Whether you’re leaving town for the holidays or staying home to celebrate and entertain, you can still save energy during this festive season. UniSource Energy Services offers some tips for when you’re home or away.

When you’re away

“It may seem obvious that you’ll save energy when you’re not home, but that’s not always the case,” said UniSource’s Tammy McKay, Senior Program Manager for Energy Efficiency programs. “If you don’t take some steps, your energy usage might be nearly the same as if you were home.”

You’ve finalized travel plans, packed your bags and suspended mail and newspaper service. But here are a few things you should add to your checklist to reduce unwanted energy usage before you leave home.

Give your water heater a vacation. Water heating accounts for about 18 percent of your energy bill. “While you won’t be using hot water when you’re away, most of the energy used is for “stand by” heating to maintain the temperature of the water for when you need it,” McKay explained. She said to save energy, set your unit to “vacation mode” or lower the temperature setting. Just remember to change the setting back when you get home.

Adjust the thermostat. Set your thermostat to a lower temperature that is still safe for plants and other items left behind and will prevent interior pipes from freezing. Usually this is between 50-60 degrees. If you have a smart thermostat, set it to vacation or away mode.

“Most smart thermostats have an occupancy sensor and automatically will adjust to away mode when no one is home,” McKay said.  “The good thing about smart thermostats is that you can always access your settings or change them, even if you’re away, with a smart device and Wi-fi connection.”

Unplug appliances. Pull the plug on appliances before you leave to avoid phantom energy draw. “Even small electronics like coffee makers, laptop computers, printers and TVs waste energy in sleep mode when plugged in but not in use,” said Edith Garcia, Senior Program Manager for UniSource’s Energy Efficiency programs.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these phantom loads add up, accounting for up to one month’s electricity bill each year.

Open south-facing curtains and shades. Arizona is the sunniest state in the U.S., even in the winter. Allowing sunlight to enter your home during the day provides natural heat so that your furnace won’t run as often and you’ll save on heating costs.

Use LED bulbs and timers. Keeping some lights on in the evening is a good idea for security reasons. Add a timer to lamps with LED bulbs and then program the timer to turn on at dusk and off automatically later in the evening for security and energy efficiency. The same can be done with your outside holiday lights. Both give the appearance you’re home but use less energy.

Keep a full refrigerator. Many of us try to use up food in the fridge if we know we’ll be gone for a week or more. But an empty refrigerator is less energy efficient than a full one. “Once you’ve eaten the leftovers, fill up that extra space with gallon jugs or pitchers of water,” Garcia advised.

When you’re home

Energy usage typically increases during the holidays because of entertaining, extra cooking and use of indoor and outdoor holiday lights. Here are ways you can save energy, even when you’re home celebrating.

Deck the halls with LEDs. When decorating your home for the holidays, using LED lights inside and outside is the smartest choice. It costs only 27 cents in energy to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days, compared to $10 for incandescent lights, according to energy.gov.

LEDs also give off less heat, so they’re safer if you forget to turn off the tree lights. To save even more, use a timer on lights that will turn them off automatically when you turn in for a long winter’s nap.

Bake several dishes at once. “Your oven uses the same amount of energy to heat or cook one dish as it does several dishes,” Garcia said. “Cook as many dishes as possible at once if the oven temperature is about the same for all. Then, just use the microwave to warm them before serving.”

Other energy efficiency baking tips:

  • Turn off the exhaust fan as soon as it’s not needed. Besides pulling out any smoke from cooking, it also pulls warm air out of your home.
  • Don’t preheat unless absolutely necessary. Many dishes, such turkeys, hams roasts and casseroles, can be placed in the oven right away and don’t require preheating.
  • Leave the oven door open once you’re done baking to let warm air circulate back into the home. You’ve already used energy to create the heat, so let the warm air heat your home.

Full house? Turn down the heat. If you’ll have guests over the holidays, you can turn down the thermostat a few degrees and everyone will be just as comfortable. A room full of warm bodies heats up the room without the need to keep the furnace working. The recommended temperature setting during the winter for energy efficiency is 68, but with a full house, you can turn it down to 65.

Don those ugly sweaters. Whether it’s that cheeky holiday sweater Aunt Martha gave you last year, a chunky knitted scarf or your favorite fleece hoodie, these items or extra layers help keep you warmer so that won’t need to turn up the heat.

For more tips on how to save energy and reduce your bills, visit uesaz.com/residential-energy-saving-tips/.

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