Is it safe to leave lights on while on vacation?

Murphy’s Law for travelers: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong while you’re on vacation—which is arguably the worst time a household calamity can strike. Coming home from your honeymoon, African safari or Mediterranean cruise can be gloomy. But returning from a memorable journey and learning something has gone seriously wrong at home can be downright devastating.

How to Keep Your Home Safe While Away

To make matters worse, a house or apartment left empty while its owners are traveling is a tempting target for criminals. We don’t want to scare you—or leave you fearing for your treasured belongings while basking on a Caribbean beach. But it’s imperative that every traveler take certain key steps to keep his or her home safe and sound while seeing the world. Basic preventative measures (which take only minutes to complete) can work wonders to help you keep your home safe from power surges, broken pipes, home invasions, and more while you’re away.

Ask a Friend to Help

A simple, albeit crucial, way to gain peace of mind while traveling is to ask a friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your house while you’re away. First, bribe your friend with some freshly baked cookies or cupcakes. Next, ask him or her to drive by your home once every day or so and check on the place. Give this person a key so that he or she can bring your mail in, feed your cat, water your plants, rake your leaves, etc. If you don’t have a garage, you may also want to give this person a key to your car—you never know when your vehicle may need to be moved. He or she should also have your contact information and a copy of your itinerary in case of emergencies.

Do you have more than one person visiting your house while you’re away? If so, tell them about each other! If the neighbor you asked to keep an eye on your abode calls the police on your elderly cat sitter, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Don’t Tip Off Criminals on the Web

In a world where it seems everyone is blabbing about their business on social media, it’s important to stop and think: Who exactly is reading this stuff? The anonymity of the internet can encourage us to share personal information without fully realizing that there may be hundreds of complete strangers receiving our daily musings. Would you announce to a crowd that you will be leaving your house unattended for two weeks this month? If not, then you should think twice about posting your detailed vacation plans on social media—especially if that information is visible to internet users other than your friends and family (and it probably is). And take heart: You can always post your vacation pics after you return.

Be careful what you say on your voice mail too. Callers don’t need to know that you’re not home—they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.

Do Tip Off the Police

Consider notifying the police if you’re going on vacation. No need to let the cops know about a weekend getaway, but do call them if you’re leaving town for longer than a week or two. It’s possible the police may go out of their way to drive by your house while on patrol, especially if you live in a small town. If you have a security alarm, leave a house key and the code with someone you trust, and provide the police and alarm company with their name and phone number. You may also want to contact your local neighborhood watch program if there’s one in your area.

Curtains Closed—or Open?

Before you leave for vacation, you may decide to close your curtains to prevent people from peering inside your home to see whether you’re there. However, closed curtains also stop those who aim to help—the police, your neighbors or friends—from seeing inside your house. So what’s your best bet? Leave your curtains exactly as you usually keep them when you’re home, since noticeable changes could hint that you’re not around anymore—especially if your curtains are uncharacteristically left closed for two weeks. Move expensive items, like jewelry or computers, out of plain sight if they’re visible from the window. Store small valuables and important documents in a home safe.

The Lights Are on But No One’s Home

Don’t leave your lights on at home throughout your entire vacation in an effort to make it look like someone is in the house. Your electric bill will end up more costly than your mortgage, and house lights blazing throughout the night might look a bit suspicious.

Instead, purchase a light switch timer that can turn your lights on and off automatically according to a programmed schedule. Criminals keeping an eye on your house will notice lights flipping on and off, and will probably assume someone is doing the flipping. Amazon offers a number of such products, including this one from Honeywell and this one from Enerlites.

Stop Your Mail

Either place a “stop” order on mail and newspapers (we also recommend this in our Ultimate Checklist for Traveling Abroad), or arrange to have a friend or neighbor pick up your mail while you’re away. Otherwise, a week’s worth of papers piled on your front step could signal to criminals that this particular homeowner is out of town. It’s easy to put your mail on hold at USPS.com. If you’re not going to be away for more than a night or two, but you’re concerned about the security of your mail, consider upgrading to a locking security mailbox.

Put That in Your Pipe

If you live in a cold region of the world and your pipes are in danger of freezing during winter, you have another compelling reason to leave a house key with a friend while you’re traveling. Ask your friend to stop by and check your faucets. If he or she turns on a faucet and only a few drops of water come out, your pipes may be frozen.

Take other precautions like making sure your pipes are properly insulated and keeping your heat on while you’re away—a smart thermostat can help efficiently maintain a minimum temperature in your home without overspending. Show your key-bearing companion the location of the water main shut-off in case a pipe breaks.

Pull the Plug

Unplug your television, computer, toaster oven, and other appliances to protect them from power surges. This will help you save power as well; many appliances draw energy even when they’re turned off.

Remove Your Spare Key

That plastic rock isn’t fooling anyone. If a criminal figures out you’re away on vacation, it’s likely that he or she will check your porch for a spare key. So reach under the mat, into the mailbox, above the door frame, or into the flower pot and remove your spare key before you leave on your vacation. If you must leave a spare key outside your house, put it in a well-hidden secure portable lock box.

Use a Monitoring Doorbell System

A video doorbell system like the Ring Doorbell allows you to see, hear, and speak to visitors from anywhere in the world via your smart phone. As soon as motion is detected at your door, an alert notification is sent to your phone ensuring constant surveillance wherever your device is installed.

More from SmarterTravel:

  • 8 Packable Things That Could Save Your Life
  • 12 Life-Saving Travel Hacks for Your Next Trip
  • 6 Ways to Feel Like You’re on Vacation at Home

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Should You Leave Your Lights On At Night? It Depends

Leaving your lights on at night might not be effective at deterring crime if there is no one around to see it, research shows. TongRo Images/Corbis hide caption

toggle caption TongRo Images/Corbis

Leaving your lights on at night might not be effective at deterring crime if there is no one around to see it, research shows.

TongRo Images/Corbis

You’re about to go to bed. You flip off the light switch. It’s pitch dark. As you stumble your way through the living room, you glance at your neighbor’s house, where light is peeking through the windows.

You stop in your tracks and wonder: Would a burglar choose to break into your dark house or your neighbor’s brightly lit house?

Scouring through online forums will give you two contradictory answers: Leave your lights on, and burglars will think someone is home; turn your lights off, then burglars won’t be able to see what they’re doing.

“Then they also say if you keep your lights on you will stick out….Stick out because I can afford the $8 to keep my lights on? Does that mean I have more valuable items….or does it mean I am smarter than my neighbor?” a user asked in a City-Data forum regarding his porch lights.

Using Lights To Mimic Human Activity

Some studies have shown that less crime occurs along well-lit streets. Motion-detecting lights are also intended to add a layer of security.

But having security lights, as it turns out, is only marginally effective unless it comes with specific strategies — and in the end, the most effective home burglary deterrent might just be a good relationship with your neighbors.

“People who leave their lights on during the day and they’re on 24 hours a day actually attract attention from burglars,” says Samantha Nolan, a Citywide Neighborhood Watch trainer for Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. “Because if you’re home, you’re going to turn the lights off and it signals there’s somebody home.”

Nolan also recommends installing timers with your indoor and outdoor lights so they mimic human activity.

For example, outdoor lights should go on at night and turn off in the day, while lights indoors should go on and off in different rooms as if there is someone moving around, she says. If someone is away on vacation, these timers play an even more important role.

