Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Sept. 22, 2021

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Energy Adviser: Unplug, save energy while out of town


It’s the season of weekend gateways, family road trips, campouts and extended stays at the lake house. Whenever some folks leave home for an extended visit, they believe a smaller energy bill will be waiting for them, only to be disappointed and a little confused to find the bill was pretty close to the same as it’s always been.

“Your electronics are consuming energy all the time — whether you’re using them or not,” Clark Public Utilities Energy Services Supervisor DuWayne Dunham said. “If they’re connected to an outlet, they’re most likely using power, even if they’re shut off. Individually it may not be much, but when combined with all the other devices in the home, it can really add up.”

You can come home to a lower energy bill next time, with a little bit of planning and some extra prep before you lock up.

An electric water heater can represent around 25 percent of a home’s energy bill, making it the second-largest energy consumer in the home right behind heating of space. The thermostat and heating element in your tank will keep the water heated, whether it’s in use or not. If you’ll be gone for an extended trip, around five days or longer, you can reduce your home’s energy consumption by shutting off your water heater. The easiest thing to do is to flip the circuit breaker at the electric panel. Remember, when you come home, you’ll have to wait up to three hours for the water to heat back up.

Program your thermostat to reflect your absence. If you have home air conditioning, either shut it off entirely or set it to 78 degrees or higher. If you’re leaving in winter, set it to at least 55 degrees.

For peace of mind and the illusion of occupancy, many people leave a light or two or maybe even a TV on while they’re out. It is a good trick to ward off potential intruders, but it can be done much more efficiently with timers or smart devices. Analog timers are simple and great for controlling when a light turns on. Smart LED light bulbs and smart plugs are even better. Smart bulbs can be controlled with a smartphone or tablet and programed to various schedules. Smart plugs achieve the same effect, but can control a wider range of devices.

Even though you think your computer, TV, gaming console, etc. are shut off, they’re still drawing power all the time. Many devices that turn on immediately or feature lights or small clocks go into more of an elaborate “deep sleep” mode instead of shutting down entirely. You can cut these energy thirsty machines off at the source, by simply unplugging all unnecessary electronics before you leave. Doing this across the home can be a bit of a pain, so make your effort more efficient by investing in power strips or shutting off power at circuit breakers.

No matter how long your trip, it’s smart to eat or throw out anything that could spoil while you’re gone or during an outage. If you’re leaving for weeks, consider cleaning out and unplugging the fridge and freezer entirely, defrosting the freezer and propping open the doors.

You can gain deeper insights into how your household consumes electricity by monitoring it through MyAccount. By signing up for my account, you can see how and when your household consumes electricity, see personalized energy saving tips, pay a bill, get notifications and text alerts for important information and more. Signing up is fast and easy, plus it’s a great way to know exactly how much energy you may save on your next trip out of town.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.