a person leaving for vacation

Things To Do Before a Trip: Home Checklist

Updated June 3, 2021 . AmFam Team

Preparing for vacation can be stressful, and that can include preparing your home for your time away. Check out our home vacation checklist to make sure your home is protected.

You’ve booked your trip and packed your bags. You and your family may be ready for your big vacation, but is your home? Anything can happen while you’re away. That’s why it’s important to make sure your home is safe and secure before you leave for vacation. Here is a checklist with 18 ways to prepare your house for vacation so you can have peace of mind while you’re away.

a car parked in a driveway

Protecting Your Home While You’re On Vacation

Vacations provide a much-needed break from the work life. Often, you’re so excited about your vacation that all you can think about is what you’re going to do once you’re gone. Nothing wrong with that, but far too many vacationers overlook one key detail: who’s looking after their home while they’re gone? And on the heels of that notion, here are some things to consider to ensure your home will be safe while you’re away.

How long will you be gone? If you’re going to be gone just a few days, you won’t have to take the same protective measures as you would if you’re going to be gone for weeks on end. But, it only takes a burglar a few minutes to wreak havoc on your homestead. Here are a few ideas you can use to make sure your home is safe while you’re gone.

  • Recruit a neighbor to help. Arrange a trusted neighbor to stop by your home at least once a day.
  • Have your mail brought in. An overstuffed mailbox is a telltale sign that nobody’s home. Same goes for newspaper deliveries.
  • Make it look like someone is home. This can be accomplished by parking a car in the driveway, having a friend or neighbor turn on and off your interior lights, etc.

8 General Tips to Prepare Your Home for Vacation

Preparing your home for vacation looks a little different than your normal home maintenance checklist. After you pack your bags and tidy up, take a few steps to reduce your risks while you're away. Steps like removing any clues that you aren't home or limiting the number of cards you bring along. To help you get started, we’ve put together a vacation house checklist before you head out. Start prepping your home for vacation with these tips:

  1. Have the post office hold your mail while you’re gone, or ask a neighbor to pick it up
  2. If you aren't using your car for the trip, store it in the garage, lock everything up and ask a neighbor to use your driveway to make it look like someone is home
  3. Pare down any cards you won't need on your trip and secure them in a safe
  4. Set your thermostat at weather-appropriate temperatures so air conditioning or heating aren’t unexpectedly turned on
  5. Turn on your water heater’s “vacation mode” feature or reduce the temperature to 50 degrees Fahrenheit to save on your energy bill
  6. Leave an emergency contact number with a trusted neighbor in case the unexpected happens to your home
  7. Unplug your nonessential electronics
  8. Turn off your home’s main water supply if possible

an open dishwasher full of dishes

5 Tips for Preparing Your Kitchen for Vacation

One of the last things you want when coming home from vacation is a stinky fridge or sink. By keeping these tips in mind, your kitchen should stay — and smell — exactly the way you left it before vacation.

  1. Take out the trash so it doesn’t create an unpleasant odor in your home
  2. Run a mixture of water and vinegar through your sink garbage disposal so any rancid smells don’t build or linger
  3. Clean your refrigerator and throw out or freeze food that may go bad
  4. After clearing out your dish washer, leave it open so standing water can evaporate
  5. Wipe down all surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria

5 Tips to Secure Your Home for Summer Vacation

If you’re planning some R&R this summer, make sure your home is secure and protected from potential burglars. Keep these safety tips in mind before you leave for vacation:

  1. Use smart home devices and security systems to protect your home while away
  2. Wait to post vacation photos to social media until after your trip
  3. Make it look like you’re still home; ask a friend to mow your lawn or put out your trash bins
  4. Ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your house
  5. Set timers for your outdoor lights

Infographic showing seven tips to prep your home for a summer vacation

Looking for more ways to secure your home when you’re away? Explore even more tips for keeping your home safe while traveling.

