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Vacations should be a time of leisure and relaxation. Most of us make elaborate plans on where we're going, how we'll get there, what we're going to do and how long we'll stay.

We should also make plans to protect our homes and property while we're away. Here's a list of suggestions gleaned from several sources, including the police department and Lon Grossman, a certified home inspector from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.On the outside:

- Arrange for yard service. Make sure the lawn is cut and watered. If you have a pool, arrange for regular pool cleaning.

- Stop mail and newspaper delivery; burglars look for piles of newspapers and letters.

Another option is to have a neighbor, friend or relative keep an eye on your home while you are gone. He can pick up your newspaper and mail each day, and continued deliveries give the appearance that your home is occupied.

If there's a car in the driveway, have him move it from time to time. Make sure garbage cans are set out on a regular basis for pickup, as if you were at home.

Give your "house-watcher" an itinerary and a phone number where you can be reached. Give him a list of service people you use, and make sure neighbors are notified when workers will be at your home. (Good neighbors will call the police if they see strangers at your house unexpectedly.)

- Notify the police, and your security firm if you have one, that you are leaving and how long you expect to be gone. Many police departments will add you to a drive-by list if they are made aware you will be away.

- If you hide a key outside your home when you leave, don't hide it under your doormat or in your yard; that's easy prey for burglars. Ask a neighbor if you may hide it under his doormat or in his yard.

On the inside:

- Turn the water heater to low. Some models have a vacation setting.

- Turn off the water supply to the washing machine. The hose to the washing machine could burst or leak while you're away.

- Unplug unused appliances, including toasters, microwave ovens and televisions. A fire could start from a cord and plug appliance, even when they're not in use.

- Secure or unplug the garage door opener, but only if it's not going to be used by the person watching your home. Stray radio signals could cause your door to open.

- Make sure all windows and doors are locked and secured.

- Do not leave the porch light on. This is a sure sign that nobody's there.

- Have someone open and close the shades to make the home look lived in.

- Turn off your answering machine or call and clear out your calls each day. It would be better to set your phone to forward calls to a friend or relative.

- Set timers for the lights. Set the bedroom timer to come on just before the rest of the house lights go off. Set the bedroom timer for a short period. Put a timer on a radio or TV so that strangers will think someone's home.

- Make sure you have a backup sump pump. Either a battery-operated or water-powered unit can be used. Instruct the person watching your home to reset all timers if the power goes off during a storm. Leave a list of timers and times set.

- Arrange to have pets cared for.

- Don't publicize your travel plans.

- If you still have your heat on, set the thermostat to a low setting. Just be sure that when you vacation in colder months you do not set it so low that water lines might freeze.

- In the fall, have leaves raked, and in the winter, arrange for snow removal.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)