Energy Adviser: Planning trip? Keep energy costs down while away

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With gasoline prices coming down this spring and the open road calling, maybe you can take that vacation after all. Before leaving on your adventure, especially if you plan to be gone for a couple weeks, make a checklist of ways to cut your power bill while away.

Start by looking at the temperature settings for your home’s interior. Heating and cooling a house accounts for approximately 43 percent of the average household’s utility bill. Here you can make adjustments and reap the greatest savings.

Even though summer temperatures in Clark County and Western Washington are not extreme, energy experts at Clark Public Utilities say for every degree you raise the inside air conditioning thermostat temperature, you’ll save between 1 percent and 2 percent on the cooling portion of your electric bill.

Average outdoor high temperatures range from the low 70s in June to near 80 degrees in August. Extreme highs can climb into the 90s, even more than 100 degrees as they did last year. You may not want the house interior to get too hot on those hottest days while you’re gone. Raising the cooling temperature will help keep the power bill down.

Homeowners can also find savings by turning down the temperature on the water heater or turning it off. Switch the electric water heater off at the circuit-breaker panel, or set a natural gas water heater to “pilot” or “low.” Be sure to turn the heater back on as soon as you return since it will take one to two hours to reheat. The savings? Keeping the water hot in the tank, even when not in use, costs about $6 a month.

Vacation info

Clark Public Utilities offers a brochure called “Vacation Conservation” for homeowners who plan to be away. The tips are online at http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com or have the brochure mailed to you by filling out an online order form. Here are more vacation energy-saving tips from the utility:

• Refrigerator: If you are going to be gone for a month, you could save an average of $7 by switching off the refrigerator. Before turning it off, however, empty and clean the freezer, place a box of baking soda on the refrigerator shelf and prop open the refrigerator door. Left closed, a refrigerator that is switched off develops bad odors. If you do decide to leave your refrigerator on while you’re gone, remove perishable food and fill the refrigerator with gallon jugs of water. This reduces temperature fluctuations and saves energy.

• Freezer: While it may not be practical to empty the freezer while you’re away, you may want to have a neighbor check on the freezer to make sure the power is still on and that the compressors are working.

• Appliances: As a safety measure, unplug all appliances, including the toaster, coffee pot, iron and microwave oven, before you leave home.

• “Instant” hot water: Unplug the device and save about 50 cents if gone two weeks.

• Electronic equipment: Unless it’s unplugged, a TV with an “instant on” feature continues to use energy even when it’s “off.” VCRs, computers and other equipment also draw power even when they’re not in use.

• Water beds: Unplug your water bed heater, or lower the thermostat to 70 degrees when you’ll be away from home for a week or more. Like water heaters, water beds will take time to warm up once you return.

• Lights: Turn off all lights except those attached to a photocell or timer, which can be set to turn on and off at times you choose.

• Let Clark Public Utilities and other service providers know if you’ll be gone for an extended period to make arrangements for bills you may not be home to receive.

• Ask a neighbor to check your home and freezer while you’re away.

The Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities energy counselors, who provide conservation and energy use information to utility customers. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, in care of Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA. 98668. Past topics are available at http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com.