Protect Your Home with Homeowners Insurance

Your vacation should focus on fun and relaxation. Let us take care of protecting your things while you're away. Talk your American Family Insurance agent today to review your homeowners insurance coverage. Make sure you and your family have all the coverage you need for total peace of mind all year round.

But before you go, there are a few things you’ll want to do to improve the security of you home and make sure you’re prepared for any mishaps on your travels, too.

Related Articles

  • Roof and gutter covered in ice.
    Roof and gutter covered in ice.
    Protect Your Roof: How to Prevent & Remove Dams

    Icicles may give your home a quaint look in winter, but they’re symptomatic of a bigger problem — ice dams. Ice dams can damage your home because they prevent melting snow and ice from draining properly. Ice dams can lead to mold, rot and water leaking into your attic and nearby ceiling. But don’t panic just yet. We’ve highlighted how to prevent and remove ice dams and ways to mitigate damage to your home from ice dams.

    Red house in the snow.

    What is an ice dam?

    What causes ice dams? Ice dams form when attic air becomes warm enough to heat the underside of the roof, which in turn causes the snow on top of the roof to thaw. The melting snow runs down the roof until it hits an eave or roof edge that is below the freezing point. The melted snow refreezes and creates a ridge of ice — an ice dam — which blocks further runoff. As snow continues to melt, it has nowhere to go but up, where it starts seeping under the shingles and into the house.

    Ice dams typically form near the edge of the roof when water runs off the warmed roof and then freezes again at the eaves, but this isn’t the only place you’ll find them. They can also form on gutters that don’t drain completely and around skylights because of the less-insulated design.

    Icicles hanging from roof's gutter.

    Why are ice dams bad?

    Ice dams can cause big problems for your home. The weight of these heavy icicles has been known to rip gutters from roofs and cause damage to the shingles on your home. But the damage doesn’t stop there. Damaged drywall and plaster, water-stained ceilings and peeling paint are also the result of ice dam damage.

    Ice dams increase the chance of water seeping into your attic and soaking your insulation. This significantly brings down its R-value or its heat-retaining/insulating capacity — and worse yet — it can cause structural damage if left unchecked. Over the years, the effects of ice dams can lead to blistering of the interior and exterior paint. It can also spur the growth of mold and mildew, as well as weaken structural beams and rafters. Take into account the high-cost contractors will likely charge to fix the problem and you’ll begin to understand why it’s wise to take a proactive approach to managing ice dams.

    Person inspecting roof for damage. 

    How to Identify Ice Dam Damage to Your Home

    If you suspect that your home has an ice dam, it’s important to first detect signs of ice dam leaks and assess the extent of the damage. It may be necessary to bring in a contractor for an estimate in order to have a solid understanding of how extensive the damage is. In the meantime, here are some DIY ideas to try out:

    Snap some photos

    From the exterior of your home, take a few photos that you can use as a reference to look for signs of water damage on the interior. Look for stains on your ceilings and walls near the position of the ice dam.

    Check your attic

    Get into the attic and look for water dripping or staining on the rafters and roofing underlayment. It can be helpful to flag these areas so that you’ll be able to locate them later.

    Inspect your chimney

    See if you can find evidence of ice forming around the base of the chimney, where it meets your roof. If the flashing has come loose or isn’t sealed well, this can be another place where ice and meltwater can do some damage. From inside the attic, review the way heat escapes from around the perimeter of your chimney. If you can see daylight through that seal, take action to seal it up as soon as possible.

    Snow and ice on a roof and gutters.

    How to Prevent Ice Dams

    The basic principle of preventing ice damns is keeping your roof cold. If your roof is cold, snow won’t melt as fast and an ice ridge will be less likely to form. Keeping your roof cold isn’t always as easy as it sounds, so we’ve got ice dam prevention tips for you.

    Ice dams are usually created when the attic is warmer than the air outside. Ideally, the insulation keeps warm air in your home and out of your attic. The venting system in your attic helps keep it cool and hopefully close to the temperature outside. Together, this clever combination keeps snow on the roof from melting — and if the snow doesn’t melt, then ice dams shouldn’t form.