Sometimes It’s Better To Leave Lights Off

But all this lighting is useless if there’s no one around to witness or report a crime, says Marcus Felson, a professor at Texas State University and an expert in criminal justice. The lights would only help robbers see their actions, he says.

Felson says indoor lights can deter burglars from breaking in, but they often break in anyway after knocking on the door to see if anyone answers. Outdoor security lighting is effective if there are people — neighbors, pedestrians or police — to actually see suspicious activity.

“If you’re in a rural area, you’re basically in a secluded area — you’re better off turning off because the lights would help an intruder actually see,” Felson says. “Motion detectors are the best, but again the question is guardianship — are there people around who are likely to see, or would the offender think he will likely be seen?”

A good way to reduce home burglaries, according to Felson, is to introduce yourself to your neighbors so they’ll be familiar with who goes in and out of the house. You can also tell them if you’re out on vacation so they can look out for you, like Nolan did.

According to FBI statistics, most residential crime actually occurs in daylight. But most people are not aware of this and turn off their burglar alarm systems during the day, Felson says. This is when your neighbors come into play — particularly retired folks who stay at home, Felson finds in his studies.

Tips For Keeping Your Home Safe

  • During the day, turn off your outdoor lights and leave your alarm system on.
  • Install motion-detecting lights.
  • Set timers for your lights, TVs and radios to mimic human activity.
  • Get to know your neighbors.
  • Turn off your lights if there is no one around to see them.
  • Establish a neighborhood watch.

“If your neighbors are retired and you know them, that’s the real good way,” Felson says.

Drew Schneider, an 11-year resident of Petworth, a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., says his neighborhood council is trying to restart community walks and establish block captains who look out for neighbors.

It hasn’t materialized yet, and Nolan says according to her experience, most people only become more interested in crime prevention when there is a spike in crime. Participation falls when the crime rate drops.

Schneider says he’s had all the security gear — motion-detecting lights, webcams, door locks — ever since moving to D.C. from a suburb in Texas.

“I turn my lights off. I’m not going to waste my electricity,” he says. “There is definitely the case for prudence and common sense, but there is not a case for paranoia.”

Whether it’s a waste of electricity depends on how effective the lights are in deterring crime. The nationwide average cost of electricity is about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. Multiply that by the rating of your light bulb and the hours you leave it on to calculate how much you’re spending on your lights. Or you can use this website by the group Sensible and Efficient Lighting to Enhance the Nighttime Environment. It even estimates your lighting’s carbon footprint.

Zhai Yun Tan is a digital news intern.

You’ve just spent a glorious week on vacation with your family. The sun was out the whole time, the food was good, and the kids behaved. Miraculous! As you pull into the garage, though, you realize something seems amiss. The door into the house is ajar, and you’re sure you closed it on the way out. You cautiously open the door, only to realize that while you were away, burglars made off with your electronics, jewelry, cash, etc. The glee from your previous week is wiped away, and you’re left wondering, “Why me?”

It’s a scenario that plays out thousands of times each year in households across the country, and world. In the days following, you’re sure to ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?” This article is here to help you answer that question.

There are of course instances where no amount of preparation would have prevented a break in. But with a few simple steps, you can lower your home’s risk of being targeted and infiltrated by burglars.

Note: I don’t mention security systems here, as you either have one or you don’t. It’s not likely you’d get one installed simply for vacation. (If you’re away a lot, though, and don’t already have a system, it’s probably worth looking into.) If you do have a system, just be sure to call your security company and inform them that you’ll be on vacation, so that any alert gets taken seriously right away.

Tips For Keeping Your Home Safe While You’re Away

One of the best ways to protect your home is to be a good neighbor. That is, when you get to know your neighbors and talk with them regularly, you can mention that you’ll be going on vacation and that you’d appreciate their looking out for the place a little.

Don’t necessarily ask them to do a bunch of chores (be respectful of their time and efforts), but it’s no problem to ask that they be aware of anything that might make the house look unoccupied — packages on the front step, a sprinkler system gone awry, etc. They’re the first line of defense while you’re gone, and you can return the favor when they’re away. You’ll also want to give them your vacation contact information, just in case of emergency.

If you’re not at a point of being comfortable with your neighbors, you can also ask friends and family to check up on the place a couple times a week while you’re gone. Again, you don’t need to ask them to do all the chores (unless they owe you!), but just to make sure that things look normal and lived in.

You can also actually call your local PD and let them know you’ll be going on vacation; they’ll often send an extra patrol or two through your neighborhood just to establish a presence. While this isn’t a replacement for asking someone trusted to stop by a few times, it is an additional layer of security.

Install Timers on Your Electronics

A dark house at night for a week straight is a sure sign that someone is on vacation. By the same token, you don’t want to just flip a light on as you head out the door and leave it on the entire time (yes, I’ve done that, and I know other people who have too).

Luckily, there are a huge variety of timers on the market that plug right into an outlet and turn your lights and other electronics on and off at certain times of day.

Most people only think of using these timers on lamps, but having TVs and/or radios plugged into them is a good idea too to create noise and the flickering lights associated with most American homes in the evening.

Be sure to get the variety of timer that works with random intervals. You don’t want lights that turn on at exactly 7pm and turn off at 10pm every night; if someone is watching the neighborhood, they’ll notice. Some models even pair with your smartphone so you can turn certain outlets on and off at will. (Note that many security systems offer this feature as well.)

Have Someone Mow the Lawn/Shovel the Driveway

Two of the biggest giveaways that someone is away from home are an unkempt lawn and a snowy driveway with not the slightest hint of human movement. So in the summer, find a neighbor kid, family member, friend, or landscaping company to mow your lawn (if it’s one of those first three options, paying them in some way is good form; obviously, you’ll be paying the landscaping company), and in the winter do the same with clearing your driveway and sidewalks of snow.

Also, asking someone to take care of any other outdoor chores that might arise is a good idea. For instance, if a storm comes through and knocks some branches down in everyone’s yard, and you’re the only house that hasn’t picked them up, it’s clear you aren’t home. Hopefully these incidences are few and far between, but they do happen. Neighbors are probably your best bet here, as they’ll be the ones to know if something has happened on your street.

Stop the Mail

An overflowing mailbox and a pile of packages on the front step are clear indications that someone hasn’t been home for a while. It’s incredibly easy to stop your USPS delivery for any amount of time (up to 30 days) and for the dates you specify. They even deliver your mail in a large bundle when you get home.

You can also stop UPS and FedEx service or hold the packages at a pickup location, although those require registration to do so (some services are free, some are paid for). If you know you’re going to be away, it’s best to just not order things that are scheduled to arrive while you’re gone. With carriers other than USPS, it can be a pain to retrieve those packages.

Also stop newspaper delivery; if it’s a city or neighborhood paper that comes for free, you can ask a neighbor to grab yours. (Ours comes on Thursdays in a big blue bag at the end of the driveway, and it’s always obvious through the neighborhood when someone hasn’t picked theirs up by the weekend — a dead giveaway of either a vacationer or a very lazy person, both of which make good targets for burglars!)

Leave the Blinds Open (If You Normally Do)

If you’re someone who regularly leaves the blinds open in your home during the day, don’t go closing them when you leave for vacation. It may seem strange and you might feel that you don’t want anyone peeping into your home while you’re not there, but it’s also an obvious giveaway to burglars that something is outside the normal routine. As already noted, you want things to look normal and lived in — a house that’s all shuttered up for a week straight does not give that appearance.

