Should I Turn Off Circuit Breakers Over Vacation?

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated September 24, 2021
Family leaves for vacation
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Turning off your circuit breaker may cause more headaches than it's worth

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If you’re a hopeful vacationer looking to save money on electricity, turning off your circuit breaker while you’re on holiday might seem like a no-brainer. If you’re not home, you don’t need electricity, right? While the logic is there, this isn’t the best way to reduce your home energy usage. Turning off circuit breakers can cause more damage than the potential savings are worth⁠—but luckily, there are other options.

Turning Off Your Circuit Breaker Can Cause Damage

Circuit breakers aren’t the same as light switches. Though a circuit will trip on its own, the breaker is not made to turn on and off repeatedly. Each time you completely turn off your circuit breaker, it wears down, effectively reducing its lifespan. Flipping breakers may be necessary if you’re trying to fix a power problem, but it’s not needed if you’re spending a few days away.

The same goes for your water heater, which turns off along with your circuit breaker. The metal fittings will contract as the unit gets cold. When you turn it back on and the water reheats, the fittings will expand. This can damage your water heater over time. There’s also the risk of freeze damage depending on the season. A burst pipe (and the resulting water damage) will cost a lot more than your average water heating costs.

Unplug Your Appliances Instead

If you turn off your main breaker, you risk accidentally cutting off power to essential appliances. Most of us remember to clear out the kitchen fridge, but what about the refrigerator in the garage or your sump pump? Like circuit breakers, some appliances aren’t meant to be turned on and off.

Instead of cutting your power completely, you can save energy by unplugging specific appliances that drain energy even when they’re turned off. Try unplugging so-called “vampire appliances” like televisions, computers, laptops, microwaves, game consoles, Internet routers, and select kitchen appliances (think: coffee makers and kettles).

Additionally, some homeowners prefer to flip off certain circuits rather than the entire main breaker. This ensures that only certain appliances like your stove, washing machine, dryer, or dishwasher are turned off. If you choose this route, make sure you know exactly what devices are connected to which circuit.

Reduce Heating and Cooling Costs in Other Ways

A new circuit breaker costs between $497 to $1,809, so you’ll probably want to do what you can to preserve your existing breaker’s lifespan (though you should probably replace your breaker if you have a Federal Pacific Electric breaker). Heating is the second-highest energy expense for homeowners, but there are ways to reduce your consumption that don’t involve your breaker at all.

Adjust Your Thermostat for the Season

Woman adjusting thermostat
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If you’re leaving home for several days, you can lower your thermostat to 55 degrees during the cooler months. Allow it to rise into the 80s during the warmer months. This reduces energy consumption and protects your home from the risks of seasonal extremes. 

Additionally, you can install a smart thermostat you can monitor from afar. If the weather gets dangerously cold, you can remotely adjust the thermostat using a mobile app.

Install a Timer or Switch

If your water heater doesn’t already have an automatic switch or timer, you can install one to help save on water heating costs while you’re away.

Add More Insulation

New water tanks are typically well-insulated. If you have an older unit, you can save money by investing in additional pipe insulation and heater wraps. This keeps water hot longer, so you use less energy heating it.

Install a Water Heater with a Vacation Setting

Some electric water heaters have vacation settings that maintain water at a lower temperature. This is typically marked as “VAC,” but you may have to remove a metal plate on the front of your water heater to access it. Homeowners with gas heaters can simply turn the temperature down.

Turn Off Your Water Valve, Not Your Breaker

Two of the biggest risks for homeowners on vacation are mold and water damage. Instead of turning off your breaker, you can turn off your water valve to prevent unexpected water damage (though, to be safe, you’ll need to turn off electric water heaters with your water valve).

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