Memorial Day weekend means summer is here, and the end of the school year is in sight. If you’re lucky enough to have vacation plans on the horizon, good for you! But while you’re away on your perfect 2023 trip, your home is waiting for you empty. Do you turn everything off before you go to save on your energy bill (and conserve your solar energy, if you have solar) since you’re not there? Well, maybe you better play it smart with just a few key things running. Here’s your checklist for what to turn off, what to leave on, and why, so you can focus on having the best vacation ever!
You’ve locked all the doors and shut all the windows, but there are a couple more ways to button your home up tight for a trip out of town. If your home has a woodstove or a fireplace, check the damper is set in the closed position to minimize air exchange through the flue. This will also prevent critters like birds from coming down into your space, so definitely watch out for our feathered friends by checking your chimneys.
We agree with the recommendation to leave your heat/AC thermostat on, just set it much higher (summer) or lower (winter) than usual. HVAC pros generally agree the highest temperature you should set to in summer is 85 degrees, to help your refrigerator and freezer to work well and protect these appliances from damage that can reduce their longevity. Because high humidity may also be a concern in summer, you may opt to still set your AC closer to the high 70s/80 degrees to combat mold-causing moisture.
In winter, don’t turn your heat off or set it below 55 degrees, since a cold snap could freeze pipes. If you are worried about this, leave any cabinet doors located under your kitchen/bathroom sinks open. A longer period of subzero temps means you should leave faucets dripping primarily if the pipes are in an exterior wall, made of a brittle material like galvanized steel, or are already compromised by corrosive buildup (yes, my guest bathroom features all three of these, but by following these tips we have prevented floods in even the most adverse situations!)
Pump it up
For a heat pump, don’t change your usual settings because the system works most efficiently when it’s set to a number and left alone to maintain that, not when it’s toggled back and forth. Leave the fan on nice and high and let it do its job, and it’s a good time to check and replace the filter and check the outdoor unit has no debris interfering with its operation .
Catch (or reflect) some rays
If trying to keep your home cool, close curtains or blinds on windows that tend to gain heat on sunny days. If trying to warm your home up, leave those shades off to increase passive solar and reduce heating cost. Take into consideration if your windows are prone to drafts, in which case consider using special clear window wrap kits – many use a provided roll of double-sided tape and cut-to-fit sheeting which can be a great seasonal measure for older windows
or thermal curtains to reduce winter chills or cooled air loss in summer, which double to promote great naps by darkening the room
Speaking of the refrigerator, you’re probably already using up or composting the highly perishable items like milk, fresh cheese, fresh fruit and veggies, to leave your fridge ready for a week left alone. Once you do, turn off the ice maker and set the fridge temp to 38 or even 40 degrees to save energy, since there’s now nothing prone to spoiling and no one will be opening the door for several days. If your freezer isn’t full, fill up the empty space with sealed bags of ice to help it perform better and act more like a closed cooler in case of a power outage. Check the fridge and freezer doors are closed tight and you’re good to go.
Think twice, would-be burglars
Ok, here’s an old school tip with a new school twist. When we would go away on trips when I was a kid, my mom would always dig out the old mechanical Christmas lights timer and rig it to a lamp near a window in front of the house. I’d ask why, and she’d say it was to deter thieves because that way the house wouldn’t look obviously empty. (Nevermind that our family car was gone from the driveway and no one was coming or going for a week…If you’re reading this mom I love you!)
Still, if the idea of leaving your house totally dark for a week is too creepy, here’s how to set up a modern version of my mom’s classic dummy lamp. Try setting up your favorite light on one of these smart plugs.
You can program it in a snap using your smartphone, to turn on at a specific time, at dusk, or at a different time every day of the week if you really want to get fancy!
You can even get smart bulbs for your built-in lighting, like sconces and overhead fixtures. Smart speaker users can enjoy voice-controlled lighting, which is super useful during the morning rush, when clouds gather suddenly just when your hands are full prepping dinner, or just to impress your dinner party guests. All other power strips can be switched off, like the TV/Blu-Ray/Cable box (unless you are DVRing any shows) but leave that router on for the Wifi lights!
Here’s one last tip for making it look like you’re home: Have your mail held. A pile of letters and junk is a total giveaway that you’re traveling, so be sure to make that request in time for your trip
Otherwise, options like home security and doorbell cameras are there for added peace of mind, and on the subject of protecting your home, now might be a good time to check that your smoke detectors aren’t more than 10 years old and have fresh batteries, just to be on the safe side.
Trust a neighbor
Lastly, ask yourself if you’d like a friend or neighbor to check on your house while you’re away. Don’t be afraid to ask a favor like if they can glance inside to make sure you didn’t leave something on by mistake, if they can bring your trash and recycling bins out/back for you, bring in that package that you forgot you ordered, or water your flowers. They’ll be glad to accept that house key and ease your worries, and plus they’ll know they have someone to rely on reciprocally when they need it. They may even offer to drive you to the airport (say yes!)
Getting out on a vacation should be a time of joy, not stress. We hope this checklist saves you some strife about what to power up or down, and helps max your energy savings goals while safeguarding your house. Your solar and home battery, if you have them, will stay active as usual in your absence, so be sure to check your monitoring and see in real time how little energy you’re using with all these tips while you’re off having an awesome time. Safe and happy travels!