    The key to preventing ice dams on roofs and in roof valleys involves increasing ventilation in your attic, adding insulation and sealing air leaks. This is not a quick fix but a permanent correction, so it requires some effort and, most likely, professional assistance. However, the long-run benefits include a roof free of ice dams and a more energy-efficient home. We’d call that a win-win.

    Worker insulating an attic.

    Follow these 10 steps to avoid ice dams:

    1. Increase ventilation. Keeping cold air moving under the roof is the first step toward preventing ice dams. The ridge and soffit vents are designed to do this, but they might require a professional inspection and baffles to improve the flow and provide a clear path for the air.

    2. Cap the attic hatch. If you have an unsealed attic hatch, a weather-stripping cap will keep the heat in your home and prevent it from creeping into the attic. Remember, you don’t want warm air coming up into the attic and melting snow on the roof, causing freezing and ice dams.

    3. Examine exhaust systems. Most homes have exhaust ducts in the bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room. These vents should all lead outdoors through the roof or walls. If they’re vented to the soffit, you’ll need to have that changed for permanent ice dam remediation.

    4. Check the insulation. Check to see if your attic floor needs more insulation. Maintaining this protective barrier at optimum depth helps your home stay warmer and more energy efficient while keeping the cool air in the attic.

    Worker fixing a chimney.

    5. Install chimney flashing. Do you have flashing, a metal strip that prevents water penetration, between your chimney and the house? If not, it’s time to add it and seal any gaps where ice, water and cold wind can sneak in. Remember, you’re working around the chimney, so using fire-safe products is essential.

    6. Caulk leaks. Anywhere electrical cables, vent pipes, satellite dishes and other penetrations occur in the roof, you stand the risk of having gaps and air leaks. Caulk these areas with a fire-stop sealant to keep them as air-tight as possible.

    7. Check the ducts. Make sure all ductwork through the attic is properly sealed and insulated. If you have an older home, it pays to check your heating ducts to make sure they’re not bringing excess heat into the attic.

    Worker fixing a light in the ceiling.

    8. Look at the lights. If you have can lights or other light fixtures in your ceiling that are not sealed, you’re releasing heat into the attic. You might also be putting your home at risk for a fire. For increased safety, change these lights to an IC-rated fixture, which allows for direct contact with insulation and insulate over the lights.

    9. Add an ice-and-water barrier. If you’re reroofing, it’s time to add an ice-and-water barrier. This is a great layer of protection. While many regions now require it, it wasn’t always mandated, so your home may not have one. An ice-and-water barrier needs to be added under a roof, so it’s cost-prohibitive if you’re not reroofing — but if you are, it’s the perfect time to add it.

    10. Keep your roof in good shape. One of the best answers to prevent ice dams is to maintain your roof well and ensure you have enough insulation to keep warm air from getting through. Installing a metal roof with a steep pitch can minimize your risk of leaks caused by ice dams.

    Person on a ladder fixing his gutters.

    Quick Fixes to Get Rid of Ice Dams

    While your goal is to permanently stop ice dams, you might need to use a few quick fixes in the meantime. These tips help you stay on top of ice dams and prevent damage to your home.

    Use a snow rake. After a heavy snowfall, give your roof a break by raking the snow off. This inexpensive tool pulls down the snow so it can’t melt and refreeze into an ice dam. Only use a snow rake from the ground or your deck, never from a ladder. And be careful not to break shingles, which can be brittle in bitter cold temperatures.

    Try calcium chloride. Avoid using rock salt as it can damage paint and metal on your home. But calcium chloride can help melt ice and get water flowing again.

    Install heat cables. Mount heat cables along the edge of your roof and through the downspout. That enables snow to melt and run down the proper channels.

    Steam it off. If you have an ice dam already and you can see that there is a leak coming into your home, you’ll want to remedy it as soon as possible. Check with local roofing companies to see if they have a steamer that can melt the ice off the roof without damaging your shingles. If it’s too big a job for just you, hire a roofing professional to steam off ice dams.

