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Closing up the house for the holidays: a checklist

Associated Press Published: November 28, 2012

— Blinds: Leave the blinds as you normally do. If you raise and lower them daily, Long recommends keeping blinds closed in the rear of the house, in case a would-be robber is watching for movement, and keep them open in the front.

— Thermostat: If you're leaving a cold weather clime, you can turn the heat down in your home, but don't turn it off altogether since that could cause damage from frozen water pipes. Stone recommends going no lower than 60 degrees. Even at that temperature, the exterior walls, which may house pipes and plumbing fixtures, will be colder, especially in older homes that may have less, or no, insulation in those outer walls. "Turning that core temperature down is going to make a significant difference in the temperature around the perimeter," Stone said.

Another concern is mold if you have humidity sources like plants or fish tanks. Colder surfaces can condense moisture and lead to mold growth.

Set your thermostat fan from "auto" to "run" or "on" to keep the flow of warm air even and continuous.

"I would rather pay a little extra in electricity for that short number of days than to come home and find that some rooms are colder than others and there was damage," Stone says.

Another way to increase air flow is to open cabinets surrounding pipes, likely in the kitchen and bathroom, and keep interior doors open.

— Water: Turn off the main valve (usually located near the water meter) or, if you have well water, turn off the pump. Then, turn on an upstairs faucet for about 15 seconds to relieve any pressure that may have built up in the system and that could force water into the house if there were a leak. Unless you have frost-free spigots, make sure outside spigots have been turned off by shutting off the inside valve and draining them outside.

— Appliances/Fixtures: If you leave the main water valve open, turn off non-essential, water-dependent fixtures like toilets, ice makers, washing machines and dishwashers to help prevent a leak if a hose or fitting fails. Leave the refrigerator on, freeze what you can, and throw out or give away perishable food that won't last.

A gas water heater can be turned to the "vacation" or "pilot" setting, usually located at the bottom of the unit, so you are not heating water you don't need. An electric water heater can be turned off at the main electrical panel. Because it can take a few hours to get the water warm after you turn the heater back on, consider asking your caretaker to do so on the day you are returning.

— Electronics: Unplug or power down non-essential electronics like televisions, gaming systems, computer monitors, coffee pots and toasters to save money on electricity. Make a list of what you have turned off so you can remember what needs turning on when you get home.

— Garbage: Take it out ahead of time, or arrange for your caretaker to take it out on the assigned day.

— Insurance: Make sure your homeowners insurance is up to date.

— Furnace: Schedule your regular cleaning and tuning appointment if you have not already done so.