Winter is here in Minnesota and it is freezing. Winter in Minnesota also means vacations, either to visit family for the holidays or to seek sunshine and respite from the cold. Winter vacations raise the inevitable, and much-debated, question: should we turn the heat off when we leave town? Proponents insist that turning off the heat saves money and energy. Detractors say that turning off the heat puts your home at risk for freezing pipes and that any energy savings from not running the heat are eaten away by the costs of reheating a cold home. Is it possible to answer this question definitively and end the argument? Yes. Here you have it:
First, let’s consider the issue of completely turning off the central heating unit in Minneapolis, MN, in the middle of the freezing winter. On this question, the detractors win. It is not a good idea to completely turn off the heating system when temperatures are falling below freezing regularly and for extended periods of time. Water pipes will freeze. While you will save money on energy, you will spend all of that and more to repair the damage caused by the frozen pipes. Most people agree that keeping your home’s temperature around 50 degrees will protect your pipes from freezing.
Now that we have established that the heat needs to remain on, we need to consider whether turning down the thermostat will save any energy and money, or if it is more efficient to simply leave the thermostat set at normal settings and avoid costs associated with reheating a cold home. The proponents soundly win this argument: you will absolutely save energy anytime your heating unit is not running. Additionally, it will not take more energy to warm your house back to its normal temperature. “In fact”, says the website www.energy.gov, “as soon as your house drops below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. The lower the interior temperature, the slower the heat loss. So the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save, because your house has lost less energy than it would have at the higher temperature.” The take away: if you are going to be on vacation for an extended period of time, lower your thermostat to save energy.
This leads to a very important conclusion. Lowering thermostats when no one is home saves energy, which is better for everyone. The most effective way to manage your energy usage is with a programmable thermostat. You really cannot afford to not have a good, programmable thermostat. Program your thermostat to lower the temperature while you are away and to raise it to a comfortable level before you get home. The same website, www.energy.gov, estimates that turning the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours can save you 5 to 15 percent a year on your heating bill. Because of the extreme climate here in Minnesota, your savings will likely be on the lower end of the spectrum, but your savings will still be very real.
The evidence says to lower your thermostat when you’re gone, especially while you are on vacation, but even when you leave for work each and every day. There is nothing to be gained from wasting energy to heat an empty house and the resulting energy savings will benefit everyone.