It gets tricky when you have electronics on a timer; when they turn on at night, it could end up being obvious that there’s nobody in the living room watching the television. So, close the blinds halfway, or close them strategically so that certain areas or rooms are hidden, while blinds in other areas remain open.

Beware of Social Media

In our Instagram world, every vacation is instantly shared on the internet for the entire world to behold. It’s indeed tempting to post your photos right as you snap them and induce FOMO to your entire stream of friends. What that also does, however, is broadcast to the world that you aren’t home right now, and your stuff is ripe for the taking. So skip the photo-posting, checking in, and status updates like “Off to the airport!”

Feel free to share all your awesome pics, just wait until you’re home to do so.

Also note that this is less of a worry if all your accounts are private — hopefully there are no would-be burglars among your circle of family and friends! Though one never can tell. I’m looking at you Uncle Borrowed-My-Leafblower-Without-Asking-And-Never-Gave-It-Back.

Lock Everything

While it seems like common sense, be sure to lock every single possible entry to your home, including deadbolts. While you may lock the main doors when you’re gone at work, there are surely windows and/or doors (such as into the garage or a second-floor deck) that usually stay unlocked or un-deadbolted. Before you leave for a vacation though, go through the house and lock absolutely every window and every door.

Don’t Leave Spare Keys Out

If you have a spare key hidden somewhere — under a mat, attached to a mailbox, in a fake rock — now is the time to remove them and stow them away. If a would-be thief knows you’re away, they’ll feel free to take their time in searching for spare keys. They also know all the most common hiding spots way better than you do, so don’t try fooling them.

Lock the Garage Door

If you have an automatic garage opener (rather than a manual door that you have to open and close by hand), you’re already pretty secure. Those doors are hard to open for burglars. There is a workaround, however, called “fishing.” It’s where a burglar will snake a coat hanger through the top of the door, and pull the emergency release trigger, turning off the automatic opener and allowing the door to be opened manually. This isn’t possible on all openers, but it’s definitely a risk for some.

No matter which type of door you have, the best way to protect it is to install a deadbolt-style lock. Just one per garage door will do the trick, but you could install one on each side as a failsafe.

Don’t Lead Burglars to Your Home With Your GPS

Many a GPS, either the portable or built-in style, has led thieves directly to unsuspecting homes. When a car is left at the airport, a bad guy can break in, turn on the GPS unit and often find out exactly where home is. If you have a portable unit, don’t leave it in the car either at the airport, or in your hotel parking lot at night if you’re road-tripping. If you have a built-in unit, set “home” for something other than your actual exact address. Use a nearby intersection or cafe instead. That way you’ll still get home, but won’t lead anyone else there either. (It’s not a bad idea to do this with your portable unit as well just in case anyone gets their hands on it!)

Stash Valuables in the Safe

While we’re home, there’s often cash, jewelry, family heirlooms, etc. that are out for our use and enjoyment. When you go away, however, it’s best to put all of that stuff into your safe (you have a safe, right?). Just in case your home is broken to, the bad guys won’t get to your truly valuable stuff.

Have Someone Take the Trash Out

When trash sits in a garage or outside for a week or more, it not only stinks up the joint (as well as neighboring homes), it can attract bad guys. If they catch wind (literally), they’ll be suspicious and more prone to snooping around. If your trash is visible from the curb, it’s also a visual cue to burglars if everyone else’s cans are empty in the neighborhood and yours is stuffed to the brim.

If trash day comes while you’re on vacation, ask a neighbor if they can pull your cans out and bring them back in after the trash is taken. Since they’re already doing it themselves, it’s generally not too much of an inconvenience.

Hire a House Sitter

One option that covers many of these tactics is to hire a house sitter. Whether a family member, a friend, or other acquaintance (nannies often make great house sitters!), having someone actually stay at your home to care for and keep an eye on it is a great way to ensure its safety – especially if you’re taking a longer trip. It can be a pricey option; you can’t very well ask someone to stay and care for someplace other than their home for a week or more without compensation (even friends and family, unless they offer, and even then, you should pay them with a gift card or nice dinner). Having said that, if you have someone trusted who is convenient to your location, plants can be watered, mail/packages can be taken care of, and the house can generally be cared for in one fell swoop.

There are also companies and agencies that offer house-sitting services. The most reputable of which offer reviews, references, and even background checks. Some newer companies are doing free exchanges — the homeowner gets free house sitting, the sitter gets free lodging for a week. Of the companies that do that, the majority do not offer background checks. Personally, I’d either have someone trusted look after the house, or go with an agency that thoroughly vets their sitters.

Add These To Your Vacation Checklist

Last summer, as Brett was preparing to head out on his annual family vacation, he realized that having a handy dandy pre-trip checklist would help not only get the family out the door on time, but keep the house in tip-top shape while they were away.

You’d do well to not only have a vacation checklist for yourself, but to have a security-specific section. Go through the list of action steps above, note the ones that are relevant to your home and situation, and add them to your list so you never forget them again. If you rush out the door and forget just a single lock which then allows entry to a burglar, all that security planning has gone to waste.

How the Blind Draw
Blind and sighted people use many of the same devices in
sketching their surroundings, suggesting that vision and touch
are closely linked
by John M. Kennedy

BLIND ARTISTS, such as Tracy (above), rely on their sense of touch to render familiar objects. Tracy lost all sight to retinal cancer at the age of two, but by feeling the glass, she determines its shape. By rubbing the paper, placed on a piece of felt, she knows where her pen has scored the page and left a mark. Because the lines in most simple drawings reveal surface dges—features that are discerned by touching as readily as they are by sight—drawings by the blind are easily recognized by sighted people.

I first met Betty, a blind teenager in Toronto, as I was interviewing participants for an upcoming study of mine on touch perception in 1973. Betty had lost her sight at age two, when she was too young to have learned how to draw. So I was astonished when she told me that she liked to draw profiles of her family members. Before I began working with the blind, I had always thought of pictures as copies of the visible world. After all, we do not draw sounds, tastes or smells; we draw what we see. Thus, I had assumed that blind people would have little interest or talent in creating images. But as Betty’s comments revealed that day, I was very wrong. Relying on her imagination and sense of touch, Betty enjoyed tracing out the distinctive shape of an individual’s face on paper.

I was so intrigued by Betty’s ability that I wanted to find out if other blind people could readily make useful illustrations— and if these drawings would be anything like the pictures sighted individuals use. In addition, I hoped to discover whether the blind could interpret the symbols commonly used by sighted people. To bring the blind into the flat, graphical world of the sighted, I turned to a number of tools, including models, wire displays and, most often, raised-line drawing kits, made available by the Swedish Organization for the Blind. These kits are basically stiff boards covered with a layer of rubber and a thin plastic sheet. The pressure from any ballpoint pen produces a raised line on the plastic sheet.

OUTLINE DRAWINGS, made by Kathy, totally blind since age three, demonstrate that blind artists use many of the same devices as sighted illustrators do. They use lines to represent surfaces, as Kathy’s picture of the eagle on her charm bracelet shows (top). Blind people portray objects, such as a house, from a single vantage point (2nd from top). Blind artists use shapes to convey abstract messages: Kathy drew a heart surrounding a crib to describe the love surrounding a child (3rd from top). And they use foreshortening to suggest perspective: Kathy drew the L-shaped block and the cube to be the same size when they were side by side but made the cube smaller when it was placed farther away from her (bottom).

