Should You Turn Your Water Heater Off While On Vacation?


It’s generally best to skip turning off the water heater and use vacation mode or the lowest setting to avoid problems.

If you’re going to be going out of town for a while, you might be wondering if you can turn off your water heater to save a little money. Here’s what to consider before you do this.

Skip a full shutdown, use vacation mode

If you have a newer water heater, good news. There’s little you need to do when you’re out of town. Tankless water heaters are largely hands-free. At most, you might consider turning off any features you enable, e.g. B. A high recirculation frequency that keeps the water preheated, which is useless (and wastes energy) when you’re out of town.

However, if you have a traditional water heater, it might be tempting to turn your water heater off completely when you’re out of town for weeks or even months, but we’d recommend avoiding this unless you’re closing a seasonal holiday home and complete wintering of the pipelines.

Instead, it’s much wiser to use “vacation mode” if your water heater has one, or set it to the lowest possible setting if it doesn’t have vacation mode. This lowers the temperature of the tank well below its normal operating temperature, but keeps the water heater on.

While turning off the water heater entirely will of course save the most energy, there are a multitude of potential downsides. First, keeping the water heater tank warm eliminates the risk of frost damage if you live in a frigid-weather climate.

Second, water heaters — especially as they get older — can be finicky. If you have a really old water heater, you might come home from vacation to find it won’t start, leaving you with no hot water and a costly repair.

Leaving your water heater on your computer’s standby mode saves you money while your water heater is still running and ready to jump back into action when you get home from vacation. Because we don’t know about you, but the last thing we want to deal with after a trip is a broken kettle and no hot showers, especially when we just got back from winter vacation.

What to do when you come back from vacation

When you get back from your trip, whether you’ve turned off the water heater completely, put it on vacation mode, or reset the temperature, you need to take a little precaution before using the hot water — especially for taking a hot shower.

Under normal operating conditions and when set at the correct temperature (at or above 120°F), harmful bacteria such as those of the Legionella family cannot grow. Bacteria can thrive when the water in your water heater is warm but not hot (in the 77°F to 113°F range).

So when you get home from vacation and turn on your water heater, you need to allow a reasonable amount of time to kill any bacterial colonies that may have built up in the tank while you were away.

At 120°F, Legionella bacteria don’t die, they just don’t keep growing. Even though you normally keep your water heater set at 120°F when you return from vacation and the tank was at a lower temperature, consider increasing it temporarily. At 130°F, it takes about six hours for the bacteria to die. At 140°F it takes about half an hour.

It is therefore advisable to set your water heater to at least 140°F and wait about two hours before taking a shower. It takes around 30-45 minutes for a gas water heater to reach operating temperature from a cold start and around 60-90 minutes for an electric water heater.

By waiting two hours, you give the tank enough time to come up to operating temperature and allow the water to stay at operating temperature long enough to kill any bacteria.

It’s also not a bad idea to leave all the faucets in your house running to flush out any water that’s been stagnant while you’re away. Running both hot and cold water through the system is a great way to flush away bacterial build-up and prevent illness.

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