| May 28, 2013

A summer getaway is supposed to be a time for rest and relaxation.

But if your heart is on vacation while your head is worrying about home, you won't get much out of your time off.

That's why we've brought you this handy guide of the top 10 bad things that can befall your house when you leave it alone.

READ: What Really Happens In a House Fire

Don't fret—we also share with you expert advice on how to avoid these pitfalls. That way, you can take off worry-free, and know that there will still be a house standing when you pull back into the drive.

Your House Burns Down

One of summer's many lightning storms can start a fire, and with no one to call 911 it can take out a whole house. The best defense, says TOH general contractor Tom Silva, is lightning rods. "This is not by any means a homeowner job," he warns. "You need a pro to install them." Any highly placed metal protrusion on your house should be grounded, in fact, including weather vanes and satellite dishes.

Don't overlook the health of your wiring, as well. Curtis Niles Sr. of Armored Home Inspections in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, and President of the National Association of Home Inspectors, advises homeowners to keep up with maintenance. "Wiring is the last thing on a homeowner's mind, but I've seen exterior service cables in poor condition all too often." he says. "If there's short or a spark in the line, a fire can start, and you won't be there to put it out."

READ: 9 Deadliest Wildlife Home Invaders

Thieves Take All Your Stuff

Unmowed grass, piles of newspapers, and revealing posts on Facebook might as well be an open invitation to burglars, says Ralph Sevinor, President of Wayne Alarm Systems in Lynn, Massachusetts. Sevinor suggests putting a hold on the mail, asking a neighbor to park in the driveway, testing your alarm system, and keeping your travel plans off the internet. "Even if it's your kid on Facebook telling her 2,300 friends about the family trip to Hawaii, you have to watch out. That message can get picked up by criminals who troll the internet constantly," says Sevinor.

The Attic Fills With Critters—Dead and Alive

All it takes is one small entry point and wasps, bees, squirrels, or bats can take over this seldom-visited space. Then they build nests, chew through wiring or framing, or just make your home their final resting place. "Animals can get trapped and then die. After a few days, the stench can render a house uninhabitable," says Los Angeles–based architect Leigh Jerrard. "Make sure crawlspace and eave vents are securely screened with hardware cloth or welded-wire fabric," says Jerrard.

Tom Silva recommends that you do a visual inspection all around the exterior, both before you go away and after you get back. "Look for vulnerable spots—holes under the soffit, flashing lifting on the chimney, rot around the windows," he says. "A bat can climb into a hole the size of your fingertip. Wasps and yellow jackets can find their way in through a tiny crevice." Patch, caulk, and replace as needed.

Your Lawn Dies

Extreme weather can kill your lawn, or leave it vulnerable to insects and blight, if you aren't there to catch warning signs. Billie Lee, a Walker County master gardener in Huntsville, Texas, says that drought conditions can fry the grass, while excessive rain encourages disease. "My neighbors lost their lawn to a fungus called Take-all patch. They came home from a vacation and had to uproot the whole yard and start over." TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook recommends asking a neighbor to watch out for wilt or brown spots in the lawn and leaving behind the number for your lawn service. "All you can do is depend on your good neighbor, and promise to do the same for him when he goes away," says Roger. "It's a fair trade."

READ: Discover Your Home's Top 10 Danger Zones

Your Garden Dies

The best defense against wilted flowers and shrubs is a well-established garden. "Older plants have had time to get acclimated and should survive a week without watering," says Roger. But a newer garden is more vulnerable. If you're planting just before going on vacation, mix Terra-Sorb into the soil. The crystals are designed to slow-release moisture, so plant roots won't go totally dry.

Container plants need more coddling. Billie Lee suggests placing plants next to the bathtub and filling the bottom of the tub with water. Then put one end of some cotton rope in the water and the other end in the pot. "The rope works like a wick and keeps your plants from getting thirsty." Better yet, says Roger, put the rope's end in the toilet tank; it will refill itself when the water level drops too low.