Thanks to this equipment, my colleagues and I have made some remarkable findings over the past 20 years, and this information has revised our understanding of sensory perception. Most significantly, we have learned that blind and sighted people share a form of pictorial shorthand. That is, they adopt many of the same devices in sketching their surroundings: for example, both groups use lines to represent the edges of surfaces. Both employ foreshortened shapes and converging lines to convey depth. Both typically portray scenes from a single vantage point. Both render extended or irregular lines to connote motion. And both use shapes that are symbolic, though not always visually correct, such as a heart or a star, to relay abstract messages. In sum, our work shows that even very basic pictures reflect far more than meets the eye.

Outlines
After meeting Betty, I wondered whether all blind people could appreciate facial profiles shown in outline. Over the years, I asked blind volunteers in North America and Europe to draw profiles of several kinds of objects. Most recently, I undertook a series of studies with Yvonne Eriksson of Linköping University and the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille. In 1993 we tested nine adults from Stockholm—three men and six women. Four were congenitally blind, three had lost their sight after the age of three, and two had minimal vision. Each subject examined four raised profiles, which Hans-Joergen Andersen, an undergraduate psychology student at Aarhus University in Denmark, made by gluing thin, plastic-coated wires to a flat metal board.

Eriksson and I asked the volunteers to describe the most prominent feature on each display using one of four labels: smile, curly hair, beard or large nose. Five of them—including one man who had been totally blind since birth—correctly identified all four pictures. Only one participant recognized none. On average, the group labeled 2.8 of the four outlines accurately. In comparison, when 18 sighted undergraduates in Toronto were blindfolded and given the same raised-line profiles, they scored only slightly better, matching up a mean of 3.1 out of four displays.

Many investigators in the U.S., Japan, Norway, Sweden, Spain and the U.K. have reported similar results, leaving little doubt that blind people can recognize the outline shape of familiar objects. At first, it may seem odd that even those who have never had any vision whatsoever possess some intuitive sense of how faces and other objects appear. But with further thought, the finding makes perfect sense. The lines in most simple drawings show one of two things: where two surfaces overlap, called an occluding edge, or where two surfaces meet in a corner. Neither feature need be seen to be perceived. Both can be discerned by touching.

Not all blind people read raised-line drawings equally well, and these individual discrepancies can reflect the age at which someone lost his or her sight.

For example, people who have been blind from birth or infancy—termed the early blind—sometimes find raised-line drawings challenging. But in 1993 Yatuka Shimizu of Tsukuba College of Technology in Japan, with colleagues Shinya Saida and Hiroshi Shimura, found that 60 percent of the early-blind subjects they studied could recognize the outline of common objects, such as a fish or a bottle. Recognition rates were somewhat higher for sighted, blindfolded subjects, who are more familiar with pictures in general.

PROFILES, made from plastic-coated wires mounted on a thin metal board, were given to nine blind subjects in Stockholm. The subjects were asked to describe each display using one of four labels: smile, curly hair, beard or large nose. On average, the group described 2.8 of the four displays accurately, showing that blind people often recognize the outline of simple objects. Blindfolded, sighted control subjects given the same task did only slightly better.

Interestingly, subjects who lose vision later in life—called the later blind—frequently interpret raised outlines more readily than either sighted or earlyblind individuals do, according to Morton Heller of Winston-Salem University. One likely explanation is that the later blind have a double advantage in these tasks: they are typically more familiar with pictures than are the early blind, and they have much better tactile skills than do the sighted.

Perspective
Just as Betty prompted me to study whether the blind appreciate profiles in outline, another amateur artist, Kathy from Ottawa, led me to investigate a different question. Kathy first participated in my studies when she was 30 years old. Because of retinal cancer detected during her first year of life, Kathy had been totally blind since age three and had never had detailed vision. Even so, she was quite good at making raised-line drawings. On one occasion Kathy sketched several different arrangements of a cube and an L-shaped block that I used to test how relative distances appear in line art. When the blocks sat side by side, she made them the same size—as they were in actuality. But when the cube was farther from her than the other block, she made it smaller in her drawing.

This second drawing revealed a fundamental principle of perspective—namely, that as an object becomes more distant, it subtends a smaller angle. (Think about viewing a picket fence at an angle and how its posts appear shorter closer to the horizon.) Kathy’s use of this basic rule suggested that some aspects of perspective might be readily understood by the blind. Again the proposition seemed reasonable, given some consideration. Just as we see objects from a particular vantage point, so, too, do we reach out for them from a certain spot. For proof of the theory, I designed a study with Paul Gabias of Okanagan University College in British Columbia, who was then at New York University.

SOLIDS—a sphere, a cone and a cube— arranged on a table are commonly used to test spatial ability. The arrangement is shown from overhead at the bottom. Which drawing above shows the solids from the edge of the table facing the bottom of the page? Which drawing shows them from the opposite edge? From the edge facing left? Facing right? Blind and sighted individuals do equally well on this task, proving that the blind can determine how objects appear from particular vantage points.

We prepared five raised-line drawings: one of a table and four of a cube. We showed the drawings to 24 congenitally blind volunteers and asked them a series of questions. The table drawing had a central square and four legs, one protruding from each corner. The subjects were told that a blind person had drawn the table and had explained, “I’ve drawn it this way to show that it is symmetrical on all four sides.” They were then told that another blind person had drawn an identical table but had offered a different explanation: “I’ve shown it from underneath in order to show the shape of the top and all four legs. If you show the table from above or from the side, you can’t really show the top and all four legs, too.”

Next we asked our volunteers to pick out the cube drawing that had most likely been made by the person who drew the table from below. To answer consistently, they needed to understand what strategy had been used in drawing the table and each cube. One cube resembled a foldout of a box, showing the front face of the cube in the middle, surrounded by its top, bottom, left and right faces. Another drawing showed two squares, representing the front and top of the cube. A third picture depicted the front of the cube as a square and the top as a rectangle—foreshortened because it was receding away from the observer.

A fourth illustrated two trapeziums joined along the longest line; the extra length of this line revealed that it was the edge nearest to the observer. Which cube do you think was drawn by the person who intended to show the table from below? Most of the blind volunteers chose the drawing that showed two trapeziums. That is, they selected the illustration that made the most sophisticated use of perspective. Accordingly, they picked as the least likely match the flat “foldout” drawing—the one that used no perspective whatsoever. The foldout drawing was also the one they judged most likely to have been made by the person who, in drawing the table, had hoped to highlight its symmetry.

Heller and I joined forces to prepare another task for demonstrating that the blind understood the use of perspective. (You might like to try it, too.) We arranged three solids—a sphere, a cone and a cube—on a rectangular tabletop. Our blind subjects sat on one side. We asked them to draw the objects from where they were sitting and then to imagine four different views: from the other three sides of the table and from directly above as well. (Swiss child psychologist Jean Piaget called this exercise the perspective-taking, or “three mountains,” task.) Many adults and children find this problem quite difficult. On average, however, our blind subjects performed as well as sighted control subjects, drawing 3.4 of the five images correctly.

