How to prepare your smart home when you're going on vacation

The smart home can help you holiday – if you know how

How to prep the smart home for your vacation
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Whether you've returned home to discover you've been burgled, or that someone left the bathroom tap running in their last-minute packing panic, nothing puts a sour note on a holiday quite like returning to a disaster.

We all do the routine checks when we know we'll be away for a long time – windows closed? TV unplugged? – but putting the smart home in vacation mode is another matter. Tamed properly though, the smart home can help keep your home safe, clean and ready for your return.

Here are our top smart home tips for keeping your home secure while on vacation.

Check your smart thermostat's settings

Most smart thermostats are built with vacations in mind – ie there should be a mode you can switch to for when you're away. This is the perfect time to delve into some of those unused settings you've been seeing. That said, if you're going to be gone long, you might be better turning the thermostat off completely, especially if you know you have visitors coming by who may set it off unnecessarily.

Read this: The best smart thermostats

Both the Nest Learning Thermostat and Ecobee4 have mechanisms to switch on if they detect your home is getting too hot or at risk of freezing. So you can switch them off and still have peace of mind. There are default values set for these temperature thresholds, which vary depending on your location, but you can adjust them if you wish.

If you're putting your thermostat into "Away" mode, make sure you set the correct leaving and return dates in the app (something Ecobee lets you do, for example).

Use a smart lock to authorise entry for select visitors

If a package arrives when you’re away, it’s best to get it inside your home before you become a victim of porch theft. Choosing a smart lock that lets delivery people in is one solution to this problem.

Some smart locks, like the August Smart Lock Pro, will also let you check in the app if your door is actually closed and locked. Some also, handily, let you allocate a select number of access "keys" to guests. We particularly like the fact that you can often create a schedule that only provides entry during specific times – a feature we thoroughly recommend making use of.

Some locks, like the Nest x Yale Lock have a keypad that the guests will be able to enter their code on, while the August lock requires them to have the August app and unlock the door using their smartphone. Schlage's latest smart lock lets Amazon Prime subscribers in select cities use the Amazon Key feature for package deliveries.

Read our list of the best smart locks for a guide to what's what.

Use cheap sensors to avoid pricey disasters

God forbid the worst does happen – a burst pipe, a leaking toilet – smart sensors are a cheap way of getting notified. There are loads of smart leak detectors out there, which will alert you if moisture is detected – a helpful tool considering the fact that most home insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. If a leak is detected and you're using a smart lock, you can remotely give a repairperson entry to your home to scope out the damage. See? Synergy.

You can check out our full guide to smart home sensors, but the iHome Wi-Fi Dual Leak Sensor is an Ambient favourite as it works with the holy trinity: Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit. You can set up triggers to switch off your plugs if a leak is detected. The Samsung SmartThings Water Leak Sensor does a pretty good job too. The good thing about (most) sensors is that they won't break the bank – but could save you a lot of money in the long run.

If you're leaving an animal at home, you could get really smart and stick a temperature sensor in your pet's room and have it trigger the thermostat to heat just that room.

Then there are motion sensors, which can provide another layer of home security and mostly use the Z-Wave protocol. Be aware of the different types of motion sensors out there: PIR (infrared) detects warm bodies, MW sensors bounce microwave pulses off objects, ultrasonic sensors use, well, ultrasonic waves, and vibration sensors detect movement (but tend to be less precise). Again, think smart when it comes to sensor placement. Don't stick them somewhere the cat will be passing every half hour, giving you endless notifications about suspicious activity in your home.

Use lights to pretend you're home (but you don't need smart bulbs)

Got some smart lights? You can harness their powers to create the illusion that someone's home. No more leaving the hallway light on for a week and wasting money.

Whether you're using Philips Hue, Sengled, Lifx or another brand, you'll be able to create routines that cause your lights to switch on and off throughout the day. For example the sunset and sunrise routine on Philipe Hue will automatically fade out your lights at sunrise, and fade in your lights at sunset. Hue actually offers a "Randomise" option, which you'll find in the app, that randomly adjusts the start and stop times – just in case anyone might be looking for patterns.

But here's the thing: you don't even need smart lights to build routines. A smart plug connected to a lamp will let you set routines or remotely control it without the need to splash out on some fancy bulbs or hubs. Here are a few smart plugs – UK and US – to consider.

Use your robo vac smartly

While not needed to deter criminals from illegal activities (yet), a robo vac can mean you at least come home to a clean house. But be smart about how you use it. Some of the robo vacuums let you control them remotely, others let you set scheduled routines.

The new Roomba i7 lets you choose specific rooms that should be cleaned and when – handy if there are only a couple of rooms you need to keep on top of when away. Additionally, it cleans out its own bin. If you don't have that luxury with your choice of vac, make sure the robot's bin is empty before you leave.

Our picks: The best robo vacuums

Our advice? Have the vac do a big clean just before you leave and schedule it for smaller cleans while you're gone, only in the rooms that are essential, to ensure it doesn't fill up before you return.

Also, before you leave make sure there aren't any closed doors that will block your vac – and be sure you've tidied away any wires or other potential obstacles, else return to your trusty robo pal in a tangle, and your house unclean.

How to prepare your smart home when you're going on vacation

Smart cameras are your friend – but check them first

You could get an all-out smart home security system with facial recognition, sensor tags and the works. For example, Abode’s smart home security system allows you to automate specific routines., so you can program the system to lock the front door after a certain time, or even when you’re a certain distance away from the home.

Or, you can also go à la carte and combine a smart doorbell with some cameras. However you're setting it up, the first thing you need to do is make sure everything is working. Test the cameras, check the notifications are coming through as they should, and check any batteries are charged up.

Read this: The best smart cameras

Not only can smart doorbells show you who's knocking, they can trick others into thinking you’re nearby by letting you "answer" the door remotely through the app (which can also be handy for dealing with packages). Nest's Hello doorbell (with a $5-a-month subscription) uses facial recognition to "learn" the people who visit your home the most.

With indoor cams, think of the most advantageous positions to point them in. Where are the most likely break-in points?

TAGGED    smart home

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