Protect vacant homes, businesses

Friday, September 16, 2011

Home and business owners can reduce their chances of property damage by taking measures ahead of time to protect their unoccupied house or business.

The number of vacant homes in the United States rose from 14 million in 2008, to nearly 20 million in 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. Even relatively minor damage, such as water intrusion, that goes undiscovered and/or unrepaired can quickly grow into a serious, much more costly disaster.

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. Be sure to secure outdoor furniture and other objects that could become damaging missiles in high wind.

*Keep it cool -- Thermostats in vacant homes 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.

*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.