Next, we asked our subjects to name the vantage point used in five separate drawings of the three objects. We presented the drawings to them twice, in random order, so that the highest possible score was 10 correct. Of that total, the blind subjects named an average of 6.7 correctly. Sighted subjects scored only a little higher, giving 7.5 correct answers on average. The nine later-blind subjects in the study fared slightly better than the congenitally blind and the sighted, scoring 4.2 on the drawing task and 8.3 on the recognition task. Again, the later blind probably scored so well because they have a familiarity with pictures and enhanced tactile skills.

PERSPECTIVE is readily understood by the blind. To prove this point, the author and Paul Gabias of Okanagan University College asked 24 congenitally blind volunteers to examine a drawing of a table (far left) and four drawings of a cube. They were told that one blind person drew the table in a star shape to show how it appeared from underneath and that another blind person drew an identical table, intending to show its symmetry instead. The subjects were then asked which cube was most likely drawn by the person who drew the table from underneath. Most chose the cube composed of two trapeziums (far right), the one that made the most sophisticated use of perspective.

MOTION can be suggested by irregular lines. When blind and sighted volunteers were shown five diagrams of moving wheels (above), they generally interpreted them in the same way. Most guessed that the curved spokes indicated that the wheel was spinning steadily; the wavy spokes, they thought, suggested that the wheel was wobbling; and the bent spokes were taken as a sign that the wheel was jerking. Subjects assumed that spokes extending beyond the wheel’s perimeter signified that the wheel had its brakes on and that dashed spokes indicated that the wheel was spinning quickly.

Metaphor
From the studies described above, it is clear that blind people can appreciate the use of outlines and perspective to describe the arrangement of objects and other surfaces in space. But pictures are more than literal representations. This fact was drawn to my attention dramatically when a blind woman in one of my investigations decided on her own initiative to draw a wheel as it was spinning. To show this motion, she traced a curve inside the circle. I was taken aback. Lines of motion, such as the one she used, are a very recent invention in the history of illustration. Indeed, as art scholar David Kunzle notes, Wilhelm Busch, a trendsetting 19th-century cartoonist, used virtually no motion lines in his popular figures until about 1877.

When I asked several other blind study subjects to draw a spinning wheel, one particularly clever rendition appeared repeatedly: several subjects showed the wheel’s spokes as curved lines. When asked about these curves, they all described them as metaphorical ways of suggesting motion. Majority rule would argue that this device somehow indicated motion very well. But was it a better indicator than, say, broken or wavy lines—or any other kind of line, for that matter? The answer was not clear. So I decided to test whether various lines of motion were apt ways of showing movement or if they were merely idiosyncratic marks. Moreover, I wanted to discover whether there were differences in how the blind and the sighted interpreted lines of motion.

WORDS
ASSOCIATED
WITH
CIRCLE-SQUARE
AGREEMENT
AMONG
SUBJECTS
(PERCENT)

SOFT-HARD

MOTHER-FATHER

HAPPY-SAD

GOOD-EVIL

LOVE-HATE

ALIVE-DEAD

BRIGHT-DARK

LIGHT-HEAVY

WARM-COLD

SUMMER-WINTER

WEAK-STRONG

FAST-SLOW

CAT-DOG

SPRING-FALL

QUIET-LOUD

WALKING-STANDING

ODD-EVEN

FAR-NEAR

PLANT-ANIMAL

DEEP-SHALLOW

WORD PAIRS were used to test the symbolism in abstract shapes—and whether blind and sighted people perceived such meanings in the same way. Subjects were told that in each pair of words, one fit best with circle and the other with square. For example, which shape better describes soft? According to the number given after the soft-hard word pair, everyone thought a circle did. These percentages show the level of consensus among sighted subjects. Blind volunteers made similar choices.

To search out these answers, Gabias and I created raised-line drawings of five different wheels, depicting spokes with lines that curved, bent, waved, dashed and extended beyond the perimeter of the wheel. We then asked 18 blind volunteers to assign one of the following motions to each wheel: wobbling, spinning fast, spinning steadily, jerking or braking. Which wheel do you think fits with each motion? Our control group consisted of 18 sighted undergraduates from the University of Toronto.

All but one of the blind subjects assigned distinctive motions to each wheel. In addition, the favored description for the sighted was the favored description for the blind in every instance. What is more, the consensus among the sighted was barely higher than that among the blind. Because motion devices are unfamiliar to the blind, the task we gave them involved some problem solving. Evidently, however, the blind not only figured out meanings for each line of motion, but as a group they generally came up with the same meaning—at least as frequently as did sighted subjects.

We have found that the blind understand other kinds of visual metaphors as well. Kathy once drew a child’s crib inside a heart—choosing that symbol, she said, to show that love surrounded the child. With Chang Hong Liu, a doctoral student from China, I have begun exploring how well blind people understand the symbolism behind shapes such as hearts, which do not directly represent their meaning. We gave a list of 20 pairs of words to sighted subjects and asked them to pick from each pair the term that best related to a circle and the term that best related to a square. (If you wish to try this yourself, the list of words can be found at the left.) For example, we asked: What goes with soft? A circle or a square? Which shape goes with hard?

All our subjects deemed the circle soft and the square hard. A full 94 percent ascribed happy to the circle, instead of sad. But other pairs revealed less agreement: 79 percent matched fast and slow to circle and square, respectively. And only 51 percent linked deep to circle and shallow to square. When we tested four totally blind volunteers using the same list, we found that their choices closely resembled those made by the sighted subjects. One man, who had been blind since birth, scored extremely well. He made only one match differing from the consensus, assigning “far” to square and “near” to circle. In fact, only a small majority of sighted subjects—53 percent—had paired far and near to the opposite partners. Thus, we concluded that the blind interpret abstract shapes as sighted people do.

THICKNESS of these outlines determines whether their two contours are viewed as one profile or two. The same ambiguity occurs with touch. Blind subjects interpret raised edges placed near each other as a single surface boundary and those placed farther apart as two.

Perception
We typically think of sight as the perceptual system by which shapes and surfaces speak to the mind. But as the empirical evidence discussed above demonstrates, touch can relay much of the same information. In some ways, this finding is not so surprising. When we see something, we know more or less how it will feel to the touch, and vice versa. Even so, touch and sight are two very different senses: one receives input in the form of pressure, and one responds to changes in light. How is it that they can then interpret something as simple as a line in exactly the same way? To answer this question, we must consider what kind of information it is that outlines impart to our senses.

The most obvious theory is that each border in a basic drawing represents one physical boundary around some surface or shape. But it is not that simple, because all lines, no matter how thin, have two sides or contours—an inside and an outside border, if you will. As a result, thick lines are perceived quite differently from thin ones. Consider a thick line tracing a profile. If it is thick enough, it appears to show two profiles, one per edge, gazing in the same direction . When the line is thin and its two borders are close together, though, an observer perceives only one face. As it turns out, touch produces a similar effect. I prepared a series of profile drawings in which both edges of the defining line were raised. When the edges were only 0.1 centimeter apart, my blind volunteer, Sanne, a student at Aarhus University, said they showed one face. When they were 0.8 centimeter apart, she reported that they showed two faces.

Another theory of outline drawings suggests that lines substitute for any perceptible boundary, including those that are not tangible, such as shadows. But this theory, too, fails in a very telling fashion. Look at the illustration at the right, which shows two pictures of the author. In one image, shadow patterns, defined by a single contour separating light and dark areas, cross my face. In the second image, a dark line having two contours traces the same shadow patterns. Despite the fact that the shapes in the second picture are identical to those in the first, the perceptual results are vividly different. The first is easily recognized as a face; the second is not.

