Give your electric bill a vacation

Planning a summer get-a-way? Go through this checklist to discover home energy-saving ideas for when you’re on extended vacation, away on business, or just gone for the weekend.

  • Air conditioner: No need to keep your place chilled while away. If you plan to leave for an extended period of time, set the thermostat to between 78–80 degrees. Keep in mind that a thermostat change of only one degree (from 77 to 78) can decrease the energy use and operating cost by approximately 4–8%.
  • Water heater: Unless you have a tankless water heater, this unit will keep humming the entire time you’re gone to keep the water warm until you get back, costing between $4 and $10 per month. You can either turn the temperature down, or shut it off altogether. You may want to record what temperature you normally have it at so that you can quickly reset it once you return home (120°F being the ideal, of course).
  • Refrigerator: The fridge is one of the biggest energy hogs in the home, but it’s not very practical to empty and defrost your fridge and freezer so that you can unplug them while you’re away. Instead, give all perishable foodstuffs to your neighbor and then turn the temperature down to the lowest setting—you can go as high as 38°F in your fridge without spoilage; -5°F in your freezer will keep veggies and fish frozen. Installing water-filled jugs in the fridge will prevent fluxes in temperature, which will also save you energy.
  • Lights: Turn off all lights in your home while you’re away. For security, you may wish to install timers or motion-sensors on one or two outdoor and/or indoor lights so that they illuminate for a few hours every day, mimicking your presence.
  • Electronics: Unplug all of your electronic devices, including your TVs and computers, which are especially susceptible to lightning and power surges. Also, remember to unplug TV and cable boxes, DVD players, PVRs, monitors, printers, scanners, and digital clocks. Remember, any electronics with digital displays, instant- on features, or remote controls consume energy even while not in use.

Other small appliances: Though they use only a little energy each, the total energy consumed by unused appliances can add up. So pull the plug on things like microwaves, cordless phones, battery chargers, baby monitors, coffeemakers, slow cookers, blenders, and any other appliance with a clock or instant-on functionality.

For safety’s sake, give a trusted neighbor your house key and make sure he or she has a phone number where you can be reached. Taking these steps can give you peace of mind that you’re saving energy and money while on your summer get-a-way.