How to make it look like you're home when you're not

Try these simple tricks and home security gadgets to secure your home throughout the year – and fool potential intruders

How to make it look like you're home when you're not Modern living room designed with a TV and Klipsch soundbar and atmospheric lighting
(Image credit: Klipsch )

Knowing how to make it look like you're home when you're not will give you peace of mind next time you are out at work or relaxing on the beach in the Maldives (we can but dream). 

It's a crucial consideration at all times of year. In summer, you may be spending chunks of time away, and while light not be much of an issue, faking noise and daily routines could prevent a break in. And as the evenings get darker, making a few simple checks in and around your home – along with the installation of a few clever home security gadgets – will make a big difference. 

It's important to know which of the best home security systems to choose, so that you can have peace of mind, and make all the brilliant tech that's out there work for you. 

How to make it look like you're home when you're not  

Sliding doors opening out onto the garden from a modern living room with fireplace and TV mounted above

(Image credit: Cloudy2Clear Windows)

1. Fake routines with bespoke smart home security

Picture this. It’s Friday night. You’re in your favourite restaurant sipping Chateauneuf Du Pape. Meanwhile, as dusk falls, back home the kitchen radio turns on, your bedroom and living room lights come on and the garden lights up. Thanks to smart security, it’s easy to make it look like you're home when you’re not. 

For a smart home security system that’s truly tailored to your home, you may want to contact a professional to install it. You can log onto the CEDIA website to find a professional home security installation company in your area. 

With a Control4 Smart Home Operating System (OS) for example, you can monitor and control the security cameras, lighting, blinds and alarm systems in your home using an app on your smartphone. Its ‘mockupancy’ setting or ‘away’ mode will make it look like you're at home and carrying on about your business as usual – watching Netflix and turning the lights on and off, even when you're not. 

2. Virtually answer the door with a video doorbell  

If a bespoke system isn’t something you want to invest in, there are a number of reasonably priced smart-home gadgets you can buy online to add an extra level of security, and it's fairly easy to find out how to protect your home with smart security

Take a look at the latest smart home alarm systems that let you set alarms, capture footage and control lighting from your smartphone, PC or tablet. You can also find a selection of video doorbells and smart indoor and outdoor cameras that let you control their functionality remotely so you can keep tabs on your property when you're out. 

Recent research from Arlo reports that burglars have said that a video doorbell and outdoor camera is the number one thing that deters them when choosing a house to target, so it’s well worth considering fitting a device.  

A video doorbell – like the Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus – is particularly easy to install as you can find wired and battery-operated versions. Using the latest video doorbells from the likes of Ring, Yale and Arlo you can get notifications straight to your smartphone if anyone is passing or at your front door – even if you're away from home. 

The two-way talk function means you can chat to visitors and delivery people who knock at the door – all remotely via your smartphone – and sound alarms should you see anything suspicious.

Outside of a modern house at night with security lights on

(Image credit: Sanctuary House Intelligent Abodes CEDIA.)

3. Research crime rates so you know what you're up against

It helps to find out about the crime in your area and whether your street is under particular target as it will give you a little insight into what you’re up against. You can then choose what level of security to go for.

‘ADT has a Crime in My Area tool on its website that lets you sign up for monthly crime reports for your postcode and track different types of criminal activity in your area,’ says Peter Stanton, security product expert at ADT. ‘As we start heading back to the office and away for summer holidays, the tool might help if you’re thinking of upgrading your security. Simply follow the link, enter your postcode and click ‘Crime updates by email’.’

You can also visit Police.uk to find latest crime statistics in your local area.

4. Cancel online deliveries if you're not at home   

We're not saying cancel Christmas, but if you’re going away for a week or more, it’s key that you pause any deliveries that may land on your doorstep. Anything left out for the evening will indicate to burglars that you’re not home, so hold the press and pause the milk.

Don’t forget not so obvious regular deliveries such as meal kit or cleaning box subscriptions that won’t fit through the letterbox. That Hello Fresh Halloumi burger recipe may sit conveniently chilled in a box on your front door one day before you get home from holiday, but that’s one day too many if any intruders are keeping tabs. So don't take a chance and skip a week.

And while you're on holiday, try not to make any impulse purchases on Amazon Prime while you’re sipping on that fourth Bellini – we’ve all been there. Any items you buy may well be sitting waiting for you on your front doorstep the next day, well ahead of you arriving home the week after.