Again, this example shows that our visual system, like our tactile system, does not read two contours of a line in the same way as it interprets a single contour. The implication is that the brain region responsible for interpreting contours in sensory input from busy environments is a general surface-perception system. As such, it does not discriminate on the basis of purely visual matters, such as brightness and color. Rather it takes the two contours of a dark line and treats them as indicators for the location of a single edge of some surface. Whereas sighted individuals treat brightness borders as indicators of surface edges, the blind treat pressure borders in the same way.

Because the principles at work here are not just visual, the brain region that performs them could be called multimodal or, as it is more commonly termed, amodal. In one account, which I have discussed in my book on drawings by the blind, such an amodal system
receives input from both vision and touch. The system considers the input as information about such features as occlusion, foreground and background, flat and curved surfaces, and vantage points. In the case of the sighted, visual and tactile signals are coordinated by this amodal system.

As we have found, the ability to interpret surface edges functions even when it does not receive any visual signals. It is for this very reason that the blind so readily appreciate line drawings and other graphic symbols. Knowing this fact should encourage scholars and educators to prepare materials for the blind that make vital use of pictures. Several groups around the world are doing just that. For instance, Art Beyond Sight, an organization associated with the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, has prepared raised-line versions of Henri Matisse paintings and of cave art. It may not be long before raised pictures for the blind are as well known as Braille texts.

SHADOWS, and other intangible boundaries, are not recognizable in outline—explaining in part why the blind can understand most line drawings made by sighted people. In the picture of the author on the left, a single contour separates light and dark areas of his face. In the picture on the right, a line, having two contours, makes the same division. Note that although the shapes are identical in both images, the perceptual results are quite different. Only the image on the left clearly resembles a face.

The Author
JOHN M. KENNEDY was born in Belfast in 1942 and was raised in one of the few Unitarian families in Northern Ireland. He attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s University of Belfast, where his interests included fencing and theater. He completed his Ph.D. in perception at Cornell University and began his research with the blind shortly thereafter as an assistant professor at Harvard University. He currently lectures at the University of Toronto, Scarborough College, where he won his college’s teaching prize in 1994. Notes from his courses on perception are available through the university’s World Wide
Web site at

Further Reading
Picture and Pattern Perception in the Sighted and the Blind: The Advantage of the Late Blind. M. A. Heller in Perception, Vol. 18, No. 3, pages 379–389; 1989.

Drawing and the Blind: Pictures to Touch. J. M. Kennedy. Yale University
Press, 1993.

Profiles and Orientation of Tactile Pictures. J. M. Kennedy and Y. Eriksson. Paper presented at the meeting of the European Psychology Society, Tampere, July 2–5, 1993.

Symbolic Forms and Cognition. C. H. Liu and J. M. Kennedy in Psyke & Logos, Vol. 14, No. 2, pages 441–456; 1993.

Tactile Pattern Recognition by Graphic Display: Importance of 3-D Information for Haptic Perception of Familiar Objects. Y. Shimizu, S. Saida and H. Shimura in Perception and Psychophysics, Vol. 53, No. 1, pages 43–48; January 1993.

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  • For a modern take on classic country-house style, Christopher Howe has used the same pattern in two different scales for the box pelmet and walls in this bedroom. The pelmet, covered in Howe’s ‘Mr Men’ linen, £144 a metre, has been contrasted with curtains made from antique mangle cloth. Behind the mangle cloth, a panel of ‘Mr Men’ linen peeks out, which ties the look together.

  • In this imaginative London house by Rachel Chudley, the red hand-dyed velvet curtains by Lucy Bathurst of Nest Design, which hang from a bespoke copper rail picks up on colours in the ‘Verdure’ wallpaper in tapestry green by Melissa White for Zoffany.

  • If you want to create something elegant and slightly contemporary a hard pelmet is invaluable,’ says Veere Grenney who designed a scallop-edged one for this bathroom. The scallop detail on this pelmet, trimmed with Rose Tarlow’s ‘Glacis’ glazed linen in the bartlett colourway, £224 a metre, is repeated on the leading edge and bottom of the white linen curtains. ‘I love the clean lines of hard pelmets. They have a contemporary feel and are a nice way to frame the window. Make a paper mock-up so you get the proportions right. I could never make a pelmet and pair of curtains without trying it out first.’

  • ‘This scalloped pelmet adds a whimsical touch to the room,’ explains designer Cameron Kimber. He chose a curved design to give the curtains more depth, using Colefax and Fowler’s ‘Seaweed’ linen, from £59.50 a metre, in a custom colourway.

  • Full-length Italian strung curtains in Colefax and Fowler’s ‘Fuchsia’ chintz, £65 a metre, add charm to this drawing room in Lady Wakefield’s Twickenham house. With an inverted pleat heading, they are fixed in position at the top and operated with a hidden cord, which lifts up the sides of the curtains. The pleated leading edge is a pretty detail, as is the central rosette on the heading.

  • If you want to hide the curtain track, but prefer not to have a traditional pelmet, consider a fabric-covered track (known as a lath and fascia). The one in this bedroom by designer Kate Guinness is covered in Jennifer Shorto’s ‘Swing Landscape’ linen, which costs £148 a metre. It is also used to trim the leading and outside edges of the red linen curtains. This is a particularly good style to use in a bedroom or at a bay window, because the curtains will sit flush against the wall and block out the light.

  • Three sets of roman blinds prevent the windows in this bedroom designed by Jane Gowers from looking bare when the curtains are open. She has combined the blinds with two sets of layered pinch-pleat-headed curtains, which hang from simple double curtain poles. John Lewis offers good double-pole kits, from £45.

  • In this sitting room by Steven Gambrel, bespoke appliqué from Holland & Sherry (its ‘Sabrina Appliqué’, £400 a metre, is similar) runs along the leading edge of the curtains. This is a good way to add a decorative element without using a patterned fabric for the whole curtain. This design also ties in well with the pale blue panelled walls and the fabric used on the chairs.

  • Lucy Bathurst of Nest Design, which pieces together a variety of vintage fabrics to create exquisite bespoke curtains, chose to dress the window in this double-height sitting room with a single six-metre-deep curtain made from hand-dyed linen. A single-drop curtain is a good idea for narrower windows, as it prevents the window from feeling crowded and lets in more light.

  • In an Edinburgh flat designed by Susan Deliss, the bedroom curtains are in Robert Kime’s ‘Susani Red’ linen. Says Susan: ‘I like curtains to just brush the floor, especially if they are made from heavier weaves or silks. Softer fabrics look super puddled, but they pick up dirt and can get stuck in the vacuum cleaner. It’s often better to be practical than have something that looks nice but is hard to maintain.’ Susan is also known for her decorative linings: ‘It pushes up the cost quite significantly, but it’s worth it – especially when the curtains are very obvious from the outside of the house.’

  • Designer Amanda Hornby has toned down these patterned walls with duck-egg blue interlined linen curtains with triple pleat headings, hung from a simple white pole. If you are undecided about the amount of fabric falling on the floor, try slightly ‘baggy trousers’ as shown.

  • In this children’s bedroom by Henri Fitzwilliam-Lay, a fixed and shaped box pelmet with curtains in a pale blue fabric is a smart choice in both senses of the word; it will not be quickly outgrown as children become teenagers and it looks modern and elegant.

