How to Leave an Empty House: 5 Must-Dos Before Your Vacation

A woman adjusts her thermostat before leaving for vacation
Adjust your thermostat by a few degrees when you leave for vacation to save money on your bill. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

You need, I mean really need, this vacation. You’ve hoarded spare change to pay for that Airbnb, strategically used your points to book the flight and scoured local websites for delivery gourmet eats on a budget.

Now is not the time to blow your budget. By following these pre-vacation tips, you can save money before you leave and enjoy your trip without a financial worry.

1. Adjust your Thermostat — But Not Too Much

Why heat or cool your home when you’re not there to enjoy it? You can save big energy dollars by adjusting your thermostat a few degrees before you leave, according to Duke Energy spokesperson Ana Gibbs.

“A few degrees cooler, a few degrees warmer can have a significant impact. And adjusting your thermostat by 3 degrees every day can save you 30%,” Gibbs says. She notes that if you have a programmable unit, it’s as easy as setting it to vacation mode.

When it comes to your fan, “Auto” is the way to go, especially when you leave for longer trips, Gibbs says, noting that leaving the fan in the “On” position can cost you up to $25 per month.

And while you may be tempted to turn off the thermostat entirely in extreme heat or cold, your miserly ways may end up costing you more in the long run.

Leaving electronics to bake in your house can actually decrease battery longevity, and Gibbs notes that in colder weather, turning off a thermostat increases the danger of coming home to frozen pipes. Plus, who wants to return from paradise to a miserably hot or cold home?

2. Stock Up Your Refrigerator

This one seems a bit counterintuitive — right before you leave, you clear out all the takeout containers so you don’t have a stinky fridge, right? Well, yes, but a fully stocked refrigerator will actually keep your refrigerator running more efficiently, Gibbs says.

“If you don’t normally keep it full, use containers of water and ice cube trays,” suggests Gibbs. The exception to this rule, she adds, is if you’re away for four weeks or longer; in that case, you should empty the fridge and unplug it.

3. Turn Off Your Water

You went on vacation to hit the pool, not to come home to one. Shut off your water at the main supply before you head out the door to avoid the unwelcome surprise of a burst pipe or an overflowing toilet.

But be sure that this money-saving technique doesn’t cause other problems.

“Turning off the main water supply without turning off the electric water heater could cause the heater to ‘dry fire’ and burn out its heating elements if you’re gone for a long time,” says Paul Abrams, Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Drain Services director of public relations.

And if you have a regular tank water heater, you’ll want to turn it off at the breaker; if you don’t, it will keep heating and reheating the water in the tank, Abrams says.

Feeling wary about shutting off the water entirely? Consider turning off the water valve leading to your washing machine. “Doing so reduces the chance that your home will flood due to a burst washing machine hose — the single greatest cause of accidental home flooding,” Abrams says.

4. Stop Vampires

You need neither garlic nor sharp stakes to ward off the vampires that want to suck your energy.

Vampires are those electronic devices that continue to use energy — and money — even when they’re in the off position, explains Gibbs. Vampires include TVs, DVD players, game consoles, coffee makers and even rechargeable toothbrushes.

Is it a bit of a hassle unplugging everything? Sure.

“But if you’re going away for a few days, it’s worth the trouble,” Gibbs says.

5. Don’t Advertise to Thieves

Nothing ruins a vacation like returning home to find it ransacked.

Besides the basics — lock your doors and windows before you leave — consider the signs of absence that could make your place inviting to thieves.

Your Amazon Prime deliveries and regular mail piling up on your front stoop scream, “I’m not home,” so hold your mail delivery through the US Postal Service or ask a friend to pick up packages.

Vacations are supposed to be about relaxing and recharging your senses so you can return refreshed to your workaday life. By planning ahead and sticking to a few savvy suggestions before you head out the door, you can enjoy your down time with less stress — and with enough money leftover so you can start planning that next trip.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.