    Not having to worry about ice dams can be a huge relief in the winter months. You instantly free yourself from the immediate issues of a damaged roof and leaks. In addition, your home becomes more energy efficient and comfortable as the air quality improves if moisture isn’t sneaking in and forming mold and mildew.

    Person on a roof holding hail in their hand.

    Does insurance cover ice dams?

    If an ice dam damages your roof, don’t fret. It’s common for homeowners insurance to cover ice dam damage. American Family’s standard homeowner’s policy covers sudden and accidental damage from leaking roofs and damage from the weight of ice, snow or sleet.

    If you have more concerns about your roof insurance coverage or you’d like to learn how your homeowners insurance protects your roof and everything under it, connect with your American Family Insurance agent — they’ve got the answers you need.

     

  • Row of colorful new townhouses.
    Row of colorful new townhouses.
    Do I Need Homeowners Insurance for a Townhouse?

    Whether your townhouse is a rental, in a condo association or one that you own, you’ll need insurance for it. While homeowners insurance for a townhouse might seem appropriate, there are a few factors to consider before purchasing insurance. If you’re the owner of the townhome and aren’t part of a condo association, homeowners insurance is right for you — but if you’re part of a condo association, you’ll want to look at condo insurance. And finally, if you rent your townhome, go for renters insurance.

    New townhouse on a sunny day.

    What is the difference between a condo and a townhouse?

    Condos and townhomes may seem similar, but they have a few key differences. A condominium is typically a living space, either a townhome or apartment-style space, that is owned by a condo association and has shared common space among residents that their condo association fees pay for. If a townhome isn’t owned by a condo association, it’s not a condo.

    Townhomes are typically multi-story buildings that share at least one wall with another townhouse. They look a bit like row houses without easements between the buildings. They can be owned by a condo association, rented from a landlord or owned by individual homeowners.

    House with roof damage from a fire.

    What is covered under townhouse insurance?

    There generally isn’t such a thing as “townhouse insurance,” so to understand what’s covered, you’ll need to consider your living situation. If you’re living in a townhome that isn’t owned by a condo association, you’ll want to look into renters or homeowners insurance.

    If you own your townhouse:

    If your townhouse is solely yours and not part of a condo association, you’ll need a homeowners insurance policy to help protect your property. Home insurance for townhouses covers the same things that it would for a regular house, including:

    • Damage from fire, smoke, wind and other disasters or hazards
    • Damage to your home’s structure
    • Theft of or damage to your personal belongings
    • Liability protection if someone is injured on your property

    You can add other coverages to supplement your homeowners policy that can help cover expenses associated with appliance breakdown, flooding or even identity theft. Learn more about what homeowners insurance can help protect.

    For rent sign on townhouse.

    If you rent your townhouse:

    If your townhouse isn’t part of a condo association and you’re renting it, renters insurance can help you protect your personal property in the event of an accident or theft. Renters insurance for a townhouse can help cover things like:

    • Damage to your personal property from a fire
    • Replacing your personal property after theft
    • Liability protection if someone is injured in your townhome

    Even when you’re away from home, your renters insurance follows you wherever you go.

    People around a table, having a meeting.

    If your townhouse property belongs to a condo association:

    Condo association policies typically only cover common areas and the exterior of the building you live in, although some will cover the interior — but only in its original state. To be sure your personal property and any updates to the interior you’ve made are protected, like granite countertops to replace the original vinyl, you’ll want to get your own condo insurance policy.

    Condo insurance coverage helps protect the things not covered by your condo association’s insurance policy. This includes personal property and personal liability coverage, which can help cover expenses if someone is injured on your property. Even if your condo association insurance policy covers some things that a condo insurance policy might, you should consider condo insurance to take care of any gaps in coverage.

    New townhouse living room.