  • Designer Maria Speake of Retrouvius often uses antique textiles as a starting point for window dressings; in this instance, the embroidered panel is an early form of crewelwork, combined with natural and teal coloured linens to make a single curtain 6.5 metres long.

  • These raw silk curtains, designed by Poonam Khanna for B W Architects, blend well with the wood panelling to create a barely-there look in this Manhattan townhouse. A slim header tape, gently gathered, keeps the look simple.

  • In this scheme by House & Garden decoration director Gabby Deeming a coral design – reminiscent of the artist Matisse’s paper cuts – has been applied to a pale wool curtain.

    WALLS Wallpaper, ‘Cornstocks’ (french grey), by Blithfield & Company, £64 for a 10-metre roll, from Tissus d’Hélène. Curtain, ‘Diamond Twill’ (natural), wool, £75 a metre, from Ardalanish; with coral design in ‘Carrick’ (amber), wool, £69 a metre, from Mulberry Home; and pink trim in ‘Mont Blanc’ (10548/40), wool, £56.50 a metre, from Nobilis.Prints from top: ‘Pignier Toulouse 1 and 2’, £235 each, from Natural Curiosities. Frames, ‘Milano’, 40 x 30cm, £20 each, from Habitat.

    FLOOR Wool felt rug, ‘Kabru Radhi’, 225 x 175cm, £460, from Stitch by Stitch.

    FURNITURE Painted wood chair ‘K02’, by Koji Katsuragi, 74 x 52 x 36cm, £578, fromSitting Firm.

    ACCESSORIES Wool felt bowl, ‘Cache Vase’ (moutarde), e14, from Muskhane.

  • Ruched blinds are shaking off their Eighties associations and making a comeback. Some rooms require a relaxed edge and these provide that softness. This one is in ‘Sophie’ from Borderline, £76 a metre – a simple linen print that looks charming and not at all like a Viennetta.

  • The owner of this bedroom wanted a moody feel, so designer Suzy Hoodless hung grey linen curtains with large pencil pleats from a recessed ceiling track. This keeps out the light and is neater than a pole. Try Silent Gliss for track, from £15.98 for 125cm. Says Suzy: ‘A recessed track is smart and contemporary, but it must be planned because the work needs to be done during the early stages of a building project.’

  • This ‘Deniz’ linen/cotton from Lee Jofa at G P & J Baker, £115 a metre, is no shrinking violet, so using a pencil pleat heading works well. Combining the curtains with a roman blind in a small pattern creates a decorated look, but the simple shapes stop it looking fussy.

  • A reeded pole houses a concealed track for a cleaner look. The layered effect of a pinoleum blind, a roman blind and light linen curtains in ‘Lamerton’, £105 a metre, from Colefax and Fowler, is a great way to pack in textiles without creating an overcrowded look.

  • A bank of floor-to-ceiling windows in this house in the West Country has been dressed by designer Hugh Henry, of Mlinaric, Henry & Zervudachi, in cream linen for a look of understated grandeur. For similar, ask for a hand-gathered heading with soft stand-up and a length that ‘breaks’ on the floor.

  • These antique linen curtains have an unusual shirred pencil-pleat heading, which is created using shirring tape. The result is a pleasingly gathered look that is similar to – but softer than – a plain pencil pleat. Parna is a great source for antique linen, from £60 for a 208 x 126cm sheet.

  • These Italian strung curtains, in the bedroom of a Ludlow townhouse designed by Caroline Harrowby, have a goblet-pleated header design. They are fixed in position at the top and then drawn up and down using a cord. The look is quite traditional and very pretty.

  • The spare room in Anita Lal’s Delhi house has a quilt and curtain in traditional block-printed poppy prints. The ‘Bagh e Bahar Razai’ quilt from Good Earth is similar.

    Taken from the November 2015 issue of House & Garden.

  • This blind is an unstiffened roller in ‘Wheat Ears and Scrolls Border’, £580 a metre, an embroidered cotton panel from Chelsea Textiles. ‘It is particularly pretty with the light coming through, which is good for a bathroom,’ says designer Emma Burns of Sybil Colefax & John Fowler.

  • Lush yellow curtains with box pelmets match not only the walls but also the four poster fabric in a pretty layering of colour. The room is one of a glorious honeycomb of bedrooms in a country house designed by Veere Grenney.

  • This twin bedroom is lined with Colefax & Fowler ‘Snow Tree’ wallpaper, a classic featuring a twisting vine and white blooms. Plain cream curtains are the perfect pairing as they add a modern touch and prevent chintz overload.

    Taken from the October 2015 issue of House & Garden.

  • There are many reasons why this silk taffeta blind is so successful in this Mayfair flat. The yellow adds punch to the room, and designer Chester Jones points out that ‘the unlined fabric allows light to filter through for warmth during the day, yet is sufficiently opaque for privacy at night’.

  • For this pelmet and curtains, designer Hugh Leslie chose a plain textured linen and inset a decorative braid for detail. The central pleat on the pelmet prevents the whole thing from looking too flat. A design where the central third of the pelmet is longer than the sides also looks good.

  • The soft gathered pelmet and thick jacquard curtains in this bedroom, designed by Piers Westenholz, are perfect for a country bedroom. When rooms are not especially high, it looks good if the pelmet goes right up to the ceiling, as seen here.

  • A fabric-covered track, known as a lath and fascia, reduces the light that comes through, so is effective in bedrooms and on bay windows. Kit Kemp has used Bennison Fabrics’ ‘Cherry Tree’ linen, £197 a metre, in this bedroom at the Covent Garden Hotel.

  • Interior decorator Colin Orchard is a stickler for curtains. For this house in New Zealand he tracked down a London-trained curtain maker working in Auckland who had previously done work for Colefax & Fowler. Here in a bedroom the curtains are made with Colefax and Fowler fabric with a ruched pelmet trimmed with tassels. This grandeur is echoed in the dressing of the four poster.

  • Bright curtains add colour to the otherwise main bedroom in the Virginia home of artist Anne Massie. The fabric is Penny Morrison’s bold ‘Haveli’ linen, custom dyed Annie’s favourite shade of pink.

  • This London flat is a feast of pattern. The table is placed next to one of the double height windows which is accessorised with dark blue blinds.

  • Keep information about your holiday strictly on a need to know basis and think twice about posting any details on social media.

    It’s easy for a thief to tell who’s in and who isn’t. The house may be in darkness, post may be left in the letterbox or milk bottles left on the doorstep. Over 80% of burglaries occur when a house is empty, so try to make your house look occupied when you’re out and when you’re away on holiday.

    It’s quick and easy to take a few simple precautions that will make breaking into your home more difficult. Your greatest weapon against a burglar is time. The more barriers you have in place, such as fences and locked doors and windows, the less attractive your home will be. The chances are the burglar will give up and go on to the next house.

    Just in case, check your contents and buildings insurance policies are up to date and make sure you have sufficient cover.

