Energy Efficiency for Your Home While on Your Vacation

May 23, 2011

Vacations are a time when homeowners can relax, forget about the little stresses of life and spend some quality time with their families. All too often, people are in such a hurry to pack and get out of town, they forget to think of energy saving tricks to keep the gas and electric bills down while they are away.

Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean that the appliances and lights have stopped sucking electricity from the grid. Homeowners can save a significant amount of money by practicing a few simple rules to keep their electricity down while they are on vacation.

Heating and Cooling

With everyone away from home, there is no reason to keep the heater or central air cranked up, unless pets will be left at the house. There is no reason to set the thermostat for 72, when there is no one there to enjoy it. Instead, during the hot summer months the thermostat can either be set for 90 or turned off completely. The winter is a little more tricky. The thermostat should be set around 50 degrees to keep appliances and pipes from freezing. The worst way to end a vacation is to come home to a flooded basement or frozen dishwasher.

For every degree a thermostat is raised during the summer, a homeowner will save 2-3 percent on his or her electricity bill. If the thermostat is usually set for a steady temperature of 72 degrees and it is raised to 90, then, at a minimum, it will result in a 32% savings on the electric bill for that period of time. If the home has a programmable thermostat that goes by date, then it can be set to change the temperature the day of arrival, so the family will come home to a comfortable household.

The only caveat to this is in the case of pets. If it is going to be a vacation of several weeks, then the animals should either be boarded or an arrangement should be made for someone to come feed, water and walk, if necessary, the animals daily. If the pets are in the home, then the temperature should not be set so high or low that it will cause them unnecessary discomfort. A local veterinarian will be able to advise a homeowner what household temperature will keep the pets safe while conserving energy.

Water Heater

The water heater is the kind of appliance that people don’t think about. It sits there in the basement or attic, heating the water, and is only considered when the water runs cold during a long shower. It’s easy to forget about when leaving on a vacation.

Before heading to the airport, shut off the circuit breaker to the water heater. If it is a gas heater, then turn the gas valve off to be safe. Winter vacations require the water heater to be left on to keep the water from freezing in the lines and tank. The homeowner should set the water heater to the lowest setting or the vacation setting if it has one.

Upon returning home, the hot water tap should be allowed to run before the power and gas are turned on to make sure the water tank isn’t empty. It can damage the unit if the tank is heated without any water in it.

Electronics and Appliances

Even with the home empty and the television and major appliances turned off, they are still using electricity. Before the family leaves, someone should walk around the home and unplug every unnecessary appliance and electronic. This doesn’t just include the television, lamps and entertainment center. Small electronics like electric razors, coffee pots and cell phone chargers all drain energy when plugged in. Nothing needs to be moved, simply unplugged. This not only saves energy, but also eliminates a possible fire hazard if there would be a power surge while no one is home.

If the family plans to return from vacation during the evening, then a lamp near the main door should remain plugged in when a light switch is not located nearby.

Automatic Lights

People don’t want their houses to look unoccupied while on vacation because its easy for burglars to spot. Many times, the easiest thing to do is leave a light or two on inside to keep it lit during the evening hours. This could be a lamp in the living room or even a larger light that may provide light for the entire dining room. This is an unnecessary waste of energy with the invention of automatic light devices. These devices place the lights on a timer, so at a specific time of the day certain lights will turn on. It gives the illusion of being home and prevents wasted energy by keeping the lights off during the day.

The automatic timers range from as little as $10 to $30 for an average unit. They can also be used to turn on a radio to add sound as a further deterrent to burglars.

If the homeowner does not have a light timer, then he can ask a friend to visit the home every couple of days to turn on a light at night and turn it off during the day. This is an easy task if they are already visiting to help with pets or plants.

Blinds and Curtains

Saving energy doesn’t always require using or not using something electrical. Most windows in a home have either blinds or curtains. Usually, they are used to let light in or keep light out, but when on vacation, they can be a useful way to conserve heat energy.

Lower the blinds and close the curtains when leaving for vacation. This simple act will keep heat from coming in during the summer and letting heat out during the winter. If the furnace is on, but set to a lower temperature, lowering the shades and closing the curtains helps to slow the rising or lowering of the temperature in the home.

Refrigerators

The refrigerator is the electronic equivalent of a V-8 gas hog, sucking electricity like a chrome-covered vampire. Vacations that take several weeks or a yearly seasonal move give homeowners the opportunity to get rid of the food in the fridge and unplug it. If the house is vacant for only a few days, it’s not worth the trouble as much of the food will still be good upon return, but extended stays are a different story.

Before leaving, the homeowner should unload the food and clean out the refrigerator thoroughly, leaving the doors open to air out. Also, placing a box of baking soda in the freezer and refrigerator will draw in the moisture and help prevent mold growth. Taking the refrigerator offline will save a significant amount of energy while nobody is home.

As an alternative to turning off the refrigerator, the refrigerator temperature can be set around 42 degrees and the freezer around 5 degrees. This is enough to keep everything cold and frozen, but still save energy over the vacation period. As a precaution, it is a good idea to clean out the refrigerator of any leftovers, raw vegetables, etc. and keep only new foods that won’t get moldy while the house is empty.

Vacations can cost a significant amount of money for a family. It will be nice to know that, by practicing these tips and tricks, the electric bill will be far less than normal. When recovering from the cost of a vacation, every little bit helps.

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