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, though, people are in such a hurry to pack and get out of town that they forget 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 just 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's no reason to keep the heater or central air cranked up unless pets are left at the house. There's no reason to set the thermostat to 72 when no one is there to enjoy it. Instead, during the hot summer months, the thermostat can either be set for 90 or turned off completely.
The winter, however, is a little more tricky. The thermostat should be set to 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 their electricity bill. If the thermostat is usually set for a steady temperature of 72 degrees and 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's 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.
The water heater is the kind of appliance that people often don't think about. It sits there in the basement or attic, heating water, and is only considered when the water runs cold during a long shower. It's easy to forget about when leaving for a much-needed vacation.
Before heading to the airport, shut off the circuit breaker to the water heater. If it's 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. In this case, the homeowner should set the water heater to the lowest setting or, if it has one, the vacation setting.
Upon returning home, run the hot water tap before turning on the power and gas 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 unnecessary appliances and electronics. 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 saves energy and eliminates a possible fire hazard should there 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.
People don't want their houses to look unoccupied while on vacation because it’s 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.
Although this common trick is smart, it 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 could 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 switch it off during the day. This is an easy task if they are already planning on 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 like an insulator. If the furnace is on, but set to a lower temperature, lowering the shades and closing the curtains helps to slow the raising or lowering of the temperature in the home.
The refrigerator is the electronic equivalent of a V-8 gas hog, sucking electricity like a chrome-covered vampire. If the house is only vacant for a few days, it's not a lot of trouble as much of the food will still be good upon return, but extended stays are a different story. Vacations that take several weeks or a yearly seasonal move give homeowners the opportunity to get rid of food in the fridge and unplug it.
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 and strange odors. 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 small change is enough to keep everything cold and frozen while still saving energy over the vacation period. As a precaution, it's 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 electricity bill will be far less than usual. When recovering from the cost of a vacation, every little bit helps.
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