contamination.

Visit for more information about how to make your property more resistant to a variety of disasters, big and small.

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