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Thanksgiving home security tips: Your guide to staying safe (and thankful)

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Thanksgiving provides a time to reflect on the year and think about what we’re thankful for — from family and friends to new career opportunities and everything in between. Oh, and a whole lot of food that we’ll happily chow down on.  

While the holiday provides plenty of exciting moments, it also introduces some home security risks. Thankfully, those risks can be minimized with proper preparation.

Here are five Thanksgiving tips for home security this holiday season. And good news, you’re already in great shape if you set up your home security for Halloween.

Prep your kitchen

The kitchen is where the bulk of Thanksgiving activity happens — at least before any guests come over. Between turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cornbread, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and whatever else is on the traditional menu at your house, there’s plenty of prep work to be done.

On average, we’ll spend seven hours cooking Thanksgiving dinner every year. And that food gets inhaled pretty quickly, with the average time spent eating the meal being only 16 minutes.

There’s also an added stress level while preparing such a massive meal for so many people. You’ll likely find yourself running around frantically, maybe leaving food, knives, towels or other supplies in precarious places. That’s inviting injury for you or one of your guests. 

Even if you’re moving back and forth between the kitchen and other rooms of the house, take the time to clean up prep areas when you’re done making food. Try to clean in batches so it’s not a big undertaking all at once. If you have a movable island or kitchen table, try to create a path so people have plenty of room to maneuver. Never walk away from an open flame and don’t leave a towel or napkin near the stove. 

If possible, prepare certain foods ahead of time. Stuffing, gravy and most desserts will still taste great a day or two later. By making those foods before the big day, you’re removing more distractions and stress from your plate. Alternatively, you can go potluck style and encourage everyone to bring their own dish, giving you less to worry about in the kitchen.

And if you’re really worried about your Thanksgiving meal, you can always opt to get turkey insurance.   

Beware of fire hazards

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The kitchen isn’t the only place where fires can occur. Lit candles during Thanksgiving are a common sight and add a certain ambiance, but they can also quickly set a house ablaze. In fact, 60 percent of candle fires are started because the candle was too close to something that could burn, like furniture, bedding, mattresses, decorations or curtains. With the added chaos of the holiday, this is one Thanksgiving home security tip you shouldn’t overlook.

If you do use candles, consider replacing the live flame with electric lights instead. They give off the same vibe with significantly less danger. And just like the stove, never leave an open flame unattended.

Let’s not forget about fireplaces, either. Thanksgiving weather can get quite chilly in many parts of the country, and few things beat gathering with loved ones around a roaring fire. Make sure your fireplace is free of debris and the chimney is open to keep the flames crackling safely.  

Test your smoke alarms before your guests arrive (and before you start any cooking) to ensure they’re functioning properly. And keep pets away from open flames — they could easily get spooked by a loud noise, go off running and crash into something, sending a candle flying through the air.

Watch the front door

If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving event, you’re likely welcoming more people into your home than usual. In warmer weather climates, you may even leave a garage or side door open so visitors can more easily come in and out.

Unfortunately, that welcoming environment is also appealing to potential thieves. Unless your garage is completely empty or you’re currently hanging out in it, you’re inviting someone to easily slip in or out.

Even if you’re keeping a closer watch on the door, the extra people in the home create additional distractions. Perhaps you’ve greeted a friend and their partner in the entryway, but then a loud noise comes from the kitchen or living room — there are three NFL games played every Thanksgiving, after all — and you venture off to see what’s going on. Your guests may not properly close or lock your door, literally leaving the door open for trouble to come in. 

Thanksgiving is also the third-most-popular holiday for packages to be delivered, as people shop for the holiday season. This provides more easy fodder for opportunistic thieves. 

Keep your garage closed and lock your front and back doors. When guests arrive, close and lock the door behind them so you don’t forget. Don’t leave any valuables by the doorway, either. A guest could accidentally (or even intentionally) pick something up and walk off with it, so don’t risk it happening.

Clear the floor and tables

Thanksgiving usually means extended time off from school, and that often means more clutter in the home. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful, that clutter can lead to disaster. Though open flames are a worry, you also risk a guest tripping over an item on the floor or knocking something off a table.

We’re clumsy enough on our own, but factor in that Thanksgiving is a big drinking holiday and the chance of accidents rises to a whole new level. The day before Thanksgiving is often called Drinksgiving or Blackout Wednesday, due to Americans buying 130 percent more alcohol than on an average day.

All that drinking makes it easier to knock things over, so try to eliminate any precarious items from areas where guests will be. While, say, a television may be harder to move from an entertainment center, put away clutter like video game controllers or TV remotes, and clean up cords as best you can.

The same goes for food. Let people go back for seconds or thirds, but if you plan on having leftovers, start wrapping up food items and putting them away within a couple of hours of serving. This not only keeps the food safe, but it also avoids any pets getting up onto the table and eating something that could cause an upset stomach or worse.

You should also check your home insurance policy to see what kind of coverage you have around guest payments, also known as medical payments, to others. If someone trips over something in your home and breaks their wrist, your coverage may pay for some or all of their medical costs. Make sure you know that before any guests come over, just in case the worst happens.

Plan a travel strategy

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The best way to reduce the risk of an intruder coming into your house is to be home. 65 percent of burglaries occur during daylight hours when homeowners aren’t physically present. If a robber has the choice between confronting a potential victim and confronting an empty house, they’ll choose the latter every time.

However, Thanksgiving is a busy time for travel. Even with more travel restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans still took 6.3 billion trips the week of Thanksgiving in 2020. So, you may understandably find yourself leaving your home for an extended period of time.

In those cases, take these steps to secure your home:

  • Install a home security system: Home security systems can alert you when someone enters your house, but they’ve grown to include additional services, such as fire monitoring, smoke detection and the ability to check in while you’re away.
  • Lock your windows and doors: This should be a given anytime you leave the home, but especially when traveling. Locked doors and windows won’t prevent 100 percent of forced entries, but in tandem with these other tips, they may deter a potential intruder.
  • Set alarms and timer lights: Lights are usually an indicator of activity, so if you can’t be there to physically turn them on and off, put both indoor and outdoor lights on a timer so they create the illusion of you being home.
  • Avoid social media: We all love showing off on social media, but broadcasting your travel plans is a good way to announce that your home is empty and ripe for an intruder. Social media will always be there when you’re back home — you can post all of your great memories then.
  • Stop your mail (or ask a neighbor for help): Having multiple packages and deliveries stacking up at your door is a good indicator of your absence. Ask the post office to hold your packages, or enlist a neighbor to come by every other day to pick them up. 

As you gather around the Thanksgiving table this year, express gratitude for the good things in your life — and don’t forget to say a few words of thanks for your home security knowledge. 

Now, let’s eat!

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Joey Held
Joey Held

As a writer, Joey Held has specialized in business, marketing, sports, music and insurance topics for more than a decade. He's also a podcaster and author of Kind, But Kind of Weird: Short Stories on Life's Relationships. His first car was a Buick Regal with an inconsistent radio but pretty good gas mileage.