Modern interior with gas fire and wooden floor with rug

(Image credit: Somfy )

5. Get your neighbors to help out 

Ask the neighbors to keep a look out to see if any leaflets or booklets get dropped on the doorstep, and ask them to take them in for you while you’re away. Getting your neighbours to put the bins out as normal for you during the week is also good practise.

Should you need the neighbors to go into your home while you’re away and check everything is in order, you can leave them a key. Masterlock sells a handy gadget called a Smart lock Key Safe that you can fit outside and allow nominated users  access to key cards and house keys. 

It holds up to four keys at a time and can be opened either by a special code on the keypad lock or via a smartphone app.

Exterior of a house at night with security lights on

(Image credit: Control4)

6. Fit a letterbox protector 

Leaving keys by the door is something we're all guilty of, but this simple act makes it easy for thieves to steal your keys. ‘Fishing is a technique in which a thief will use a long hook to pick up your keys and pull them through your letterbox,’ says Louis McGee, glazing expert at Cloudy2ClearWindows.  

‘Thankfully, this can be easily prevented with the installation of a letterbox protector, one of those brilliant front door ideas you never knew you needed. This guard that covers your letterbox will prevent ‘fishing’ without stopping your post from being delivered. It also makes it harder for thieves to see whether you’re away from home when they try to peer through the letterbox.’ Simple, yet effective.  

7. Mix up the lighting 

Timer plugs for your lampshades, which allow you to manually set a timer so that your lamps come on at certain times of the day, have been around for a while and are surprisingly effective at making it appear as if someone’s home. These can come in handy, regardless of whether you’re nipping out on an evening or on a two-week holiday.

Smart bulbs, however, are a step up from this technology as they enable you to control the lighting in your home remotely using your smartphone - these also double up as wonderful bedroom lighting ideas as how nice is it to be able to turn your lamp on to greet you before you go to bed? Smart bulbs are simple to set up, and through an app on your smartphone you can set the bulbs to come on at a time that suits you, whilst also being able to activate them on and off as you see fit.

‘There are several advantages to a smart lighting system,’ says Kevin Van Der Steen from smart home technology company Somfy. ‘Not only do they add a new layer of security through programming them to go on and off when you’re away from home, but they also have longer life spans than traditional bulbs, increasing overall energy efficiency.’

Eames lounge chair and footstool in front of a window with blinds

(Image credit: Somfy )

8. Control your shutters while you’re away from home

One of the smartest curtain ideas is knowing that it's important not to close your curtains or blinds entirely while you’re away from home, as during the daytime this is a clear indicator to burglars that nobody’s home. ‘Having a smart home allows you to automate otherwise traditionally manual objects such as blinds and shutters,’ says Kevin Van Der Steen from smart home technology company Somfy. 

‘Setting your smart shutters to open and close at appropriate times throughout day and night will give the impression that you’re home when you’re not.’

Smart tech available now means you no longer have to rush home to close the curtains. Somfy’s electric blinds, shutters and curtains for example, can easily be controlled from your phone wherever you are using the TaHoma app.

9. Be mindful on social media 

While you’re away from home, it’s good practise to be aware of what information you’re posting online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and alike in real time - especially if you have your location displayed when you post updates.

Giving detailed info of your journey and intentions on holiday may just leave your empty home that little bit more vunerable. Of course we don’t suggest you come off social media entirely - we certainly couldn’t live without our daily chuckle at DJ Fat Tony’s hilarious memes on Instagram either.

How do you make it look like someone's home?

Installing a smart home security gadget is a great way to make it look like you're home when you're not. You can use devices such as video doorbells, smart alarm systems, motion sensors for windows and doors and smart light bulbs, which can all be controlled via an app on your smartphone. 

It's also a good idea to keep a light on, avoid closing curtains and get your neighbors to chip in by bringing your doorstep deliveries in and putting the bins out on the correct day. 

Does lighting deter burglars? 

Security lights are known to be a great burglar deterrent. 'A house in the dark appeals to a burglar as it looks like nobody is in the property or that they are asleep,' says Anthony Neary from Safe.co.uk. 

'Security lights are essential as the days get shorter as any dark or shadowed areas are ideal for a burglar to try to approach the house undetected.'

Emily Peck

One of the UK's most respected tech and smart homes writers, Emily Peck also covers everything from interiors style to decorating trends. She is a contributor to Wired UK, and has also had a column in House Beautiful. She has written for publications such as Grand Designs, Stylist, Shortlist, Woman&Home, BBC, Ideal Home and House & Garden. She was once the Features Editor of Ideal Home.