    Get the Townhouse Insurance Coverage You Need

    If you need help assessing your townhome to understand the right type and amount of protection you need, connect with your American Family Insurance agent. They can help you figure out if you need condo, renters or homeowners insurance and what kind of additional coverages you need to protect what matters most.

  • finished basement
    finished basement
    What Is the Ideal Humidity for a Basement?

    The humidity levels in your basement can impact your home and everyone living inside. It can also affect your valuables, electronics and appliances. In this article, we'll discuss ideal basement humidity levels. We'll also give tips to help you address, monitor and manage moisture in your basement.

    Father and son smiling in living room

    Normal Basement Humidity Levels

    Ideal basement moisture levels are between 30 - 50%. Anything below 30% is too low and can lead to structural changes in your home, causing gaps between windows and doors. Aside from health issues, insufficient moisture levels can also cause wood floors to creak and damage your belongings.

    Moisture levels above 50% can lead to mildew, mold and bacteria growth. That environment can cause serious health issues. Excessive moisture can also damage walls and carpets, causing your home and belongings to rot.

    Locating Your Basement Humidity Source

    One of the best ways to address basement humidity levels is to manage the moisture at its source. While consulting with a professional is always helpful, you can start your search using the following methods.

    Seal Off Drafts

    Gaps and cracks in windows, doorways and walls can cause excess moisture to collect in your basement. Sealants like caulking and weatherstripping can help close the gaps and fix the issue.

    Maintain Your Sump Pump and Vents

    If your sump pits and drains are not airtight, the excess moisture from the pipes can create a humid environment. Maintaining your basement's vents and sump pump can help you manage moisture levels. Consider getting it checked by a professional once every three to four months for optimal performance. 

    Repair Leaks

    Leaking pipes, washing machines and water heaters can affect your basement's humidity. They can also cause other issues, such as a spike in your utility bills.

    To spot them, look for wet spots, rust or condensation around these areas. Beyond helping you maintain healthy basement humidity levels, it helps you catch costly leaks early.

    Clean Gutters

    Clogged gutters can pool rainwater and melting snow around your home’s foundation. Consider positioning gutter spouts to draw water away from your home. Additional outside water can saturate your basement floors and walls, increasing moisture levels.

    woman in living room with cat and dehumidifier

    Managing Your Basement Humidity Levels

    Some humidity issues are more severe than others. However, there are several accessible tools you can use to maintain appropriate moisture levels in your basement and home. Consider the following tips.

    Dehumidifiers

    Several dehumidifier types, such as refrigerant, desiccant and whole-house ventilation systems, are available. They can help you manage moisture levels in your entire home, a single room or a crawlspace. All serve one purpose: To remove excess moisture from the area.   

    Before purchasing yours, consult an expert. They can help you find a suitable model and size that best addresses the humidity in your basement.

    Exhaust Fan

    Another excellent way to manage your basement's humidity levels is to keep it well-ventilated. Installing an exhaust fan is a great option if you can't accomplish that naturally.

    An exhaust fan should be installed in a window or exterior-facing wall to draw the moist air away from your basement. As a bonus, exhaust fans can circulate the air, which helps control unwanted odors.

    Chemical Absorbents

    If you need a fast-acting, inexpensive, moisture-removing option, chemical absorbers, such as silica gel, may be able to help. They're typically sold in home improvement stores and can be placed in other parts of your home as well.

    Humidity Monitor

    A humidity monitor can help you track your basement's humidity levels. Some dehumidifiers and exhaust fans come with them built in. You can also buy a stand-alone model that hangs on your wall.

    Water Leak Detector

    Water leak detectors help you catch leaks early and boast a variety of capabilities, such as sending real-time alerts to your phone.