    Ten top tips for a safe home while you’re away:

    • Even if you want to make a quick getaway early in the morning, don’t leave your car full of luggage overnight, or clearly visible from the outside. Keep it the hall ready for easy access just before you leave.
    • Don’t leave your lights on for the whole time you are away. It’s worth investing in some automatic timer switches (from around £12 from DIY stores) for turning on a few well-appointed lights and a radio or TV. They vary in sophistication but most can be programmed to come on at pre-set or random times.
    • For the price a bottle of duty-free or bunch of flowers, ask a friend or trusty neighbour to keep an eye on your property, collect post and pick up the free newspapers and junk mail left in the letterbox. If you’re really lucky, they may mow the lawn and sweep up leaves – often a clear giveaway that you’re not at home. If they have two cars, encourage them to park in your drive.
    • Use Royal Mail’s Keepsafe scheme when you go away on holiday. It will keep letters and parcels for up to 66 days and deliver on your return. £12.80 for 17 days.
    • Most people leave a hall light on if they go out for the evening – don’t! Instead choose to leave a light on in a room at the front of the house – one that’s visible from the road.
    • Whether to keep curtains open or closed is always a tricky decision. Leaving them closed during the day makes it look like there’s no one at home so best to leave them open and get security lighting.
    • Try not to leave valuable items, such as your TV, stereo or computer, where thieves can see them. Obvious, but many of us are guilty of doing this.
    • Unplug all appliances to protect them from power surges and save energy from standby functions, as well.
    • Keep tools under lock and key so they can’t be used to break into your house, and lock your garage and shed with proper security locks. If you have to leave a ladder outside make sure it’s security shackled to a permanent fixture with a heavy-duty chain and padlock.
    • Just before you leave, spare a few minutes to walk around your home to double check everything is safe and secure. Worth every minute for peace of mind!

    Worried about leaving your house unattended? Why not consider Holiday Home Exchange.

    For more holiday advice check out How to find a cheap last-minute holiday.

    If you’re off on your holidays, find the perfect Tried and Tested Cabin Luggage.

    Unoccupied home insurance requires that the property looks ‘lived in’ even when it isn’t. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to advertise your absence to potential thieves. We’ve look into the most useful tips you can use to secure your home while you’re away.

    The trouble with making your home look lived in when you’re not there is that it’s not being lived in and you’re not there! For this reason there is no real substitute for having someone visit. A timer switch on your lights is a great deterrent from the opportunistic burglar, but if someone is watching your property closely, they’ll quickly catch on. Likewise, if it’s been snowing and the snow that’s settled on your garden path hasn’t been trodden on for a week, your timer lights won’t fool a burglar. We’ll get into a few more examples over the article, but this should highlight that a trusted neighbour or local family member is the best way to keep your unoccupied home looking lived in while you’re away.

    So, you’re new to the area and don’t yet know anyone you can trust locally. Not to worry, there are still steps you can take to minimise your risk of becoming an ideal target for burglars.

    Ask a friend to help

    The first important thing to note is that if a friend is visiting, but your neighbours are aware that you have left, make sure that your inform them. You don’t want your neighbours seeing someone moving around in the house and end up reporting the very person who is securing it. Letting them know what their car looks like should be enough.

    Don’t go around bragging about your upcoming trip

    Secondly, you want to tell as few people as possible about your holiday. Break-ins often happen when the culprit knows the house (and what’s in it). Visitors can use any chance to get inside to see the layout/security measures and opportunists will use the knowledge of your trip to determine that your property will be unoccupied. With this in mind, don’t go crazy with excitement telling everyone online, and don’t share this information with people you don’t trust.

    Should I leave the landing light on?

    The answer to whether you should leave your lights on when you go away is “do you leave you lights on constantly on any other normal day?” Most likely not – it’s not environmentally friendly and the bill would cost more than your holiday! If you have no one to turn them on and off for you, then a timer is a cheap and simple alternative; the trick is to make your house look normal, otherwise it just looks suspicious.

    Should I close my curtains when I go away?

    For outside appearance, the most important thing is that the curtains change regularly from being drawn to undrawn. Specifics, such as whether they are open in the day and closed at night are less important. Ask your visitor to open or close them each time they visit. If you have no one to do this it’s best to leave them open. The property will appear less ‘closed up’ with them open. Make sure you remove anything valuable from sight of course but at least someone checking the property i.e. police or friends, can see in to assess

    How does it look as I drive past?

    Is the snow trodden in? Or in the summer, is the grass cut and plants watered? Is there mail sticking out of the letter box? Is there a car in the drive? Or – even worse, a great big sign asking the delivery driver to leave the packages somewhere else? Whether you do what you can before you leave or request these tasks from whoever is stopping by, these small details will hold up against the scrutiny of anyone driving around looking for a potential home to enter.

    Spare Keys

    Someone breaking into your house doesn’t want to do any damage if it can be avoided. They will want to get inside and then leave without leaving any obvious signs to them having been there. If they suspect your property is unoccupied, knowing more time is available, they may have a good look round for a spare key. If yours, like many, is under a rock or in a jam jar in the shed, or anywhere else that wouldn’t hold up to a determined search you are offering a free pass to anyone who wants to get inside.

    For a fee you can request the Post Office withhold your post while you are away with Royal Mail Keepsafe.

    Valuables

    If, despite all your best efforts, someone did get into your home while you were away, the last thing you want to happen is for your most valuable possessions to be taken. These may be items with some monetary value or just the ones that you can’t replace, i.e. sentimental jewellery or photos or even intellectual property on a laptop. Find a place to store these items where they won’t be found or even drop them off at another location for safekeeping while you’re away.

    Don’t give them any help. Remember, the culprit may drive past your house every day on the way to work. For someone who is actively looking, small things can scream that your property is unoccupied. And if they do get in, don’t hand them your treasured possessions on a plate.

    Finally, don’t forget, your social media accounts are windows into your personal life. Don’t overshare, as you never know who might be looking.

    • Don’t share snaps of holidays or nights out across social media channels until you’re home
    • Don’t disclose expensive items of jewellery or other valuables
    • Don’t show photos of the rooms in your house as this will detail your floor plan
    • Make sure all expensive items are removed from pictures in-home pictures before posting

    This is a marketing article by Towergate Insurance.

    Should I Close My Window Shades When I Go On Vacation?

    When you leave on vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is the safety of your home while you are gone. Therefore, you take steps to increase your home’s security. You set your lights on timers and you ask the neighbors to keep an eye on your house. You close your window shades so no one can see in. You think you’re ready to go.

    To Shut or Not To Shut My Window Shades

    One important thing you might not realize, however, is that shutting your window shades can actually be more detrimental than helpful. First of all, if you usually always have your window shades open during the day, then shutting them up tightly for several days straight will be noticeably out of the ordinary. While a chance burglar wouldn’t notice any change, people who live further down your street who drive past your home every day might notice. If you have someone casing the homes on your street planning a break-in, then he or she would definitely notice. Most people don’t keep their window shades shut for several days straight. Shut window shades can actually indicate that you aren’t home.

    Secondly, if your window shades are shut, then neighbors, friends and police will have a much more difficult time checking on your home for you. Even if everything looks okay on the outside, they would have no way of knowing what the condition of your home looks like inside. Not only would they not be able to tell if anyone had been in your home, but they also would not be able to tell if your home was affected by severe weather conditions like flooding and severe rains.

    The Resolution: Keep Your Window Shades Partially or Fully Open

    For these two reasons, you may actually prefer to leave your window shades either open or partly open. Alternately, you could close some window shades and leave others open. Be sure to hide your valuables from view and set your lights on a timer, though. Then, a burglar should just assume you are in the next room, not gone completely.

    For more information on our window shades, call (314) 282-8088 today!

    Proudly serving St. Louis, MO and homes across the United States.