Heading off on a summer road trip, international adventure or family vacay this month? Don’t forget to prep your home before you hit the open road! To lend a helping hand, Earth911 compiled this simple checklist of things to do to save energy, water and waste while you’re out of the house.
Set Your Temperature
The most obvious way to save energy and shrink your footprint while away from home is to power down the thermostat. Many programmable models have "vacation" or "away" settings to make saving easier, but you can cut energy costs even without these features. In most cases, shutting your thermostat off completely is ideal when leaving for summer vacations. If you live in an especially hot climate, you may want to program your thermostat to a very low setting to avoid heat damage to your home while you're away. In the cooler months, leave heating systems on a low setting to keep pipes from bursting (no fun!). <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/06/22/is-a-smart-thermostat-right-for-you/" target="_hplink">You Decide: Is a Smart Thermostat Right for You?</a> For best results, set your programmable thermostat to power on when interior temperatures reach 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (or around 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter). This way, your AC will turn on for a few minutes when it gets too hot or cold and power down as soon as your home reaches a manageable temperature. To keep your home as cool as possible sans-AC, pull shades, blinds and curtains closed before hitting the road.
Shutting off your air conditioner isn't the only way to save energy while you're away. Power down every room of the house to cut back on energy costs and shrink your family's footprint. For starters, unplug all kitchen appliances, such as coffee makers, toasters, blenders and microwaves. This simple step is not only a good idea for fire safety but also <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2008/10/30/its-national-vampire-awareness-day/" target="_hplink">cuts down on vampire power</a> - the energy your appliances use when they are plugged in but not running. <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2010/10/11/7-surprising-ways-to-save-energy/" target="_hplink">Don't Miss: 7 Surprising Ways to Save Energy</a> For even greater energy savings, put all large electronics in other rooms of the house - such as televisions, computers and stereo systems - on a power strip and flip the switch off before leaving for your trip. And don't forget your water heater! Before departure, head down to the basement and turn off the circuit breaker that connects to your water heater to avoid wasted energy. Some water heaters also have a powered-down "vacation" setting, which will also help you cut costs while away from home.
Don't let waste stack up while you're on the go! Take a few simple steps ahead of time to keep those trash cans empty. Before packing your bags, take an inventory of perishable food in your kitchen and give away anything that may spoil before you return. In most cases, unopened or unprepared food can be donated to a local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen, but restrictions may vary from one location to the next. So, call ahead to be sure. <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/07/02/waste-reducing-tips-for-travel-abroad/" target="_hplink">Green Your Trip: 3 Waste-Reducing Tips for Travel Abroad</a> For food you can't donate, <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2010/10/08/save-your-food-canning-and-freezing-101/" target="_hplink">try freezing or canning it</a> before you leave the house, or simply give it away to a friend or neighbor to cut back on food waste. If you plan to be gone for more than a month, you can also empty out the fridge and unplug it if desired. But be sure to leave the door propped open to reduce the risk of mold damage. If you have a daily newspaper delivered to your home, call the publication's customer service center and ask to have delivery stopped until you return to reduce paper waste. Many publications will even allow you to donate your newspaper to a local school, rec center or church while you're out of town. If all else fails, simply tell your neighbors that they're welcome to snag the paper off your doorstep while you're away. Looking for a few waste-reducing tips for your journey? <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/05/24/tips-for-green-travel/" target="_hplink">Try these seven eco-friendly travel ideas to get you started</a>.
Protect Your Home From Damage
Nothing puts a damper on a fun-filled vacation like coming home to heat, water or mold damage in your home. Prevent an unfriendly welcome by taking a few precautionary steps before you hit the road. Start by shutting off the main water valve. This is one of the most important preventative steps you can take, as leaks and broken pipes can cause significant damage to both the interior and exterior of your home if left unattended. Also, turn the circuit breaker for your stove and oven off before departure to save energy and reduce the risk of fires. <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2011/12/09/how-to-travel-around-the-world-on-75-a-day/" target="_hplink">Tips for Eco- (and Budget-) Friendly Travel: HOW TO: Travel Around the World on $75 a Day</a> Programming your thermostat to a low setting will go a long way toward preventing heat damage while you're away. But if your hometown is especially humid in the summer, you may want to use a dehumidifier to stave off mold damage as well. <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2012/06/22/is-a-smart-thermostat-right-for-you/" target="_hplink">Some smart thermostats include built-in humidity detectors</a>. So, if you have a smart thermostat and dehumidifier incorporated into your home's HVAC system, this will take the majority of the guess-work out of warding against mold damage. If not, simply use portable dehumidifiers on low settings instead. Place your dehumidifier near a sink or shower and position the drainage tube so the water can go down the drain. You may also want to prop open your dishwasher door to prevent mold growth inside (yuck!).
Stay Secure The Eco Way
We all have our tricks to help us feel more secure about leaving the house: Turning on interior lights, blasting the radio or leaving a car parked in the driveway to make your home look "occupied." But why not give your security routine an eco-friendly makeover for a safe and efficient home? If you like to turn on the radio or leave a few lights on for security purposes, put these on timers and set them to turn on and off at staggered intervals to save energy. Or simply connect outdoor lights to a motion sensor to ward off any potential prowlers. For even greater efficiency, embrace energy-free ways to keep your home protected while you're out of town. Ask a trusted friend or neighbor to drop in occasionally and remove (then recycle) any circulars or flyers that may have been left on your doorstep or front door, as a pileup of paper tends to make the home look unoccupied. If you plan to be gone for two weeks or more, offer a neighborhood kid a few dollars to mow the lawn while you're away to keep your home looking well cared-for. <a href="http://earth911.com/news/2011/10/25/pack-lightly-heres-how-to-go-further-on-your-next-trip/" target="_hplink">More Eco-Friendly Travel Tips: Pack Lightly: Here's How to Go Further on Your Next Trip</a>
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