    You can install them on sinks, appliances and water heaters. Getting one may also qualify you for our smart home discount.

    father and daughter doing laundry

    How American Family Insurance Can Help Protect Your Home

    Our standard home insurance may help protect you from sudden, accidental water damage. Qualifying events may include burst pipes or broken-down appliances.**

    If you want more protection from unexpected losses, talk to your American Family agent about the following coverages:

    • Hidden Water coverageProvides a broader net of protection for leaks you can’t see within the walls, floors, ceilings, cabinets or anywhere else that isn’t visible in your home.***
    • Inland Flood coverage: Helps you recover after a flash flood or other qualifying event.*** 
    • Flood insurance: With the National Flood Insurance Program, we offer flood damage protection for your home and possessions.†
    • Water back-up coverage: Helps mitigate the cost of repairs caused by water coming back into a home due to a backed-up drain or an overflowing sump.* 

    mother and daughter putting toys away

    *Coverage provided by adding the Inland Flood optional endorsement. This endorsement does not satisfy mandatory flood insurance coverage should it be required by your federally regulated lender for your home mortgage or loan. This insurance product is not affiliated with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Please check with your agent and read the policy and endorsements for exact details on coverage limits and exclusions. Coverage applies after the property deductible has been met.

    *This information represents only a brief description of coverages, is not part of your policy, and is not a promise or guarantee of coverage. If there is any conflict between this information and your policy, the provisions of the policy will prevail. Insurance policy terms and conditions may apply. Exclusions may apply to policies, endorsements, or riders. Coverage may vary by state and may be subject to change. Some products are not available in every state. Please read your policy and contact your agent for

    **Hidden Water Damage coverage is an optional coverage. May not be available in all states. Some restrictions apply to seasonal homes and manufactured homes. The leak must occur from within a plumbing, heating, A/C, fire sprinkler or a home appliance. Refer to your policy documents for coverage limit details. Coverage applies after the property deductible has been met. Mold damage limited to coverage limits provided by your homeowners policy.

    †American Family Insurance is a participating company in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). NFIP is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Flood insurance is a separate policy underwritten by NFIP.

  • a woman checks food expiration date
    Reimbursement for Power Outage Food Loss

    Power outages can cause a major disruption in your home — especially if they last for days! It may even result in damage or loss of frozen and refrigerated foods. The good news is your homeowners insurance may be able to help you recoup the losses.

    Let’s take a look to better understand if loss of food due to power outages is covered under your homeowners insurance policy.

    Insurance Coverage for Food Spoilage and Food Loss

    Your standard homeowners policy will provide some coverage for food loss due to a power outage or a mechanical failure of the refrigeration equipment — usually $500 or $1,000. So whether your power outage is caused be a tree in your yard falling on the line, or is from an outage that occurs off your premise, you’ll have some protection for spoiled food that results.

    Will a power company pay for spoiled food if they caused it? Actually, yes, sometimes utility and power companies reimburse the cost of food if they were at fault for the power outage. If that’s the case, it’s beneficial to reach out to see if reimbursement is a possibility.

    If your refrigerator malfunctions for reasons other than a power outage, your home warranty might cover any food spoilage. And while your homeowners insurance will provide some coverage, adding equipment breakdown coverage increases your limit to $10,000 for food spoilage caused by power interruption or mechanical failure.

    Submitting a Food Loss Claim

    If you plan on submitting a food loss claim, expedite the claim process for food spoilage by having the following on hand:

    • Documentation of the food that was lost
    • Pictures of the loss if possible
    • An estimated expense of the lost food
    • Any receipts for expensive items — like steak or lobster

    Compensation for Food Loss

    Remember that your homeowners insurance only covers up to the specified limit on your policy. For example, coverage for spoiled food has a limit of $1,000, meaning if your loss is above that amount, the most you’ll be paid is $1,000. Keep in mind that you may have to pay a deductible before your insurance will cover the rest. Knowing how much your deductible is and your coverage limit for spoiled food will help when deciding if it’s worth it to file a claim for food loss reimbursement.

    Get Insurance Coverage for Power Outage Losses

    Your homeowners insurance protects you in many ways — find out more about how the right homeowners coverage can bring you peace of mind.

    Not sure if your current policy covers food spoilage? Set up a personal insurance review to ensure you're properly protected.