Q: Does it make sense for me to turn off my circuit breakers before I leave for vacation?
Lucia J., Wakefield, Massachusetts
A: You’re wise to reduce home energy use while you’re gone, but there are better ways than switching off circuit breakers. Any savings you may achieve by cutting power to a water heater or other appliances and electronics may end up costing more than it’s worth.
Electricians who’ve earned top ratings from Angie’s List members note that circuit breakers are not the same as light switches. Each time you flip a breaker, you wear it down a little. Also, because most breakers control more than one thing, you risk turning off another important item, such as a garage refrigerator or your sump pump.
On average, homeowners spend the most energy dollars on heating. The second-highest home energy expense is typically for heating water. Here are ideas for reducing energy use when you’re not at home:
Cutting the cost of heating water: The problem with completely turning off your water heater — as you would if you flip the circuit breaker — is the damage that results from expansion and contraction of metal fittings when the unit gets cold and then reheats. There is also the risk of freeze damage if you turn off the water heater in winter.
Many electric water heaters feature a vacation setting that maintains water at a lower temperature. To access the setting, you may have to remove a metal plate on the front of the water heater. The setting is often marked “VAC.” With a gas water heater, simply turn the temperature down.
Reducing heating or cooling costs: When you leave home for several days or longer, lower your thermostat to 55 degrees during cooler months. In the summer, allow the interior temperature to rise into the 80s.
In addition, unplug electronics before you depart, as they continue to use electricity even in standby mode.
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