Safety Tips for Your Home: Leaving for Vacation or Home Alone

Before you pack the car for that trip up north to your cabin on the lake, make sure the things you leave behind are as secured and safe as you can make them. 

Rochester Police Department’s Advanced Crime Specialist, Darrel Hildebrant, offers suggestions to make your home more unfriendly to home invaders.


An empty home can be a welcome sign for crooks, so the most important step when leaving for vacation is to make your home look occupied, Hildebrant says. Setting timers for lights is a relatively inexpensive first step. “We want you to have your house look like there are still people living there, so (using timers) you might have the living room lights go on at sunset and go off around 10 or 10:30 p.m., and the bedroom lights go on around a quarter to ten so it looks like someone is in the home,” he explains. 


Hildebrant recommends residents close all curtains in the home, especially those that peek in on large entertainment centers or computer equipment; and any garage windows should also be covered as an empty garage is a sign that the home is empty.


When leaving for a week or longer, Hildebrant recommends listing your house on Vacation House Check through the Rochester Police Department or by calling 328-6800. This free service, staffed by volunteers who have passed extensive criminal background checks, offers residents someone to physically check their homes while they’re gone. 

Hildebrant says, “We don’t go in the house, but we walk around the outside checking doors and windows. In the wintertime, we’ll drive in and out so there are tracks by the garage; and if plants are wilting, sometimes we’ll water the plants. And we’ll pick up anything that’s left at the door. We try to make the house look as if someone is there.” 

Additionally, ask a trusted neighbor to peek in occasionally. They could park their trash bin in front of your driveway on garbage day, giving the illusion that someone is home.


Summer is also a time when more children are left home alone or with young babysitters during the day. In cases where occupants are in the home, it’s recommended that all doors and windows are locked, and garage doors closed. A home alarm that alerts law enforcement is a good idea, Hildebrant says, and explains residents are allowed three false alarms without charge every 365 days. He does not recommend planting a home alarm company’s sign in your yard when no alarm is installed as it leads to a false sense of security.

Hildebrant suggests one of the best deterrents is a “Beware of Dog” sign in your window (even if you don’t own a dog), and/or a barking dog. “Dogs are the best alarm system you can have, especially if they’re barkers,” he explains, adding that they scare intruders and draw attention to their presence.

Single women can feel especially vulnerable. Hildebrant says, “For women who live alone, we suggest buying the biggest pair of men’s boots you can find and get a guns or ammunition magazine and place by the front door.”


One of the best tools in a resident’s safety toolbox is getting to know their neighbors. When gone for a period of time, they can be an extra set of eyes and ears. 

For 34 years, communities nationwide have utilized National Night Out as an opportunity to meet neighbors through organized neighborhood events. This year’s National Night Out is Tuesday, August 1st. To learn more about this event and perhaps coordinate one for your neighborhood visit


Catherine H. Armstrong holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and is the author of “The Edge of Nowhere,” and the co-author of “Déjà You: Stories of Second Chances.” For more information, visit her website at